SCBWI BI Conference - Frank Cottrell Boyce keynote
Here's the second installment in conference reports from this weekend's SCBWI British Isles conference. Here are my notes from Frank Cottrell Boyce's keynote speech - the first of the conference on Saturday morning.
Frank Cottrell Boyce said he learned all about life from reading books. He learned about women from Raymond Chandler - “She gave me a smile that I felt in my hip pocket.” He can’t eat a boiled egg without thinking of Millie Molly Mandie’s picnics. Late night café reminds him of The Tiger Who Came to Tea. The Moomins he associated with pancakes and coffee. That book also gave him the idea that family can be full of diverse, weird people, just like life. The Moomins led him to adulthood, treating existential themes.
He thinks of writing as passing something on, something you’ve loved. He gave the example of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (and told the somewhat disturbing anecdote that this name was based on a war-time phrase amongst soldiers. You get your weekend pass, chitty chitty – and then, bang bang.) The car really existed. The author saw it at Brooklands – a car with the engine of a zeppelin. Ian Flemming (the author) when he was ill as an adult, thought back to his childhood and remember the men and machines he saw. Philippa Pearce did this in Minnow on the Say, remembering childhood canoe trips. Tom’s Midnight Garden, by the same author, reimagines the house and place that she loved as a child.
People complain that J.K. Rowling has just written what has been done before. But that’s what storytellers have been doing through the ages. Tales are to be added to. He told of a Roma woman he met who had been taken from her family as a child. She had become a well-adjusted, giving person as an adult, even after being raised in an institution. He asked her how, and she said it was a book: Heidi. This taught her there was more to life.
Johanna Spyri wrote Heidi based on happy childhood memories. She shared those streams of pleasure and happiness. This can set people free. You get these diverse people writing: Tove Jansson – a Finnish lesbian living on a tiny island; Johanna Spiri – a charity worker who lost her husband; Judith Kerr – a refugee. Only books can do this. He has worked in film/TV. Certain types of people make it here – confident, out going. Books have been written by slaves, refugees, and barely functional people. Only books can gather these voices, that diversity.
He closed with the story of writing his book about a Mongolian family in the UK, based on work he was doing with the Reader Organisation with Jane Davis. Working with young people he heard about a girl who had been in the class (a Mongolian family, asylum seekers). This led to his latest book, The Unforgotten Coat, for which The Reader organisation gave away 50,000 free copies.