The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Antony Wootten

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Antony Wootten

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Summary: Sue thought that Grown-ups Can't be Friends with Dragons by Antony Wootten was the perfect book for the child who struggles with childhood and can't seem to do anything right. It's not just a good story - there's a subtle message that life will improve. Sue had quite a few questions for Antony when he popped into Bookbag Towers
Date: 4 March 2013
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue thought that Grown-ups Can't be Friends with Dragons by Antony Wootten was the perfect book for the child who struggles with childhood and can't seem to do anything right. It's not just a good story - there's a subtle message that life will improve. Sue had quite a few questions for Antony when he popped into Bookbag Towers

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Antony Wootten: Um... Myself, I think! Much as I am aware that I'm writing for children, I really do write just what I want to write, what I find interesting, and what excites me. Hopefully, if it works for me it'll work for other people too. I also think that good children's novels can be enjoyed by adults as much as by children. So, even though I'm writing for children, I'm not really doing it any differently from how I'd write for adults.

  • BB: We certainly agree that good children's novels can be enjoyed by adults, Antony. I really enjoyed your earlier book A Tiger Too Many. I thought that book would make me cry, but it didn't and then I ended up blubbing when I read Grown-ups Can't be Friends with Dragons. You seem to have a real empathy with children living in difficult situations. How did this come about?

AW: I suppose the answer people might be expecting is that I had a difficult childhood myself, but I didn't. I had an idyllic childhood, filled with exciting trips to the woods where we played fantasy games and painted decorative maps of our favourite places... And because I had such a lovely childhood, in fact such a lovely peaceful, untraumatic life right through until now, I've always had a huge admiration for people who are faced with the traumas I've never had to face. It's fascinating putting myself into those situations. I know I'd crumble, but I like to think about characters who don't, characters I admire and who wish I was more like.

  • BB: You must have wondered if you were taking something of a risk in introducing the fantasy element in Grown-ups Can't be Friends with Dragons. What persuaded you to do it?

AW: Actually, it's more the other way round. I've always been drawn to fantasy stories, so A Tiger Too Many was the unusual one for me as there's no fantasy in it at all. However, these days I'm as drawn to history as I am to fantasy. History is like fantasy because you can only imagine it, you can never see it for yourself, really happening. You can visit historical places, but you can never actually visit a point in history, just like you can never visit Middle Earth or Hogwarts. Most of us can only imagine what it would have been like to live through the Blitz. I like to immerse myself and the reader in the experiences of the people who were actually there.

  • BB: You live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and your writing and your landscapes suggest that you have an interest in how it used to be, as well as how it is now. If you had the chance to live there at any other time than the present, when would you choose?

AW: Still the present, I think! I love the fact that there's so much history around me, but I love the comforts of the modern world too! When we think about how people used to live, we get that cosy, nostalgic feeling. But they had to work down mines, live in cold houses, have diseases that can be cured today. History really is a fantasy world. It's wonderful to imagine it, but I wouldn't want to actually live in it!

  • BB: Where and how do you write? How long did it take you to write Grown-ups Can't be Friends with Dragons?

AW: Even though A Tiger Too Many was published first, I actually started Grown-ups Can't Be Friends With Dragons about 20 years ago, typing on a computer which, even back then, was already very out of date! It was a massive story, and not very well written, but one I felt had potential. Over the years I've got better as a writer. I've re-written Grown-ups many times, and finally managed to shape it into the book you see today. A Tiger Too Many, on the other hand, I wrote only a few years ago, in about 3 months! That one just seemed to flow from beginning to end.

I always write directly onto the computer. If I had to write in pen or pencil, I think my hand would fall off. Computers also let you make lots of changes without making your work look messy – and that's the key. You have to be prepared to make lots of changes – huge, ruthless changes – often cutting out whole chapters, or removing one of your favourite characters completely! I couldn't do that on paper.

  • BB: I've enjoyed two of your books - but I've also been stunned by your oil paintings. Author? Artist? Which holds your heart?

AW: If I had to choose, I'd choose writing. I think I'm a better writer than a painter. But, wherever I go, I'm constantly imagining how I'd use paint to capture something I've seen. Even when I'm not painting, I'm painting in my head! So I'd like to keep doing them both!

  • BB: Did you enjoy reading when you were a child? Which books have stayed in your memory?

AW: Thanks to my dad, I became a Lord of the Rings fan at a very early age, and always will be. I always loved animal books too, and I was an avid reader in primary school. Another book which sticks in my mind even now is The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. It has such a cosy, Christmassy atmosphere, but it's full of dark and fascinating evil too.

  • BB: What are you reading now?

AW: I love reading biographies of historical people who have done amazingly brave things, such as The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz. I also read a lot of children's fiction. Most recently I've read Philip Pullman's Northern Lights – everyone else my age read it years ago but I'm very behind with the times! And I've dipped into some of the classics a bit recently too: I ploughed my way through Wuthering Heights, which, strangely, I really didn't like and yet I couldn't put down!

I have to spend a lot of time in my car these days, and I've discovered the joy of listening to audio books. There's nothing better than cruising through the countryside while someone reads a fabulous book to you!

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

AW: World peace, of course! And, I wish chocolate was free and didn't make you fat. But on a more topical note, I'd love to see one of my books made into a film or TV series. I'm sure it'll never happen, but if I could wave a magic wand...

  • BB: What's next for Antony Wootten?

AW: Right now, getting married! That's happening in May, and it's very exciting. Beyond that, more writing of course. I have written a book which I intend to be the first of a trilogy, aimed more at teenagers. It's science-fiction, set in a sort-of post-apocalyptic future, and it's about three times as long as any of the books I've published so far. It'll be a while before I get that out on the market though. Before that, I've got a selection of short stories for adults which I'm hoping to do something with. And I've been helping my dad get one of his books published too – a brilliant children's fantasy story called The Yendak. There will be information about that on my website.

Thanks Sue for all these lovely questions!

  • BB: And thank you for chatting to us, Antony. We wish you well for May and look forward to hearing about your next book.

You can read more about Antony Wootten here.

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