Author Interviews, Book Resources

Cornelia Funke October 25, 2006 Interview Transcript

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

On October 24 and 25, 2006, award-winning author Cornelia Funke participated in two chats with Scholastic students and teachers. Funke is the author of The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, Inkheart, and the Wild Chicks series.

Transcript from 10/25/06:

How did you come up with Inkheart?
I always wanted to do something with the feeling that characters in books are real people. Then many, many ideas added up into the book. It was a rather complex process.

Is Inkworld supposed to be the Middle Ages or is it supposed to be a completely made-up world?
It is a completely made-up world, but it's based on the Middle Ages.

What is your view on the Inkheart movie, and how do you think it is progresssing?
It is progressing very well. I'm a producer on the project, and involved in the casting and script development. It will start shooting on November 9th in Italy. It was always clear that the only actor who could do Mo was Brendan Fraser, and the studio liked him also. I fought for him to be in the movie, and luckily he was interested. Paul Bettany was also a favorite for the role he was cast in, and the girl who is playing Meggie, Eliza, is just perfect. When I saw her tapes, I knew she'd be perfect for the role. As for the rest of the cast, the names will be "official" about next week, like Jim Broadbent as Fenoglio.

Are you going to be in the movie?
No, I don't want to be in the movie. LOL. I will just watch them do it.

Do you have mixed feelings about Inkheart being made into a movie?
Oh no, I don't. I love to see my stories being made into plays and movies. I don't mind if it's different, I love to see other artists telling my stories in different ways.

Will there be movies for Inkspell and Inkdawn?
That's planned, but of course it'll depend on whether or not Inkheart is a successful movie.

Do you have any ideas for a fourth book in the Inkheart series?
No, at the moment it feels like the story is told after Inkdawn.

Why is Inkheart set along the Italian coast if you live in Germany?
I lived for three months with my daughter and husband in a village in Italy, and I never forgot that. I based the story there, because it's a really believable setting where Capricorn hides in the mountain. 

Who is your favorite Inkheart character? Why do you like writing about that character?
I don't have a favorite in Inkheart. I love most of them very, very much. It's the first time I don't have a favorite - each time I try to pick one, my list just just goes on and on.

What inspired you to start writing books?
I was a bored illustrator. I was so bored with the stories, that one night I decided to write my own story.

What is your favorite book that you wrote?
The whole Inkheart trilogy is my favorite.

What inspired you to write children's books versus adult books?
I think that children are the most enchanting listeners to stories, and with one sentence they build a whole world with it. I always prefer children to be my main audience.

Do you ever write in English?
I worked on a script with a friend of mine, and we wrote in English. But the books I write are always in German.

Do you think you have a bigger fan group in Germany or America?
America is such a vast country, I think the fan base in America is probably really big. But the German fan groups are really huge too.

Are your books inspired by true events or is it just your imagination?
It is never just my imagination. My imagination is fed by true events, and sometimes I steal little details from real events.

Where do you like to do your writing (and is it by computer or by hand)? As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What do you like to do in your free time?
I write in a little house in my garden. There's a little desk, and a sofa to sink into. There's no phone, no Internet, and on a portable computer I call "Lola." It's a Mac computer. :) I wanted to be an astronaut when I was growing up. I played a lot outside, with the kids on my street. I read PILES of books, watched a lot of movies (that was also a passion of mine), and I drew a lot.

Did you like writing in school?
I did. It might have been a little weird - I was the only one really excited when we had to write essays in the early morning.

How long does it take for you to write one of your books?
For a big book like Inkheart, it takes between a year and a half and three years. 

How long does it take for you to plan a book? Once the book is planned, how long does it take for you to write it?
Normally, I plan the book for about half a year. Doing the research, figuring out the characters, writing the first 20 chapters. Then from that point, it's about 8-10 months, where I polish drafts, writing it again from beginning to end. Normally there are 1-3 drafts of the book.

What is the hardest part of writing a book for you?
I just enjoy every step of it, so actually, there is no hard part for me.

Are the names of characters in your books based on real people?
None of the names, no. Sometimes I base the the characters on actors, or my son, who loves to be in the book. I usually get inspiration for the names from dictionaries or telephone books. The character of Mo was based on actor Brendan Fraser, which is why the book is dedicated to him. I sent him a book when I was finished, and I didn't know him personally at the time. I wrote him a note saying thank you for the inspiration, and he wrote me back! And sent a nice photo of him with his family, and eventually came to visit me in Hamburg, where I was living at the time. He reacted to the book very gratefully. :)

Is there going to be a sequel to The Thief Lord?
No, there won't be. I think the story is told.

Who is your favorite character in The Thief Lord?
My favorite character is Prosper.

How did you get the idea for The Thief Lord?
When I was in Venice with my husband, I suddenly remembered how, when I was a child, all I wanted to be was a grown-up. There are books like Peter Pan, where children want to always stay children, but no books where children want to grow up so quick! So I wrote a book about a kid who passionately wanted to be a grown-up.

How did you think of the book Dragon Rider?
That's a complicated story...A film producer read my first book (in German) and wanted to make that into a TV series or a cartoon. But the first book wasn't long enough, and I didn't want the story to be completely changed. So I started writing a completely new story, with some ideas from my first book. And I loved it so much, I decided it should stay a book - so I bought my movie rights back, and wrote the book.

Will you make a sequel to Dragon Rider?
That may be... I have some thoughts on it, but there are so many stories in my mind, so we'll have to see which stories come up first.

Why did you choose a brownie to be a common companion for a dragon?
In German, it would have been called a "goblin" - but in English, that sounds like a nasty, skinny creature. I have written a book on brownies and I love them as characters, so I decided it would be a nice thing to have them in that book.

Who is your favorite character in Dragon Rider?
That would be Twigleg. It's a just a character that creeped into my heart. He was a traitor first, but he loves the boys so much. And I would very much like to have a homunculus myself.

How did you create such different personalities for Sorrel, Twigleg, Firedrake, and Ben. Is it hard to make sure each character is unique?
I have no idea... they just pop up in my head. They start living and breathing and doing their own things. They end up being very different in every book. I think I have a lucky gift. Sometimes it is hard to make each character unique. You have to remember the characters you have written before, and think about them a lot. If you think about it hard enough, they become unique.

Why can't "The Great Golden Dragon" fly and why did you make him that way?
He's an artificial creature, and he's much too heavy with his armor to fly. I liked the idea that he's a dragon that doesn't hunt the others, and because he was created by man. As you know, man can create rather destructive things.

How many Ghosthunters books are there going to be? Will the characters remain the same?
There will be four books total, and yes, the characters will be the same. But from time to time, there will be new characters popping up.

Do you ever want to write a story that includes space or astronauts, since you wanted to be one when you were little?
I think I would have done that when I was younger. But since I don't want to be an astronaut anymore, I guess that won't happen.

We read on one of your fan sites that you usually do about four drafts of a novel. Why? How do you feel when the editors make you change some of your ideas?
They never really change my ideas. We discuss things, and I don't think there was ever a time where I had to change my fundamental ideas because of an editor. They help you see if there are illogicial points to the story, which sometimes you can't see because you're so deep into it. They help make things clear. My experience is that the more time you put into a book, it gets better. Each time you write it, it becomes more sparkling, more intense - I work on the sentences, the language and the characters. I have the feeling that the books get better each time I do that.

How do you stay organized while writing your books?
I print out each chapter I have rewritten. I put the working sheets on each chapter with notes on what I'd like to put in the drafts. Then they're organized in sets of 10 chapters, since there are so many chapters in the books, like the Ink trilogy. Each time I do a rewrite, there's a new color for each draft. So I know how many drafts I've done for the book. With big books like those, you have to be really organized.

What are the most important things you learn from writing books?
Hm... I think I learned very much about the craft of writing. I think I get better with each book. At least I hope! You learn a lot about yourself, putting your thoughts into words. You learn to think about things more, with more patience and detail.

Do you ever write short stories?
Um... I did in Germany, for some anthologies. But I haven't done it in quite awhile.

If your books hadn't sold, do you think you'd still be illustrating or teaching kids? If you could change parts of your life, what would they be and why?
I don't know... I'm not sure how I would have felt, if I would have felt as passionate. But I never think of "what might have been" - I always look forward. And I wouldn't change anything about my life.

Do you think you'll ever write in another genre, like biographies, etc.?
I don't think so. But you never know as a storyteller what will come next.

Have you always been a writer or did you have another career before this?
I was a social worker for a while, and I was a book illustrator.

Will you ever visit America?
LOL! I live in America right now, in L.A. I moved to L.A. in May last year.

How does your career as a author affect your family life?
I think it's the best possible career to be a book writer with a family! My children are involved in the book process, and help with ideas. They always know what I'm up to. I always try to make sure that I spend time with them when they come home from school, though. And luckily they have given me permission to write in the evening now - they know I'm addicted to writing!

Do you ever write about your family in your books?
I did a picture book about my children called The Wildest Brother. I wrote a book about my daughter in kindergarten, but I made things up for it. But mostly, I don't write about my family.

Do your children write books as well?
No, so far they don't. Although I think my son is a very talented writer.

How do you like it so far in L.A.?
I love, love, love L.A. It's my favorite place in the world right now.

Which do you prefer: reading or writing books?
Oh, that's a very tough choice. I think I would need both. 

Moderator: Anything else you'd like to add?
A message for all kids: I don't think you should be nervous if you still don't know what you want to be by now. You'll figure it out as you get older, and you learn from life. I didn't become a writer until the old age of 28!

  • Subjects:
    Literature, Literature Appreciation, Writing, Movies
  • Skills:
    Writing
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