Harry Potter: Up Close and Personal

Last weekend, my daughter and I drove to Leavesden, near Watford, to the Warner Brothers Studio for the Harry Potter Studio Tour. My daughter grew up with Harry, Hermione, Ron and Dumbledore and has always been a big fan. She raved about the books so much I ended up having to read them to see what all the fuss was about. Yeah, you’ve guessed it – I got hooked too! So it was with great excitement we set off on Sunday morning for the seventy-five minute drive.

Thanks to Sally SatNav (GPS to my friends across the pond), we found the place quite easily and once parked, took a few photos and collected our tickets before entering the enormous building.

The large reception area’s walls displayed huge photos of the key characters; my one disappointment of the day was the lack of a picture of the original Albus Dumbledore, Richard Harris. Hanging from wires hooked into the ceiling we found the ‘flying car’ from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as well as the trolley loaded with Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s cage which was used at Kings Cross Station to get Harry onto Platform 9 3/4. As we passed the barrier to enter the tour, we saw the staircase from 4 Privet Drive as well as Harry’s bed in the cupboard beneath. I also noticed the following inspirational quote from J. K. Rowling:

“No story lives unless someone wants to listen”

Once through the doors, and after a short cinematic presentation, we wandered through the hallowed doors into the Great Hall. WOW! It’s very large and, apart from the CGI ‘enchanted ceiling’, it was exactly as you see it on the films.

From there, we walked into one of the sound stages. In here were the sets for the Gryffindor Common Room, Harry’s dormitory, the Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut, Umbridge’s pink office, The Burrow (complete with working props like the self-washing frying pan) and the fireplaces from the Ministry of Magic. It was amazing! I was imagining them in the films my daughter and I have watched (and enjoyed) over and over.

Potions Classroom

Potions Classroom

These sets were interspersed with some of the most memorable props from the films: the ice palace from the Yule ball; the door to the Chamber of Secrets; various costumes; the door to vault 713 in Gringotts; the massive pendulum, the Griffin which guarded the stairway to Dumbledore’s office; Hagrid’s motorbike and sidecar; and, of course, the Nimbus 2000 and Firebolt. There were also the two massive statues from the Ministry of Magic.

In between all these (and much more I haven’t mentioned), were information cards displaying interesting details about certain aspects of the films.

It must have taken us more than two hours to work our way round this first area and I’m not convinced we saw absolutely everything!

From there the tour led us onto the ‘Backlot’ where we found the Knight Bus, the Potter’s Cottage from Godrics Hollow, 4 Privet Drive (these last two were almost full size properties build on the Lot – unbelievable), Hogwarts Bridge, the Riddle family gravestone (you might remember it from the Goblet of Fire), but best of all – BUTTERBEER. OMG! If you have a bit of a sweet tooth like I have (and we both blame my father for that particular trait, lol), Butterbeer is a non-alcoholic nectar from the Gods. Both my daughter and I loved it so much, we went back for second helpings!    DE-LI-CIOUS!

The Potter's Cottage in Godrics Hollow

The Potter’s Cottage in Godrics Hollow

After enjoying the fresh air for a while (and more photo opportunities), we proceeded to the second sound stage. The first part of this was all to do with the creatures, how they were made and the animatronics used – very interesting. As I predicted, my daughter’s complexion paled a little when she saw Aragog (she is a chronic arachnophobe), and being the wicked mum I am, I just had to take a photo of it for her. *sniggers*

Who's scared of giant spiders? My daughter!!

Who’s scared of giant spiders? My daughter!!

Suddenly, we were in Diagon Alley. Another ‘WOW’ moment. All the shops and Gringotts bank are real buildings. You can actually look through the windows and see the shop’s wares laid out as they are in the films. The only exception was the animals were stuffed.

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley

The penultimate section was the work that went into building the sets, from concept drawings and ‘artists’ impressions’ paintings to detailed plans which most architects would be proud to display, and miniature models made from white card of the most widely recognised buildings from the films.

Then . . . the pièce de résistance . . . we round a corner and there it was – a huge model of Hogwarts. It was the wow-est WOW moment of the entire tour. The way it was lit and the sheer magnitude were breathtaking. You could actually walk around the whole model and see it from different levels. I have to say, it was a fitting end to the tour and putting this magnificent structure anywhere else would not have done it justice.

Do I really need to caption this??

Do I really need to caption this??

On our way out to the gift shop, we suddenly found ourselves in Ollivanders, where there were literally thousands of wand boxes – each one was labelled with a cast or crew member who had been involved in any one of the eight films. I thought that was a lovely touch. My daughter was overjoyed to see the name of her nephew, who was an Assistant Director on the last two films, on one of the wand boxes and insisted on taking a photograph (even though it was about four foot above her head) and instead of stepping back, she decided to crane her neck and then wondered why it was aching a bit.

On a TV-type screen was the following quote, again from J. K. Rowling:

“The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”

We spent over six hours there altogether and the time just flew by – we were totally mesmerised by everything we saw.

So, was it worth the money and would I go back again? Too right! The gift shop wares were rather over-priced, but apart from that I couldn’t fault it.

Now I’m home, I’m filled with even more inspiration than usual and am pouring it all into the final revisions of my second book, Heart Search: Found. With a bit of luck, it’ll be ready by the end of the month. J. K. Rowling may write for a younger audience than me, but she’s no less of an inspiration!


Limitations can be so liberating…

Today I’ve passed the keyboard to my good friend and amazing author, Connie J Jasperson and she shares with us why it’s so important to set boundaries. Take it away, Connie…

Limitations can be so liberating…

Good fantasy stories frequently involve magic, and you love good fantasy. You have this great idea for a story, and you want to tell it to the world. You sit at the keyboard and start pounding away, and the story just flows from your fingers. You are sailing, the story is flowing, and then suddenly you realize that Bart the Mage seems to have unlimited magic ability.

Well, I am here to tell you, that is no good because now there is no tension, no great ordeal for Bart to overcome. Bart can do anything!

Game over! End of story.

So now, it is at this point that you realize that you must create the ‘rules of magic’. I find it quite boring to read a book in which the author has never tried to imagine their own work beyond limitations of the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, or Robert Jordan. Those are wonderful, riveting, fascinating worlds, but they have already been done! If all I want to do is expand on their work, that is fine, but I have to accept that at best it will be looked at as ‘fan fiction’ and not a true creation of my own. I rarely read fan fiction, and so I rarely write it!

I am an author, but I have a passion for reading.  I spend many hours each day reading the works of wonderful writers, reading on average 4 to 5 books a week. When each book is done I analyze what it was that I loved about that story, or conversely what I didn’t love.

My favorite authors are evenly divided among the most well known of the mainstream authors and also the not-so-well known indie authors. Along with memorable works of enduring quality, I often read books that don’t really work for me. I always seek out the indies, because with indie authors it is more of a gamble. You have the chance of stumbling across a real gem, although some books are just plain awful, poorly thought out and poorly edited. With those, it is tough to get past the first chapter.

Then there are the so-so books.  These are books that have such potential that I stayed with them despite the fact that they didn’t ring my bells. The reason why some books failed to please me was simple when I thought about it.  I kept waiting for the tension, waiting for the plot to thicken and it just never did. Everything was just too simple, too easy for the hero. Or, the magic just sort of happened and was not at all believable.

A great plot and great characters must be supported by a world that is fully believable.  For a world to be believable there must be limitations. That is also the first rule of magic.

I want each world that I read about to be unique, a new experience. With that in mind when I am writing, I try to tailor the magic to fit each world consistently.

Take Bart. He is a lowly journeyman mage, of average ability and intelligence. For a multitude of reasons he has decided that he must rid the world of Evil Badguy, a very powerful, very naughty wizard. Evil Badguy is very strong, and has great magic – but there are rules and so he is not omnipotent. Just as in real life, the antagonist must have a weakness and our protagonists now have the opportunity to grow and develop to their fullest potential. They will do this in process of finding and exploiting that weakness.

Now let’s say that Bart is a mage with offensive magic – maybe he can cast lightning at an enemy, or perhaps he can set fires with his magic. Can he also use magic to heal people? Can he heal himself? What are the rules governing these abilities and how do these rules affect the progress of the story? When it comes to magic, limitations open up many possibilities for plot development.

Let’s say that Bart can only reliably use one sort of magic. This is good, because now you have need for other several characters with other abilities. They each have a story which will come out and which will contribute to the advancement of the plot. Each character will have limits to their abilities and because of that they will need to interact and work with each other and with Bart whether they like each other or not if they want to win the final battle against Evil Badguy. This gives you ample opportunity to introduce tension into the story. Each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world, and conflict is what drives the plot.

What challenge does Bart have to overcome in order to win the day? Is he unable to fully use his own abilities? If that is so, why is he hampered in that way? How does that inability affect his companions and how do they feel about it? Are they hampered in anyway themselves? What has to happen before Bart can fully realize his abilities? Without rules, there would be no conflict, no reason for Bart to struggle and no story to tell.

Thus it is the limitations that you set on your characters that drive the plot.  In the field of epic fantasy, characters are often given great ability, and how the abilities are used is what makes the story interesting.  J. K. Rowling’s completely evil character, Voldemort has great ability, and great strength of will. He is so powerful that he is believed by all to be unbeatable.  But while he is extremely powerful, he is not omnipotent. These limitations are what allow an 11 year old boy to grow up to be Lord Voldemort’s most feared opponent.  The plots of all seven Harry Potter books revolve around the limitations of what the characters can do. How boring that would have been, if Harry Potter had been omnipotent from the outset and all of his adventures had consisted of him winning the day with little or no effort!

Now, the most important aspect of creating and designing the rules of magic for your world is to be consistent.  Do not make a habit of breaking those rules in the course of the story, because that reduces the believability of your story.  Let’s say that in chapter two Bart is unable to cast lightning while standing in a puddle of water. But wait! In chapter twenty-nine you have him drowning in a raging river and now he manages to fling a lucky lightning bolt at Evil Badguy, knocking him off a cliff.  Readers remember things like that, and it ruins the flow of the story.

It is true that I have read many brilliantly crafted books where the author broke their own rules of the use of magic, but they did it within certain restrictions that made the conflict believable. The way they did that was to set up conditions under which an exception to the rule was possible.  This added to the dimension of the story, and enhanced the flow of the story.

I hope that as writers you will think about the limitations of your worlds when you are creating them.  Those limitations are what shape the tales you are so passionate about telling. Believable boundaries are what make a story that is really just another rehashing of the old Good VS Evil into a memorable and beloved classic tale of valor and battles won at great cost and against great odds. That tale will inspire and enthrall the reader, and I will be eagerly waiting to read that tale!

Wow! Thank you so much, Connie, for taking over my keyboard today and sharing your insights and tips – this article is great for both writers and readers!

As always, I’d love to read your comments on this fab article!

Connie J JaspersonConnie J Jasperson lives and writes in rural Washington State.  She and her husband share five children, nine grandchildren and a love of good food and great music.  Connie has worked as a field-hand for a Christmas tree grower, a dark-room technician, a hotel maid, a bookkeeper and also ‘did time’ in the data entry pools of several large corporations.  She now is semi-retired and is writing and blogging full time. She is the author of the epic fantasy ‘Tower of Bones’ based in the fictional world of Neveyah, and ‘The Last Good Knight’, a medieval fantasy.  Currently in the works is another book based on the adventures of several characters in ‘The Last Good Knight’ and an epic fantasy, ‘Mountains of the Moon’ another tale of Neveyah. She can be found blogging at http://conniejjasperson.wordpress.com or http://bestinfantasy.blogspot.com.


Check out Connie’s books on Amazon – they are AMAZING!!!

Last Good Knight

To get it from Amazon.com  

To get it from Amazon UK  

Tower of Bones

To get it from Amazon.com 

To get it from Amazon UK




















The Top Ten Books Challenge

My dear Twitter pal, KD Rush, threw down the gauntlet and challenged his friends to name their top ten books and give their reasons why. Never one to refuse a challenge, here are my top ten and why they are special to me:

10) Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild: I started dancing when I was 5-years old and it’s been a huge part of my life ever since. My parents were dancers and I followed in their footsteps. As a child I wanted to be a ballerina too, but was told I was too tall so never got the opportunity to find out if I would have been any good at it. I really related to this book in a big way and although I haven’t read it for more years than I care to remember, the enjoyment of it has always stayed with me.

9) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty: As a teenager, I was into horror and anything paranormal and this book gave me both. I read it when I was in my early teens and it scared the crap out of me, so much so I wore a cross to bed for the next month! Funnily enough, I had the same reaction when I saw the film (under age of course, lol). But whatever way you slice it, this book is powerfully written and scary as hell.

8) Salem’s Lot by Stephen King: Ahhh, my first encounter with vampires. This book drew me in to a new world and was responsible for my burgeoning fascination with vampires. Since reading Salem’s Lot, I’ve read a whole host of other vampire novels since (The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice is another favourite, but didn’t quite make my top ten) and still do for that matter; I even write about them!

7) Kane & Abel by Jeffrey Archer: This, along with the sequels The Prodigal Daughter and Shall We Tell The President (2nd version) are firm favourites. The stories are very well written and I really enjoyed them.


6) The Rats by James Herbert: (Along with Lair, Domain and The City, the rest of the books in the series). There are several reasons why I like this series, but the main two are, they had a ring of believability to them, and I knew some of the places mentioned. As I’m British and my first job when I left school was in the city of London, I used the Underground on a daily basis. These books fed my love of horror/fantasy!

5) Wit’ch Fire by James Clemens (The Banned and The Banished series): For me, this is a great fantasy series. I found myself rooting for the main protagonist all the way through. It contained most of the elements you find in a great fantasy series and I didn’t want to put them down once I’d started them!

4) Lightning by Dean Koontz: I haven’t enjoyed all of Dean Koontz’s books, but there were a few memorable ones. Lightning was, for me, the best of them. I think it contained a great concept, was gripping and I enjoyed it so much I’ve read it several times over the years!

3) The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe by C S Lewis: It’s funny, but for some reason I never actually got around to reading the rest of the books in the series, something I still plan to rectify! Although my love of fantasy ultimately began with the fairy stories of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm, this amazing story further fuelled that love and remains a firm favourite even now.

2) Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) by J K Rowling: With great characters, Hogwarts and the wonderful creatures she created, what’s not love to love about this series. It’s fabulous escapism, the stories are great and the climax is amazing.

1) Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer: I don’t care if I hear a few groans from the audience, this is my favourite book! I thoroughly enjoyed all of the Twilight books, but this final one gripped me more than any other book I’ve read and I didn’t want to put it down until I’d finished it. The other big plus for me was it had vampires in it. I enjoyed Stephenie’s new take on vampires and the humanity she gave them. I enjoyed the back story of how the wolf pack came to be and how the synergy changed between them and the vampires throughout the four books. I think the saga will stand the test of time; they may never become ‘classics’, but I don’t care – it’s still my No. 1!

I have to admit, narrowing my huge list of favourite books down to just ten was a major task and one that’s taken me several days. Just outside of my top ten were books by Sidney Sheldon, Dan Brown, Alison DeLuca, Anne Rice, Terry Brooks, Raymond E Feist and David Eddings.

Ok, now it’s your turn. What are your top ten books and why? Care to share?