Are you familiar with Easter eggs? I don’t mean the chocolate variety that line the shelves at this time of the year (nom nom). I mean the hidden treats within films, literature, art and so on.
In literature, they can be as complicated as a code or as simple as a name that means something to the author. Other examples include jokes and references to other books and characters, past or future. It can also include nods to popular culture.
Although it’s often cited that Easter eggs originated in computer programmes, they’ve actually been present in literature for a long time. In Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’, there’s an acrostic poem which spells out the name of the real-life inspiration behind the character Alice: Alice Pleasance Liddell. There are examples of Easter eggs in the work of Dickens and Tolkien too.
I love the idea of Easter eggs in writing. I’ve incorporated them into my writing in several ways.
1. Teddy bears
I love teddy bears and they have a special significance to my writing. In 2002, I’d split up with my partner and our house was on the market. I couldn’t decide whether to buy a new house on my own and continue with my day job or relocate back to the north east and open a teddy bear shop. It was at this point that a friend presented me with a gift voucher for a telephone clairvoyant and it was making that call that gave me the idea for my debut novel, Searching for Steven, and turned me into a writer.
I did open a teddy bear shop and during the two years I ran it, I started to write Steven, I developed the idea, and I learned my craft.
In homage to this really important part of my life, a teddy bear features in every book I write.
My first teddy bear – Mr Pink – appeared in Steven quite naturally as a bear who my heroine snuggled in times of comfort. I then consciously put a bear in the other books when it struck me that I had an opportunity for an Easter egg.
In the Whitsborough Bay trilogy (including the novella, Raving About Rhys), the teddy bears are quite obvious. They’re named and they have a relevance to the story. In other books, though, I anticipate that there will be some more subtle references to teddy bears and I like the idea of readers trying to spot the bear reference.
In Searching for Steven, Sarah finds a recording of a clairvoyant reading that’s been missing for twelve years. There’s a bit of a mystery as to how and why its suddenly re-appeared. It materialises somewhere unexpected at the end of the book too. I don’t try to explain how the tape appears or why. I don’t think I need to. I love the idea that readers can draw their own conclusions, or just put it down to one of those mysterious things. After all, how many times have you found something you’ve lost in a place you’ve previously explored?
When I was writing Getting Over Gary, the sequel to Steven, I found another opportunity for something from the past to mysteriously re-appear. Another Easter egg opportunity!
I haven’t finished writing it yet, but there will be a mysterious re-appearance of something in book 3 too. I think I know what it will be and I’m quite excited about it.
Unlike the teddy bear, the mysterious re-appearance of something from the past won’t be a recurring theme across all of my books. I see it as a theme across this particular trilogy only. Even though other books will be set in Whitsborough Bay, some will be standalone and others may be a series. If I write another series, I’ll see if I can find another theme for the books in that series. I won’t force it, though. I see an Easter egg as something that naturally evolves. It wouldn’t work if it was shoe-horned in to a story
3. Character Names
Mr Pink - the teddy bear in Steven - is a nod to my daughter, Ashleigh, whose favourite teddy bear (the one she absolutely can not sleep without) is called Pinky. I also recognise Ashleigh in Gary. Heroine Elise reveals that she wrote a series of fantasy books when she was younger based around a unicorn whisperer called Ashlea.
Nick, the hero in Steven, is a nod towards my husband, Mark. I was told by the telephone clairvoyant that I was going to meet the man of my dreams called Steven. I didn’t. I met Mark instead. I wanted Sarah to meet a non-Steven and to be faced with a dilemma as to whether to ignore a draw towards him and wait for Steven to appear. I chose the name Nick because of it’s close structure and sound to Mark.
I have a niece called Sarah and a sister-in-law called Clare and I’ve been asked if they were the inspiration for those character names. They weren’t, though. I’d created and named the characters before my younger brother, Chris, met Clare and before my older brother, Mike, met his wife so Sarah wasn’t even a twinkle in their eyes!
However, I do have a deliberate mention of another relative. In Steven, I mention an Auntie Olive who was a real auntie of mine who is sadly no longer with us. In the same book, I mention an Uncle Alan. He’s described as a lonely old man who dies all alone. I have a cousin called Alan. I didn’t deliberately use his name, but it must have been in my sub-conscious. He has an amazing sense of humour and is tickled to bits that his name is applied to such a sad, lonely character! Sorry Alan, but I’m glad it amuses you!
What do you think of the idea of Easter eggs in literature? Have you come across any in your reading? If you’re a writer, do you use any?
Whether your Easter weekend takes you to chocolate eggs or literary eggs, I hope you have a fabulous one. In fact, why not let it take you to both!