“A great character is someone you don’t think of as a character. They’re a real person. You want to knife them or marry them … draw them and write songs about them … they’re nuanced and complex, with lives outside the plot of the story.”
This week we’re chatting to Elizabeth Hopkinson, the prize-winning author of Silver Hands.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire in the 1970s, and studied English at the University of Leeds. I now live in the same Bradford village I grew up in, with my husband and teenage daughter.
I’ve been writing stories since I learned how to write – I used to make my own books out of scrap paper, illustrated in wax crayon and stapled together – but I started seriously as an adult in 2004, after writing Tolkien fan fiction. I have now had more than 50 short stories published, and won several prizes.
Silver Hands is my first novel. Set in the 18th century, it tells of Margaret, a young girl who runs away to sea in order to escape marriage to a sinister suitor. It combines several of my favourite subjects: history, fairy tale, classic literature and Japan!
I am now writing a series of books – also set in the 18th century – about a castrato singer and a flute-playing bird charmer! They’re brought together by the Archangel Michael, for the good of the city of Angelio, and each other.
My short fiction also features in a couple of recent fairy tale anthologies: The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2, from Mother’s Milk Books, and Those Who Live Long Forgotten, from 18th Wall; as well as upcoming anthologies Circuits and Slippers, edited by Jaylee James, and Incandescence Transcendent, from Oloris Media.
What are your top five books of all time?
This is an impossible question! I have way more than five favourites! But if I have to choose five stand-alone books that transport me body and soul:
- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
- Evelina by Fanny Burney
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
- Phantastes by George MacDonald
For five series, I would choose:
- Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier
- Farseer/Tawny Man/Fitz & the Fool by Robin Hobb
- The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
- Fushigi Yûgi by Yuu Watase
- Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde
And for short story collections:
- Grimms’ Fairy Tales
- Time and the Gods by Lord Dunsany
- Tales from the Perilous Realm by JRR Tolkien
- The Lais of Marie de France
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
What do you think makes a great character?
A great character is someone you don’t think of as a character. They’re a real person. You want to knife them or marry them or just find out what they’ll do or say next. You want to draw them and write songs about them and go online to find out what other people have created about them. That’s because they’re nuanced and complex, with lives outside the plot of the story. They develop and change, and there’s always more to learn about them. It’s true of central characters like the Fool, Evelina, Lucy and Patroclus, and of supporting characters like Childermass, Hotohori, and Poppet & Widget. They’re real because their world is real. I hope that’s true of my characters too.
I’ve always thought Toby Stephens would make a good Dr. Lemuel (Silver Hands.) Van Guelder’s look was inspired by Nakago from Fushigi Yûgi, so it’s hard to imagine him looking like anyone else, but someone like Harry Lloyd could probably do him justice. Margaret is only sixteen so she’s a bit hard to cast. Georgie Henley? And for Taro… Sato Takeru?