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An interview with Cosmic and Millions author Frank Cottrell Boyce

Cosmic_FCB.jpg
Frank Cottrell Boyce
 Frank Cottrell Boyce (Photo/Carl Hunter)

Frank Cottrell Boyce, the author of the book Millions and co-writer of the screenplay which was the genesis of that book, has published his third novel for teens, Cosmic.

In this hilariously imaginative tale, four “talented and gifted” children and their fathers are selected to test-drive a new ride at an unusual new amusement park – in the middle of the Gobi Desert in China.

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
 Cosmic  [Courtesy HarperCollins]

The problem is, one of the “dads” isn’t a dad at all – he’s twelve year old Liam Digby who’s come into puberty a bit too soon. But the kid in Liam can’t resist such an adventurous opportunity, so he enlists his celebrity-obsessed friend Florida Kirby to pretend to be his daughter and before long they find themselves lost in space. With a deliberate nod to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, COSMIC will speak to readers of all ages who love an adventure and who love their dads.

Frank Cottrell Boyce chats about writing

Mr. Boyce was kind enough to engage in an interview with me via email. Here are his answers to the questions about writing I put to him:

PW: Where did you get the idea for Cosmic?

FCB:  We went to live abroad for a year and when we came back my son's best friend had one of those improbable growing spurts. We barely recognised him - honestly he was quite stubbly. I thought he was his own lost uncle or something. Someone said, "That's not a growing spurt, that's a mutation" and that went "ping" in my mind.

PW:  When you write - either children’s books or screenplays - do you start with character or with plot?

FCB:  I've always started with plot and I'm trying to learn to start with character.

PW:  The theme of what it means to be/to have a dad in Cosmic is wonderful. Did that emerge on its own, or was it deliberate?

FCB:  No it emerged on its own, rather late in the day. People think that inspiration comes at the beginning but one of the joys of writing is the late moment of inspiration that comes after months of slog. Cosmic was just about cars and laughs and then I woke up one morning and thought, "Oh, THAT's what it's about" and started all over again.

PW:  In Cosmic there seems to be shades of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Is that deliberate or coincidental?

FCB:  Oh not a coincidence at all. I completely stole it from Charlie.

PW:  Who are your favorite authors/books? Are any a particular influence on your own writing?

FCB:  I love Edith Nesbit (Phoenix and the Carpet) because she has that wonderful trick of making you believe in the magic, by being very practical about how it all works - for instance the Bastable children's flying carpet is unreliable because it's threadbare. She's also just brilliantly funny. I think Anne of Green Gables is one of the best, and most underestimated books. Heart-breaking and hilarious at the same time. Huck Finn obviously and more recently Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.

PW:  HarperCollins has arranged a sweepstakes for a family to tour NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. What kind of research did you have to do to write Cosmic?

FCB:  I did SOOO much research. I think I was less interested in writing this book than I was in using the book as an excuse to sit in rockets and talk to astronauts. I got unneccessarily knowledgable about this. Also, someone very kind at NASA read it and gave me notes!

PW:  Given the chance would you go into space?

FCB:  Yes. I'm ready and waiting. Like all men of my age, even in my happiest moments, there's a background feeling of surprise and disappointment that I'm not an astronaut. We thought we were living in the space age! Where is my personal jet pack! what happened.

PW:  Did you write the screenplay for Millions first, or the novel? Is there an advantage to writing in one form first over the other?

FCB:  I wrote the screenplay first for Millions, just because I was a screenwriter and that's what I did. It was Danny Boyle who encouraged me to write the book. And I was at a huge advantage, first because I already knew the story back to front (I'd done about twenty drafts of the screenplay) and second because when I ran out of ideas, I could go and visit the set (imagine if TOlkien, on a slow day, had been able to go and interview some real orcs!). Also it was very liberating knowing that it was going to be a movie - I think nearly everyone writes books hoping they're going to be movies. I knew that was in the bag, so I could do what I liked. In fact I think casting Millions was a huge influence on the book. Most people when they write about children tend to use their own childhood but while I was writing the Millions book, I was seeing hundreds of modern children every day, who were auditioning for the film. So I wrote it while I was very exposed to what childhood means, now. For instance those kids were a LOT more money-literate than I would have been at their age.

PW:  You were a screenwriter long before you were a novelist. What were the challenges for you in switching from one form to the other?

FCB:  The biggest change is isolation. There's so much money involved in making a film, and so many people. If you're writing a screenplay you probably get a phone call every day "just to see how you're getting on" and lots of meetings. The produver, the director, the execs, they know exactly where you're upto and how well or badly you're doing. It's not like that with a book. you're completely on your own
The other thing I found hard was writing the word "said". In a screenplay the dialogue is just dialogue. When I started writing prose it felt like very sentence was "he said ... she said ..." it was like some kind of horrible measles all over the page. I went through a phase of writing, "he whispered .." "she shouted ...." "he growled ..." and then I realised that said is better.

PW:  Some people think writing for children is easier than writing for adults. How do you respond to that?

FCB:  They are fools and deserve no response.

PW:  How does being a father of seven influence your writing for children?

FCB:  How can I tell? I know that people think the house needs to be quiet if you're going to write. All I can say is that the two best writers of all time were Chekov and Shakespeare. Chekov's house was full of people calling to ask him favours, medical advice and so on. Apparently there were guests for lunch every single day in his house and he liked it because it meant he was in touch with everything.

PW:  How do you find time to write with seven children of your own?

FCB:  They are a great motivation - I have to feed them all after all!

PW:  Did you read any of Cosmic to your own children while it was in progress? Or your other books? If so, how did that work out?

FCB:  Yes one Christmas I built a big log fire and settled down to read it to them. And they hated it. My ten year old said, "Bud, ou've lost it". And they were right. I had to start all over again. Bless them. They are the reason it's a good book, if it is.

PW:  Have you had the opportunity to do school appearances or other gatherings with groups of children? What is the question you are most asked by children?

FCB:  With Millions it was always, How much do you earn? And now it's "Is there going to be a film? Can I be in it?"

PW:  Have you started anything new?

FCB:  Yes. But I can't talk about it or it will fall apart.

Win a Totally Cosmic Adventure at NASA

NASA and Cosmic's publisher, Walden Media, are teaming up to award one lucky family of four a two-day behind-the-scenes tour of NASA and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. Find out how to enter the Totally Cosmic Adventure at NASA Sweepstakes. Entries may be submitted during the months of January and February, 2010 through the HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Frank Cottrell Boyce's books

  • Cosmic [HarperCollins, 2009]
  • Framed [HarperCollins, 2008]
  • Millions [HarperCollins, 2004]

Comments

  • Su 4 years ago

    Great interview, Peggy! Very interesting -- and fun too. Even though I'm an adult, these books are now on my must-read list. Thanks!