Nancy Brilligan is one of my older characters, first formed in a short story I wrote at university over ten years ago. Her overall story I’d thought of in nascent form years even before that, inspired by Kantian philosophy, pop science programmes about quantum physics and various coming-of-age existentialist cartoons like FLCL or Serial Experiments Lain. I wanted to tell a tale about adolescent listlessness in a world where the normal rules of physics only precariously apply – I first imagined a brother-sister duo who moaned about how ordinary everything is in-between aimless bouts of cricket (the cricket bat was central to the story even then), but the actual quantum monster weirdness felt like an afterthought. Then the brother-sister became sort-of-close friends, with a boy dealing with everyday life while his friend – a violinist girl – accidentally finds herself on the run alongside a strange figure who battled the quantum weirdness. In short order the boy fell away from the story (he felt completely superfluous) and the strange figure took centre stage.

The character’s image came before the character herself – the goggles, the trenchcoat, the cricket bat, the headphones, the boots, the hoodie, the crazy equipment – and her personality emerged naturally from her get-up, that of an odd-smelling conspiracy theorist at the far fringes of society. Her struggle (and her name) only took solid shape after I’d dabbled in post-modernism in university, when I became interested in the formation of “castles in the sky” and the perfect worlds envisaged by philosophers and modernists. As a fearless defender of relativity, Nancy Brilligan has tasked herself with the job of quashing the warped realities created by people using quantum physics to form their own biased narratives. If you’re wondering what the heck anything in that last sentence meant, that’s exactly why I wanted to express it in a fun cartoony way, to make it easier for people to get where I was coming from. But the couple of short stories I wrote about her vanished into the slush pile and I took up a job in London after university – and it was only during this period while mulling over her story in my head and adding bits to it that its sheer undiluted London-ness began to seep in, when the shapeless morphing historical identity of the metropole became central to Nancy’s world.

So why has it taken so long for this story to finally emerge in comic form? As much as I’ve dabbled in sketching in the past, I’m fairly realistic about my limited skills as an artist – that is why I’ve always written my stories in prose. The story of Nancy Brilligan was particularly tough to express in this way because nothing about her world is conventional – writing about it in good old Victorian novel style like I’ve done with all my other unpublished works feels utterly inadequate to the spirit of the piece. So Nancy stewed on the back-burner while I worked on bigger, beefier works that were easier to translate to the prose novel format. All the time I was working on those, however, I kept thinking of Nancy’s world – returning to it for the odd short story or experimental work on my blog, feeling it deepen and gain texture – and the moment I was done with yet another novel that’d never see the light of day, all of a sudden the country I thought I’d knew and become comfortable in had turned itself completely upside-down. I realised that a story about how nostalgic and modernist narratives converge in a polyglot metropolis to completely warp the world around them in history-shattering ways had abruptly assumed a relevance it hadn’t previously possessed. If I didn’t tell this story now, in this form, I wouldn’t have the chance to tell it again.