The Inconvenience of Good Ideas: In Conversation with Cornelia Funke
  Conversations    September 24, 2016     Eric Larkin


On September 30th, this Friday, we are lucky enough to have the great Cornelia Funke in our store to discuss not only the fantastic storytelling and illustrating she is known for worldwide, but her co-founding of Breathing Books – her own publishing house. Here is the shortest of intros to Cornelia, her worlds and her on-going adventures . . .


Eric Larkin – You grew up in Germany. I’m wondering what books you read as a child or young adult that you think may have influenced you towards illustration and writing, especially towards fantasy/adventure. In the English speaking world, it would be Tolkien, Narnia, and of course all the classics—and now, Harry Potter. How was it similar or different for you in Germany, which, of course, has a great body of its own literature?

Swedish, not German


Cornelia Funke – Yes, it was different…though I came across Narnia, in a library. I felt as if I had discovered a hidden treasure, as the books looked like nobody had read them for a long time. And nobody had ever heard about them. Only at 17 did I learn from a beloved English teacher that there are actually seven volumes! My favorite authors were Michael Ende and Astrid Lindgren, my favorite books Jim Knopf and Lucas, the Steam Engine Driver and The Brothers Lionheart. And Tom Sawyer. I traded that for a Heidi with my brother, who didn’t care for any books, so was very willing to give Mark Twain away.



EL – You have a background in social work. Can you talk about the value of storytelling and art in the development—or even healing—of people who have experienced particularly difficult life situations?

CF – When I abandoned social work for illustration and later writing, I felt terribly guilty and selfish. But my experience is that you can’t live against your talents. And then life strangely finds a way to bring it all together, as since then I have been able to support many social workers and their projects all over the world. As for storytelling and art—I think those are the most powerful tools of education, as they teach us to look through the eyes of somebody else. A talent badly needed in this age of intolerance and polarized views!




EL –  You have several series (Inkheart, Ghosthunters, and Reckless, for instance) and many standalone novels & picture books (from The Thief Lord to Pirate Pig). When you first have an idea for a new story or character, do you immediately know whether or not they will be a series or a stand-alone? Do you just have to start developing it and see what happens?

CF – Not at all. They love to keep their secrets, often for many drafts! I never thought Inkheart would have a sequel, for example. :)


EL – You might be speaking about this in detail at the event, but can you share a little about your motivations in starting Breathing Books, your independent publishing house?

CF – I had played with the thought of doing my own company for unusual and not-commercial projects, for heavily illustrated books for example, that tempt me both as a writer and illustrator. But I never intended to publish my ‘regular’ novels myself, as I have so many very good collaborations with publishers all over the world. Then Little Brown and Chicken House, two of my English language publishers, demanded that I edit a book I had just published in Germany with great success. They asked for profound changes, shifting the first chapter, turning the last one into an epilogue, and many other things…I first couldn’t quite believe such disrespect for a published book but, when they insisted, I had no choice. In retrospect I am quite thrilled of course that this pushed me into self publishing, as having full control over design, layout and in all the making of a book is an incredibly rewarding experience, and we just sold the UK license to Pushkin Press, a publisher I very much admire. Additionally, suddenly all my publishers want our covers—the ones Breathing Books designs. I never experienced that before!


EL – Any words of encouragement or advice for newer writers?

CF –  NEVER write the first draft on a computer! Always carry an A4 notebook with you. Have one for each story. And of course there needs to be a pen in your pocket, one that writes on skin whenever you run out of paper. The best ideas come at the wrong places. They love it.



EL – Reckless: The Petrified Flesh and Reckless: Living Shadows—books 1 and 2 in your Reckless series—are coming out very soon. Can you tell us what other projects you have in the works?

CF – I am currently writing The Island of the Foxes, which will be Reckless 4. It is set in Japan. I also work on a sequel within the InkWorld and on ideas for a third Dragon Rider. The sequel to Dragon RiderA Griffin’s Feather—will be published in English in 2017. I will from now on work on these three worlds and will slowly expand them. Then there is another project that’s very close to my heart. Guillermo del Toro asked me to turn my favorite movie, Pan’s Labyrinth, into a novel. I am almost done with the first draft, adding ten short stories to the movie’s narration. This project has been an utter enchantment.


If you are a writer or illustrator of any kind – particularly of fantasy or adventure novels – or are interested in independent publishing, we’ll see you at The Last Bookstore at 7pm this Friday.




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