Review Blog

Nov 26 2009

Interview with John Flanagan

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Fran Knight and Pat Pledger met John Flanagan in Adelaide where he spoke about the release of his new book, Halt's Peril, the ninth in his best selling Ranger's Apprentice series. Here are his answers to Fran's questions:

1. Fran: Many of my questions are more of the admiring type than riveting questions. I loved the whole section (about half the book) of Halt hovering near death after being poisoned in Halt's Peril. Did you have an awareness of your audience as you wrote this?
 
John: Very obviously, with Halt's poison episode, I was only giving out small pieces of information to lure the reader on. When kids saw the word 'Peril' they thought it meant death, and we had tons of emails saying 'don't kill Halt', so all I can say is that there is a funeral. Children did not want Halt to die. 'Peril' means danger, but it was not long after J.K. Rowling killed off a character, so fans were very aware that someone might die.

2. Fran: I was expecting someone would die.

John: Well I do kill one of them (Fran: Shock!)
John: My readers follow the blog religiously, picking up any errors or hints about the next book. Australian kids have to be asked not to put spoilers on the web site because the United States are two books behind and the United Kingdom are on book 5 or six.

3. Fran: Halt to me has many qualities of a sympathetic priest, humble but knowing his own power, subtle, a guide for Will, trainer, teacher etc. Was this deliberate? Did you have anyone in mind as you created Halt?

John: Not at the beginning, but several years ago I realised that he is based upon my year 6 teacher, Brother O'Connor, a firm disciplinarian, a man who did not smile, short and wiry. Halt is the dominant character; Will is leaning about his strengths. There is a father son relationship. Halt has the depth of experience; Will will always be his apprentice.

4. Fran: Did you feel the influence of other fantasy novels and series as you wrote these?

John: I read the first of J.K. Rowling's books, but did not want to read any more because they could have influenced me.

5. Fran: All other fantasy writers use the imperial system of measurement for their books. It is quite refreshing to come across centimetres in a medieval fantasy novel. Was this deliberate?

John: Yes. And surprisingly the Americans like it and leave it as they think it is 'quaint'.

6. Fran: The built environment comes across very strongly in Will's adventures. How did you develop these environments?

John: Castle Redmont is based on a castle that we toured in France which had big ironstones which glowed red at sunset. The villages are based on Irish villages we saw during our honeymoon in Ireland. There I developed a fascination with the legends of Ireland, and spent many hours listening to stories told be locals I met along the way.

7. Fran: The map at the start of Halt's Peril is very bare. A criticism! I kept looking at the map at the start to see where they were, but couldn't find out. For number 10, could there be a better map?And on maps - it looks so much like Britain, with Ireland (Hibernia) off to the left. Why didn't you just make it the British Isles?

John: I wanted a place I made up, a place where I made the rules. I didn't want people emailing me and telling me that such and such was over here not here. I wanted control.

8. Fran: I somehow assumed that there would be 8 in the series, and then that Halt's Peril would be the final one. How many more can we expect?

John: There are two more. Number 10: The Emperor of Nihon-Jin is due out in November 2010. I realised that there was one relationship that wasn't yet resolved, so in book 10 that will be a main thrust. Number 11 will be the final in the series and will be set 20 years hence.

9. Fran: Why Fantasy?

John: I started off with 20 short stories cobbled into a book. Initially I wrote thrillers and spy y stories, but after 9/11 I retreated to fantasy, I felt it was wrong to use that format of realism. I did not want to write about the medieval world as such but would create my own with my own rules (eg coffee is part of several of the books, and I worked out a trail allowing coffee to be in Araluen, in response to one query about how coffee got there). I am assiduous with my accuracy but make my own rules. I wanted to write escapism, and that's where my efforts went during a lean year in advertising. I put all my efforts into selling my books, an artist friend developed pictures and front covers for the first four books, and we put these onto photographic paper, with the first 25 pages of the first story, with 4 glossy pages and book covers and 2 columns outlining the stories of each book. Knowing what the slush pile was like at publishers' offices, my agent took a publisher to lunch and presented his folder to her.

10. Fran: How far have the plans for a film of the first novel progressed?

John: I am very pleased with the work so far. Paul Haggis, the director who has taken up the option is trying to raise the money at the moment, and has been responsible in the past for Million Dollar Baby and In the Valley of Elah.

11. Fran: Who do you think is your audience?

John: I think both boys and girls will like my books. My first fan mail was from twin girls. Children started to read the books when they were about 11 or 12 and continued on until they were 17 or so.

12. Pat: What about reluctant readers?
John: Reluctant readers will enjoy these books because they have pace, adventure and humour. My 12 year old son didn't like reading and initially I wrote 20 short stories to get him interested. I wrote them as entertainments so things keep happening and they are exciting. The joy of writing is in being excited by children coming to me and saying that they didn't like reading, but finding my books got them into reading. The joy of writing is reflected in being able to do some good in helping kids love reading, which I didn't get in advertising.

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