My introduction to fantasy thanks to George RR Martin, HBO – and my daughter
I have to hold my hands up and admit that, as a rule, fantasy is not my thing. Contemporary literary fiction is my genre of choice – as long as it’s quirky, edgy and a little bit dark. I like dark. And, of course, humour is good. Warped humour is even better. But fantasy: dragons and dungeons and sword yielding swagger, well, it never really appealed to me. Until recently I hadn’t read a single book which fell into the fantasy category (apart from a brief flirtation with Lord of the Rings one night at Uni when something which wasn’t coffee kept me awake and alert until daybreak) and never felt moved to do so.
But then something happened and my hand was forced.
A couple of years ago, my daughter, Aimee, who was eleven at the time, was cast in the pilot for some TV show called Game of Thrones. It was based on a series of books collectively known as A Song of Ice and Fire by an American author, George RR Martin, who, by all accounts had a massive world-wide fan base. I’d never heard of him or the books and nor had anyone I spoke to. The pilot, based on the first book, was being made by HBO, who I had heard of, and suddenly I was all ears. HBO, the company which spawned edgy contemporary television masterpieces like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and The Wire. My television preferences mirror my taste in fiction, so I felt a little light headed and weak at the knees. It’s fantasy, the casting person said. Oh, I said, like Harry Potter? Er, no, she said. Uh-uh.
So, the pilot was made and, in truth, Aimee’s role was tiny. She played a princess, Myrcella, daughter of King Robert and Queen Cersei. Except she wasn’t. She was really the daughter of Queen Cersei and Jamie Lannister, who just happened to be Cersei’s brother. Twin, actually. My interest was pricked, but not enough to buy the book, never mind read it. We’ll see what happens, I thought.
Well, the pilot was a success and the series was commissioned. The role of Myrcella would increase for the real thing, but that didn’t automatically mean that Aimee would be re-cast. In fact, my husband, John, and I assumed she wouldn’t be, especially when we realised that this production had a ready-made international fan base of Martin fans, all of whom, (yes, all) were united in a state of expectant ecstasy. It dawned on us that Game of Thrones was going to be big, too big surely for a little girl from Bangor. Our little girl. But then she was invited to re-audition. That’s nice of them, I thought, worried at the same time how disappointed she would be when she didn’t get the part, convinced that the competition would toss her out like a rag doll. But she did. She nailed it. Aimee Richardson, my daughter, was going to play Princess Myrcella Baratheon in one of the most eagerly anticipated television productions for years. Her role was still relatively small, but, in a cast of hundreds, significant.
Hell, I thought, it’s time to read the book.
Initially I approached the book as a task – a bit like a homework I just couldn’t get out of, with no Brodie’s Notes to fall back on. The book itself was huge; dense and heavy, and I have to say, when I turned it over in my hands, I groaned. I could get through three my-sized books in the time it would take me to read this one. But it had to be done. I owed it to Aimee to know exactly what she’d got herself into. The prologue was pretty much what I’d expected: an other-worldly eeriness; ghostly goings-on in a frozen forest. Oh lordy, I sighed, and ploughed on. Only another 800 pages to go. But then I was introduced to young Bran Stark and his devoted, industrious family, and the screwed-up Baratheon/Lannister connection, and beautiful Daenerys Targaryen and her delightfully psychotic brother, Viserys. Their stories were all interconnected with mystery and murder, sex and love, lies and laughter, politics and double-dealing, death and life. The narrative was jam-packed with action, suspense and downright flabbergasting plot twists. Before long I was hooked. And fascinated. This wasn’t what I expected fantasy to be at all. This wasn’t the stuff and nonsense of dare-devil knights and malevolent magic and fire breathing dragons I’d been anticipating. (Well, okay, there were some dare devil knights and there was an underlying suggestion of magic and, yes, some fire breathing dragons did pop up towards the end – but by the time they arrived I was SO excited to see them.) This was a complex, multi-layered, bloody brilliant story about people, power and, ultimately, survival.
Long before I finished the book I realised that George RR Martin isn’t just a writer; he’s a genius, and with every page I turned my admiration for him grew. With his Ice and Fire collection he has created an intricate, mesmerising masterpiece; an epic other world with at least one thousand characters, and a fascinating history spanning back thousands of years. His attention to detail is so vivid, so precise and his knowledge of his own story so vast that at times it took my breath away. I can honestly say that as a novice writer I felt more humbled by the experience of reading A Game of Thrones than any other book I have ever read. That’s not to say it’s my favourite, but it most certainly moved, amazed and surprised me – and taught me a thing or two about writing into the bargain.
I haven’t become a die-hard fantasy fan (still a quirky contemporary old mare at heart) but I am now a bona fide devotee of George RR Martin. I’ve read the second book in the series; A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords, number three, is in the pile on my bedside table. Of course the glorious HBO adaptation has helped, not just watching it on TV, but actually witnessing elements of the production first hand. The second series finale aired last week, completing a season which surely confirmed that Game of Thrones is one of the best things ever to grace a television screen. Ever. And my girl is part of it. I feel so enormously privileged to have shared Aimee’s adventure with her and am proud beyond words of both her performance and of the way she has approached the entire experience. It has opened a whole new world to me and I’ve made life-long friends in the process.
Sadly Myrcella doesn’t appear in book three, so Aimee won’t be involved in the forthcoming filming of the third series, which kicks off next month. She does have a cracking storyline in book four, though, so, fingers crossed, this time next year I’ll be preparing for another adventure with my daughter. In the mean time I shall keep reading the series, and not just so I can see where Myrcella ends up, but because I want to.
So thank you Mr George RR Martin for writing these breathtaking books. Thank you Dan Weiss, David Benioff and the team at HBO for translating the books from page to screen so brilliantly, and for casting Aimee as Myrcella. And thank you, Aimee, for you are the reason I embarked on this unexpected journey in the first place.