Congratulations on the publication of The Beginning Woods, how does it feel to have your first children’s book published?
Thank you. I’m still stuck at the denial stage of triumph. Probably in about ten years I’ll reach acceptance and do a little dance and sing a song.
And where did the idea for the story come from?
It came from the place all stories come from – The Beginning Woods, a magical forest where…. No, OK, it came from my brain. Experiences, stories, ideas, they all go into the brain and mix up in there, kind of like how the BFG mixes dreams. That’s why it’s so important to read if you want to write—the BFG can’t make his new dreams without collecting them first.
Do you have a favorite scene or character?
For me the book is like a city—some parts are old, other parts are new. There are parts I love and parts I look at through my fingers. I like the conversation between Max and Boris when they’re flying over the Woods at night in the hot air balloon. Boris is telling Max who he is and where he came from—how he became the man he is. It’s the first time Max has heard someone talk like that.
If I could bring one of the characters to life, it’d probably be Boris. I really wanted him to be happy.
The writing has a fairy-tale quality and the feelings of a classic adventure, were you particularly inspired to write in that way to create that type of story?
I think people over-estimate the influence of fairy tales on the writing. I think what they really mean is that they feel they are being spoken to, that the narrator is “telling a story”, which is unusual in writing these days, I think, without using the first person. It’s avoided because it creates an emotional distance from the story. But it’s a useful tool. Among other things, it allows you to use language you couldn’t use if you were telling the story from the viewpoint of a child.
Certain sections, those dealing with the Witch, or those that describe the Woods, are written in a fairy tale style that was influenced by Ruth Manning-Sanders. But those are the only sections of the book that use that style. The writing that deals with Max and the Mulgans, for example, is influenced by the Unbearable Lightness of Being. However, people don’t expect to find that in a fantasy book, so they don’t see it.
Which children’s books did you love as a child?
I read an awful lot when I was a child, far more than I’ve ever read since. I read anything I could get my hands on, really. I wasn’t precocious, I wasn’t reading Herodotus at the age of ten. I was just reading all the books that kids read in the 80s. Probably my favorite books were by Astrid Lindgren and CS Lewis. I liked to get a glass of milk and some biscuits and find a secret place to do some reading.
What are you working on next?
I’ve just finished it. A few years ago a title popped into my head, and I started digging around to see if there was a story beneath it. And there was. It’s funny that an entire story can come from looking at three words and wondering what they mean. But that’s how it happens, sometimes.