Ever since Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was gifted to me, I have wondered which form my patronus would take (should I also be gifted the powers of magic and be taught how to use them by Professor Lupin). Being always fond of cats, I had always said proudly that, like Professor Umbridge, my patronus would be a feline of some kind—perhaps a domestic longhair or a speedy cheetah. However, as the years have gone by, I have come to realise that, far from being a powerful African predator that could take down prey twice its size, my patronus would probably be something a great deal less impressive. After all, we can’t all be stags.
I have suffered shyness for most of my life and the stereotypical animal we can associate with this trait is a mouse. It’s hardly an impressive patronus, is it? I certainly wouldn’t be able to take on a horde of dementors with a tiny spectral rodent, no matter how loud it squeaked! But perhaps I’m not really as mousy as I think I am.
A friend asked me the other day whether I related personally to any of the characters in my debut fantasy epic Equilibrium. At first I said, ‘No, not really, because most of them are brave or strong and seem to kill a lot of people,’ but on further reflection, I decided that this initial answer was not quite true. (Someone call the police!)
Most people cannot wear their hearts on their sleeves or say in life what they truly wish to say, for various reasons—sometimes, we are hindered by the fear of attention, consequences, public opinion, being misinterpreted or even of being tongue-tied. So instead, we stay quiet and keep our opinions to ourselves. But then, which person are we, truly? Are we the person on the outside—the personality that everybody else sees and hears—or the person on the inside—boiling with rage or simmering with passion?
While I believe that, once sketched, a writer’s characters can become their own creation—sometimes making their own decisions or fighting against what the writer would wish them to do or say—I also believe that a writer cannot help but inject a small part of themselves into their work by way of ideals or personality. In my case, Equilibrium has been a project I have agonised over since the age of fifteen. It became a part of my life and grew up as I did. Of course, there would be something of me in there, more than just my imagination.
And, indeed, I do sometimes find that my characters become an outlet, to say the things that I would like to say or do the things that I fantasise about doing. In fact, that is one of the reasons I was drawn to writing fantasy in the first place—that sense of freedom, of no boundaries, of characters that could move beyond the restraints of both my own society and theirs. In the same way that I can find escapism in reading, playing computer games, watching movies or listening to music, there is a perfect doorway in writing fantasy; and as long as I have this outlet, the police have nothing to worry about!