A.J. Hartley from DARWEN ARKWRIGHT AND THE PEREGRINE PACT

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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