What if the world we perceive isn't actually real, but some kind of construct imposed on our consciousnesses from an external source? Such thoughts fascinated me from a young age. I wasn't the only one - this concept seems to have been bubbling and brewing in the imaginations of an entire generation, as can be seen in movies as far apart as Inception and The Matrix.
I first wrote down the seed of a story idea when I was 14. It continued to ferment for seven more years, at which point I actually started to write the story of Mariah and Faith: Mariah's tale of oppression and survival, and Faith's yearning for significance in a strangely inflexible world. But both hail from the same seaside town in Northern Ireland - Bangor, a place I first visited in 2004 and fell in love with for its winding coastal pathways full of ever-changing rocky nooks, its quaint houses and shops and lovely people. So I located my story there after nearly four years of writing - and it would need three more to finish.
It was my aim to create a link between these two women that they could never imagine existed - hopefully surprising my readers at the same time. It's a difficult thing to plant clues for something like that. Some readers figure it out right at the start. Some have to wait until the end when all is revealed. Most fall somewhere in between, so the experience of this book is different for everyone. Of course that means it's not everyone's cup of tea.
In this case, science fiction technology is the vehicle for the mysterious link between very different lives. It's not terribly technical - the most complex part is where the characters decipher some of their own DNA to answer a burning question of survival.
There is more to it than that, too: romance, betrayal, hope and loss, and above all, the idea that even virtual reality isn't out of God's reach - as He reaches in to tweak the settings.
But have you ever considered that this life IS a kind of virtual reality, when set against eternity? It is physical, but less than the spiritual world around and beyond it which will go on long after this our current existence has ended.
Worlds within worlds within worlds. The idea continues to occupy me and drive my fiction.
So what do you think? If you were in a coma-like stasis and attached to a virtual reality generator to live out a life, what part would God play in that existence? A pretty big part, I reckon. Nothing is out of His reach.
And now, the contest: Today, the most creative comment will win a copy of Faith Awakened. Tell us your thoughts on virtual reality!
Coast near Bangor, Northern Ireland (and me :P) - a magical place, but is it real?