There is the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words, but in the case of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children seriesit is the symbiotic relationship between photographs and words that makes reading all three books so special.
Library of Souls is as wonderfully spooky as the title suggests and Ransom Riggs has once again come up with an incredibly imaginative story of reversals and time loops, evil doers and acts of heroism. I'm very curious to see what Riggs will do next, but first he tells us how it all began in the exclusive essay below...
It would not be entirely incorrect to say that I created the world of Miss Peregrine unintentionally. Or rather: I did not initially set out to create a whole parallel universe of time loops where marginalized but incredible people lived. When I began writing the first book, back in 2009 to 2010, I meant only to write about a boy who came to believe, over the course of the story, that such a world existed, although it would be left ambiguous whether or not the peculiars and their loops were more than figments of his tortured imagination.
My first draft of Miss Peregrine was epistolary, told in the form of long letters Jacob wrote to an unnamed girl back home as he and his father spent the summer on a remote island off the coast of Wales. We come to realize, about halfway through the story, that the girl had died tragically some months before, that Jacob and the girl had been very close, and that the trip was meant in part to help Jacob escape the scene of his trauma and heal. The letters he writes to a dead person are proof he has not yet begun to process his grief, or even acknowledge his loss, and the peculiars are probably just a manifestation of his traumatized mind"”probably.
The problem with this story, I realized about three-quarters of the way through writing it, was that I found it deeply unsatisfying. I found myself wishing the peculiars were real, definitely and unambiguously so, but for whatever reason I had put them in a story that would never allow them to be. I had never written a novel before, and I suspect part of the problem was that I was afraid I couldn't build the peculiars a complete and convincing-enough world. It was a giant, intimidating task"”or it seemed so at the time"”and it was much easier to just draw the peculiars as shadows and never bring them fully into the light. But what's easy for the writer is rarely good for the novel.
So I went to my editor with three-quarters of a book and a confession: I had messed it up. I'd written the wrong book. I needed to throw it away and start all over. I had been fighting my own best instincts; I needed the peculiars' world to be a real place my character could explore and escape to, because I badly wanted to explore it and escape there myself. Miraculously, generously, my deadline was extended, and I wrote the next draft in a furious blast. I committed to the fantasy and set about building the world.
I made charts. Graphs. Wrote hundreds of pages of rambling notes. Created story bibles. Searched for inspiration in fiction and mythology and films and photographs"”especially photographs. I'd had stacks of vintage snapshots on my desk and my hard drive since the project began (I'd been collecting for a couple of years by then), but when I decided that Miss Peregrine and her young charges were real, the photos' purpose changed: They were no longer red herrings that functioned only to fool Jacob. Now they were proof. Documentary evidence. They grounded the fantasy world I was creating in some measure of reality"”which is important to me, as a reader, when I'm being asked to suspend my disbelief and lose myself in another world. I love the feeling that the other world is close enough to our own that I could walk out my door and go find it myself; that it's all mixed up with our own workaday world. It's there"”right there"”if only you can learn to see it. That's what I've tried to create in the Peculiar Children books: a fantasy world that's not just next door to our world, but is our world"”with a little twist. But to find my way to it, I had to allow myself to ask, what if?