Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Garth Jennings – Junior Journalist Review

Interview with Frank Cottrell Boyce and Garth Jennings at Bath Children’s Literature Festival

by Ash Alway

On the last day of the Bath Children Literature festival, one of the events was Frank Cottrell Boyce and Garth Jennings. Frank has done many great things such as write the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, the film (and book) Millions and his latest amazing novel, Runaway Robot. Wheres Garth has dreamed up music videos you will have seen like Blur’s Coffee and TV and the blockbuster animated film Sing. He’s just released the second of his children’s book series, The Deadly 7. We sat down with both authors upstairs at the atmospheric Masonic Hall to find out more.

Q. You’ve said before “I don’t think films change people the same way books change people.” Why do you say that?

Frank Cottrell Boyce: “I said that. Sorry about that Garth, as you’re a film director!” [Laughs].

Garth Jennings: “No, it’s good, it’s good.”

FCB: “I just think it’s the amount of time you spend on a film. You watch a film for an hour and a half. You read a book, you carry it around in your pocket. You read it on the bus. You read it on the beach. You reread it. You own a copy. It becomes part of you in a way whereas a film doesn’t really do that. Sorry, Garth.”

GJ: “I totally agree. I think that’s true. I mean there are certain films that we do remember like The Princess Bride. You don’t absorb them in the same way.”

FCB: “I’ve got a granddaughter called Annabel who is really obsessed with Garth’s film Sing and goes around singing all the songs from it all the time.”

GJ: “Yeah you’ve got that side of it but you’re talking about changing people aren’t you? I think that changing people or changing the way they might think or see the world is more lasting with a book and more in the moment with a film in general, that would be my feeling.”

FCB. “Because it’s just you with a book. It’s one to one.”

Q: Were you inspired by any authors that made you want to start writing children’s books?

FCB: “Me? I loved Richmal Crompton, who wrote Just William. And I loved Edith Nesbit who wrote Five Children and It and The Railway Children. Which was amazing. And I like a science fiction writer called Ursula Le Guin who wrote the Wizards of Earthsea. Which is about a school for wizards. An amazing book.”

GJ: “So she stole that book from JK Rowling?” [smiles]

FCB: “What a terrible thing to do! Didn’t you read my books when you were a little boy, Garth?”

GJ: “Those were the best books! The big one for me when I was young was Roald Dhal, who I actually got to meet. I was probably about your age. He was quite scary in real life. But what was really nice was that I started developing a project – making one of his stories into a film. It didn’t happen. Maybe it will happen later. But I got to go to his house. And go into his little writing room and even into the vaults where they keep all his original writing and letters and everything. That was magically especially as I’d grown up loving his stuff so much. Seeing his bits of paper where he’s clearly working out the story. Because I never think of him having to put any effort into it. You always think it’s easy for everyone else.”

Q. Do you ever think things get into your stories and you’re not in control of them?

GJ: “Yes! All the time. Things come in. I always like to think I have got it all under control. I like to map it out as much as I can. But it always changes. Something random will come in and eat up all the other ideas and it will all become about that. It happens a lot and it’s annoying but hopefully it will lead to something better than I originally imagined.”

FCB: “I think all the planning is just to give you the faith to start. So like today, I started out on this train journey (to Bath). I came from Liverpool today. And there was a train I was supposed to change at Birmingham and change at Bristol and get to Bath. Dead straightforward. All the trains from Birmingham to Bristol were off so I had to map out a completely different journey so it was a totally different day to what I thought it would be. But I still got here in the end. So it’s like that. I would not have left the house if someone had said to me, ‘dunno you might get there’. You need to feel like you can get there.”

Q. Frank, how did it feel to write the Olympics opening ceremony in 2012?

FCB: “That was very scary. Garth and I have done lots of different things. But all the things we do, if they are not ready, they don’t happen. But with the Olympics opening ceremony, it had to happen on that day. There was no point going, ‘you know what, I feel like if we just had another week…’.

GJ: [Laughing] “Yeah a couple more weeks and we’ll be good.”

FCB: “‘A couple more weeks. Can we move it to next year?’ Which is what happens in film all the time.”

GJ: “I never thought of that actually. That must have been terrifying.”

FCB: “And do you know what is really weird, none of us thought of that until three or four weeks before. We were like ‘oh it has to happen doesn’t it?’. These conversations we were having about ‘that’s not really working…’”

GJ: “No, no one leaves the room until it is working.”

FCB: “So we had meetings that went literally through the night.”

GJ: “It was brilliant…”

Q. I know this sometimes has to be secret, but what are your plans for your next book?

FCB: “Garth’s got a book out this week.”

GJ: “That one came out a couple of weeks ago and a third Deadly Seven book will be out in the new year. There’s a couple of things I’d like to do after that, that are sitting there in the fridge, wrapped in clingfilm. Hopefully, they’ll survive and they’ll still be good when I open them up again. But nothing concrete. No one is expecting them. It’s just up to me to breathe them into life. How about you? (to Frank).”

FCB: “I’ve only just started writing my next one. I thought I’d write a lot of it on the train here today. But I didn’t. Maybe on the way home.”

Q: What’s the topic? Are you allowed to say?

FCB: “It will all just evaporate. It’s not a sequel. It will just evaporate if I tell you what it is. If I tell you what it is and you go [looking unimpressed] ‘that sounds alright…’

GJ: Oh I know! People’s eyebrows can destroy a whole book. My wife can do it with a slight move of her head. I can say ‘oh it’s going to be this’ and she can go ‘oh…’ and that’s it. It’s dead. Dead. If you’d have said something then [to Frank]. I would have jumped on you and said ‘don’t say it!, don’t say it!’ It’s too precious.”
FCB: “It’s weird because there’s nothing you can say that will change my political opinions or football allegiances or anything like that. But if you just go ‘hmmm…’, that’s it, that’s it. A whole year written off.”

GJ: “The worst thing is when people go: ‘Oh that’s like that other thing that’s like that. I saw that film and there’s a thing at the end like that.’”

FCB: [Groans] That happen to me. I met someone I know in London that was writing a kid’s book and they started to explain the plot of it and it was about these dwarves who lived in a department store and didn’t know there was anything else outside. I went… ‘That’s Truckers by Terry Pratchett.’ And she was like ‘…what?’. That is literally the plot of Truckers. I blurted it out before I realised.
GJ: “I have got a worse story than that. But it’s about a thing I wrote and was trying to get made into a film. I spent two years on it and had to abandon it… Stories are very precious.”

Q: Who’s the better pet. Frankie the Robot or Sputnik the Alien/Dog?

FCB: “Sputnik. Sputnik definitely. Don’t mess with robots. Sputnik every time.”

Q. How about your film work GJ?
“There will be about Sing soon. I’ve nearly finished the sequel. We have another year to go. You’ll be grown up by then with a moustache and car and everything. It’s going well and we’re in the midst of it. It’s exciting.”

FCB: “So my granddaughter Annabelle has no knowledge that the song is an Elton John song – I’m Still Standing. She just thinks it’s a song by a gorilla. And she’s obsessed by it. So she’ll come in and say ‘I’ve written a song for Mother’s Day.’ What does it go like? ‘It’s Mother’s Day, it is Mother’s Day’ [sung to the tune of I’m Still Standing.] ‘I’ve written a song for your birthday. It’s your birthday, it’s your birthday” [to the tune of I’m Still Standing.]”
GJ: “Oh I love it. I never considered that bit after a film is out.”

Q. Did you choose the songs for it?

GJ: “Yes, I wrote and directed it. So it was one of those things where I would be putting those things together and thinking ‘this will be good and that will work there and then you get it all together and it has this big ripple effect. I didn’t think beyond getting it done. The next one, I don’t know what’s happened but the technology has just gone ‘boof’ so the fur is lovelier, the rain is lovelier, it’s amazing. There are loads of new characters so it’s been exciting working with those too.”

Q. Thanks for letting me interview you!

GJ: “What are you going to do with the answers to these questions? Are they just for you? Have you got a little web site? So you’re like the in house reporter… They were great questions. Thank you, Ash.

FCB: “This was a great interview. Thank you very much. It was an honour to meet you!”

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