Q & A
Throughout the past years, Cornelia has been asked countless questions by her readers. We have compiled a collection for you, that will keep growing.
How does one go about establishing a solid voice?
Find it. Listen to your heart, the world, everything! Be patient. Feed your writing with your time and life and all the passion you have.
Do you struggle with writer's block?
I don't think there is such thing! I came to believe that every story is a labyrinth (the better we get, the more elaborate it is) and the story will hide its heart in it as she likes to send us on a journey to find it. She teases us with wrong paths and wrong characters, she doesn’t reveal her secrets easily!
So when writers meet the so-called writer’s block—that means, in my opinion only, that the story tricked them and that they have to go back and find out where. Or cut a path through the hedge.
Whatever they do — those days are often the most insightful ones, as we do in the end understand the story better.
Do you own a typewriter?
No, I was never a friend of typing machines. I dreaded them. My first typing friend was a laptop called Mad Max!
Would you ever consider writing a book in which the main character has autism? I think it would be really cool to read about the different (and often magical) ways we autistics see the world. Did you know that I can talk with the seasons? You may have noticed that we've gotten quite a bit of snow all over the US - I'm afraid that was my fault. Ol' Jack Frost and I got into an argument.
I love that idea. I have known children who are called autistic and I know some adults who could claim that label — I myself find it hard to put any label on human beings (I think we all have at least one autistic self in us) and I am sure you'll detect characters in my books who could be called autistic in parts, but .... that all said .... I will look at your way to see the world more closely and I hope one day you'll meet someone in my books who shares your view on the world.
What’s the most major thing to remember for writing children's/middle grade/YA books as opposed to books for adults?
Don't think about that difference. Write the story that comes to you and write it the way it wants to be told. If you find a way to make it resonate with all ages you have fulfilled your task as a storyteller in the best possible way, but of course not every story allows that. nevertheless — never clip you imagination's wings by foreseeing what your readers want to hear. They will always surprise you (apart from the fact that children and teens are always underestimated).
If I had a time machine, where would you travel to?
I'd go to Elizabethan England and see Shakespeare himself performing on stage, meet Heinrich Heine, Mozart and Henry Purcell, watch Rodin at work, visit the Acropolis, when it was still highly coloured, travel to a time in the future when it is possible to visit other planets.
Do you have other jobs besides being an author?
Being an author means having many jobs: writing, answering emails, having meetings, recording audiobooks, travelling...
What influenced some of the common traits in your characters?
They mostly step into my room and are so much alive, that I ask myself where they came from. Of course, some oft them are the result of hard thinking, adding characteristics, manners, etc., but others are alive from the first moment they appear. When I wrote Inkheart, this happened with Dustfinger. He told me his name and he was so real that after a while I had the feeling that he was standing behind me whispering his story in my ear.
When is your birthday?
On 10 December
How long does it take to write a book?
It takes me about one year or longer to write a "big book" like Inkheart or Dragon Rider. But I have written books for younger children, which took me less time to write (about one or two months).
Do you have any drawing tips you could give me?
How you draw should be dictated by your eye, your hand and your heart (I am sure the brain is involved too:) So no one can really give you advice on it! You have to practice, a lot, copy drawings of masters in that craft, sketch from nature, your surroundings ... etc in short: keep the hand busy:)
Why did you become a writer for children?
Why I decided to write for children: Well, first of all I am an illustrator, so the first story I wrote was about all the creatures I yearned to draw. Only children’s books are illustrated nowadays (with exceptions) so there is one reason, but I think the most important one is, that I see myself as a storyteller and storytellers don’t tell their tales just for the grown ups, they tell them for everybody.
What they also know is that children still take this world and the big questions we all ask very serious — and they don’t wear a mask when they meet me- which many grown ups got used to do. ask me whether i’d prefer to be with 1000 children or 1000 grown ups in a hall and the choice would be very easy:)
So when I am asked why I write for children, I say: I do write for children, but adults are allowed to read my books as well:) There is nothing scarier than a grown up, who has forgotten about the child in him. We learn all our lives to be children, I believe.
Do you have a favourite author who inspires you?
Many! There is a list on Goodreads which shows some books that inspired me: T.H.White, Dickens, Kipling, Maupassant, Steinbeck, Heine and Buechner .... but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Why should people read?
First of all- why should they eat chocolate? Because it makes incredibly happy. On a more serious note: because it builds windows and doors when the world seems narrow, because it shows us that we are not alone with what we fear and love, that someone found words for what we may not know how to express, because it shows us that the world can wear a thousand costumes, because it feeds our souls and hearts and brains, because it teaches us to create images in our minds, that are uniquely ours, because......it can make us hear the heart beat of the world.
Where do you get the names of your characters?
I have name dictionaries, and I scan through them until I find a good name that fits the character. I sometimes also get names from plant dictionaries and animal dictionaries.
What is your source of strength?
The world with all its visible and invisible wonders, good friends, anything that creeps and flies and swims and grows, and some very good-natured gods or/and angels who will stand by you, when nothing else could help.
What is your most precious memory?
The birth of my two children – but in the past years so many precious memories have piled in my heart, that for the rest I can’t choose one. They are all about meeting people, finding new friends, working together – my memories oft he past years are like a box of treasures, and I am sure, there will be a time, when I will like to open it and look at them still shining.
Could you give me your thoughts about the joy of reading?
I was raised in a little town and the world was very small. And only the books opened a thousand windows. And they whispered the promise that the world is a wild and adventurous place.
What is the most important element of a story?
Many and always different from story to story. Let the story tell you! And most of all — let the readers fall in love with your characters.
What are some of your insparations to write?
The ideas come from the inside and from the outside. I collect ideas about things I am really passionate about, characters I want to talk about and that readers would want to read about. Then I collect ideas for places in the book, I look at photos and books about different places for inspiration. Then I start collecting little things about the story and background... until I have a chest full of ideas. Then I start writing the plot of the story, based on these ideas.
What is your biggest fear?
I was VERY afraid of spiders until the age of twenty, when I became the owner of a chicken stable. It was so infested with spiders of all kinds that I either had to forget about my fear or have my chicken starve. The fear disappeared like early morning mist and now I can even deal with the Black Widows in my garden.
There is no better feeling than meeting a fear and walking right through it. I am still afraid of deep water though as I am a very bad swimmer :) Otherwise I am quite fearless.
Why did you want to become an author?
I was an illustrator, but I was awfully bored with the books I had to illustrate — so I decided to write my own story.
What's your favourite place to write?
Luckily, I can write anywhere — airports, waiting for a train, even walking my dog. I always have something to write down. Sometimes the best ideas come in the most unusual places.
What is your writing style?
Hmmm, I have no idea. I never thought about this. I think there are as many writing styles in the world as there are authors.
Do you have a favourite book?
"The Once and Future King" by TH White. It is the book I would take to the island, the book I want by the side of my deathbed, the book I wish I had written.
Is it a sign that you should move on to a different story if you are having doubts about the one you are working on now?
No, you should get only more passionate about a story when it gets difficult. Otherwise you will always try something new when the story tries to hide from you. Understand it, tame it, know its secret, explore, find out — and charm it. A story is a living thing. And sometimes they bite us or hide!