Cornelia Funke: Reckless, Fearless, Heartless, with Jo Randerson

corneliaBefore I delve into another session, I just want to say how lucky I feel to know so many children’s authors and brilliant people involved in working on behalf of children. These people are my people. They care deeply about children, and they work tirelessly – writing, teaching or providing gateways to books for children. They deserve a standing ovation for what they do, and it was a real privilege to be in the audience to see Cornelia Funke speaking about her life as a writer.

Funke started out as a social worker for disadvantaged children, as a way of rebelling from her parents (who wanted her to study art) to do something that she saw as much more necessary than art. She realised you can’t betray your talent, when she noticed herself drawing a lot with these children who she was helping. Ultimately, she became an illustrator, then started writing her own books when she didn’t like those the publishers supplied. Her books are now so popular she is able to fund organisations for the socially disadvantaged.

“Your mistakes will teach you – don’t ever let people tell you to take the straight road. Take the crooked road.”

Funke firmly believes that there is a story for everybody. She loves to find stories that she can write both for book-eaters like herself, as well as for those who “hate to read.” She was told a story by a teacher about a boy who stole his copy of Ghosthunters, then hid behind a bush at lunchtime to keep reading it. She says, “It is much more difficult to condense a book.” You need to do this to engage reluctant readers.

ghosthuntersChair Jo Randerson started a conversation about the inner child by quoting Maurice Sendak: “The child that I was didn’t grow into the adult that I am, but the child is still alive.”

“Until they are 10-11 , a child is still a shape-shifter,” says Cornelia. “I like to say I write for children, but I let grown-ups read it as well.” We are too restricted as adults. Children still ask the big questions. The older we get, the more we hide from these questions. She herself never has trouble with keeping her inner child. Her kids say she has the mental age of five.

Funke has an incredible awareness of children’s psyche when contemplating darkness – many are fascinated by skeletons, for instance. “It’s much scarier for the child when they notice the lie. It is when you hide things that children get scared by what you are not saying.” You have to be sensitive of when your child is ready for their awareness of the world – don’t put them in front of a war report at 5 years old. A book is a way to introduce things gently – children close the book when it gets too bad. “A book is a place where we can practice the dark side of life.”

Funke receives very touching letters from soldiers, dying children. She says “As writers and artists, we create shelter, because we all need it – but from this shelter, you need to hear the storm. You should always know that it is there. Every person has to face the storm at some point. Cruelty, darkness, grief, is all part of the human experience.”

pans labyrinthFunke’s favourite movie is Pan’s Labyrinth, because it explains fascism so brilliantly. “Fantasy is just a mirror – it is a very powerful way of talking about our world.” Her favourite fantasy book is The Once and Future King, by T. H. White. She added later, “If you can’t create your own fantasy, it makes it very difficult to change your reality.”

Funke is now writing the book of Pan’s Labyrinth. She is unpacking this compressed format into a bigger format – and this is the first time she has done this in English. She will need to translate it herself into German afterwards. She is keeping all of the dialogue because it is so brilliant, and simply adding the monologue.

Funke has had nine books made into movies: “You give them a flying carpet, and they hand you back an envelope.” She wanted more from this experience, so she went to Mirada, and asked them to help her allow kids to go to Mirrorworld. What they came out with was something called ‘a breathing book.’ She has also now created a breathing book out of Dragon Rider, and fell so much in love with the process that she wrote a whole novel during the process. “I am simply changing up the form – it is a new type of collaboration, with a new dialogue. I see it as a type of travel guide into a new world.”

While Funke loves technology, she is concerned that children no longer get to experience nature. Children need nature to be familiar to them. But Funke sees the development of technology as the only way to save the planet. The technologies scientists are still discovering are teaching us more about the world, which gives her hope.

The way Funke spoke about Inkworld being the same place as Mirrorworld, but 500 years earlier, made me think of Elizabeth Knox and her imaginary games and how they influence her diverse writing. Here is my review about Knox’s session last Writer’s Week.


There was a great amount of time for questions with this session, one that begun the questions was about how countries she has featured in books have coped with the tourism brought by these. Funke says that Venice, Salzburg Cathedral have both embraced it – but these are just small places. She is not sure how the whole country of New Zealand should live up to Middle Earth, but she hopes that in the future, our tourism industry will start paying attention to our unique taonga (my word), and displaying this on the walls in the airport instead of making us Disneyland.

Funke was asked how she has written through sadness in her life. She said: “We all lose so many things in our life. Sadness doesn’t contradict creativity, in fact it helps it. We all have to learn to embrace these times – I never feel unfocused when I am in pain or upset. We never learn better or faster. I am only vibrant and happy because I have been through darkness. The only thing is if you start hiding from the pain, that’s when it becomes very dangerous.” It makes it much harder when it finds you. She says “the most dangerous thing is comfort and security.”

This session made everybody in the audience think, about fantasy and its connection with reality, and about how darkness leads to lightness.

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster

Cornelia Funke: Reckless, Fearless, Heartless, with Jo Randerson
2pm, The Embassy, 13 March 2016

Cool quotes I couldn’t fit into my review:
“Neil Gaiman is as exciting as you think he is. I think he’s not human, by the way. I think he is an elf.”

Her advice for those who have never written before: “Start with a one-page short story and make it better.”

And good news for Inkworld fans: Funke is writing a book called The Colour of Revenge, which is a sequel to the ‘Ink’ series. There was an audible gasp at this.

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