Next Big Thing interview with Antony Wootten
Thanks very much to SJ Griffin, author of the fascinating and funny Vanguard Trilogy, for inviting me to take part in the Next Big Thing interviews! SJ’s book, The Replacement, the second instalment in the Vanguard Trilogy, will be out very shortly. You can read about it on her blog. And you can read my Next Big Thing interview here:
What is the title of your next book?
I’m going to cheat and tell you the title of the book I’ve just published: Grown-ups Can’t Be Friends With Dragons.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Believe it or not, Winnie the Pooh, among other things. Grown-ups is a novel about a young boy, Brian, with a very difficult background, growing up. He's unhappy at school; his mother died when he was a baby; he has an alcoholic father, and his highly-strung older sister is struggling to hold the family together. Brian finds refuge in a cave by the sea where he meets a strange creature who is nothing like a dragon at all, but Brian calls him Dragon, and together they are able to visit another world, a happier place where there lives Isabelle, an old woman who has three pigs and a ramshackle house in the forest. Brian goes back and forth between the two worlds, dealing with the traumas life throws at him in his own world, and with the dangers facing Isabelle in the other. I know this doesn’t sound as if it’s got much in common with Winnie the Pooh, but the key idea came from that incredibly moving bit at the end of The House At Pooh Corner when Christopher Robin announces he is not going to be able to come to the Hundred Acre Wood much anymore. It’s like when Jackie Paper stops visiting Puff the Magic Dragon. Grown-ups is a gritty, quite serious and sometimes even traumatic look at that part of our lives when we realise we are growing up, when we discover that the adult world can’t accommodate the things we loved as children. Or can it...?!
What genre does your book fall under?
Brace yourself for an oxymoron: it’s a real world fantasy for children and adults. I think I’ve covered all bases there!
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
A movie rendition? I love the idea! Many of the key characters are children, so that’s a tricky one. Brian would have to be someone scruffy and rough and who can make themselves look like an 8 year old at the beginning of the movie and a 13 year old at the end. I’d quite like Miriam Margolyes to play Isabelle; although she’s not exactly how I imagined Isabelle I do think she’d do a great job. I’d have Liam Neeson as the alcoholic father, but he’d have to become a decade or two younger than he is now. Can you arrange that for me? Thanks.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Brian grows up and realises that having a best friend who’s a dragon won’t make him popular. (That’s what the title was going to be, but I managed to cut it down a bit!)
Will your book be self published or published by an agency?
It is already self-published. I’d love to get an actual publishing contract one day so I don’t have to do all the leg-work and can get on with more writing!
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Only about 20 years. I started it on a BBC Micro, which was old and battered even at that time. The book grew out of control as I wrote it, and was terrible, I now realise! But I’ve learned a lot about the writing process since then, and I always knew there was potential in the story, so every few years I’d re-write it, and forget about it again for a while. In its most recent re-write, I halved its length, cutting out massive swathes of unnecessary waffle (unlike in these answers!)
What other books would you compare Grown-ups Can’t Be Friends With Dragons to within the genre?
Worryingly, I can’t think of any! That either means it’s completely unique in a good way, or everyone else could see it’s the kind of book you shouldn’t waste your time writing. I suppose there are lots of books about children growing up in very difficult circumstances, such as the sort of thing Jacqueline Wilson writes, and lots of books about children facing difficult and emotive challenges, such as the sort of thing Michael Morpurgo writes, but I can’t think of any with the same mixture of real-world scenario and strange fantasy element that Grown-ups has. There is one book which, though it doesn't have the fantasy element, does have a very similar style of writing and features a child facing difficult and traumatic challenges: A Tiger Too Many by a great writer you may have heard of called Antony Wootten...
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My dad is my writing role model. He’s been writing for longer than I can remember, but he’s one of those writers who hides his manuscripts away, where no-one can see them. But because of his example, I’ve always felt writing is a very natural thing to do.
On that note, I am working with him now to publish one of his novels, The Yendak. There will be information about that on my website soon.
What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?
Pigs in peril! Isabelle has 3 pigs: Jesus, Mary and Beelzibub. (There was originally a Joseph, but I’ve written him out. It takes a discerning writer to realise that the fourth pig is one character too many!) There’s nothing unusual or magical about these pigs, they don’t talk, they’re not particularly cute, but they are fun. They are also mortally threatened by the same people who threaten Isabelle.
Thanks for all these questions! I've really enjoyed answering them. I'm heading off now in search of the next... Next Big Thing.
You can read another interview by Antony Wootten on TheBookbag.co.uk.