In my daily life, when I’m not writing books, I write about film for Time Out magazine. Since early childhood I’ve been obsessed with films, I used to collect sticker books and soundtrack albums and posters, and was always begging my mother to take me to the cinema. So it’s hardly surprising that, when I came to write ‘The Waking World’ I took inspiration as much from movies as from books. Here’s just a few of the films I thought about while I was writing.
John Boorman’s epic retelling of the King Arthur stories is quite violent and not really meant for children, but it’s without doubt the film I thought about the most while writing ‘The Waking World’. Nicol Williamson plays Merlin as a weird old Celtic mystic, he’s unpredictable and funny as well as being powerful and wise. That led directly to the creation of Peregrine – I didn’t want my readers to ever really know whose side he was on, or quite where they stood with him. Last year I had the opportunity to talk to Boorman on the phone for work, and I told him how much ‘Excalibur’ had inspired me. He seemed pleased, but I don’t think he really knew what I was going on about.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
I’m going to be controversial here and say that – apart from the first two – the Harry Potter films have been better than the books. JK Rowling’s stories and characters are terrific, but she does have a slight tendency to ramble (that fifth book was HUGE!). The films are much tighter and more direct. This third film is my favourite by miles, it’s incredibly inventive and visual, and filled with gorgeous imagery – Hogwarts feels like a real place for the first time, a rambling, ornate castle in the heart of an epic country landscape. That scene where they’re all sitting around tasting different Bertie Botts sweets is my favourite in the whole Harry Potter series – it’s sweet and a bit goofy, but it feels completely believable, the actors are great, and Rupert Grint’s hat is kind of a classic.
A Room for Romeo Brass
Another film that’s not really intended for children, even though it’s about childhood. I can’t think of another film that so cleverly captures the trials of being young, the tough choices you’re forced to make and the moral dilemmas you’re thrown into. It’s about two best friends who meet a mysterious stranger – at first they think he’s just a local oddball, but he soon turns out to be quite dangerous. There’s a sense of threat and mystery in the film which I really wanted to recapture in ‘The Waking World’ – in fact, if they ever make a film of it, I’ve always thought that the star of ‘Romeo Brass’, Paddy Considine, would make a great Peregrine.
ET The Extra Terrestrial
A very different look at childhood than either ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Romeo Brass’, but just as believable. I think Henry Thomas’s performance as Elliott is probably the best ever given by a child in any film – if you get the chance, watch his audition tape on Youtube, it’s incredible. But all three kids here feel really convincing: they argue, they swear, they make their mother’s life hell, but when things take an unexpected turn they band together immediately. I wanted to capture some of that feeling in ‘The Waking World’: Aran, Cas and Mohanna all bicker at each other from time to time, but when things get serious they support one another through thick and thin.
This is a TV series, but I’m going to sneak it in here anyway because it was a huge influence on ‘The Waking World’. ‘The Tripods’ was shown on the BBC when I was really young, and it’s set in a future world where Martians rule the earth by fitting everyone over the age of 14 with a device called the cap which makes them completely docile and easy to control. It follows a boy who runs away from his village to escape the cap and joins a group of resistance fighters in the Alps. The idea of a future world which has reverted to a medieval feudal society was just one of the ideas I ‘paid homage to’ (ie, stole) for ‘The Waking World’. Frustratingly, the producers ran out of money so only the first two books in John Christopher’s excellent trilogy ever made it to TV.