Welcome to part two of the three-part Lytherus exclusive interview with Cornelia Funke. If you missed the first part of the interview, I’d encourage you to check it out, since this one builds on the previous one.
Also, since she talks a lot about her newest book Reckless, here’s a link to the Lytherus review of that book to peruse, for those of you unfamiliar with the story.
All of these questions I asked her stemmed from a lot of general questions she’s answered in previous interviews about her life and work. Click here to link to those.
In part two of the interview, she talks about working with a creative partner, how Reckless came about, being inspired by Neil Gaiman and Guillermo del Toro, books vs. scripts, and more! She takes a lot of little rabbit-trails in this one, but they are fun and interesting, so enjoy the ride!
LZ: Writing with your friend Lionel, how did that actually come about?
Cornelia: It was very weird. Because of course I never would have thought of something like that. I’m perfectly happy writing by myself. I never feel lonely. In fact, I feel completely overwhelmed by having all my characters around me. No, it happened because I met Lionel at a friend’s dinner – and she, interestingly, played Ida in The Thief Lord movie, that’s how she became a very good friend of mine. I met him and his wife, and I thought, oh, a movie producer, well I’ve met a lot of movie producers by now. But then I thought, oh, look at this, he’s not cynical, he’s very sweet, he’s very passionate, he doesn’t feel the need to talk about himself, or isn’t full of himself. I live in Hollywood now, so you know (laughs). But I was so pleasantly surprised. So we started talking, and I said to him, well, if you ever want to try to do a movie together, let’s do this.
So a month later, he called me and he said, “should we have lunch?” and I thought, okay, he picked a book and he wants to talk about it. You know he does the Harry Potter movies, and he does the Sherlock Holmes series with Robert Downey Jr – that is his baby. He started developing that when I started working with him. So Holmes and Jacob are fighting each other ferociously all the time. He had to rush back to Baker St, I’m behind the mirror… Holmes got huge, and they are just cutting the second now. And so, he had to go to London and shoot and we had to work on Skype together, and it was all wild.
So, what happened was that he said, “You know what? I don’t want to have one of your books, we should do a big fantasy adventure for the screen based on The Nutcracker” I’m German, and it’s based on a German story by E. T. A. Hoffman. For me it’s very familiar, The Nutcracker, and I said hmm, that’s interesting, I could do something with that.
So what we did is, we worked together and we realized we are the best team ever when we work together. So we worked for seven months, did a script based on The Nutcracker, and when we were done, another Nutcracker movie was released in Europe. And we were dead on the shelf, as you say. Lionel is used to that. He’s a movie person. He’s done this for twenty years. But I am not. And I said wait, I love the world we created for this, it has nothing to do with The Nutcracker. We did it, and it was our world, it was a 19th century world, it was full of fairy tale and mystery. I said, “would you mind if I take this world and do a totally different thing and I put it into a novel?” And he said “Yes, I love it. But do you think I could be in any way involved?”And I said (laughs), “Well, I don’t know, I’ve never written a book with somebody, you know?” And he said, “Should we try?” And I said “Of course! It’s your world.” And also many of his characters. So we sat down and we started to play with characters, plots, all that I do normally. Normally I work about six to seven months preparing a book. So now it was with one of my best friends, which, I have to say, is fun. In the morning he came with chocolate croissants, and we sat in the writing house, started drinking coffee, and started working.
So, after a few months, I had characters, I had a plot, it started working. It was so much fun. At first I thought it’s just a toy, it’s not really an important book. I was doing Ghost Knight, I was doing other things, but that book just expanded and expanded and expanded.
What we first did is that, every single change I did while I was writing – because the story twists and changes while you’re following it – every single time [it changed] I sent him an email, I called him, we talked. We worked like this for two years. Everything we checked with one another, discussed with one another, so it’s all his baby too.
LZ: So not just the initial seven months, but as you’re creating it…
Cornelia: yes, they are his characters, the scene with the Red Fairy we rewrote fourteen times, so it was the most intense editing I’d ever had.
After that we also did all the touring together, and then he was doing Holmes, so we were… yeah, it was wild. I worked on the set of Sherlock Holmes with him on Reckless. We worked everywhere. It was crazy! (laughs)
With the second [book in the series] he’s had to start Sherlock Holmes 2, which was even bigger, and he had to move to London again for half a year. And I said okay, we have to change the rhythm. So what we do now is we meet for blocks of time, like, let’s say, a month, and work almost every day, and then I go into writing for two or three months, do the whole draft, check with him only with vast changes, but otherwise just play, and then we go back and discuss the next part. And so far that works very, very well.
LZ: And I’m sure it fits better with your schedule too
Cornelia: Exactly. We don’t have to chase each other constantly, because that was so exhausting for both of us. And when you are also very good friends, you know, Lionel has two daughters, and he had to already balance his family, the set, and then the writing, so as a good friend you’re all the time like, no, wait, first deal with your family. But on the other hand, the book needs decisions, so I think we now find a way. We’ve been working together for five years now. It’s wonderful. You have a creative partner. It’s very very interesting.
LZ: Are you going to work together for the whole series? For all five books?
Cornelia: Yes, I think so. He also just came with another project to me which I like very much, so we will play with that too, which will probably first be for the screen, but we’ll see.
I say that because it’s interesting in my [book tour] readings when I talked, I said to kids,”imagine when you say, ‘Oh, when I’m writing sometimes I have writer’s block'”—there is nothing like writer’s block, but that’s a different thing—I always say to them, “What if you try with your best friend? Try. Maybe it’s more fun. Maybe you get through the crisis better. Maybe you look forward to sitting down.” And so many kids embrace that. We saw that very clearly. For them it felt like a very natural thing to do, you know. It’s unusual in novels, [but] for script it’s the most usual thing.
LZ: That’s interesting.
Cornelia: Yeah, it is. And I’m sure you see this, working on a website, but the world is changing, we are collaborating in other ways, we are communicating much more, and I think that it is very interesting and very inspiring, and it may change this concept. [For example] Neil Gaiman did Good Omens with Terry Pratchett.
LZ: I’m just about to start reading that.
Cornelia: Oh, you should listen to the audio. I did all my illustrations for Reckless listening to Neil’s books. And I wrote him in between, I said, “Neil, this is just such a pleasure, I listen to your books while I’m working,”and he wrote, “We’re doing art together, how exciting! “(laughs)
LZ: I’ll check it out on audio then. I haven’t started it yet.
Cornelia: You should, it is such a treat. Martin Jarvis reads it, it is just so good.
LZ: Okay, I will!
So, kind of taking that one step further… you said you like to challenge yourself, you like things to be different; going on what you just said, they wrote a book together. Two authors created this world. Have you ever considered taking that next step? Because, right now you’re creating [with someone], but then you’re writing alone.
There’s also Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, David Levithan and John Green created Will Grayson, Will Grayson, these famous writers are coming together.
Cornelia: I absolutely would be open to that, absolutely. It’s such an interesting thing, if the chemistry works or not. I just had a wonderful adventure working with Guillermo del Toro. I got an email in January from Dreamworks, and they said, would you be interested to work on an animation project and story-telling on it? And Guillermo wrote me a letter, saying he’d love to work with me. His movie Pan’s Laberynth is my favorite movie, so that was such a treat. For six weeks I worked with him and Rodrigo Blaas on a storyline for a possible animation feature, and goodness he’s a storytelling animal! He’s just, like, genius! It was interesting, we worked in a very different way. Guillermo said to me, “Cornelia, we’re limping on the same leg.” And it was true. We came from exactly the same perspective, from myth, from fairy tales. Guillermo has this incredible house, it’s called the Man Cave, and there are seven libraries on horror and science fiction and fantasy, and movie props and everything. Believe me, it is the most amazing house.
LZ: You must have been just awed.
Cornelia: Yeah. He gave me the tour, it was mind-blowing. So, that was interesting.
With Lionel, I work totally different because he doesn’t come from myth and fairy tales. He loves it – God, he’s been on the Potter films for ages – but he comes more from character. So, if I have a scene with Lionel – I get easily distracted, I’m a storyteller, right? I see the whole thing. So, Jacob and Will let’s say, are in a clearing in the forest, and I’m like, “Do you think there’s a heintzelman running through?” and he’s like “I don’t care about the heintzelman, tell me what’s happening with Jacob and Will!” So he’s so in the main characters, and so wants to hear about the emotional themes, that it’s very wonderful for me as a storyteller when he says, “You do all the heintzelmen and whatever you want to do,” but he gives me the perspective to focus, and many storytellers we know, reading a lot of fantasy, easily get lost in their plots, right?
LZ: Yes! (Pull out A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin)I’m reading this right now and it’s all over the place. It’s great-
Cornelia: It is wonderful, it is, it’s still my favorite fantasy, but-
LZ: I have to keep looking at the map to try and figure out who’s going where.
Cornelia: And the thing is, you do that willingly as a fantasy author often. For example, Neil does it willingly. He gets lost in his plot and he wants that. But the thing is it’s interesting to say to yourself, “okay, let’s try it differently,” try to have somebody chop in and say, “wait wait, come back, look at that later,” and I have to say for me as a writer that’s all very inspiring. With Guillermo, once again, it was deepening my aspect of the myth and the fairy tale because he came from that direction, so when you pick a collaboration, it will always do something else, but that is of course so inspiring. But then you have to find your own voice again. Because if that gets lost, I think the reader will be dissatisfied. There has to be a voice in the book, and it has to be quite strong. So, I don’t know. I don’t think I would be able to write with somebody, because I work so much on language. I’m in my third draft of five drafts of this book, and almost every sentence changes constantly. That is very hard to do when somebody else works on the language as well.
LZ: Especially if they are like, no I love this sentence, and you’re like, no I hate this sentence, or the little things.
Cornelia: That’s difficult. Of course if I have a discussion like that with Lionel that’s fine, but he will always say “I defer to you. You’re the writer.” And in a way I need that. So let’s see. Maybe someday that changes as well.
LZ: But at least you know that about yourself, as opposed to saying, yeah, let’s give, say, Neil a call and try to do this and then you guys are both like this is a disaster.
Cornelia: And also with Neil I would always think he has such an original tone and story I would not even want to get in there, because it’s so powerful, I want his voice. I don’t want my voice mingled in there.
LZ: I believe with Will Grayson, Will Grayson, I have yet to read it, but it’s the story of two boys with the same name and each one wrote that boy. So John Green had one Will Grayson and David Levithan had the other and the chapters alternated.
Cornelia: Oh! Interesting! That makes sense.
LZ: I thought that was smart because they both have unique voices and they both are good at what they do, I think that could be fun, because depending on the character creation you have your own totally different voices.
Cornelia: That makes perfect sense. I could easily imagine that. I think that works. If you pick a perspective, for example in script Lionel and I did that when we worked script, we always rewrote each other’s chapters, so it went back and forth. But that is possible because script is a different thing. Script is not a language. Script needs the dialogue to be very precise.
The conclusion to the interview will be posted on Lytherus this upcoming week, so stay tuned. She talks about the use of semi-precious stones in her stories and their meanings, the inspiration for her upcoming book Ghost Knight, writing for different ages, the Ink world, and more!