My family on my father’s side are from Newcastle. We used to visit my grandparents there a lot when I was younger, so I’m very familiar with the A1, the Great North Road, of the title. It played a major part of my childhood, driving up and down it several times a year was a great adventure. So much so that when I began to formulate what would eventually become Great North Road (the novel) I started thinking about the road and how many people have travelled up it and where they’ve gone – and why.
It was originally built by the Romans to reach the furthest part of their empire, marked by Hadrian’s Wall, so there’s a lot of history wound up in that strip of tarmac. Extending that history and relevance was something I felt very comfortable in doing.
So in the book the A1 now leads from the south of England up to a giant trans-spacial ‘connection’, a gateway to another world: St Libra, a solid-giant earthlike world orbiting Sirius. Angela Tramelo, the principal character, symbolically starts her journey from the southernmost end of the A1 in London, and travels its whole length to reach the gateway. From there she goes to St Libra and carries on going north across an uncharted continent.
That ability to keep on going further and further north, always into the unknown was something that really appealed to me. The essence of Science Fiction is to explore the unfamiliar territory on so many levels. The Great North Road (road) once allowed people to do that, to literally go past the end of the map into a land where anything was possible. To carry on that tradition was something that felt just right for this novel. I’m fond of saying that good SF extrapolates from the reality of past and present to take us into the future. In this case I dreamed that the Great North Road, which runs just a few miles past my house, just keeps on going for as far as you want to venture.