What if that person you just walked past on the street was secretly hunting a demon? As somebody who lives in pretty much a permanent daydream, I’m often thinking up weird stories, and that kernel of an idea – that the nondescript nobody you hurried past on your way to school could actually be a demon hunter – ended up forming the basic premise for my dark YA fantasy series, The Sentinel Trilogy.
Set in and around Cambridge, the series follows fifteen-year-old Nicholas Hallow, whose parents are killed in a mysterious train wreck. When he discovers they were Sentinels, monster-slaying protectors of the innocent, Nicholas finds himself at the centre of a supernatural war, fighting alongside his parents’ close friend, seventy-one-year-old badass Sam Wilkins. Oh, and along the way, he picks up a snooty talking cat and discovers a thing or two about his own unique abilities.
Though I wanted to write something dark, weird and fantastical, it was important to me that the Sentinel Trilogy was about real people with real problems. I love superhero movies as much as the next person (seriously, where’s the Black Widow standalone flick?!), but I’m much more interested in how everyday people deal with out-of-this-world situations. So, Sentinels are demon hunters, but they’re also regular people like you and me. They have jobs, families, lives. They just happen to take on demons every once in a while – and the demons have started to gain the upper hand. Or claw. Or tentacle.
The great thing about the fantasy genre is that it lends itself to all kinds of wackiness. It’s a genre where cats can talk if you want them to and pensioners can kick demon ass if they’re so inclined. Fantasy movies taught me the rules early on and have always had a huge influence on my writing. As a kid, I raided the fantasy section at my shoebox-sized local video store, devouring everything from The Neverending Story and Flight Of The Navigator to The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I loved being transported to a new world where the rules are different, the characters are loveably over-the-top and the villains are hair-bleachingly terrifying.
Those were three things I wanted to get right with Sentinel and Ruins (book two). It took me a while to get there. Sentinel was published by Peridot Press in 2014 (Ruins came out in May 2015), but I started writing it when I was 15 years old. The first Harry Potter book hadn’t been released yet (I know, it’s crazy to imagine a pre-Potter world), and my literary influences were stories like The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe and everything by Roald Dahl. I was also obsessed with the trilogies written by Robin Jarvis (The Deptford Mice, The Whitby Witches, all of which I discovered in my school library), which is why I decided to have a go at writing a story in three parts.
For me, although The Sentinel Trilogy is an action-packed fantasy, it’s also my attempt to answer the question: what would you do? If your life was interrupted by supernatural forces, how would you react? Would you fight? Hide? Bargain? Shrug? Everybody reacts differently in The Sentinel Trilogy. Everybody has adjusted to survive. What would you do? And if you passed somebody in the street and found out they were a demon hunter, would you join their fight or carry on to school?