To celebrate the summer reading season, StorySnoops is hosting interviews with some of the authors whose books are on our Summer Reading lists for tweens and teens.
Our guest today is author Frank Cottrell Boyce, who began his writing career as a screenwriter. In 2004, he wrote his first children’s book, Millions, which was based on his own screenplay. After winning the Carnegie Medal, Frank went on to write two more books for children: Framed and Cosmic, a StorySnoops favorite for tween readers. He lives in England with his family and is currently scripting the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics.
Welcome Frank! Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.
How is writing for film different from writing children’s books? What do you enjoy in particular about each of the different processes? What are the challenges?
Well it’s much harder to write a book than it is to write a film. BUT it’s much easier to get a book published than it is to get a film made, because films cost millions and millions of dollars to make. So whereas a publisher just has to love a book, a film producer has to love it to the tune of millions!
The biggest problem I had in switching from screenplays to books was the word “said”. You never have to use it in a screenplay of course – because it’s laid out like a play. As soon as I started writing the book Millions, the word “said” kept jumping out at me. It seemed to appear thousands of times on every page. Said, said, said, said, said – like spots before my eyes. I tried changing them all to fancier words – exclaimed, murmured, whispered, pronounced, interpolated, opined ….. and then I realized that said was better than all of these.
Why did you choose to focus on fiction for readers aged 9-12?
Because the books that I most love and the books that have had the most effect on me are the books I read at that age. They rearranged my DNA and I still love them all.
Your characters have qualities that young readers can identify with. Are they inspired by the experiences of your children, your own childhood, or some combination of the two?
I try not to be inspired by my children – I’m not at all comfortable with the idea of writing about people I know and love. But bits of them do sneak into the story. My son had a friend who had a massive growing spurt. Seemingly overnight. He came to the house to play football one Friday a perfectly normal boy and the following Friday he knocked at the door and there was this giant, mutant version of himself with rumbling bass voice and bits of hair sticking out of his face. It was as though he’d been hit by some strange alien growth ray. He no longer looked the same age as my son. In fact he no longer looked like the same species.
Cosmic is the story of twelve-year-old Liam, who is completely horrified that he is regularly mistaken for an adult until he figures out that he can have a bit of fun pretending to be a grown-up. Posing as a dad, Liam embarks upon an exciting adventure and hilarity ensues. But the story also has many poignant moments. How do you balance humor with the more serious elements of the book?
I don’t try to balance them. I think you can’t have one without the other. Jokes are funnier if they’re about something important. And stories are more powerful if they’re about people you love. Also – compared to other children’s writers – I’m pretty slow. So I end up living with my characters for months and months. So I end up really caring about them. Worrying about them even. I find myself waking in the night, thinking – “Does Liam really appreciate how much his Dad loves him? Maybe I’d better tell him.” It’s a bit sad really!
We recommend Cosmic on our Summer Reading List for tween boys and girls. Are there any books from when you were a child that you would add to the list?
Yes! All my other books of course! But I LOVED some books by a strange Finnish artist called Tove Jansson. They were about a family of creatures called The Moomins who hibernated all winter and had amazing adventures in the summer. They’re set in Finland where the winters are long and the summers are short and spectacular, and everyone knows how to make the most of them. When I said some books rearrange your DNA, I was talking about these books for me. The hero was the Mother – Moominmama. Whatever strange creature turned up at the doorstep – tiny, jabbering thieves, or big gloomy ogres, strange – she just lays a place for them at the table and hunts out some fresh bed linen for them. She taught me that hospitality can be a great adventure. And that no matter how crazy or disturbing people are, there should be roomfor them at your table.
Do you have any plans for another book (we sure hope so!)?
I’ve just finished (hooray) writing the official sequel to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – do you know what that is? It’s very British. The original book was written by Ian Fleming (James Bond) and the movie was written by Roald Dahl – so not really very difficult acts to follow at all. It’s about a big, beautiful vintage car that can fly.
I’ve also got a short book that I’m very proud of coming out called The Unforgotten Coat – which is based on a true story for once.
And I’m writing the script for the movie of Cosmic!!!!!!!!!
For more information about Frank and his screenplay for Cosmic, look here. In the meantime, check out the StorySnoops Summer Reading Lists for Tween Boys and Tween Girls. Happy reading!