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Interview with Frank Cottrell-Boyce

We met with renowned author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce after his talk for the University of East Anglia FLY Festival, which drew in hundreds of inspired children and young people. After a brief chat, we quizzed him on his life and works.


Who was your inspiration when you were growing up?

The first two writers I remember thinking were amazing, and had something really special that other people weren't giving me were Tove Jansson who wrote the Moomin books [and Ursula Le Guin]. That name means nothing, I didn't know if it was a man or a woman, or I thought it might be a Moomin. Because they're set in Finland, and I kind of thought she'd invented Finland, that Finland was like Narnia - it was kind of amazing to me when I went to Finland and there it all was. So Tove Jansson definitely. And Ursula Le Guin, who was a sci fi writer who wrote the Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, and they just completely changed my brain those stories.


Do you think humour is a good way for children to be engaged with literature?

Yeah, definitely. I try to write funny books because that’s what I like to do, and I like the craft of that; it’s really hard work to make something funny. But today, everyone’s laughing at the same time - I think we talk a lot as if reading were a very private experience, but when I think about it, all the big, big reading experiences I had that changed me, were often quite public ones. It’s a shared experience, and sharing laughter is a huge bond I think.


What does a typical writing day, a working day for you look like?

If I’d ever had one, I would describe it to you. I mean I try to work all morning, to get up early and get my words done. But I’m saying that, and it’s a complete lie. I feel dirty now that I’ve said that. I write every day, but it’s often a struggle.


Every day?

Yeah, every day, but I mean most people work every day, it’s not virtuous to do that, but I end up writing on buses and trains a lot. I always did my homework on the bus; I guess it kind of paid off alright.


Is it true that your favourite food is fish finger sandwiches?

I do have a thing about fish finger sandwiches. I walked Hadrian’s wall last summer, which was a slog, and for a treat we stayed in a proper hotel at the end of it, and everyone was shattered and they all ordered fancy things from room service, and I ordered the fish fingers, and they were so much better than what everyone else ordered. Really good.


Do you find yourself getting invested in your characters?

Yeah. They take a long time to come to life, for me. Once you get their voice in your head - you're very grateful for that moment when you can hear their voice. Especially Dylan in Framed, I can remember I’d almost written the book and then suddenly the voice was there, and it went back and sort of rewrote it in its head, I felt kind of grateful to him for saving it.


When you wrote your first novel did you expect it to be a success?

I had a very strange experience with my first novel, because I wrote Millions as a film. I wrote it as a screenplay and it knocked around the British Film Industry for years, and I was always re writing it, and then when Danny Boyle said he wanted to do it, almost the first conversation I had with him we went out to dinner and he went ‘you know you should do this as a book don’t you, it would really help the movie’. It was sort of a pragmatic thing from his point of view, and the minute he said it I ran home, I didn’t even have a pudding I just ran home and started.


So have you got anything on the horizon that’s your next big venture, or a dream you’d like to fulfil?

I’ve got a film coming out in a few weeks; it would be nice if that worked. But I’ve just started working on a play of Framed for the national theatre, and I really love that book and it would be really great to make something worthy of that.


If you could give one piece of advice to budding writers, what would it be?

If I had one piece of advice for young writers, it’s the same advice I’d give to young people who want to be footballers, or engineers, or bakers, or parents or whatever: just read a lot. Whatever you do, you’re better off for having read a lot.


Emily Palmer, Rosie Howard, Louise Lazell.