I grew up reading about readers. Boys and girls alike. Bastian in The Neverending Story was perhaps my favorite, as he got to literally enter the book he was reading. As a reading child myself, this was my highest dream – well, that and finding a wardrobe that led to Narnia. But I identified more with Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables, and Jo Marsh of Little Women. They were like me: ordinary girls who found solace, company and knowledge in books.
In general, reading about other young people who loved books let me feel as if I had found real friends, “kindred spirits” in the words of Anne Shirley. In real life, I didn’t know any other children who loved reading as much as I did. I read everything I could get my hands on: books about horses, old children’s books such as The Famous Five, fantasy novels, adventure books (they were mostly aimed at boys but I didn’t even realize it), contemporary children’s novels as well as the classics such as The Three Musketeers, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the above mentioned Little Women. Often, I loved these old classics best, as opposed to the classics for adults which I rarely manage to finish. It happened more than once that I missed my stop when on a bus because I was so deeply immersed in a book. I even read walking down the street. I simply couldn’t stop.
It’s one of my great losses that I no longer can read that way. It’s very hard nowadays for me to lose myself in a book. Part of it is adulthood, I’m afraid, part is that it has become my profession. I tend to analyze and critique the books I am reading instead of enjoying the ride. The last truly immersive reading experience I think I had was the early Harry Potter books, which I read when I was not yet a full-time writer. I remember loving the world so much that I couldn’t stop reading during my day job, and would sneak into the bathroom to read a few pages in secret now and then.
That said, it’s perhaps surprising that it took me so long to write a bookish character. Maresi is my fifth novel, but the first to contain a voracious reader – like myself, she loves books almost more than people and would rather spend the afternoon with a book. It was partially the setting that shaped her, I think. When I decided that the novel would take place in an abbey it became natural that there was a great big library. My previous fantasy characters haven’t had access to books in the same way, and the protagonist in the first novel set in my own fantasy world, Arra, was actually illiterate.
But I think that it was also that for the first time I poured myself into a character – Maresi is more like me than any of my previous main characters. I think I have refrained from writing someone like her because it seemed too unprofessional to stay so close to home when I started out as a writer. But with the fifth novel I was able to let go of what was expected of me, and truly write what I loved.