For me, few things beat the secret thrill of falling headlong into a story. Of living every twist and turn with the characters. Some of my favourites have very distinct voices. So here they are – narrators and characters that pulled me into their story and lived on in my head, long after I’d closed the book.
Lyra from Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Mercurial Lyra has grown up half-wild and half educated. While she’s clever and instinctive – qualities she will come to rely on as she journeys North to a land of witch clans and armoured bears – Lyra’s tough language often hides tenderness or fear.
‘Where are you going? All alone like this?’
‘Going to meet my father.’
‘And who’s he?’
‘He’s a murderer.’
‘I told you, he’s a murderer. It’s his profession. He’s doing a job tonight. I got his clean clothes in here, ‘cause he’s usually all covered in blood when he’s finished a job.’
‘Ah! You’re joking.’
Todd from The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. The voice of Todd is the very heart of this stunning novel – fumbling, self-doubting Todd, who runs away from maddening Prentisstown where men and animals can hear one-another’s thoughts. The world depicted here is a long way from our own, but we are sucked in, from the very first line, trying to figure out how that world has come to be.
Long John Silver from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Of course, Treasure Island is young Jim Hawkins’ story, but it is Long John Silver’s voice we all remember. ‘Israel,’ said Silver, ‘your head ain’t much account, nor ever was. But you’re able to hear, I reckon; leastways your ears is big enough.’ The genial, peg-leg cook of the Hispanola is a delicious mix of cussing and sinister charm, with dialogue that makes you laugh out loud before chilling your bones.‘Take a cutlass him that dares, and I’ll see the colour of his inside, crutch and all, before that pipe’s empty.’
Felix from Once by Morris Gleitzman
Once is the story of Felix, who runs away from his orphanage to try and save his parents in Nazi-occupied Poland. Too young to understand the cruelty of grown-ups, Felix tries to make sense of the unfolding horror around him. His voice has a warmth and optimism that makes you laugh and breaks your heart at the same time.
Smith from Smith by Leon Garfield
A friend’s daughter told me she loved this urchin’s tale of a 18th-century pickpocket, and I soon fell under the spell of grubby, whip-smart, light-fingered Smith, who steals a document that men are willing to kill for.
You mind yer own business!’ muttered Smith savagely and glared the old man’s beam off his face… ‘If I stays, they’ll nub me!’
Mr Gum from You’re A Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton
Shabba Me Whiskers! Mr Gum is a disgusting delight. He’s a character sparking with made-up words and phrases which you can’t help but use yourself. ‘Well, thank you me old gobbler,’ said Mr Gum handing over some money that Billy William would later discover was made of lies and broken promises. Sentences wander off in crazy directions - all part of the brilliance and originality of Andy Stanton’s writing.
The Executioner's Daughter by Jane Hardstaff is out now, published by Egmont.