Children's Literature Interest Group Interview with Andy Briggs

Andy BriggsAndy Briggs is the author of the HERO.COM series and the VILLAIN.NET anti-series for Young Adults.

He’s a screenwriter - working on numerous movies and TV shows both in the US and around the world. Now he’s moving to the other side of the table and is tackling the new role as a producer with several movies in development.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I find inspiration comes from everything. If I am ever in need of inspiration I read comic or a book (and I always make an effort to try and read something beyond my favourite genres, you never know...) - or even watch a film or play a video game, after all, writers crafted them all. However, for me, nothing beats travel. Seeing the world, different cultures and incredible people is always an inspiration boost no matter what I’m working on.

What comes first – plot, character or situation?

For me it has to be situation or the top-line idea of the story. I do not believe you can gather the most interesting characters together in a room and drama will instantly unfold. I have heard, and been told, this too many times and it’s simply not true. Einstein, Elvis and Kennedy are together in a room, and what happens? Nothing. Not until the drama/story button is pressed.

We all watch the news, not because we care about the people we’re watching, but because the drama has hooked us. We keep watching the news because we learn about the folks involved and begin to care.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do about it?

I don’t believe anybody who tells me they don’t get writer’s block! We all do. I combat it by working on multiple projects at any one time. When I hit a wall with one I will simply change gear and work on something else, a screenplay or a comic, for example. If that doesn’t work I simply turn to sources of inspiration. What I don’t do is sit and stare at the prose and will it to unlock. For me that never happens. The moment I see a wall sneaking up, it’s time to move aside.

Do you have favourite authors or books yourself? Who are they?

There are plenty of authors I love, but I am not a series collector. I increasingly find that I prefer to read stand-alone books. That said, thinking about my favourite books, I am about to contradict myself.

What was your favourite book(s) when you were a child?

I consumed comics - and I still adore them. Marvel Comics in particular. For books, I was constantly re-reading Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT. I was enthralled by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s interactive Fighting Fantasy books. But by far the biggest slice of enjoyment came from the (sadly now out of print) CAPTAIN COBWEBB books by Gordon Boshell.

How much does your editor change what you write? What relationship do you have with your editor?

I am a plotter and a planner, so my editors pretty much know what to expect when I deliver a manuscript. I have a very open relationship and expect my editor to defend their suggested changes just as fiercely as I would defend not changing the manuscript! That said, I don’t remember ever having such a challenging conversation, and have yet to do a major overhaul of a manuscript, once delivered, because it doesn’t work. Finger’s crossed!

Do you feel a tension between writing what you know will sell and writing what you would like to write?

On the whole I think my ideas are naturally commercially biased. I can’t write rich literature, for that read Pullman. I prefer to write stories with immediacy and take the reader on something of a joyride. The biggest tensions come when I write screenplays, which are much more sensitive to commercial realities. Here, producers, distributors and financiers are less willing to take a chance and sometimes things become annoyingly formulaic. The most frustrating notes tend to come from people who have read a How to Write a Screenplay book as part of their studies. All such books should be burned as they have ruined the current film industry! If you want to write a movie - watch movies. If you want to write a book - read books. It’s my simple rule.

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?

Day one. I only use notepads and the ol’ pen when scribbling ideas, and even then I later transfer these to my computer.

What control do you have over your book cover (and your illustrations)?

A little more than you do. Publishers tend to ask my opinions... but whether they are taken onboard, I doubt! But I am no artist, so rely on their excellent design teams to create images that will stand out from the crowd.

Do you write with a particular age group in mind? How does the target age group affect your writing?

For my books I tend to write for myself, with just a cautionary self-editorial note regarding violence and language. Then again, when writing a screenplay I think it’s lazy writing to pepper dialogue with constant expletives...

What do you think you would be if you weren’t an author?

If I didn’t write I would be worried about what to do... I have had a series of real jobs: teaching, working for IBM and even running my own company. None of which I was particularly good at, and enjoyed even less. The only alternative I can think of is an explorer... preferably a Victorian one.

At what stage did you know you wanted to become an author?

Straight out of school I knew I wanted to be in the entertainment business, especially the film industry, which turned out to be my first encounter with professional writing. I always nurtured the idea of becoming an author, and wrote a terrible adult novel that didn’t sell - but that proved to me I could tackle the incredible word count that forms a book, and so I started to write my very first book: Hero.com.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

I speak to lots of people who say they are writing a book, and have been labouring over it for years. At that point I inwardly groan. Many, many people start writing books, very few finish them. Whatever you write, finish it. Then put it in a drawer (or a dark, inaccessible folder on your computer’s hard drive) and write something else. Then something else. If you want to be published you have to keep writing. The chances of selling your first book are astronomically small, but if you have written several others, your writing improves. I mean, it’s not like you have to tell anybody it’s your fifth book. Just say it’s your first - authors have been getting away with that little white lie since the dawn of publishing...

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