Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Turning Real-Life Stories into Books - with added imagination from Frank Cottrell Boyce

What if you had a car that could fly? What would you do if you found a bag full of money?

The imaginations of more than 200 schoolchildren from more than five Abingdon schools were given a jump start on Wednesday Nov 30 as they listened to multi award-winning children’s author Frank Cottrell Boyce talk about the inspiration behind his books.


Frank read from his latest novel ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again’ and told how the roots of the story grew from real life.

Ian Fleming is well known as being the creator of James Bond, but fewer people know that he was the creator of the original children’s story ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ . Even fewer would have known that the story was inspired by a real car.

Ian Fleming saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang race when he was a young boy – and that memory came back to him when - convalescing from a heart attack - it formed the inspiration behind his only children’s book.

Frank Cottrell Boyce told the amazing story of a rich count who came into his money very young and spent his money on things most children couldn’t even dream of. Things like a full-size train track in his grounds to race trains, and putting a zeppelin engine in a car - the original Chitty - to race it at Brooklands (it could go over 100mph).

Frank Cottrell Boyce’s first books are all based on what children would do when placed in extraordinary situations. ‘Millions’ is about what a couple of boys decide to do when they find a huge amount of money. And ‘Cosmic’ is about a 12-year-old boy who looks much older and gets mistaken for an adult.


These stories have been loved by children, turned into films, and means Frank Cottrell Boyce has been on every major award for children’s writing.

In Frank Cottrell Boyce’s ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again’ – the original Chitty’s engine is reassembled (without the family’s knowledge) inside a camper van. So when they set off, their trip around the world is like no other.

Frank also shared loads of stories and advice about how simple things can become stories if you add a lot of imagination and a little magic – and talked about all the things that inspired him to become a children’s writer.


He knew he wanted to be a writer from when he was at school and a teacher read out something he’d written to make a friend laugh – and he made the whole class laugh.

‘I learned that if you choose words in the right order people will laugh even if you’re not there in person. Someone could be laughing at the same thing even all the way in China. Writing is like having a superpower.’

His incredible talk ended with so many hands bristling with energetic questions for the author he could have been there all day.


Note to other booksellers: If you’re going to organise a big author event involving lots of schools – don’t organise it on a day when there is a big strike on and lots of schools are going to be closed.

But do organise it with author Frank Cottrell Boyce. Because even if the whole event has hung in the balance – it can still turn out to be a tremendous day that makes several sleepless nights truly worthwhile.

A huge thank you for all the schools and teachers who turned out in force to keep the event going.

And a big thank you to everyone who came to the shop to meet Frank at Mostly Books afterwards. Particularly to Jo and Rosie Caulkin who travelled from Birmingham to meet him.

Five questions with . . . Frank Cottrell Boyce's writing life
1.    What are you working on at the moment
'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 2' (looks nervously at his editor sitting across the table from us). No, of course, that's finished. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 3!

2.    What is the best writing tip you've ever been given?
Read, read, read.

3.    What's the best and worst thing about being a children's writer?
The best thing is the contact with children. Watching them meeting an author, getting questions. It's very real, very visceral. The worst thing is that, you do so many events that you end up having no time to write. You can't do events half-heartedly, every event I do I put everything into, I don't want to let anyone down.

4.    Do you have a writer's survival kit?
No - nothing. My house is so busy, and I am so busy, I write anywhere, at any opportunity. Edith Nesbit (and also PG Wodehouse) used to write at parties. In fact, that's a great tip for writers: learn to write at parties!

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
I had written the script for ‘Millions’, and Danny Boyle told me "I'll do the film, but you must write the book". And that was the nudge I needed. I think writers need to have other people give them a shove to get a book out there.

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