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The Sirens of Suspense



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Cornelia Funke is one of the world’s most successful children’s and young adult authors of our time. She has written over 50 books which have been translated into 37 languages and published in 43 countries and has worldwide sales of over 20 million copies. In 2005, Time magazine named Cornelia Funke among its “100 Most Influential Men and Women.” Her fiction ranges from picture books and stories for early readers to novels for older readers. Her most popular works are Dragon Rider, The Thief Lord, the Inkworld trilogy (the first in the series, Inkheart, was made into a feature film starring Brendan Fraser, Helen Mirren and Andy Serkis) and, most recently, MirrorWorld, her fantasy series for all ages, which includes Reckless, Fearless and a MirrorWorld interactive app, which she produced in partnership with Mirada Studios. Cornelia Funke lives with her family in Los Angeles, California, in a house full of books.

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Cornelia Funke: Creator of Worlds item1

You say that writing is your true passion - which it must be as you have published over fifty books - but you are also an illustrator. Do you feel that you write what you're visualizing in your head?

Yes, I always start working on a book by covering the walls of my Writing House (a small house in my garden) with images - photos, paintings, illustrations...everything that makes me see the world I write about more clearly. Our imagination needs the food of reality to not repeat itself, the imagination of other artists, the eyes of the others! For the MirrorWorld series I did more illustration than ever before for a book (sadly, you won't find most of it in the US edition) and it kindled my passion for this art again. BUT - even when I do the illustrations myself they never can fully show what I see in my head. I had this incredibly fulfilling experience for the first time when I worked with Mirada and their brilliant artists on the MirrorWorld app. It felt as if my writer sould and my illustrator soul both were blissfully happy with the results of a project..


Do you ever draw elements of the world you're writing to inspire yourself?

Sometimes - but those are mostly very rough sketches. I mostly work with the images of others - for MirrorWorld all the treasures of fairy tale illustration, but also 19th century photography. I worked very closely with the Getty Research Institute here in LA who opened their archives for me to find MirrorWorld images in photo albums of the 19th century. I stole the faces of the dead to give them new lives behind the Mirror. I have never worked like that before. It is incredibly inspiring - to have the faces of real people bring life to the words.


Does your history as a social worker inform the way you write interpersonal relationships? For example in, Reckless and Fearless, that of Will, Jacob and their father who left them when they were young children?

The longer I write the more I realize how vastly influential my years as a social worker are for my writing. The Thief Lord would have been impossible without the children I met during that time. As for Reckless - yes, for sure some of my memories from that time inspired the story, though for this story some other sources were more influential: my son Ben, who has both Jacob's restlessness and Will's tenderness and many discussions with my friend Lionel Wigram (who, by the way, produced the Potter movies and Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr.) about fathers and brothers. He brought such a male insight to this, that I found these conversations to be vastly inspiring and I still hear them echo behind the Mirror.


You write mainly in your native German, and your work is translated by your cousin Oliver Latch - who lived in England for eight years. Does knowing your translator very well make the translation more faithful to your original intent?

It is incredibly helpful! I know Oliver since I rocked his cradle and we have been friends before he could say my name. It was wonderful news when he decided to move with his family to Los Angeles as we can meet whenever there is something to discuss in person. Translation is such an art - it can destroy a story or make it shine. I was always lucky with my translators. First Anthea Bell and now Oliver. If translators know the writer very well they know about our intentions and emotions even when they are not spelled out on the page.


You're now living in Los Angeles (and London) and have been writing more and more in English. Have you found your style changing at all when you change languages?

Oh yes. I wrote several short stories over the past twelve months and I was surprised myself how different they sound. I tend to sound 'older' when writing in English. I once heard that the emotional memory attached to language depends on when you learned it. A very interesting theory. It would explain why I feel a certain freedom when writing in English - many years of childhood memories attached to German may just be a shadow, almost like another person's memories, a distance that can in fact be very helpful for a writer. I am very much looking forward to write more and more in English. My notebooks are already shifting back and forth between the languages.


All of your books, in some way, have at their core the idea that things people believe to be myths are real and hiding just below the surface of our world (Inkheart, Reckless, Ghosthunters series...). What draws you to explore these myths and legends? How do you decide what (from the original lore) to keep, and what to adapt in a more modern way?

There are several things that fascinated me about myth and folktales. 1. They are voices of all things lost, past history, the dead, past beliefs, landscapes, times. 2. They mirror a different approach to the world and to life, as people were still far more connected to nature and the hardship of living in it and from it. There is often substatial truth about human nature to be found in old stories. They still understand far more that everything is connected, as that was the experience of everyday life. 3. The images! Imagination feels sometimes far less censored in myth and folk tale. The dark side of human nature is spelled out, all our vices, desires, fears...and imagination is embraced as an expression of human reality. Shpeshifting, coming back from the dead...reality is far more open and shifting, there are less barriers between the worlds...which of course is vastly inspiring for a storyteller.


Dragon Rider, Inkheart and The Thief Lord have been made into movies. Any plans in the works for more film adaptations?

I admit I am quite frustrated with the movies by now. My adaptations were often charming and I still love the experience of doing them, BUT - and it is a huge BUT - I work on worlds for five to ten years. To see them shrink into what fits a screen and can be told in two hours, is endlessly frustrating. So far the images never matched what I saw in my head, and of course a writer has no control, however much one gets involved. the moment I am only interested in movie projects that are based either on short story or original script. For MirrorWorld the app experience was pure enchantment - to be able to work with many layers, to grow instead of shrink the world. Creative heaven! We already started work on Dragon Rider and I can't wait to bring Inkworld to life like this next year.


You write for children and young adults, but deal with some darker themes as well, and don't seem to alter the situations for young readers alone. Do you make any differentiation between writing for the two audiences?

No, I mostly leave it to the story to choose the path. For MirrorWorld, for example, the fairytales set the tone. They are much darker than what I did, sometimes disturbingly so. When I wrote Ghost Knight I realized after a few pages that this story wants to be told young, more simple than Reckless...I still love to do that, though at 54 the stories do of course get older (as my children do). Nevertheless - for picture books I work, of course, differently with language and I sometimes like to create stories for children who don't like to read, as I did with Ghosthunters. some way it still feels all like the same voice. Or as a young boy once said to me: Cornelia, whatever book of yours I open, there's always the same music coming out. :)


I've read that you edit mercilessly, removing entire chapters and characters. I'm sure all your readers would love to see some of these lost chapters. Are they gone forever? Do they ever reappear in other books or stories?

Some of them still exist in folders with old printouts. But only for Book 3 of MirrorWorld it'll all be preserved in big Moleskine notebooks, as - surprise! - Cornelia went back to writing by hand. I have done this for almost a year now and I never ever want to go back! Of course, I transfer each draft into the computer but then I print it out again and glue it all into the set of notebooks. I love love love to work like this. I filled two huge fireproof boxes with notebooks by now and it is quite a magical feeling to preserve the older drafts like this. It will be quite a pile of Moleskines, though, at the end.


Reader Janie Wilder Bill wants to know if you'll be writing another Dragon Rider book, and I want to know what's coming next for the Reckless brothers.

The answer for Janie is: MirrorWorld doesn't allow me to write another Dragon Rider book at the moment BUT we started developing an app for it and I promise it will be MAGIC! I will write lots of new stories for it, about past and future of the characters and we'll show maps and illustrations and many many things that will make you see Firedrake's world very clearly. We also intend to make it interactive with the readers and weave their images into what we create. It should be done next year in summer, and I am so thrilled that I can work on Dragon Rider this way without letting MirrorWorld down.

As for Reckless - I am working on the very last chapter of Book 3, which took Jacob and Will all through Russia. It is thicker than Books 1 and 2, and I already know where 4 and 5 are going. This is the vastest literary adventure I have ever been on and sometimes I wonder whether I'll ever leave MirrorWorld again. Maybe not :)


What's coming next for you?

Books 4 and 5 of Mirrorworld. Three projects with Mirada, one on Dragon Rider and Inkworld, another on a picture book text of mine, called The Lost Angel that is my love song for Los Angeles, and then another app project that will be for very young children and whose story was developed for three musicians.



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To outline or not to outline: Rough outline, often without the ending (I like to not know it), sometimes just an outline of the first ten chapters.

Reading now: Research on 19th century, poetry.

Book or eReader? Still book, eReader sometimes for research.

Cats or dogs? Dogs.

Where she'd time travel: 19th century - for MirrorWorld.

If she could visit one of her own books: MirrorWorld, as it is so close to our world and at the same time filled with so many things we lost on the way.

Favorite online resource: I don't really have a favourite. I do often use Wikipedia to get a first idea and then go from there. But most of my research is still through books, often used. And then there is the glorious library of the Getty Research Institute here in LA.

Most effective promotional tool: I have no idea. A good story? :)

She wishes she'd known when she started writing: How to feed a story with research.

Favorite independent bookstore: Sadly, they all died over the years. I still love BookSoup and Children's Book World, A Whale of a Tale, Once Upon a Story...and there are many magical ones further away from LA which make me blissfully happy when I discover a book of mine on their enchanted shelves. It always feels like they came home.

If she could have one superpower: Flying!!!!! Of course! :) Or just give me a TARDIS!