A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
The Island at the End of Everything is set on an island in the Philippines, called Culion. For the duration of the 20th Century, it was turned into the largest colony for people with leprosy in the world. My story focuses on Ami, a child living happily on Culion with her ‘Touched’ mother. Ami is taken away when the changes come into effect. It’s a story of what it means to be different, how it feels to belong, and on finding your way home.
I always knew this was going to be a hard book to cast as Hollywood is not exactly renowned for its diversity (see ScarJo in Ghost in the Shell, or Emma Stone in Aloha, or a million other examples). If it ever were to be made into a film (directed by Taika Waititi please and thank you), my cast below would largely be impossible, mixing as it does child stars that are now grown up, or children I rather creepily found on Pinterest. But I’ve done my best, and – for laughs-lest-we-cry – included who Hollywood would choose instead.
Ami – Barbara Miguel / Hailee Steinfield
I saw Barbara Miguel in a YouTube-scroll found film (since taken down), Nuwebe, and thought she was extraordinary. It’s a brutal watch, but one thing that’s clear is Miguel is a startling talent – she won several awards for her performance. My protagonist is a kind, serious-faced girl who sees the world a little differently, and Miguel has a beautiful softness to her face, mixed with a clear-eyed focus. She’d be my perfect Ami.
If it had a time-machine, Hollywood would probably go for Hailee Steinfield. She’s an eighth Filipino (so they tried, right?) and shares Miguel’s gentle intensity.
Mari – Pinterest girl / Dakota Fanning
I know there probably is a half-Spanish, half-Filipino, blond, honey eyed actress out there somewhere, but I couldn’t find her. Who I did find was this girl, who came up on my desperate Pinterest search (‘blonde Filipina girl’). Ami’s best friend Mari is a brave, vivacious girl, whose paleness and undeveloped hand meant she was labelled as cursed, and abandoned at an orphanage. She sees Ami for who she really is, and in turn Ami helps her to feel she belongs.
Over in time-travelling Hollywood, they’ve cast a young Dakota Fanning, who is at least blonde.
Kidlat – Louise Abuel
I’m sorry, but Hollywood would not find a better Kidlat. Younger than the others, Kidlat is mute due to the trauma of being taken from his mother, and latches onto Ami and Mari in the orphanage. Abuel, a well-known actor in the Philipinnes, has the perfect expressive face to be the source of comfort and strength for the girls that Kidlat becomes.
Mr Zamora – Ralph Fiennes
Boo! Hiss! Every book needs its baddie, and who better than Voldermort to play the malicious butterfly collector-turned-government official Mr Zamora. Fiennes is an excellent actor, who could capture Zamora’s inner anguish as well as his cruelty. I like my bad guys to have as much back-story as my heroes, and if anyone could make us care, it’s Fiennes.
So there you have it! My near-impossible cast of characters – not sure I’ll be putting any casting directors out of a job anytime soon.
Joking aside, this is the second casting I’ve done, and the second time I’ve struggled to fill my diverse character lists. It is probably my ignorance, but the lack of colour in mainstream, western culture is startling and sad. Aside from writing diverse books, we need to elevate #OwnVoices, and make the platform for BAME writers to tell their own stories. It’s not about making space, it’s about taking our space and making it safe for others. Books are mirrors, windows, whole homes. No one should feel they’re unwelcome.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave writes poetry, plays and novels. Her bestselling debut MG novel The Girl of Ink & Stars was Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for May 2016. She completed her undergraduate studies at Cambridge University, and graduated with Distinction from the Creative Writing MSt at Oxford University in 2015. She is an award-winning poet with three collections published, and her debut play BOAT opened to five-star reviews at Theatre N16 last year.