Anna James, author of enchanting children's debut Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers, shares the top ten literary characters who inspired her love of reading.
One of the things I love about books is that we all read the same stories, the same combinations of words on a page, and yet we all have different emotional reactions to them, and we all had varied and individual relationships with the characters inside. Here are ten characters that inspired me; not necessarily my favourites but the ones who had the biggest impact on me either as a reader or a writer.
1) Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
Top of the list has to be Anne Shirley, the red-headed orphan who finds a new home and is kind-hearted, funny, eccentric and an absolute joy to read about. Her scrapes and triumphs are written with such wit and warmth in a way that’s dated brilliantly.
2) Lyra Belacqua from Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
The character that probably had the most impact on me as a person is Lyra from Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra’s courage, her independence and her determination to stand up for what is right even when it was complicated was hugely inspiring to me.
3) Pippi Longstocking from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
In some ways my first introduction to feminism, Pippi is a fiercely independent, incredibly strong little girl who lives by herself and befriends/terrorises the village she lives in with her refusal to play by the rules.
4) Momo from Momo by Michael Ende
Momo is a little girl who can tell stories that seem real, and the whole book is a celebration of the power of storytelling, as well as an argument that time spent writing, reading and creating can never be time wasted.
5) Elaine from They Do Things Differently There by Jan Mark
They Do Things Differently is now out of print but had a huge impact on me as a reader and writer. Elaine is a teenage girl from an eccentric family in a suburban town that hates difference, and when she meets the heroine of the book she gives her a different perspective and helps her see the magic that’s just under the surface.
6) Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I love unlikeable heroines and Mary Lennox is stubborn, rude, and difficult when she is sent to live at the bleak Misselthwaite Manor. When she discovers the titular secret garden, and allows herself to let others in, she starts to thaw.
7) Gwendoline Chant from Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
Speaking of unlikeable girls, Gwendoline is arguably even the villain of Charmed Life. A headstrong, ambitious girl who is dismissive of everyone who won’t help her get what she wants, she is an absolutely brilliant character who shows how you can still sort of root for someone who is getting everything wrong.
8) Clare Abshire from The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
My last few choices are from adult books; and The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my favourites. I read it when I was in sixth form and I fell in love. Clare, and her desire for a different, freer life from the one her family want for her made me feel less alone as a teenager.
9) Franny Glass from Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Much more interesting than the infamous Holden Caulfield is the Glass family that Salinger comes back to in a few of his stories. Franny’s story tells us her existential crisis and how she is grappling with the world around her, and was another fictional woman that made me feel less isolated.
10) Orlando from Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf is one of my favourite writers, and Orlando is my favourite of her books. A time-travelling, gender-flipping trip of a book and a character, this book and Orlando as a character taught me that you don’t always need to play by the rules, of gender, or of writing.