Jonathan Strange, Mr Norrell & Me

A tale from my past that I’m sure my fellow writers and literature aficionados will appreciate.

The year was 2004, so I was either 13 or 14 years old; the age at which all girls are at their most attentive when listening to their parents. ogei]w-00f–ahem, sorry, I accidentally smooshed against the keyboard there when I burst out laughing.

Anyway, one day I was sitting around watching TV when my mum walked into the room to tell me about a friend or acquaintance of her boss who had written a fantasy book that had taken ten years to write and was being much talked about in her circles. She told me she would pick me up a copy, since I liked fantasy books, when she went to the book signing that was happening the next day.

My considered and respectful reply was something along the lines of:

“Nn, whatever.”

The next morning my hard-working mother stopped by my room on her way to her place of employ, (she generally left the house before I woke up so she could leave work before 3) and woke me up to ask me:

“Hey, Rachel; when I go to the book-signing today is there any little message you’d like me to ask the author to write in the book for you?”

Not entirely sure what she was talking about and mostly asleep, I used what I thought was my ‘this-is-a-joke-between-us-mum-don’t-actually-tell-this-author-to-write-this’ voice to say the first witty one-liner that popped into my head. My mum laughed and left for work, and I forgot about it immediately.

Until, that is, she came home from the book-signing late that evening with my own personal copy of this book and said:

“I got you a copy of the book, Rachel–look what she wrote in it for you!”

At first I wondered what my mother might have asked this author to write for me, expecting some kind of basic ‘will you write this for my daughter?’-type thing I’d pretend to like for my dear old mum’s sake.

Instead, when I looked at the page my face must have filled with horror. And with glee.

Strange & Norrell

“Mum!” I exclaimed. “That was supposed to be a joke! I didn’t mean for you to actually ask her to write this!”

But, as you can see, she did, and I was able to show you this awesome picture.

I can’t say Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell became one of my favourite books; it was one where I never really connected to the characters, though I can only stand amazed at all the work that must have gone into it, and I will always remember with glee the aghast looks on the faces of anyone who saw me take out a book thicker than almost any we had in the school library and start reading it over the next month or so, and it clearly had an effect on my writing as the pitch for ‘The Ritual of DUELS’ reads something like this:

‘A group of young persons chosen from a selection of ancient and powerful families [like the characters from ‘Game of Thrones‘] who live in a version of our world that exists along side another which is the home of legendary supernatural creatures [like the world of ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’] take part in a complex, dangerous ritual competition of which there can be only one winner [like the plot of ‘Battle Royale’ ‘Yu-Gi-Oh’ ‘The Hunger Games’]. Hilarity ensues.’

[Seriously, the minute the book is finished and available for publication I fully expect someone to tell me The Simpsons already did it].

DUELS takes a very different path to JS&Mr.N, of course–it’s set in the modern era for one thing, and though ‘magicians’ (called ‘Changelings’, since an ordinary Human has to go to the other world in order to gain any magical talent, like changelings of legend who are taken there by faeries) do exist in-universe, they don’t really feature in the book.

But I give my eternal thanks to Ms. Clarke nonetheless. It still makes me feel bad for her that she had hoped to be as good as me one day, and my self-published novel has sold at least ten copies, while all she has is a currently-airing popular TV drama based off of her works…

Don’t give up on your dreams, Ms. Clarke! I’m still rooting for you!