I'm very excited to have Cornelia Funke, author of the Mirrorworld series and founder of Breathing Books, on the blog today. She is an awesome lady who creates some astoundingly magical worlds. I hope you'll all join me in giving her a warm welcome and a big thank you. I hope you'll check out her website here (which is so super cool!), as well as the webpage for Breathing Books.
1) What was the most challenging part of writing The Golden Yarn?
To weave all the storylines into one pattern. This world by now delivers so many – which is of course the greatest gift for a storyteller and at the same time it asks for cruel choices. I am currently exploring which characters I’ll follow in Book 4 and which ones have to wait until I write their story separately. But- I love this feeling of a world opening in all directions especially as this one is so close to ours in so many ways.
2) When do you write? Do you have any rituals or routines?
Yes, but they changed vastly over the years. When my children still lived at home I mostly wrote only when they were at school or busy with their friends. As I was the bread winner that was only possible because my husband stayed at home and helped with everything, from cooking and driving the kids to school to lay outing my illustrations and discussing plots with me. Now that my son and daughter more or less live their own independent lives, I enjoy it very much that I can be more flexible. I still organize my work quite strictly nevertheless, as I love to work on several projects at the same time by now. I have a small paper calendar, where stickers name my tasks of the day: ch 9 edit Griffin’s Feather, research Japanese Fairy Tales, cover sketch advent calendar book, ch 10 Color of Revenge, short story Stockholm….these are only a few examples of what they can say. If I don’t get them done I put the sticker on the next page :) But this way makes it very easy for me to have my mind always in just one story, although I wrote more than three at times.
O yes – I always write my first drafts by hand, in A 4 notebooks. I prepare those books for each story, creating a cover from images and sketches. By now I have three fire proof boxes filled with them (after all I live in California) :)
3) How does it feel to read your stories in German versus in English (or any other language for that matter)? Do you feel something is lost or gained with each language?
That’s a very precise description. Yes, they both loose and gain. I especially experience that when I do readings back to back in German and then in English. It is of course still the same story, but it wears different clothes. And it tastes slightly different on the tongue when I read it aloud.
4) Where do you draw your inspiration for your characters? Do you have any suggestions for character building?
I am suspicious of patterns and rules for stories and their characters. I believe that every writer should find his or her unique voice, rhythm, colors….and characters. Otherwise our books may be as predictable as our movie plots one day! Some characters are clear from the very first moment we name them. Others hide and pretend to be someone else. I love to find out more about them with every draft – and I do up to 15 drafts before I hand a story to my editor. Some reveal themselves so late that you have to revise dozens of chapters, but I believe that to allow that makes them come alive in far more organic ways than building corsets for them and their stories which they are not allowed to escape from. The writer’s greatest challenge are the clichés we all work from. We owe our readers to escape them and that mostly is not possible by planning ahead.
One tool though I find very helpful when creating characters. I search for faces on paintings or photographs to have a more multi-layered approach to my characters. Images often say so much more than words. I pin them on my writing house walls, collect them in notebooks and sketch them while writing. My manuscript notebooks are by now filled with such sketches and very often they make me see a character much earlier and quite differently from what I expected him or her to be. A real face says so much more than an abstract description. It doesn’t have to fully match the image in our imagination. But it will always enrichen it. There is such a strange hostility towards illustration and visuals, when it comes to books. So often I hear: doesn’t that cripple our imagination? But books were illustrated on every page in the 19th century and I think it can help our imagination to play – and to see.
5) What do you feel your greatest success has been as a writer? Biggest failure?
I don’t really think in such terms. Especially Success is such a strange and over used word. It measures life and its tasks in such a questionable way. Apart from the fact that it is mostly understood in terms of material gain or celebrity status, instead of creative achievement. For me the most important and meaningful decisions of my creative life were often made against such ‘success’ and ‘failure’ definitions. When I wrote The Thieflord – the book that made my world career – my editor didn’t like it at all and wanted me to change it in ways that I didn’t agree with. I therefore edited it myself – quite a scary step to take :) - but this decision made me into the writer I am. I had a similar challenge with Reckless. My readers and publishers hated me for leaving Inkworld and trying something new. But I decided that this is the world I have to explore and I worked for eight years against the wishes of my readers (and my publishers :) Now many readers love the Mirrors more than any other of my books and once again I grew as a writer. One could say: failure gave birth to success:) I think it often does. We have to dare to fail to grow. If I would use the word success I’d say it was my Mirrorworld App. Creating it opened so many channels in my creativity that I would need six arms and three heads by now to get it all on paper :) Suddenly my worlds were shown in museums and I became much more of an illustrator again – which was quite a surprise!
6) To publish The Golden Yarn, you started your own publishing house, Breathing Books. What transpired with your previous publishing house that made all this come about?
I came back from quite a magical tour in Germany, from readings in huge theatres filled with Mirrorworlders, brilliant reviews and the feeling that I was Sir Edmund Hillary who had climbed Mount Everest by writing these books for eight years. But – at home I found an email from my US and UK publishers asking me to change the beginning and the ending of The Golden Yarn, although it had been published to such passionate reader reactions in Europe. I would never change a published text, unless I feel I can make it better, so …I said No. And when my publishers didn’t accept that I had only one choice – to publish myself. If I had sold the rights to other publishers it would have taken far too long to get The Golden Yarn to my readers. I was tired of the age boxes, publishing works in by now, its merciless commercial thinking and all the tailoring for the markets.
7) What was the greatest difficulty in starting your own company? Your biggest success?
It would have been quite easy to just publish as EBook, but books have to be also on paper for me. So we had to face the challenge of translation editing, printing, binding and delivering in little more than six months. Not easy even for a small print run. But…it was all worth it when I unpacked the boxes! And so far Breathing Books gave me back the feeling to be connected to my readers, to book sellers, bloggers, librarians and all those other bookophiles, that make my work so magical.
8) How do you think starting your own house will affect you as a writer?
It will give me the freedom to try adventurous things – like publishing The Color of Revenge, my Inkworld sequel, in three installments ( inspired by the publishing ways of the 19th century) I will publish my first picture book written in English and illustrated myself in spring, as things move so much faster, when you do it yourself. I will publish the other two Mirrorworld books with a design I love and with my illustrations in summer and I plan a book of short stories and artwork based on the Mirrorworld App. Additionally I will print small numbers of all my books that are out of print in the US- quite a few- and I will publish some never published in English.
9) What are your goals with Breathing Books? What would you like to see your publishing house achieve?
We want to explore ways to include more illustration, weave art and word together. We’ll continue with what we tried with the Mirrorworld App and keep all my books alive, although they may not sell big numbers. We’ll try to think less of numbers and more about creative adventure.
10) What’s the best feedback you’ve received from your readers? Got any stories?
Oh there is so much! At a reading in Germany I just received a small envelope filled with Golden Yarn – spun by the reader herself. I received letters from the parents of dying children, telling me that my story helped both their child and them. Or from a soldier who told me she survived the desert thanks to Inkdeath. I hear so often that my stories grant shelter from the storm. It is each time a reminder that the responsibility of a storyteller is to catch the beauty and the terror of this world and life in words – for the others.