The Magic of Harry Potter and History

11 harry-potter-jacob-meydenbachAndrea here, The holidays are a magical time of year, especially for children. So it seems a perfect time to talk about something truly magical—in every meaning of the word! I just saw the wonderful exhibit at the New York Historical Society entitled Harry Potter: A History of Magic. (It’s the U.S. stop for the show that originated at the British Library, and the linked article from the NY Times shows some wonderful pictures of the display rooms.)

Harry 1Now of course, Harry isn’t just for kids—I’m a huge fan, even though I’m not usually one for fantasy or paranormal. The magic of J. K. Rowling and her books is the storytelling and how she weaves together the powerful elemental themes of friendship, love, courage in the face of loss and adversity as she tells a riveting tale of Good vs Evil.

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Into the Woods

Angus beachNicola here. After the beach and the sea, a woodland is probably Angus’s favourite place for a walk. I’m not a dog, obviously, but I can imagine just how exciting it might be for him; so many sights, sounds and particularly smells that are different from the garden or the street. There is something special about the woods in lots of different ways: places to run, places to hide, secrets and surprises just around the corner.

In the fairy stories, woods are often scary places. I remember Hansel and Gretel as one of my least favourite fairy tales because of the sinister cottage in the woods. And doesn’t Little Red Riding Hood meet the wolf in a wood? Woodland is portrayed as a wild, dark place that is full of danger. The same thing happens in other books from Harry Potter, to Lord of the Rings, to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So often a wood is a threatening place. Often we get lost there.

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What We’re Reading in September!

Into the FireNicola here. It’s the end of September and as usual we’re doing our round up of Wench reading for the month and asking you to recommend some more books for our towering TBR piles! One of the things I love about the What We’re Reading feature is that the recommendations always inspire and enthuse me. It’s lovely to hear people sharing their suggestions with such pleasure! As the nights grow longer here in the UK and the evenings are cool it’s the most perfect time to curl up in front of the woodburning stove. Maybe that’s why the first book I’m talking about this month is called Into the Fire. It’s a dual time story set in the present and the fifteenth century, involving the story of Joan of Arc. Into the Fire is a thriller and I found I was equally engaged with the modern parts of the story as I was with the engrossing mystery surrounding Joan. This book is really compelling. I could not put it down.

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Pine MartenNicola here. Today I’m talking about an eccentric museum in the Scottish Highlands, a ruined castle, a monument and… The “Harry Potter” train! The thing that unites them all is the Jacobites.

A couple of weeks ago, like Bonnie Prince Charlie, I made my way to the Scottish Highlands and enjoyed following in his footsteps around many of the places with connections to the Jacobite cause. (I also enjoyed seeing the wildlife, especially the pine marten in the picture which visited the bird table at the place we were staying!) I’ve always had a soft spot for the Stuart dynasty. Their political judgement might have been wayward but there is something dashing and romantic about their struggles again the Hanoverians. Like so many lost causes they appeal to the heart not the head.

The Jacobites aimed to restore the Roman Catholic King James VII and II, and his heirs, to the thrones of Scotland, England and Ireland. Jacobites rebelled against the British government a number of times between 1688 and 1745. There was support for the Stuart Monarchy all over the country but most particularly in the West Highlands of Scotland where some of the clans had strong Roman Catholic affiliations.   The story of Bonnie Prince Charlie has become inextricably linked with the Highlands and the Scottish clans but also with tins of shortbread, mugs and… trains.

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Same Book, Different Cover

The Lady and the Laird Nicola CornickNicola here, talking today about why books have different
covers depending on which country they are released in.

My latest book, The Lady and the Laird, has had the closest
to simultaneous release I’ve ever had (within 6 weeks) in the US, the UK and
Australia, and this has provided an interesting contrast in terms of the covers
chosen for the three different editions.

First up is the US version. I think it’s very pretty and I
absolutely love the colours, the subtle use of tartan and the landscape.

The UK cover sticks with an elegant style that has been used
by MIRA for my books
Laird_uk_350 for the last few years. Again it’s very pretty. One reader
commented: “I love the romanticism and mystery of this cover. It says classy,
sensuous and intriguing.”

Last but very definitely not least is the Australian cover,
which I first heard about when it caused a stir on Goodreads! It’s hard to
believe but in my entire writing career I have never had a single cover
featuring a bare-chested man or even one with his shirt open so when I saw my
hunky, topless Scot I was pretty much overwhelmed!

The Lady and the Laird mystery coverBoth the US and Australian covers say “Scottish historical”
but in a very different way from each other. The UK one simply says
“historical” I think. Interestingly when I asked readers to vote on which they
liked best, people didn’t divide up according to where they came from. There
were plenty of UK readers who loved the US cover, plenty of US and UK readers who
adored the topless Scot, and others who thought the UK cover was gorgeous. So choosing cover art by territory is not an exact science (as it were.)

Designing cover art is a fascinating business – how do you
make a book appealing to readers at the same time as capturing the spirit of
the story? What is even more fascinating is that putting different covers on
different editions of the same book is pretty common. Evidently publishers really do feel
that what appeals to readers in the US is different from what appeals in the
UK and vice versa and that German taste, for instance, will vary from Portuguese.

Harry Potter 2The story of what happened with the cover of the first Harry
Potter book is pretty well known. In the UK
Harry Potter 1 it was called Harry Potter and the
Philosopher’s Stone
.  The cover is on the right. In the US it was called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and
the cover is on the left.

They not only changed the cover but also the title.
And in the UK there was also an “adult” version of the book for those people
who didn’t want to be seen reading a kid’s book! I don’t know if this happened
in the US as well.

A different but equally interesting contrast is provided by
Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall.
The US cover is on the left below and the UK one on the right. The US cover has an instantly recognisable image of Anne Boleyn on it whilst the UK one is intriguing if a little more obscure.

Hilary Mantel 1It’s interesting that the major reason given for varying the
covers of books depending on which country you are in is that the cultural
tastes of different countries vary hugely and so what will appeal in one
place won’t have the same
Hilary Mantel 2 impact in another. Certain layouts and imagery may strike a chord with readers in different parts of the world, but as we’ve seen
this isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds.

What do you think about putting different covers on
different editions of the same book? Do you think it’s a good idea or should
books, like films, have a global identity?