Author Takeover: HARRY ON CAMPUS by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

Our Author Takeover this month is dedicated to everyone headed to university/college this autumn/fall! It comes from Brit authors Lucy and Tom, whose novel Freshers is all about that first transitional year. In particular, the benefits of fandom and clubs for finding your people.

Uni beckons. Phoebe can’t wait, especially since her crush from school will be there. But Luke’s oblivious, still reeling from the fallout of the break-up with his ex. Thrown head first into a world of new friends, parties and social media disasters – can Phoebe and Luke survive the year, let alone find each other?

The importance of Potter fandom in the university experience

by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison (authors of FRESHERS)

If there’s one thing that all MuggleNet readers can surely agree on, it’s this: The Harry Potter series is a substantial force for GOOD. And this idea is a big theme in our new university-set novel, Freshers.

We’ve made reference to J.K. Rowling’s franchise many times throughout the three YA novels we’ve co-written, not only because we are both massive fans, but also because if you’re a teenager in the 21st century, the series is basically written through every single part of your existence. Your references, your memories, your friendships: They’re usually all touched by Harry and co. in some way or another.

In our first book, Lobsters, we used the Harry Potter series mainly for comedic effect. For instance, there’s a character called Robin who’s straining to present himself as a super-cool DJ, when really (like all of us) he’s just a complete and utter Potter nerd at heart.

However, in Freshers, we wanted to look closer at the heart of the franchise – and what it means to the current generation of teenagers. Freshers is about a boy and a girl during their first term at university. It’s about how messy and crazy and scary and hilarious that freshers’ term can be, and one of the major plotlines centers around the male character – Luke – joining the campus football team and becoming reluctantly embroiled in their nasty, misogynistic culture. We see Luke attend horrific drinking game initiations, overhear nasty “locker room banter,” and generally struggle to assert himself and stand up for what he believes in in the face of intense, macho peer pressure.

So when we decided that we needed another university society to represent the exact OPPOSITE of all that grimness, we had only one thought in mind: Quidditch Soc. Our female protagonist – Phoebe – signs up for the “York Boggarts” team on the first day of term, and we quickly see that they stand for everything the football team doesn’t: inclusivity, acceptance, openness, fun, equality, joy, and just general, unashamed silliness.

There’s one chapter in the middle of the book when romance is just starting to blossom between Phoebe and Luke, and she invites him to a quidditch practice. He’s dubious at first, but once he’s there he sees how different it is to the snide, cold, bullying culture of the football team. It’s just about having a laugh, making friends, and making sure everybody feels welcome. Even Phoebe’s new best mate, Negin – who doesn’t do sport because “I’m a Ravenclaw, and Ravenclaws aren’t generally into physical exercise” – finally gets involved in a game, only to find that she’s unexpectedly the best player on the pitch.

We read lots of articles ahead of writing Freshers about “toxic campus culture” and scandals involving university sports teams posting horrible stuff on social media. And to us, the Harry Potter series embodied the antithesis of all that: The fans, and the books themselves, promote kindness and thoughtfulness and humor. So we basically packed all those attributes into our Quidditch Soc.

Unfortunately, however, neither of us has ever actually played quidditch, so when it came to writing the Potter-inspired chapters, we watched A LOT of college quidditch YouTube videos. Plus, in the park near where Tom lives, there is a regular – very competitive – quidditch match, so he would go along and check that out every weekend. It was very enjoyable to watch, but he doesn’t fully understand how the Snitch aspect works…

Harry Potter will probably always feature in our writing because (a) we love it, and (b) teen readers love it, too. But after writing Freshers, we realized the series is also a pretty useful signifier indicating all life’s best character traits. Basically, on campus – just as everywhere else – Potter people are good people.

Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison