A debut fantasy novel that opens portals to other worlds

Brown's 'The Book of Doors', a debut novel brimming with magic, adventure, and romance, opens up a thrilling world of contemporary fantasy for readers. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin

Books are often seen as a doorway into new worlds through our imaginations. But what if there was a book that could literally transport you anywhere in the world?

In British author Gareth Brown’s recently released debut novel, The Book Of Doors, that’s precisely what unassuming bookstore worker Cassie discovers when she comes across a magical book with that very power on one snowy, life-changing night in New York City.

The titular tome, inscribed with the words “Any door is every door”, can whisk whoever possesses it to wherever their heart desires, but such a coveted ability comes with a price – it puts Cassie within the sights of ruthless “book collectors” who would kill to get their hands on the book.

Subconscious magic

For Brown, however, who had written the book during the peak of the pandemic, the story was the embodiment of his own desire to escape from the confines of his home, located outside Edinburgh in Scotland.

“I’ve actually had the idea about a book that acts as a portal to anywhere for a long time, but I’d always imagined it set in a fantasy setting, like with swords and sorcery. But then during the lockdown, while I was sitting in my wee room working all day, I suddenly thought, ‘what if I take this book and put it in the real world?’ and things just naturally flowed from that,” says Brown in a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

Despite holding a full-time job with the National Health Service as the director of screening for Scotland, Brown managed to write the book in about three and a half months – a pace even he acknowledges was remarkably fast.

“I had more time and more space then, which gave me the capacity to write. So I made sure to block out an hour every evening or half a day each weekend to write. But I also think it was just one of these things that was meant to be – it was the right novel at the right time and it wrote itself. There was a sort of subconscious magic to it all,” says Brown.

That’s not to say that The Book Of Doors was his first attempt at writing a novel.

“I’ve known that I wanted to become a writer from a young age, so I’ve written lots of bad novels over the last 20 years. They’ve remained unpublished, but you have to write bad novels in order to write good ones,” he adds.

‘It was the right novel at the right time and it wrote itself. There was a sort of subconscious magic to it all,’ says Brown during a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin‘It was the right novel at the right time and it wrote itself. There was a sort of subconscious magic to it all,’ says Brown during a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin

The Book Of Doors is definitely the best thing I’ve written so far, but that’s not to say other things I’ve written weren’t good – you could say that the book through which I got my agent served its purpose, so even if it’s never published, it’s done something for me. Every other book that I’ve written along the way, I’ve gained something or I’ve learned how to write better.

“As long as you’re writing something that’s better than the last thing you wrote, you’re improving as a writer. I definitely couldn’t have written The Book Of Doors if I hadn’t written all the rubbish ones before it. It’s a progression,” he says.

For those reluctant to leave the world and characters featured in The Book Of Doors behind after turning the last page, you’ll be glad to hear that Brown plans to write a sequel, which he’s just begun writing. The book has also been optioned for a TV series.

“There’s a production company in the US that’s currently working on it and they’ve got a showrunner, which sounds optimistic. So, fingers crossed!”

Malaysian connection

Brown, 47, is no stranger to Malaysia, thanks to his wife May, who is Malaysian.

“Back in the early days of the Internet, there were these things called ‘talkers’ (online virtual worlds where multiple users could chat in real-time), which were basically the predecessor to chat rooms. May and I were on the same talker, so we just started chatting and became friends,” says Brown, telling the story of how they met.

Then when May was on a holiday to visit a friend who was living in England, she dropped by Scotland and Brown acted as a tour guide for May and her friends, taking them around to see the sights.

“We stayed in touch, and later she came to Edinburgh to do her Master’s, where we ended up living together because I had a spare room. And the rest, as they say, is history,” he says.

The couple currently live in Scotland with two “highly excitable” Skye terriers, but they do try to come back to Malaysia for a visit every year.

“I love Malaysia, but I probably love the food more than anything else,” he admits with a laugh.

“I’ve been to a lot of countries and Malaysian food is, to me, the best food in the world, because you get a diverse mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisines and all of it comes together so well.”

Brown even lists off some classic favourites: curry laksa, char kueh teow and roti canai.

“I love the 24-hour eating culture here. It could be two in the morning, but you can still go to a mamak stall,” he says.

So where would he go if he ever found himself in possession of the Book of Doors?

“I like travelling, but I hate being on airplanes and I hate airports. So it’d be great if me and my wife could just pop over to Malaysia for lunch and see family for a bit, then go for a walk around Tokyo or New York. Just visit places we’ve been to before without the hassle of long-haul travel, that’s what I would do. Every day, we would go somewhere else,” he concludes.

Isn’t that the dream?

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