14 Feb

Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact

Our first guest post is from the wonderful A.J. Hartley, whose book DARWEN ARKWRIGHT AND THE PEREGRINE PACT hit stores last October. Here’s a little about Darwen:  

Eleven-year-old Darwen Arkwright has spent his whole life in a tiny town in England. So when he is forced to move to Atlanta, Georgia, to live with his aunt, he knows things will be different – but what he finds there is beyond even his wildest imaginings!

Darwen discovers an enchanting world through the old mirror hanging in his closet – a world that holds as many dangers as it does wonders. Scrobblers on motorbikes with nets big enough to fit a human boy. Gnashers with no eyes, but monstrous mouths full of teeth. Flittercrakes with bat-like bodies and the faces of men. Along with his new friends Rich and Alexandra, Darwen becomes entangled in an adventure and a mystery that involves the safety of his entire school. They soon realize that the creatures are after something in our world – something that only human children possess.

I asked A.J. who his favorite literary heroine was, and how she helped influence the female characters in his own writing. Here’s what he came up with: 

Hmmm, tricky. I’m afraid I’m living proof of the old publishing adage that girls will read books with male or female protagonists while boys only read books with male protagonists! As a boy growing up in working classEngland, reading books of any sort when there were footballs to be kicked was enough to call my masculinity into question: reading books about girls would probably have gotten me killed!

I exaggerate of course, but there’s some truth in there, and I don’t remember really reading books with strong, interesting women in them till I was at university wrestling with the literary classics: Spenser’s take-no-prisoners Bitomart, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre who had to be locked in the red room for behaving like a wild animal, and Shakespeare’s romantic leads, Rosalind (As You Like It), Imogen (Cymbeline) and Viola (Twelfth Night). My day job as a Shakespeare professor has kept these last fresh in my head over the years, and though they are dated by modern standards they have an amazing self-possession, passion, maturity and forthrightness that I’ve always valued.

I’ve written female characters in my adult fiction—especially Deborah Miller, the gangly museum curator who is the protagonist of a couple of my mystery/thrillers—and I generally have some idea where they came from (Deborah came from seeing the brilliant Janet McTeer cross-dress as Petruchio in a production of the Taming of the Shrew at the Globe). By contrast, the girl who dominates Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact just popped onto the page fully formed and I have no idea where she came from. Alexander O’Connor (Alex), is a precocious—not to say pushy—African American Atlanta native who wears green day glow skull earrings with her school uniform, talks a mile a minute, and has the tact of a wrecking ball. If it crosses her mind, she’ll say it and she’s nothing if not honest. I have no doubt some readers find her annoying, but I think she’s brilliant: my favorite character in the book. She’s imaginative, resourceful and a force of nature in general, but the other kids find her pretty hard to take, and underneath her apparently unselfconscious sass, she’s actually pretty lonely. That makes her a perfect friend for the book’s namesake, who has brought plenty of baggage from his native England and just doesn’t fit in anywhere. They make a good team, once they’ve found things they have in common, like climbing through mirrors into impossible places and being chased by shape-shifting monsters bent on eating them. These are the things which make for lasting friendships.

But it is odd. I know exactly what Alex looks like, how she carries herself, the jut of her chin when she looks at people who are taller than her and—most of all—how she talks. I know the way she thinks, her private hopes and fears, her values, her tastes. It is like I’ve known this girl in life, and in truth I think I must have met her—or someone very like her—once somewhere, because she is so complete in my head, so absolutely real to me in ways my characters rarely are. I have no idea where or when I might have encountered whoever inspired her, though I’ve often tried to figure it out. Ah well. Such, I guess, is the mystery of the creative process!

You can learn more about A.J. Hartley and his novel, DARWEN ARKWRIGHT AND THE PEREGRINE PACT here.


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