Bradford Literature Festival: A Guest Piece by Claire Fayers
This year’s Bradford Literature Festival (24th June – 3rd July) is set to be bigger and better than ever, with a wide, diverse range of events meaning there is something for everyone. One of the highlights is the festival’s free family programme, with events themed around superheroes, myths, legends and fairy tales, and monsters, myths and mummies. Here, Claire Fayers, who ran Heroes and Villains workshop for children at this year’s Bradford Literature Festival, explores the joy of fantasy in fiction.
I can still remember the first time I was ever struck dumb by a book. I was nine years old, and the book was a collection of Greek myths I’d found in the library. I spent hours gazing at the image of Perseus riding a winged horse, and desperately that wishing winged horses existed. From there, it was a short jump to The Hobbit, then The Lord of the Rings and then any other fantasy and science fiction I could get my hands on. Anything that would take me away from the real world.
It was inevitable that when I started writing books, I went straight for fantasy. Yet I know there are many people who can’t see the point of reading something so far removed from real life. Why? What makes one person look at a picture of a flying horse and say, “That’s ridiculous, flying horses don’t exist.” And another person to respond, “Yes, but what if they did?”
Escape and Discovery
One of the criticisms levelled at fantasy is that it’s escapist – but that is entirely the point. Whether it’s from the bully at school or the stress of a job, there are times when we all need to escape. As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, the only person who’s opposed to escape is a jailor. Fantasy offers a multitude of different worlds full of magic and strange creatures. The perfect place to lose yourself for a few hours.
It's not just a matter of escape, though. In entering the many worlds of fantasy we often come face to face with ourselves. Fantasy has its roots in our most ancient stories – tales that were passed on by word of mouth long before they were written down.
This suggests to me that there’s something fundamentally human about these stories of gods and monsters. No matter who we are or where we come from, we can find something in them that speaks to us. Courage, friendship, compassion and hope are all magnified to epic proportions.
Take the oldest recorded story in the world – Gilgamesh. It’s a tale of a hero king, his best friend, and a quest to the underworld. But at its heart, it’s a story of someone coming to terms with the death of a friend. It’s also great example of how a journey into other worlds can give us tools to deal with this world.
Imagination, Imagination, Imagination
I began my first novel, The Accidental Pirates, with a list of everything I liked most, and I challenged myself to see how much of it I could fit into one story. The list included pirates, magicians, librarians and evil penguins, and I’m proud that I managed to put them all in. There’s no way I could have done that with a book set in the real world.
There are still rules. Once you’ve established the maximum speed of dragon flight or how magic works, you must stick to it (something that caused me a big headache in the sequel!) But, as the author, you invent the rules. All the details of the world are entirely up to your own imagination.
Can Fantasy be True?
One of my favourite fantasy novels, The Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, states: fable has strong shoulders that carry far more truth than fact can.
How can a set of imaginary events in an imaginary world be true? Maybe, in the words of Neil Gaiman, paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton: Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
Or, maybe, it’s because these stories remind us that the world is a far bigger place than we will ever seen, full of wonders.
My novel, Storm Hound, begins when one of the Norse gods’ hunting hounds falls out of the sky and becomes
trapped on Earth, reduced to the size of a ordinary puppy. I wanted to make a big contrast between the world of the gods and our world, so I set the story in the most unmagical place I could think of – my home area of South Wales.
My little stormhound disagreed. Storm thought the plain Welsh town was a wonderful place, full of adventures waiting to be discovered. As I wrote, I found myself looking at the streets and the shops with new eyes.
Our world is still the most marvellous place to live. Sometimes I just need to step outside it for a while to be reminded of the fact.
Claire Fayers is the award-winning author of the Accidental Pirate duology, Mirror Magic, Storm Hound and, her latest book Welsh Fairy Tales Myths and Legends, nominated for the Carnegie Medal. You can find her online at www.clairefayers.com
Claire is one of the authors taking part in this year’s Bradford Literature Festival. Bradford Literature Festival is an annual arts event and year-round cultural outreach programme that hosts respected authors, poets, speakers, musicians and artists from Bradford, from the UK, and from around the world. Founded in 2014, BLF is now a key event in the UK cultural calendar and the most diverse literature festival in the country. Find out more about Bradford Literature Festival’s Family Programme here: https://www.bradfordlitfest.co.uk/events/?genre=children,fairy-tales-myths-legends,family-events,monsters-myths-mummies,superheroes,young-adult.