I think most would agree that the world is in a bloody mess right now. I can’t switch on the TV or flick through Twitter without turning it back off again. An Orwellian reality looms, like a prequel to a post-apocalyptic teen movie, Facebook post after post sending me deeper and deeper into despair. So how does one escape this miserable world?

Short of building a spaceship in your garden shed or discovering a time machine, we’re all stuck on Earth waiting it out and hoping that real life won’t follow along the same trajectory as the ubiquitous disaster movie. Let’s hope that the baddie with bad hair and an itchy nuclear button finger won’t get high on his own megalomania and start WW3.

So what does that have to do with fantasy fiction? Quite a lot actually.

As reality gets scarier and real life gets harder to bear, sales of YA fantasy and dystopia rise. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Who doesn’t want to live in a time where we are young, full of hope and able to change the world? ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ and ‘Divergent’ are all bestselling Young Adult series set in a world full of the unknown. The youth of today fighting the crazy oppressors and believing that good will conquer evil in a land full of hidden dangers and unbelievable creatures. Not all that make-believe when you think about it!

When I first started writing ‘The Path Keeper’, the first book in my YA fantasy romance series, I didn’t think of the book as any of those things.

Young Adult? Well the main character is nineteen but the themes are quite adult and the swearing and sex is certainly not for young kids.
Romance? Well yeah, it’s initially about two people falling in love but it’s not your usual ‘boy meets girl’ plot. I prefer to call it a love story because I write about love in all its guises, from first loves to lost loves, from mother/daughter relationships to soul mates. It’s not just fleeting glances and hot sex – sorry about that.
Fantasy? Am I really a fantasy writer, isn’t that a job reserved for bearded old men or women who surround themselves with cats and wear a lot of purple?

Actually, I am a fantasy writer.

So what is fantasy fiction? Is it esotericism and all things mystical…or is it goblins, dragons and werewolves? The answer is that it’s all of that and more. Fantasy fiction is actually pretty easy to explain – it’s a story set in an imaginary world; or our own world that’s peppered with the supernatural or the unexplained. It’s a genre that can take you anywhere – from Narnia and Hogwarts, to Middle Earth and Westeros. It can make you believe that the impossible is possible, and that magic lies in the every day. It helps us escape.

At first I didn’t see my books as being from that genre.  When I think YA and Fantasy and Romance I instantly think ‘Twilight’…but there are no vampires, fairies or zombies in my book. I was scared of being categorised as Fantasy. What if it put people off? What if thought that my stories were full of three-headed monsters and red-bearded elves fighting a battle for the magical moon stone from a distant planet? It’s not. It’s set on the grimy streets of London and the sunny beaches of the south of Spain. It’s all pretty normal, there’s no cute Hobbit dwellings in my book!

The only problem is Zac. Oh Zac! My perfect blue-eyed boy is not one of us but he’s the one that gives the very real, very normal, story its tantalizing twist. It’s him that makes you shout out ‘but who is this guy?’ and keeps you turning the pages. Because Zac is everything you want from a fantasy romance hero. He makes you believe!

If it wasn’t for Zac there would be no fantasy twist…but then if it wasn’t for Zac there would be no story, and my goodness does he have a story to tell.

The Path Keeper’ is a romance for the realists, it’s YA for grown-ups and it’s fantasy for those that don’t really like fantasy. Basically it’s a bit of escapism, an edge-of-your-seat ride to a world where anything is possible. And isn’t that what we all need at the moment…a world filled with hope and magic, a place where we can believe that miraclescan happen?

Let’s hope that it’s not just our favourite books that give us a happy ending.

‘The Path Keeper’ (Accent Press) is available from 23 February 2017 at all good bookshops, or click here to order your copy. Visit njsimmonds.com to read the first chapter and discover the latest on author news, signings and appearances.