Just before the huge storm rolled down the valley, Wilton did. Farm-worker microbes flung themselves out of his path. Herds of enzymes cowered together.
I did a lot of daydreaming at school, particularly in maths and science. And english, history and geography. And, um … sorry, I didn’t really notice what the other subjects were.
Daydreaming is a very important skill for a writer and I don’t regret any of the work I put into it. But I did leave school with some serious gaps in my knowledge. Luckily writers get to do a lot of reading, so over the years I’ve managed to catch up on quite a lot of the year five syllabus.
One day, browsing in a bookshop, I picked up a book about parasites. What a revelation. I had no idea that each of us has our own personal population, vastly larger than the human population of the planet, all over us and inside us too. And that most of these billions of tiny residents are helping keep us alive and healthy.
The book was Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer, and thanks to Carl I developed a fascination with microorganisms of all types. In particular I loved the idea that each of us, as well as being the inhabitant of a planet, is the planet for our own inhabitants.
Before I knew it I had a character, Wilton the intestinal worm. Wilton is so tiny we’d need a powerful microscope to see him. He doesn’t think he’s particularly small, though, in fact he’s worried about his weight.
Strange things are happening in Wilton’s world and a hero is needed. Even before I discovered the microbial world I firmly believed that heroism has nothing to do with body size. Why shouldn’t a very tiny hero go on the boldest and most dangerous quest his world has ever seen?
No reason at all, I thought, but he’ll need a faithful sidekick. I’m a neat and tidy author, symmetry is a one of my hobbies, so it seemed fitting that Wilton’s friend Algy should be even smaller still and live inside Wilton.
I know what you’re thinking, that’s stretching things a bit. But I want all my stories to have a basis in reality, so before I started writing Worm Story I read lots more about the realms of tinyness. The Biography Of A Germ by Arno Karlen helped me a lot, as did The Secret House by David Bodanis (don’t read that one if you think your AirBnB guests might have dandruff).
All quests change their heroes, usually for the better. Wilton is no exception. By the end of the story he sees his world very differently, particularly once he’s discovered she’s called Janet.
Worm Story is available in bookshops and libraries in Australia and New Zealand, and online: