> Skip to content

Article  •  30 March 2021


Tabitha Bird's inspiration

The Emporium of Imagination author on the power of magical realism.

Magical realism is a genre of writing which oozes magic whilst still being set in the world in which we all live. There are always otherworldly twists in the narratives that I find delightful and full of opportunity to express greater truths about what it means to be human.

I have been inspired by the classics in this genre and continue to use them as springboards into my own imagination.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esqivel is gloriously baked with magical realism. The novel centres on the love of Tita and Pedro. As the youngest daughter, Tita is forbidden to marry and must instead take care of her mother. To remain close to Tita, Pedro marries her older sister and both their lives are irreparably changed.

Tita spends her days in the kitchen and her deep emotions are baked into the food she prepares with often disastrous consequences. The tears she cries into the batter of a wedding cake make guests who take a bite weep. It is a story of loss and grief and the magic of emotions.

What drew me to the story was the way in which inanimate objects, in this case food, are so powerful in connecting people to their emotions.

In The Emporium of Imagination, I was intrigued by this concept and wondered how vintage items in an extraordinary shop might be used to link characters to their past, to things or people lost and to their own emotions. It also set the stage for me to explore what might happen if The Emporium also housed unusual phones that gave characters the chance for one last phone call with lost loved ones.

The gift of magical realism is that it allows the opportunity to spotlight a part of the human experience in a way that shines a completely different light on reality. Fantasy is woven into everyday life and characters have extraordinary opportunities to imagine 'what if' and use their imaginations to heal or explore difficult issues. In this way, readers are invited to experience issues like grief and loss through the safe lens of magic. I’m also obsessed with how magic might connect us as humans.

In If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino the reader becomes a character. We are the protagonist, who, after reading the first incomplete story in the book, decides to exchange it at a bookshop. This replacement copy seems to be a completely different book and the reader is now a character in the story who goes in search of that original narrative, only to read many new stories.

I was inspired by the use of the readers as characters and wondered how my own work might enable readers to more intimately be a part of the story. In The Emporium of Imagination, I introduce the Owner’s Guide to Grieving, which is a magical book where the townsfolk of Boonah may write about their own grief and are invited to connect with other people’s loss as well as their own.

I use the invitation in the back of The Emporium to invite readers to write their own entry. To become a character and imagine that The Owner’s Guide to Grieving had turned up at their own door. Of course the fantastical isn’t reality but readers have the opportunity to consider how the magic itself is used to convey the truth of the human existence.

The impossible becomes possible in my books, but I also subtly ask readers how far from real life that is. Are we not using our imaginations when we plan our futures or dream our desires into being? Where then is the line between possible and impossible?

I am a big believer in bravely seeking magic and offer readers the chance to find magic inside ordinary moments in the hope for better tomorrows. For me, that is the power of magical realism and what inspires me to continue both reading and writing it.

Feature Title

The Emporium of Imagination
A captivating novel of magical realism about a fantastical shop that brings comfort, peace and hope to those in need. You won't want to miss the opening of this shop!
Read more

More features

See all
Letters to my younger selves

A Lifetime of Impossible Days author, Tabitha Bird, pens letters to her five, fifteen and twenty-five-year-old selves.

The medicine of book friends

Four books that left their mark on A Lifetime of Impossible Days author Tabitha Bird.

On the wings of words

Tabitha Bird celebrates the magical healing powers of writing.

Book clubs
The Emporium of Imagination book club notes

A beautiful and uplifting story to share with your reading group.

Book clubs
A Lifetime of Impossible Days book club notes

Treat your book club to Tabitha Bird’s magical, one-of-a-kind debut.

Books to read if you loved Lessons in Chemistry

What to read after Lessons in Chemistry.

Meet the characters from Lessons in Chemistry

Learn about a few of the major characters from Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.

QUIZ: Which character from The Invocations are you?

Zara, Jude, or Emer? Take the quiz to find out which witch you are!

The 10 bestselling fiction books of 2023

Check out our top-selling fiction books this year.

Some of the most anticipated books of 2024

From authors including Rachael Johns, Amor Towles, Leigh Bardugo and so many others!

Penguin Fantasy Fest was a magical night for fantasy fans and authors

The inaugural Penguin Fantasy Fest was a wonderful evening for all. Learn about the author panel, see photos of the event and find out how to be notified of future events.

The best books to read with your book club in spring 2023

These are the Penguin Random House books that over 48,000 book clubs voted as the best group reads this October.

Looking for more articles?

See all articles