John Flanagan is the author of more than 10 novels for young readers. Below is a complete transcript of his interview with Cracking the Cover.
Background — Have you always wanted to write? Why?
Earliest I can remember was when I was in fifth grade. I loved writing stories. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I loved reading. I think it’s a natural progression from reading to writing.
What did you do before becoming a writer?
I went to school. When I finished high school I got a job in an advertising agency. Initially, they had me compiling research results – TV ratings and such. It was incredibly mind numbing work. But after 18 months, I was selected to train as a copywriter. I’ve been a professional writer ever since, in advertising, TV, and corporate work.
Why write for middle readers?
I didn’t select the target market. I just wrote. I thought I was writing for adults. But my agent pitched the books to the children’s market. Maybe that’s why they’ve appealed to kids. I didn’t write down to them. I just wrote in my natural voice.
Do you have any rituals? Do you write all day?
I write Monday to Friday, 10 am to 1PM and I finish a chapter each day. No rituals that I can think of.
Where did the idea for the Ranger’s Apprentice series come from?
Originally, it came from 20 short stories I wrote to interest my 12 year old son Mike in reading. I’ve always enjoyed novels set in mediaeval times and one of Mike’s key interests was archery. So it was logical that the stories should involve an archer in a mediaeval country. The Rangers were based on the Texas Rangers – a small group of highly skilled, highly motivated men with an influence far greater than their numbers might suggest.
‘Cause I wanted to. I felt there were a few loose ends that needed tying off. And over the years, readers had sent me questions that I felt should be answered ( e.g.: what did Gilan do when Halt and Horace left for Skandia. Did he track down Morgarath’s lieutenant, Foldar?). And incidentally, I hadn’t concluded the series. I always planned for a final book, set 15 years after the last book in the series. I’ll do that in about 18 months.
Where did the idea for the Brotherband Chronicles come from? How many books will be in the series?
Not sure where it came from. I’ve always been interested in ships and sailing and I love the Skandians as characters. I started thinking about Brotherband about 3 years ago, when I realized that RA was coming to a logical conclusion. The idea of having a young boy who was regarded as a misfit (because of his mixed parentage – half Araluen, half Skandian) appealed to me. I like my central characters to have this sort of social problem, as I feel a lot of readers will identify with them, and to overcome them.
How many books? Well, there are three in the first story cycle. The Outcasts, The Invaders and the yet-to-be-named. After that, I have ideas for two more. So who knows? I like this series, so I’ll keep doing it for a while.
Your books have been coming out in fairly quick succession. How long does it take for you to write them?
About two months to plan them and then three months to write them. I was lucky when I started that I had the first four already written. These days, I’m constantly being chivvied by heartless publishers and editors to write faster. Oh woe is me.
One of my favorite pastimes when kids ask me this question is to ask it back. Do you? Usually, they look puzzled and say no. However, if you push me, I really like Tug and Horace. I’m not particularly fond of George. Don’t know why I created him, in fact.
What were the challenges working on such large story arcs? The highlights?
I’m not aware of challenges. I love what I do, so it’s more rewarding than challenging. I love the feeling of being in control of a set of characters and events and even history. It’s fun. It’s a wonderful mind game. The highlights? Typing the words THE END.
And meeting the kids who read my books when I tour. That’s a definite highlight.
What are you working on now?
I’m patching three holes in a plasterboard wall in our dressing room. Oh, you mean what am I writing? Nothing right now. I’ve just finished Brotherband 2 and it’s a cracker.
Looking back, how has your writing evolved from when you first started until now?
Well, it’s got better, thank God. The more you write the better you get. It’s like any talent. You deserve no marks for having the talent – that’s given to you. But developing it by practicing your craft and honing it is a very worthwhile pastime.
Are you surprised by the success of your books?
Constantly. As well as delighted.
Did you have a favorite book or book that really resonated with you as a young reader?
No. There are too many to single one out. I loved reading and I devoured books. But if you insist, I’ll say the Horatio Hornblower novels by CS Forester – and all his other novels, in fact. He wrote some terrific stories.