This month’s Author Takeover comes from wonderful debut author Rosalind Jana, whose first book, Notes on Being Teenage, was released in the UK this past weekend. Aside from writing, Rosalind has just finished her degree at Oxford University and runs a successful blog on everything “from the psychology of colour to feminism and the media.” As such it is clear which character in the Harry Potter series serves as a mirror to her book-loving soul.
Own Being You
Possibly one of my favourite events of the year at primary school was World Book Day. The chance to dress as a cherished fictional character? Pay homage to the figures who kept me company whenever I was spinning through the pages of something new? Wear a painstakingly put together costume? Heavenly. One year I went as Arrietty from The Borrowers, complete with HUGE cardboard cut out buttons on my jumper. Another year I chose Pippi Longstocking. But only one character had my heart enough to dress as her twice: Hermione. “Easy,” I hear you say, “all you need is a wand and some kind of school uniform. Maybe a pointy hat if you want to labour the point.” True indeed, but it wasn’t a question of ease.
I chose her because, as another bushy-haired girl who loved reading and acquiring knowledge from the get-go, I definitely felt she was on my wavelength. Like her, I gobbled up books. Reading was so very, very exciting – all those new worlds to tumble into. At that point I mainly liked her outspokenness and general smarts. She always had the answers. And, you know, she possessed those magical powers too. Much of my childhood was spent reading about/dressing up as/pretending to be all things witchy. Hermione was the ideal fit. It took a few more years to recognize the insecurity and nervousness about failure that seams her narrative too. I suddenly understood that at secondary school. I didn’t love exams like she did, but certainly spent years striving to be some sort of “best.” As a teenager, I also got that sense of being slightly out of place: of all the ways a visible love for academia (and general hate of breaking the rules unless they really need to be broken) can mark you apart.
If I wanted to be even more specific, I could point to our shared youthful self-consciousness about rather gappy smiles (in year seven someone snidely told me “you’ll never get a boyfriend with those front teeth”), or the fact that, just as she wasn’t a natural at broom flying, I didn’t exactly flourish during PE. Oh, and we’re both named after Shakespearean characters. Hers is drawn from A Winter’s Tale. Mine – Rosalind – from As You Like It. But that’s just my version. Really, the great thing about Hermione is that she’s resonated with so many of us, in plenty of ways: assertive, inquisitive, loyal, vocal, overly stubborn (ahem), a bit self-righteous (double ahem), willing to stand up for what’s right, and always, always keen to be learning.
I hid a lot of things at secondary school, but never my desire to do well. It wasn’t a place where achievement was encouraged, but that just made me work all the harder. Now I’ve just finished doing a degree at Oxford. What I’ve relished most about being here, apart from the beautiful city (yes, you can make a Hogwarts reference if you have to) and brilliant, brilliant people I’ve met, was the chance to sharpen my thinking: to assemble an intellectual toolbox I can keep adding to for the rest of my life.
All too often as young women we’re encouraged to be quiet and passive, to underplay our accomplishments, to dumb ourselves down rather than stand loud and proud in everything we’ve done well. Hermione cuts through all that crap. She works hard and reaps the rewards. Crucially, she is unashamed of her brains, always reveling in the reaches of her intelligence.
Hermione is the brilliant Noma Dumezweni – taking the stage to explore what happens next in the narrative. Hermione is Emma Watson – another smart lady doing smart things. Hermione is every single piece of fan art made by every person from across the globe who saw something of themselves in her. That’s the beauty of it. We all read the same story, but bring ourselves along too: projecting onto and drawing inspiration from that magical world and the people within it.
When I was working on my own book Notes on Being Teenage, I wanted to stress the significance of owning your intelligence, your achievements, your interests, your curiosity, your capacity to be a good friend (as well as a general willingness to be sassy when necessary). They’re all things to nurture, things we deserve to hold close and be proud of. I wrote it while I was still at university, balancing up drafts and edits with academic essays, switching between a dizzying number of documents on my laptop. The hard work paid off, but I tell you what: there were plenty of days when I wished for a time-turner too…