When I was growing up, my parents collected antique volumes of the classics. They owned a bookstore, so books were never a shortage in our house—at any given moment, review copies, the latest bestsellers, or local histories were stacked on side tables and bed stands. But the antique books were something special. They lined our bookshelves, and each came with a slipcover and original pamphlet introducing the volume. Whenever my father opened one, he would first breathe in the old smell of paper and binding glue in a tradition my entire family still keeps.
When I was around fourteen, I discovered that these classics weren’t just décor to make our living room look elegant. They could actually be read, too! It was something of a shocking discovery. I started with the more well known ones: THE INVISIBLE MAN, ROBINSON CRUSOE, FRANKENSTEIN. I remember being surprised by all the drama in them: people were constantly getting their heads cut off, being stranded on deserted islands, having passionate love affairs, and making monsters in basements. In comparison to a lot of the modern books I was reading for school and pleasure at the time, they struck me as far more exciting.
Many years later, when I discovered a passion for writing young adult literature, my mind went back those classics that I had loved as a teenager. The TV show LOST had just ended, and I was caught up in the idea of mysterious islands. I remembered HG Wells’ chilling novella THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, and went back to re-read it for pleasure. I was reminded of all the things I loved about the classics: terrifying monsters (as monsters are meant to be), dangerous possibilities of science, castaways, madness, and exotic settings. The Victorian-era science still felt relevant in today’s age of genetic modification and blurring scientific boundaries. Retellings of more familiar classics like those of Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Shakespeare were plentiful and successful, so I tried my hand at retelling Welles’ classic.
However, I didn’t want to do a traditional retelling by setting the story in a modern or post-apocalyptic time period. Instead I decided to reimagine the story as told from a new character: Doctor Moreau’s daughter, Juliet. The daughter of a mad scientist, who might have dark inclinations herself, would bring an entirely new perspective to a story set in a time when women were so restrained.
This presented several challenges, however. I wanted to set the book in the original time period (1890s), but use language that would feel fresh to a modern reader. I wanted to make the monsters and mad science truly scary—but I have a notoriously weak stomach. Writing the laboratory scenes and the occasional mangled dead body could only be mitigated by a few hours of mindless reality television. And describing genetic modification without ever using the word “genetic” (not in use at the time) nearly drove me mad myself.
In the end, after lots of editing, proofreading and many hours of research, I was satisfied that The Madman’s Daughter stayed true to the spirit of THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, yet brought something entirely fresh and original to modern readers. The best part of all was getting to immerse myself one more in the world of classic literature, and remind myself of one of my first true loves.