Anthea and Wendy Turner give the lowdown on Underneath the Underground – a parallel whiskered universe below the capital

Like many good stories, Underneath the Underground began a long, long time ago in a far-off land. It was almost 30 years ago, in fact, when Anthea and Wendy Turner were standing together on the platform at Knightsbridge Station waiting for the train. “We looked down and we saw these mice scurrying around. I think one of them had got a little bit of a sandwich in his mouth,” says Anthea. “He may even have waved at us!” adds Wendy.

It set the sisters thinking and, to while away the journey back home to Chiswick, they started inventing stories about a parallel city deep below the capital’s streets. Each mouse community would have a different identity (rather like London). “I think we probably started out with Knightsbridge and decided they must be very posh mice,” says Wendy.  Westminster had the political mice, Wimbledon sporty types, and so on. The story flowed with remarkable ease. “As soon as you put the building blocks in – you’ve got the Underground – each of the stations are pertinent,” says Anthea.

The tales they told to while away a journey turned into a children’s book. It was warmly received, although Anthea recalls a few harsh critics complaining it was ‘London centric’ – perhaps missing the point. “It’s our capital city,” she says. “But then we have that advantage of being brought up a long way outside London and we always got so excited about visiting as children.” They are both long-time residents now but have never quite forgotten the childhood thrill of making a trip from Staffordshire to the capital to see all the sights.

Page Turners: Anthea and Wendy Turner on their subterranean series
Underneath the Underground captures many of the capital’s landmark places and events. Photo: Ken Murphy and (top) George India

Some two years ago, when their mother was ill, they started thinking about the parallel city again. “Our Mum and Dad were still in Stoke-on-Trent, and we found ourselves driving up and down the M6 on these journeys that were four and five hours,” says Wendy. They talked about how much the capital and the world has changed since the original Underneath the Underground. “And I said: ‘do you fancy revisiting the mice – it could be fun?’.”

And so it is. The King’s Coronation and the Kohinoor Diamond, the first in the new series, centres on a world-famous sparkler ‘borrowed’ by Hounslow’s mice to light up the ballroom for their coronation celebration. The new King and Queen even appear as characters – an endearing, funny and slightly irreverent portrait to delight young readers.

Now the mice are back with Raining Strawberries at Wimbledon. Feisty young mouse Elly Archer breaks all the rules in her mission to travel to watch the Wimbledon Ladies’ Final without her parents finding out. Meanwhile, Harry the Hero Rat is planning on snaffling leftovers from the tonnes of strawberries sitting in SW19 to make strawberry jam for every single mouse living on the Underground. King Charles and Queen Camilla are back – this time playing in a charity match ahead of the famous fortnight. Other famous faces appear, too, but it would be an unforgivable plot spoiler to mention what happens to poor Andy Murray.

“Children can map the location of each and every Underneath the Underground whiskered community using that iconic map”

Mixing in real and four-legged characters makes for a pleasing fiction – it’s hard not to chuckle at the idea of the King and Queen playing tennis in their crowns. “We really liked them in the last book as characters, and we decided we have to keep them in every story. Our Charles and Camilla are hilarious,” says Anthea.

The sisters sent the real King and Queen a copy of The King’s Coronation. Having met them at a Clarence House event a few years back, they still recall their warmth and sense of humour – they may well enjoy the caricature. Other people appear more subtly, including their father. He’s in his early 90s but remains a keen geologist and enthusiastic mudlarker, and had an important role in The King’s Coronation. “He’s never happier than when he is digging up something,” says Anthea.

Harry the Hero Rat is distinctively ginger and was inspired by the real African Giant Pouched Rat (the Gambian Rat) trained to undertake mine clearances in Mozambique. Closer to a small dog in physique than his UK rat cousins, he would be rather too large to fit discreetly under the tracks of the Piccadilly Line, but no matter. Children can look up the real-life inspiration for Harry on the BBC or YouTube and be awestruck. And they can also map the precise location of each and every Underneath the Underground whiskered community they read about using that iconic map. “It’s all geographically accurate,” says Wendy.

The inhabitants of this subterranean world will be back for another adventure at Christmas. The Turner sisters – along with their father – have just enjoyed an adventurous trek to the Galapagos Islands and set aside time on the voyage for discussing plotlines and characters. So who knows what exotic characters and situations will be encountered by the whiskered folk beneath London next time around?


Underneath the Underground: Raining Strawberries at Wimbledon by Anthea Turner and Wendy Turner is published by Splendid Publications.

Further reading: School for Pirates, Justin Somper’s gripping new adventure