What you may not know is that she talks to animals. Or, perhaps more accurately, they talk to her. She’s agreed to tell us today how that came about.
Please welcome Susan Wittig Albert.
The Tale of the Talking Animals
With apologies to Rita Mae Brown, Carole Nelson Douglas, and others, I’ve never been a fan of talking animals in mysteries. So when I set out (back in 2002) to write a new series featuring children’s author and illustrator Beatrix Potter (1866-1943, The Tale of Peter Rabbit and more), I didn’t plan on including animals who talked.
But while writers may have the best of intentions, things don’t always work out the way they plan. In this case, it was Mrs. Tiggywinkle, Beatrix’s real-life hedgehog, who tossed a spanner in the works. In 1905, when Beatrix went to the village of Near Sawrey to take possession of Hill Top Farm, she took her animals with her: Mrs. Tiggywinkle, two rabbits, and a mouse. So I included these creatures in The Tale of Hill Top Farm (the first book in the series) to characterize Beatrix as a woman who loved animals and used them as models for her drawings. Three chapters into the book, Mrs. Tiggywinkle started to talk.
I’ve known for a long time that I am only partially in control of my characters. Sure—I can give them a history, equip them with a personality, and confront them with challenging circumstances (commonly known as the “plot”). But once created, characters have their own minds and don’t always take directions from me.
What can I say? I’m an opportunist. Beatrix’s animals wanted to talk? Well, fine. I’d listen and take notes.
Animals are incredibly useful as point-of-view characters because they roam everywhere, at all hours. They hide in the corners. They watch from the trees. They know and discuss all the villagers’ secrets, even the guilty ones. This allows me to play some interesting games of who-knows-what.
Some of these animals, however, gave me a different challenge, since Miss Potter’s characters belong to Frederick Warne, who owns her copyrights. I had to get a license to use them, which took some doing and involved some tradeoffs. (A Warne editor reads and critiques my books before they go into production.) But it is definitely worth the effort, for the animals--Miss Potter’s and mine--give the series a unique whimsicality, and the multiple people/animal plots make for some interesting surprises. And the readership is broadened, too, since the series is promoted as a crossover. Kids enjoy the animals, making the books perfect for family read-alouds.
I think Miss Potter would be pleased.
Thank you Susan!
If you go over to Susan’s website, you’ll find links to all of her series and books. You’ll also find a list of her podcasts about herbs and more.
In addition to this fascinating post here today, she’s holding a drawing for a free book.
Book Drawing!If you’d like to enter our drawing for a copy of The Tale of Oat Cake Crag, go here: http://cottagetales.com/blogtour/drawing_0913.php. This drawing closes at noon tomorrow, September 14, 2010.
You can always find Susan on her blog, Lifescapes.
Plus, there’s more! You can ask Susan questions or say hi to her right here in the Comments. She’ll be checking in over the course of the day.