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Author Ransom Riggs draws inspiration from old photos for Peculiar Children series

The sequel, 'Hollow Children,' draws more from the first


February 24, 2015

2 Images
Ever since author Ransom Riggs was a child, he has loved collecting things. At first, it was baseball cards. Now an adult, he collects peculiar vintage photos, which he began accumulating about five years ago.

These pictures served as the inspiration for and are peppered throughout “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and its sequel, “Hollow City” (Quirk Books, $10.99), which will be released in paperback on Feb. 24.

In "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," 16-year-old Jacob Portman journeys to a remote island off the coast of Wales and finds the ruins of an orphanage where his grandfather once lived. As he explores it, he finds more about the "peculiar children" who lived there and realizes that the children may somehow still live there — unaged. In "Hollow City," Jacob and his friends embark on a quest to save a peculiar world. In both stories, the dozens of vintage photos combine with Riggs' descriptive language to paint a world of peculiarities.

“I started collecting these pictures because I’ve always loved old photography but I never could afford anything from a photographer of note,” Riggs said in an interview. “It was at a big swap meet that I discovered you could buy other people’s old discarded family photos and vacation pictures for pretty cheap — a quarter, 50 cents, five bucks for a really nice one.”

At first he couldn’t believe that anyone would be interested in the old photos, but then he looked through a bin of well-curated pictures.

“I was struck with how interesting and evocative and emotive these pictures could be,” he said, adding that the pictures were a “lost frame into another world.”

About a year later, after promptings from his publisher, Riggs started weaving the photos together with words because they “cried out for a story.”

Riggs looked through half a million pictures to find the photos for “Miss Peregrine’s” and a coffee-table book he was working on in tandem, “Talking Pictures.”

“The more good stuff I found, the higher my standards got,” he said. “It became an obsession.”

The process of finding and using photos changed because, while he was able to tailor parts of the first book to its pictures, the plot of “Hollow City” was in motion and he needed to hit certain points.

“I had to go and find photos to fit the story rather than shaping the story to fit the photos,” he said. “I used the photos in a different way, too. They’re more illustrative, rather than in the first book (where) almost all the photos are something that Jacob finds and is actually holding in his hand.”

Along with choosing the photos, Riggs said, writing “Hollow City” was a different experience because he “already had the world and laid down the rules.” Jacob was no longer discovering elements as he had in the first book.

Riggs hinted at a larger world in the first book and sent the characters out in the world to experience it in the sequel. However, they are without an authority figure, so “they have to grow up very quickly to navigate this dangerous world. … Even though they are nearly 100 years old, they are still essentially children.”

Other challenges in writing “Hollow City” included figuring out what to do next, Riggs said.

“I left the future so open-ended at the end of book one, they really could have gone anywhere in the peculiar world and done anything,” he said.

Initially, Riggs envisioned a globe-trotting adventure where the children would explore “a million different loops,” or removed-from-time areas that are key to the story, but he instead narrowed his focus.

“When I started writing, that’s not how it turned out at all,” he said. “I fell in love with London and one particular era in London. I also realized that because it’s a story about time travel, they didn’t need to travel great geographical distances to go to very different places. They just needed to go to a different time, especially in a place that has such a deep catalog of history as Britain.”

For readers who are fuzzy on character names, the first few pages contain a character chart complete with peculiar photos.

Of these characters, Hugh Apiston, a begoggled boy covered in bees, was the first who came to Riggs.

“It was immediately obvious who he was and what his peculiar ability would be,” he said.

Riggs said he writes about feelings, especially those of love, in a way that is true to him.

“I don’t want to ever write a book that seems like it’s pandering to younger people or talking down to people who I know are very smart,” he said. “I write the books to amuse myself.”

The writing has been a hit with his largely teenage audience, who are loud, honest and sincere, he said.

“They’re not worried about what other people think of what they read,” he said.

The third installment, “Library of Souls,” is set to be released in September.

Riggs said filming for the movie adaptation of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” directed by Tim Burton, will start in a few weeks and is slated to premiere in March 2016.

While the photos may be slightly more forced in “Hollow City,” they are just as eerie and haunting as they are in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” Riggs is a master of description, and fans of the series will devour the exciting sequel just as they did the first book.

“Hollow City” contains some profanity and violence, including depictions of war. Two characters are romantically involved and kiss.

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