Thursday, 2 October 2014

A matter of perspective

Even when I was little, I was short. By this I mean, shorter than just about everyone else. Children are vicious little beasts and teased me constantly. My pet hate was to be shoved to the front of photographed groups – even in the senior sixth form (and Deputy Head Girl, to boot) I was seated with the ‘ickle’ first years. They also called me ‘snitch’. I explained that it should really be ‘titch’ as snitch meant something quite different. That went down like a hot air balloon out of gas.

Alicekey
It’s not hard to see why I adored fantasy stories mingling little and large. It probably all began with The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I loved the fearless Arrietty Clock, and was enthralled by a tiny and resourceful heroine who had as much impact as a ‘giant’. Then there was Gulliver’s Travels and it's cleverness. And who can forget Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ... ? Oh, how I longed for a magic potion to make me tall. Tall people are in charge, right?

Viagens_de_Gulliver_023Back in the real world, I finally retaliated, discovering as most of us do, that bullies are dolts and that a well-placed word (or preferably insult) will work wonders. Just because you’re five feet one and three-quarter inches doesn’t mean you’re insignificant, does it?

This sounds all well and good, but in all honesty, I still struggle. People of all ages can be so patronising. It doesn’t help that I feel as if I’m shrinking, because the rest of the population is getting taller, which I feel is a bit unfair.

It’s extraordinary how often I have to ask for someone to reach for goods in supermarkets. Do they want me to buy the stuff or not?It’s a conundrum. I have to imagine what it’s like to be tall. Most tall people I know were once shorter, so why is it so hard for them to empathise?

Ah well, at least I don’t bump my head on beams and I never struggle with lack of leg-room on planes. I digress.

gianthandsI came up with True Haven, a Regency-inspired YA fantasy (out on 3 October on Crooked Cat). The book has a strange beginning, in that it started as a dream about a world within a world. I daren’t give too much away, but I came up with a story that explored what happens when differently proportioned worlds collide.

When I started, I never imagined how complicated things could get. Yes, it’s fantasy, on a crazy scale, but it still has to be pseudo-plausible. I spent hours looking up the relative proportions of humans, animals, buildings and even insects, before drawing all manner of weird diagrams to make sure it all worked.

The heroine is Miss Claramina Dart. She’s ‘Mina’ for short, as it were, and small for her age, but she is no minor, being the linchpin of the whole, fantastical tale. This Miss Dart is resilient, full of ingenuity and determination.

 One of my favourite Shakespearian quotations sums her up: “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” I wish she’d been in my class at school. She would have stuck up for me. Her travelling companion is named Max, of course, and at first they don’t see eye to eye (on so many levels).

Mina’s growth, literally and figuratively, is a huge part of True Haven. Her actual size correlates with the more intangible parts of her development.

 For example, when she’s dwarfed by the normal world, after a few moments of reorientation, she must adjust speedily or face certain doom. The sudden transition serves to reveal her inner strengths. (I only realised this when my editor, Bella Book, suggested as much.)

cover_final

Toying with the concepts of different-sized beings inhabiting the same world was quite a challenge. It’s an intriguing vehicle to explore all manner of concepts in (I hope) a humorous and exciting fashion. Best of all, it’s mind-boggling fun because for once, I was the giant puppeteer in charge.

I knew I’d get my own back one day.

By Pamela Kelt

Captions:
Alice by Tenniel
Gulliver under the microscope
Jack and the Beanstalk - chased by the giant

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