The Story Behind BRIGHTLING

Today’s blog post was written by Rebecca Lisle, author of BRIGHTLING.

BRIGHTLINGYes, I shamelessly stole the plot for BRIGHTLING from Dickens’ book, Oliver Twist. But that novel has been researched and remarketed numerous times since Dickens first wrote it and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.  BRIGHTLING is not a simple parody.  I have reworked the plot and weaved my characters and my themes into it.  I know that Dickens’ book is a masterpiece and I can only dream of such literary brilliance…  but I bet he wished he’d thought of flying horses.

For my second Hot Key Book, I wanted to return to Stollenback where the houses and streets look a little like this. This town is actually Troyes in France.

When I was beginning to write BRIGHTLING, it was the character of Sparrow, the protagonist who started the ball rolling.  I loved her from the moment I named her. I don’t know why ‘Sparrow’ slipped into my head, but it did and it was only afterwards that I made the link with her mother and her love of birds.  Stormy is the name of my protagonist in THE SPIN.  It immediately felt absolutely right and I began to write him as Stormy.  ‘Stormy’ suggests a turbulent nature which he has, although at the start of the book he is so downtrodden that his inner fire simmers, almost hidden under the surface.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 12.06.20When writing about a character it helps to have some idea what they look like. Characters need a face of course, hair and eyes and all that stuff, but it’s often not something I describe much, just something I need to know.  But I don’t worry too much about things like eye colour, because how often do you even notice eye colour? It only matters if it really matters – if for example the bad guy’s eyes are a burning orange . . .

Sparrow’s personality is hugely important to the turns the story takes.  Oliver in OLIVER TWIST isn’t very pro-active. I wanted Sparrow to be a bit more like Lucy in the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, naïve without being stupid, brave and plucky. She won’t stand for injustice or cruelty to animals.  And like Lucy Pevensie, over the course of the story, Sparrow develops and becomes wiser and braver.

Habits, such as nail biting or nervous twitching are a good way of showing someone’s inner tensions. Tapper the baddie in BRIGHTLING drapes himself over furniture and opts to lean against things, crossing his arms and legs to make his own personal scaffolding rather than stand unaided. I used this to illustrate what a weak character he really has.  He is loosely based on Sikes in OLIVER TWIST who is a marvellously evil character.

 This is Oliver Reed playing Sikes in the 1968 film Oliver!

Bill2 Here is an old drawing of Sikes being mean to his dog.

It has been a huge help having films and musicals and other reimaginings of the book to help me work through BRIGHTLING, but in the end I’m proud that it is my book. I wrote the words. It’s a story about friendship, family, animal rights and loyalty – oh and flying horses.