Today is my stop on the YA Shot Tour and I am here today with a brilliant guest post from Maggie Harcourt about her bookish inspirations!
by Maggie Harcourt
They say inspiration can come from anywhere, don’t they? And that’s largely true: you can find it in supermarkets, on trains, on your bedroom ceiling sometime around 3am when you’re having trouble sleeping and it’s the least convenient time imaginable to start Having An Idea… but every once in a while, it’s easier to pin down the thread of an idea. Every once in a while, it’s a book (or a film, or a television show) that starts you asking: “What if…?”
So here’s a couple of mine…
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
I don’t remember the first time I read about the Musketeers, although I have a feeling it was probably filtered through Dogtanian & the Muskehounds (because 1980s). What I do remember is that I really, really wanted to be one of them: getting into daring swordfights with the Cardinal’s Guards, carrying out extravagantly risky secret missions… and all with my best friends by my side. Because it wasn’t the swashbuckling or the intrigues (political or romantic) that really caught my imagination: it was the friendships. Athos, Porthos and Aramis. The three inseparables; the three Musketeers. All for one, and one for all. So important is their relationship that the story is even named after them; there’s not even a mention of d’Artagnan – the actual protagonist – in the title…
To let you in on a little secret, I never got Doctor Who when I was growing up. It didn’t help that I largely grew up in the gap when it wasn’t a thing: I think I vaguely remember a handful of Sylvester McCoy’s episodes as the Seventh Doctor, and I definitely remember sitting down to watch Paul McCann’s feature-length outing as the Eighth (even if I don’t actually recall any of what happened in it…). But ‘new’ Who? That is very, very much a thing. I love the Doctor. I love that he can change who he is without ever quite changing it. I love that he calls himself ‘Doctor’ and that he believes in trying to solve things by being clever; fixing them instead of breaking them further like any other hero might do. I love that however angry and frustrated he might get (especially when it comes to humans), he still keeps coming back to try and make things better. Plus, you know, aliens and the TARDIS and jokes.
This is one of those “I really ought to read the book but I’m just going to sit here and cradle the film to me, gently weeping,” sort of choices… because there is no way – no way – that I can watch this film without dissolving into an ugly-crying, snivelling puddle. I don’t even know why: I spend half of it shouting at Allie and Noah’s choices, and the other half sighing wistfully at it. I’m not saying I particularly endorse the whole “I’m going to hang off the bottom of this Ferris wheel cab until that beautiful girl agrees to go out with me, possibly suggesting I’m a tad unhinged…” episode, but if you can make it to the end of the story without even a single tear, you might be a bit broken. Also, that kiss in the rain? Wow.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
I find it very difficult talking about this book (or the recent – brilliant – television adaptation of it) without… well, to put it bluntly, “going on a bit”. I wholeheartedly love this book. I love it – even the footnotes. Yep. (And, as I realised when I re-read it last year, if you want to find the rest of the women in the story, that’s where you look for them. Rather wittily, Clarke is making a pointed comment about the fact you’ll find many of history’s strong and powerful women hidden in the footnotes of the past.) I adore its layers: the alternate history, the scope and the prickliness of the characters… and the magic. I’m definitely a fan of the magic.
But what’s fascinating is that it has a lot in common with some of my favourite contemporary YA stories: if you strip it back to its absolute core, you can read it as Jonathan Strange’s coming-of-age story (which, while he feels a bit old to be a YA protagonist to our eyes, given the historical setting and his social class it sort of works). He’s dealing with authority, finding his own place in the world, falling in love, finding out who his true friends are… finding himself. And if he happens to encounter a shed-load of fairies and the Duke of Wellington while he’s at it, well, so much the better.
The thing that made me fall for it, irredeemably and head-over-heels, though, is that it’s also about books. Not just magic and power, but books and knowledge and what they mean – and what people will do to control them.
(By the way, if you can’t face the size of the novel – or the footnotes – do track down that recent BBC adaptation. It’s as perfect an adaptation as you’ll ever find of anything, both true to the spirit of the book and entirely its own thing.)