The Youth Libraries Group are delighted to welcome L D Lapinski to talk about a lifetime of reading and escapism and how this has influenced her novel The Strangeworlds Travel Agency book in with us now to discover more as YLG's part of her blog tour. A big thank you to L D Lapinski for writing such a superbly engaging feature.
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is a book of escapes. The main character, Flick, longs to escape from what she sees as a dull and repetitive existence. Her new friend, Jonathan, wants to escape from responsibility he neither asked for nor expected. And there are other, less genial characters, looking for escapes of their own.
Escapism has always been a selling point for me when it comes to books. I spend so much of my time worrying about things that are happening in the real world that when it comes to choosing art to enjoy, I want to settle down with something that’s happening in a galaxy far, far away, or even further. And right now, I am extremely keen to escape in any way I can. Stories have never been more important, in whatever form we choose to access them. Books, film, TV, video games – all of them offer escapes into other worlds, where we either craft stories of our own, or choose to lose ourselves in someone else’s for a while. I suppose, too, there is some sort of safety and comfort to be taken from seeing conflict happening where it can’t get you – like when you’re at school and there’s a fight happening but you’re up high and safe, so it’s ok to shout advice down!
I am a child of books. My entire childhood was a journey of travelling from book to book, world to magical world. I loved anything magical, anything where our world was infiltrated and set alongside a more magical one. The idea that adventure was merely a step away was something I’ve always loved reading about, and always wanted to write about, too. I used to write “books” all the time at the table, folding paper and writing stories about a frog named Pip who lived in a tree house and flew a little aeroplane around. As I got older, I kept on writing what was often poorly-disguised Lord of the Rings fanfiction before moving back to making up original stories of my own. And they were always about magic, in some form or another. And, more often than not, set in other worlds. But how to get there… that was something I’d never really figured out!
As much as I love books where there is one other secret or magical world behind the curtain, I’m much more of a fan of a multiverse, or myriad of worlds. I have always loved how, in His Dark Materials, Will has access to an infinite number of worlds when he uses The Subtle Knife. And the whole concept of him being the custodian of all those worlds – and yet able to step into them at any time – was something that played on my mind for years. The responsibility of keeping the worlds safe comes at great cost to Will, and I wondered how that might work if such a responsibility was handed down in a family. And what might happen if someone who wasn’t a part of that family suddenly knew about the secrets. I also very much wanted to make access to the worlds contained in one place. Somewhat like Narnia, where the portals are in definite places, but instead of each one taking you only to one specific world, there could be many possibilities. The whole idea of using suitcases was not one that I consciously set out to craft – it came to me suddenly, and the idea of other-worlds-in-storage suddenly had a place to land.
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is the product of a lifetime of reading, of stories in all forms. It is a book I never sat down and planned, because it’s almost as though it has been slowing coming into existence for my whole life. The portals, the magic, and other worlds, have all been percolating in the back of my mind without me really knowing it. Which, ultimately, is the real magic of books – they inspire. Perhaps not instantly. Perhaps not consciously. But they are catalysts of imagination, each and every one. I am privileged to have grown up in a household where books were available, where the library was (and still is) in the village to be visited with ease. I am dreaming of the day libraries are open again, so I might see The Strangeworlds Travel Agency on one of their shelves. It is the result of a lifetime being in love with stories, and it is my hope that it will become part of another child’s reading journey, wherever that might take them.