The White City competition #SecretDoorway

Down_Street_tube_station (2)Simon Morden’s THE WHITE CITY is out now, and for all those of you who are intrigued by secret doorways that lead to far-off lands (and who wouldn’t be?), we have the perfect competition for you! Simon’s DOWN STATION series begins with a disused doorway in an abandoned tube station in London. His incredible cast of characters use it to escape an explosion, only to find themselves in the land of Down. Where all of their dreams and worst nightmares can come true.

Here’s what you need to do for the chance to win a copy of both books in the series, DOWN STATION and THE WHITE CITY. Using the #SecretDoorway hashtag on Twitter and including the @Gollancz twitter handle, we want to hear about where your secret doorway would lead. We all know where the wardrobe leads, or a magical faraway tree, or even a chimney if you use it correctly, but where would your #SecretDoorway take you? Perhaps to another London, to another time. Perhaps it would be a manhole cover to a city filled with lost souls. Or a doorway in one of those old single-screen cinemas that leads to the world of your favourite film. Whatever it is, join in on the hashtag and let us know! All entries must be received by 23.59 on the 30th November 2016. Click here for full terms and conditions. 

To help inspire you, Simon’s joined us on the blog to tell us about the real-life #SecretDoorway inspiration behind the magical world of Down. . .

Down Street Station wasn’t really ever going to work. Situated in the heart of Mayfair, where residents usually got their drivers to pull up to the door if they were going out rather than taking the Underground with the hoi polloi, and opening later than the other stations on the Piccadilly line, Down Street Station was ill-used right from the start.

Coupled with the closeness of the stations either side of it – the official TfL walking map gives the distance between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner as twelve minutes, and Down Street is almost equidistant between the two – services were reduced, then stopped on Sundays, and then terminated altogether when the Piccadilly line was extended to the suburbs. All that effort in acquiring the land, digging the tunnels and building the station, mostly in the hot darkness, a hundred metres down, gone to waste.

However, the combined Rail Executive Committee (REC) were looking for somewhere in a hurry to carry on their job of strategic wartime planning that was out of range of German bombs. The committee’s secretary, a Mr G Cole-Deacon, had a previous interest in the Underground, and remembered Down Street. Working at night, engineers constructed two walls along the edges of the disused platforms, and the tunnels refitted to support the full functions of the vital REC: offices, meeting rooms, a typing pool, accommodation, and inevitably somewhere to brew up. The new passageways were just wide enough to fit a tea trolley through.

A certain W. Churchill also took up residence, in the time between the start of the Blitz and the completion of the Cabinet War Rooms. Access was at street level, and also by special arrangement with London Underground. Trains would stop there on the production of a special high-level pass, with the passenger in the cab with the driver. But after the war, everything was stripped out and returned to its former pre-war state.

And so Down Street slumbers still. Every so often, there are organised (and rather pricey) tours. There are sporadic plans to turn it into a restaurant, or art galley, but access issues (one lift shaft, one staircase) tend to scupper them. It’s too hot for a server farm, and too damp to store paper records. Its only enduring use is as an emergency escape route for those trapped underground.

Which is where we come in. It’s pretty much as I describe it in DOWN STATION. Down Street station has published floorplans and UrbExers have provided photographic detail. Many of the original features remain, along with some of the wartime additions. Dalip and Stanislav’s route through the tunnels is a journey you could make, if there was a wall of fire at your back and you’d seen have your work party immolated in front of your eyes. Otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it.

The street outside is narrow, with a modern-looking set of apartments directly opposite the glazed red-tile facade of 9781473211483 THE WHITE CITY TPB PFP2the old Down Street station. There’s the Mayfair Mini Mart in one of the old arches, and access to rear of the building down what’s labelled as Down Street Mews through one of the others. Another presumably provides access to the first and second floor offices above, but one is partially bricked in, and there’s a bald blue safety sign on the inset grey fire door: Keep Clear. Exit from emergency escape route. As far as I know, the exit to Down Street through the emergency door doesn’t lead on to a different world, but since that’s not been tested – at least, not under strict scientific conditions – the jury are still technically out on that point.

So why, given that Down Station is a fantasy, did I go to all the trouble of digging up a whole bunch of dusty facts and obscure photographs? Aren’t I supposed just to make things up? Wouldn’t it have been easier if I’d just used a, oh I don’t know, a wardrobe as my portal? Possibly. Then again, CS Lewis owned the wardrobe in question. If you think I’m nerding out a bit with my verisimilitude, you haven’t seen the rest of the folder of notes and, yes, maps, that I’ve used in creating Down.

It comes to this: if I can convince myself that Down is real, I can convince you. That requires a suspension of disbelief on both our parts. But that’s what we’re here for. Somewhere, somewhen, unexpectedly but just at the moment you need it, you’ll throw open a door to escape – and there it’ll be. The Books of Down aren’t just entertainments. They’re survival manuals.

The first manual, DOWN STATION, is already available and the second, THE WHITE CITY is freshly minted and available now in paperback, ebook and audio

For more survival tips, you can visit Simon’s website and follow him on Twitter @ComradeMorden