I recently read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. It's an unusual, magical novel illustrated with intriguing vintage photographs. It has been on the NYT bestseller list since last June and has just been published in paperback. There are exciting plans for a film adaptation (see below) and a follow-up.
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children;, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here - one of whom was his own grandfather - were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive.
I caught up with Ransom after his appearance at Comic-Con (where it was announced that a graphic novel adaptation of the novel is to be published by the Hachette Group's Yen Press imprint) and asked him about the book.
Why did you decide to write this book rather than, for example, an angsty coming-of-age novel about a young man who has graduated from film school and now lives in Los Angeles ?
I guess that would've hit too close to home! And besides, film school was graduate school for me, so I guess I'd already "come of age." Also, LA is so totally overrepresented in fiction, I figured it would be more interesting to tackle my hometown -- which is where the first part of the book is set.
Were any of the characters in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children based on you?
Oh goodness no. But when you write a novel in the first person, it's difficult not to have a little of yourself seep into that person's voice. But I didn't consciously seek to write myself into the story.
This book contains lots of intriguing photographs. Was there one in particular that was the inspiration for the story?
Not really, it was more the realization that there was this whole category of fascinating and vaguely unsettling photos out there in the world that made me want to find a bunch of them and somehow work them into a story.
How did you go about finding other photos to use in the book?
I did quite a bit of digging around at flea markets, in antique stores, and so on, but I also made friends with a number of vintage photo collectors who'd been at it a long time and owned some astoundingly cool images. Lucky for me, they agreed to let me use them in my book!
Do you think your training at film school influenced the way you tackled this project?
It's hard to say, but I don't think so. After several years of forcing myself to write in the hyper-regimented and constrained form that is the screenplay, it felt really freeing to cast off those shackles and write in novel form. I suppose there was a certain sense in which having all those photos to choose from while writing and constantly going back to them was a bit like putting a film together; I always had to ask myself what I wanted things to look like, since certain faces and locations were being set down in such a concrete way -- as a photo. And having all those faces to choose from felt at times like casting a film.
Why did you choose Wales as the location for the house where Miss Peregrine lives with the children?
It felt wrong to set this story in America -- Miss Peregrine's house needed to be somewhere a bit more inherently magical. The British Isles were a natural fit, and since I couldn't remember any fantasy stories having been set in Wales since the King Arthur legends, it seemed like virgin territory.
Without giving too much of the story away, is there anything in the book that you have made up that you wish existed in the real world?
The island, I suppose -- I'd love to explore a place like that. As for the fantasy elements, I'm happy to let them remain just that and nothing more: I like my life; I'd have no use for an alternate reality!
Are there any plans to make Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children into a film?
Yes! Tim Burton's directing it. It's slated for 2013 at the moment but since they're still working on the script I imagine that's pretty optimistic. So more likely 2014.
What are you working on now?
I'm knee-deep in the sequel to Miss Peregrine, and I have a book of found photography coming out in October called Talking Pictures.
Where can we find you online ? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.)
I'm @ransomriggs on twitter, my website is Ransomriggs.com, on youtube my username is ransriggs, and there's a miss peregrine fan page on facebook. Just in case you CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF ME! :)
Thanks for the Q&A!