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For an author--at least, for an author like me--the single most important factor when writing a book is the protagonist’s voice. Who is she, what does she sound like, is she strong or weak? Headstrong or passive? If an author doesn’t have a clear vision in her head, writing a novel centering around this person is going to be very, very difficult.
Fortunately for me, I had a clear vision; so clear I could actually see it and read it myself. I was inspired to write Alice I Have Been after unexpectedly viewing a photographic exhibit called "Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll." Among the many photographs there, all taken by the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, one stood out to me. It was of a young girl clad only in rags, but with an expression on her face that stopped me in my tracks. She was so adult, so frank, so worldly, as she gazed at the man behind the camera.
She was 7-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of Dean Henry Liddell of Christ Church, Oxford. It was to her that Lewis Carroll--or Charles Dodgson, as she knew him--told the story of a little girl who tumbled down a rabbit hole. She was the one who begged him to write it down.
I wondered what happened to her after she grew up; I wondered what happened between the two of them to result in such a startling photograph.
I wondered so much that I decided to write about it, write her story in her own "words"--although of course, with historical fiction, I got to make those words up. But she was my protagonist, and immediately the most important factor in writing this novel was known to me. For the girl in the photograph, and the girl in the classic books, were one and the same; they were my Alice, and I knew her voice, I knew who she was because of them. The wise yet wary face in the photograph, the unflappable voice of the girl in the books--all I had to do was capture it on the page.
My task, then, was to show that voice, that personality, maturing naturally through the years as she continued to try to leave Wonderland behind. But the difficult work was done for me, I truly believe, all because of the collaboration between two remarkable people--Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll. What happened between the two of them 150 years ago continues to fascinate and inspire. It gave the world Wonderland, after all--And it gave me my heroine. Sometimes all you have to do is open your eyes and look around you for inspiration; look at a photograph, read a book. I’m so very glad that I did.--Melanie Benjamin
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|"Alice as a Beggar Girl."||"Alice Liddell, as a Young Woman"||"Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves, 1932."|