Interview with John Flanagan

Interview by Magdalena Ball

I know that the Ranger’s Apprentice books originated as a way to engage your son, but at what point did you realise that you had a potential novel (and even a possible series of novels) on your hands?

It was about 8 to 10 years after I wrote the short stories. I’d filed them away and my daughter said they might make the basis of a good book.

Did you initially plan for it to be a lengthy series?

No. I was writing one book originally, but it grew and grew, so I made it two books, then three, then four. That was the first story sequence. By then, I had grown to like the characters and thought I should continue the series.

You’ve talked about a 12th book – the 11th leads very nicely into the Brotherband series. Are you still planning a 12th RA?

Yes. The 12th and final book (unless I have a really good idea in the meantime) will be written in about 18 months ( to give me time to see if I have any really good ideas in the meantime). It’ll be set about 15 years after the other books and it will conclude the series, taking the story full circle.

Talk to me about the 11th – was the writing process for that different from the others due to the short story structure?

No. It was the same. I did a plan for each story and I broke them into chapters. The only difference was that in a book I’d do 35 to 40 chapters. With these, it was 5 chapters on average. But they still had the same beginning, middle, end structure.

Do you, as an author, feel a kind of tug from the characters to keep them alive? Do you get attached to them and want to keep developing their world? How do you know when you’ve finished with them?

Yes I do. They’re very real to me. I guess I knew I was coming to the end when I could see no further progression of the characters. That’s always been important to me. They’ve evolved, they’ve grown. I don’t want to keep writing about them if I’m just going over old ground. I think if I did that, any further books would stagnate, and readers, no matter how much they say they want me to keep going, would sense that.

How is the RA film coming along?

Very well, if slowly. I heard from the producers about three weeks ago and they’re very confident that they’re close to having the necessary funds together.

Tell me a bit about The Brotherband. Was the writing process for this one different for you than the RA series? Are you planning multiple books?

I’m planning three books initially. Then there will be more. The writing process was different insofar as I was dealing with new characters. But this wasn’t a sudden evolution. I’d been thinking about them and jotting notes down about them for about two years. I wanted to be sure they were fully formed in my mind. And that they were new and had their own lives – they weren’t pale shadows of the RA characters.

There was also a difference int he fact that I was starting from scratch and I had to cover the back stories of the three main characters. With Rangers, since book 2, the characters were all fully formed. My editor, Zoe Walton, did a fabulous job pulling the narrative and the back stories together into a cohesive, nicely flowing text. God love her!

The second book, which I’ve just finished, flowed very easily. I knew the people, they were all well established, I knew how they’d behave. All I had to do was continue the ongoing story.

Your books have been touted as being particularly good for ‘reluctant readers’. I’ve noticed that the canon for reading hasn’t changed much since I was a kid. Do you think schools could do more to engage young readers?

From what I’ve seen, schools and school librarians are doing a terrific job encouraging young readers – and they’re often doing it with insufficient funding and facilities.

Librarians and booksellers are my favourite people. They’re the ones who influence what kids are going to read.

You’ve written for young adults and adults – do you think that the distinctions are clear cut or is it more of a marketing decision?

I think both markets look for many of the same things. Good, likeable characters. Tight, logical plotting. A decent pace to the book and realistic dialogue. I think they both need a mix of drama and adventure, leavened by humour. That’s what real life is like. Witness the fact that when I started writing Rangers, I actually thought I was writing a fantasy for the general market – adults. My agent decided to pitch it to the children’s market, which is why there were four books in the first storyline. I’d originally planned them to be two big books.

I think it’s one reason why the books have struck such a chord with kids. I didn’t write down to them, or dumb them down.

The major difference I see is in content. There are some things you’ll include in a book for adults that are best left out of a kids’ book.

As for style, I just write the way I write.

What’s next on the cards for you? Are you working on a new book?

I’ve just finished Brotherband 2. I’m due to leave for the USA to launch Brotherband 1 and Rangers 11 in a week or so. Australia and America are finally in synch with their publication dates. Then I’ll take a break for a month or two before I start writing Brotherband #3.