Liverpool Literary Festival: Frank Cottrell Boyce interview
Hailing from the Liverpool City Region, celebrated writer Frank Cottrell Boyce has worked on a host of successful books, TV and film projects.
Your Move caught up with him ahead of his David Bowie focused event at the inaugural Liverpool Literary Festival, of which he is also a patron, to talk about his hopes, achievements and inspirations as well as the importance of reading.
Interview by Natasha Young
You’re going to be talking through David Bowie’s reading list at this year’s Liverpool Literary Festival. As a fan of his, how long have you been interested in that literary influence on his work?
From the get-go. I’ve always felt very lucky that my teen idol was someone who read a lot and talked a lot about books and that crossover has always interested me about him. Every time you got a new Bowie album there seemed to be a reading list with it – a crazy reading list with loads of nutty stuff, but it did send you off to read.
He was a voracious reader. I know when he moved into a house in Switzerland he took about 1,500 books but they were only there for six weeks or something like that. I can’t remember the exact figures but he took crazy amounts of books around with him. When he and Iggy [Pop] went on the Trans-Siberian Express they took two tea chests full of books and they sat on the Trans-Siberian railway and just read their way across Siberia.
As a big advocate of reading for pleasure to enhance creativity, do you consider David Bowie to be the perfect advert for it given the successful career he had?
Absolutely. I go to schools a lot and they always talk about reading if you want to be a writer but you should read a lot if you want to be an engineer, you should read a lot if you want to be a musician, and you should read a lot if you want to be a cook because reading is where you get to meet people who you’re never going to meet in the flesh.
If you were to put a definitive reading list together of the books and authors that have been most influential for you, what would that include?
It would definitely feature a book by a woman called Ursula Le Guin, named ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’. It’s an amazing fantasy book which I read at just the right age and it’s about a school for wizards, funnily enough. It made knowledge sexy so it kind of turned me into a swot.
One of your other projects at the moment is a film called ‘Triple Word Score’, which seems to have Liverpool talent at the heart of it. How is it coming together?
Yes we’re shooting that next spring. It’s funny because it’s basically the film that The Farm made – one of the producers is Roy Boulter who was the drummer, and the director is Carl Hunter who was the guitarist. Also Bill Nighy is in it and he used to be at the Everyman. It’s based on a short story I wrote years ago and it’s about Scrabble.
Do you enjoy the process of your writing being turned into something completely different by someone else?
Oh yes that’s brilliant, it’s wonderful. I am really interested [in other people’s interpretations] and I think that comes from having a background in film where you write a line which you think is funny one way, and then the actor does it and it’s completely different. I’m very used to the fact that other people make you look better!
“You should read a lot if you want to be a writer, an engineer, a musician or a cook because reading is where you get to meet people who you’re never going to meet in the flesh.”
Having written for the screen, for books and for more theatrical projects like the Olympic opening ceremony, which is your favourite?
I love, love, love writing children’s books and I love going to schools and reading. I defy anyone not to love being on a film set, but the children’s books seem important.
I owe so much to the books that I read [as a child]. I write for an age group of around eight to 12 and the books I read at that age made me, so there’s an element of paying back a debt there really.
Liverpool has a ‘City of Readers’ campaign underway to transform it into the UK’s foremost reading city. How important do you feel such initiatives are in encouraging people to read?
It’s like some kind of weird dirty secret but when you meet people who do really well at things they’re nearly always really big readers, whatever the field is.
It’s not talked about and it seems strange to me because parents want the best for their children and they’ll stand over them while they do their homework or they’ll provide them with extra tutors or send them to private school, but nothing works like reading with them. It is a magic bullet for social mobility and for happiness.
You’ve written original stories but also taken on characters and concepts which already exist, such as your ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ sequel book and screenwriting episodes of ‘Doctor Who’. Is the bigger challenge creating something from scratch, or adding an original touch to something people already love?
Making something from scratch is definitely harder because if you know there’s a car that can fly then you know something in the story will work! To tell a story that’s never been told before is an amazing thing though because stories live for a long time, they can live forever.
The country has recently been celebrating a successful Olympic Games – the first since you worked on the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony with Danny Boyle. Do you still see a legacy of that show given that it instilled so much pride in the nation?
I think that nation is still there, it still exists. It doesn’t speak as loudly as it did that summer.
Also, that ceremony and the torch relay were both done by volunteers. The people who are doing those types of things are the people who don’t get into the papers, really good people who do amazing things. I think what was really good about the opening ceremony was that it put them in the spotlight for once and those people are still there doing great stuff.
Do you still have a dream project you’d like to work on or a goal you’d like to achieve?
I would really, really love to do a big animated movie. I worked for a while on a Pixar film that didn’t come off but I would love to do it. ‘Finding Nemo’ and films like that are so amazing and it would just be great to do something like that. I am working on an animated film but it’s not of that scale.
David Bowie’s Reading List by Frank Cottrell Boyce will take place at the Victoria Gallery & Museum on 30 October, as part of this year’s Liverpool Literary Festival (28-30 October). For more information visit www.liverpool.ac.uk/literary-festival