Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Frank Cottrell Boyce

Framk Cottrell Boyce

After studying English at Keble College, Oxford, Frank Cottrell Boyce joined the writing team at Coronation Street. His career now spans screen, theatre and novel. He has collaborated with several film directors, including Michael Winterbottom (Forget About Me, Butterfly Kiss, Welcome to Sarajevo, The Claim, 24 Hour Party People and Code 46), Danny Boyle (Millions) and Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie). His first play, Proper Clever, was produced at the Liverpool Playhouse in 2008 and he has also written several children’s novels. He is married with seven children and lives in Liverpool, the city of his birth.

In this interview, Gill Robins talks to Frank about his children’s books.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading The Creature in the Map by Charles Nichols which is an amazing book about Walter Raleigh's search of El Dorado.

Did you enjoy reading when you were a child?  If so, what were your favourite books?

Being a boy I loved reference books.  I remember a very fat animal encyclopaedia with very thin pages and tons of pictures that I loved to get lost in.  And I absolutely loved the Moomin books.  Also Leon Garfield.

Did you ever do anything really naughty at school?

I was good at drawing cartoons of teachers.  We had an old fashioned roller blackboard.  I'd come in and draw a huge, elaborate cartoon of the teacher or something then roll it out of sight.  At some point during the lesson, the teacher would pull the blackboard down and unveil my drawing and everyone would laugh.

How and why did you decide to start writing for children?

I wrote the film script of Millions and it took years to get funding.  Then when Danny Boyle said he'd direct it, suddenly it was all happening and I went out to dinner with him and he basically ordered me to write it as a book.  I think writing it was the happiest I've ever been as a writer.

Before you wrote the book Millions, you were already a very successful screenwriter for both TV and film.  Do you prefer writing books or screenwriting?

Books are MUCH harder to write but they are worth it!  Films are easy to write but very har to get made and there's always the strongest possibility that they won't get made.  I think all of my best screenplays are still unmade.

If a bag containing a huge amount of money had landed in front of you when you were Damian’s age, what would you have done?

Aarrrgh! I've had five years to think about this ... I hope I would act like Damian, but I think there's a bit of Anthony in all of us.

Cosmic tells the story of Liam, who is so tall for his age that he is often mistaken for an adult, leading to hilarious misunderstandings on a cosmic scale.  Sometimes the character feels autobiographical – were you a very tall child?

I'm below average height and always have been. It's a wish-fantasy!

What makes you laugh? 
The true answer is my wife. That's why I married her.

Much of your writing is very pictorial and Framed provokes curiosity about art pictures in the reader. Do you think in pictures?
I suppose I do!  I've just written a kind of picture book for adults called The Unforgotten Coat and I spent a lot more time thinking about the pictures than I did about the words!

How much do you enjoy seeing twists in normal situations (for instance, Dylan’s ‘inside-out-mountain’ in Framed)?
Oh, isn't that what it's all about?  That's why I write - because it's a chance to remind people of just how miraculous and amazing ordinary things are. 
In all of your books, the reader gets so involved that they temporarily become the character.  Would you like to be the characters in your own books?
I'd love to go to space so there probably is a lot of me in Liam.

You have won many awards for your children’s books. Do you ever get used to success?
No!! Give me more!!

All of your books are centred on family life. How important is family to you?  How much do your own experiences of family affect your writing?
Oh, totally.  I work from home and some of my children are home educated so it feels like we're all working together.  They are my most important readers.  Also we share a lot of the same ideas and tastes.

If you were in Year 6 now and had to take SATs, how would you approach the writing test, especially if you didn’t feel like writing at the time that you had to take the test?
Arrrghhhhh!   I'm sure I'd fail it.  Nearly every morning I don't feel like writing but if you just start and if you're prepared to cross stuff out, it really will come.  Perspiration always comes before inspiration



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