Friday, August 19, 2011

Hunger Games and Harry Potter

Got your attention? No, I didn’t choose the title for this post just to draw viewers (though I’ll take it!), but because over the summer, I’ve been doing more fiction reading than I have in some time. (As a history professor, reading what I do most of the day, but fiction is a luxury I have failed to allow myself for too long.) While I intend to get back to Wolf Hall shortly, I recently read Hunger Games, and am re-reading the Harry Potter books. (My son has begun the series, and I need to be able to answer questions along the lines of, “Who was Ravenclaw’s keeper in the first book?”)

As I read Hunger Games, I was struck by the scene in which Katniss says good-bye to her mother before departing for the Games, and almost certain death. Up until that point, Suzanne Collins had successfully convinced me to see the world through Katniss’s eyes. I felt her grief at losing her father, sensed her attraction to Gale, and her love for Prim, and in forging this link between reader and protagonist Collins was no less successful than Rowling.

But in the scene between Katniss and her mother, the emotional bond I felt with Katniss was suddenly broken, and I experienced the scene from her mother’s perspective. No longer was I the brave protagonist heading off to match wits and strength with other teens. I had become a helpless parent, sending her daughter off to die. It was a wrenching change, and one that got me thinking about the way we read and write.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

On People and Places (a response to Nancy)

Hi Nancy,

Great post!

I’m struck by two of the issues you raise, for they resonated with my experience in York, researching The Midwife’s Story, though in different ways.

The first of these is how you dealt with historical and fictional characters, for two of my characters Bridget Hodgson (the protagonist) and Martha Hawkins (her sidekick) are simultaneously historical and fictional. There was, in fact, a midwife named Bridget Hodgson who practiced midwifery in York in the middle decades of the seventeenth century, and I kept many of the details in place. My fictional Bridget lives and worships in the same parish as the historical Bridget, she comes from the same gentry background, and is daughter-in-law to the Lord Mayor of the City. We also know that she had a maidservant named Martha who she trained to be a midwife.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Day I Went to the Priory

In the town of Dartford, a 40-minute train ride south of London Charing Cross, stands a building called the Manor Gatehouse. Inside you will find a registration office to record the births, marriages, and deaths that occur in Kent. This handsome red-brick building, fronted by a garden, is also a popular place to have a wedding.

But as I looked at the Gatehouse last week, I thought about who stood on this same piece of ground 474 years ago. Because it was then a Catholic priory—a community of women who constituted the sole Dominican order in England before the dissolution of the monasteries. And the priory is where I chose to tell the story of my first novel, The Crown.