Interview of Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth

I've always been a fan of award-winning author Frank Cottrell Boyce's books.  

In Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth, Cottrell Boyce seamlessly weaves humor into a story about a boy named Prez who hasn't spoken since his grandfather was dragged away. This book masterfully covers the issues of select mutism, Alzheimer's, grief, loss, foster-care, and the power of the the choices we make. Prez is an endearing and imperfect protagonist who longs to find his grandfather and live with him again. He meets up with an alien and together they try to find grandfather and save the world. Their adventures provide endless fun and laughs for the reader and also help us understand how remarkable our lives really are. This book made me think about my childhood, my relationships and how grateful I am to be on this earth. 

I'm thrilled to interview Frank!

Kirsti Call:  I love Spunik's Guide to Life on Earth.  What was your inspiration?

Frank Cottrell Boyce: Thank you! I honestly think the inspiration was Sputnik himself. I was driving my daughter to her Saturday-morning sports club. I stopped at the traffic lights and the idea seem to just step - uninvited - into the car.  I turned to my daughter - Heloise - and said “How about a lonely kid meets a little loud mouthed person in a kilt.  Everyone else sees this person as a dog.”  She said,  “That’ll work.” I went home and started writing. It’s the only time that’s ever happened to me. I’ve driven up and down that road a hundred times since.  I’ve even lingered at the traffic lights,  hoping it would happen again. But it hasn’t, sadly.The setting of the book - South West Scotland - is just a place that I really really love.  Hardly anyone goes there.   But we spend a lot of time there as a family.  The Cow Palace is a real thing and it really does look like Hogwarts for cows. Here it is …

KC: You do a wonderful job of infusing humor into your books as you tackle difficult subjects.  How do you decide when to be serious, and when to be silly as you're writing your books?

FCB: Oh Gosh.  That’s a tough question to answer in life as well as in art!  My father suffers from dementia - like Prez’s grandad - and he’s living with me at the moment. In some ways it’s incredibly painful - he gets confused about everything - but it’s also often very very funny. Like when he insists that I chase the monkeys out of his bedroom and I have to pretend to be chasing monkeys. The very worst things are often funny if you see them from a different angle.  And seeing things from a different angle is what art is all about.

KC: What is your favorite book that you've written?

FCB: Well it’s always the next one really.  I have very fond memories of Millions because it was my first and it was written quickly and easily.   Of Framed because I’m just really proud of it.  But in the end I guess it’s Cosmic because it’s set in space and anyone of my age is - whatever else they’ve achieved - a disappointed astronaut.  I was alive when Man walked on the Moon!  No one told me it was only going to be just a handful of men and not all of us. I fully expected to be astronaut by now.  Writing Cosmic was my chance to imagine that.

KC: What new projects are you working on?

FCB: Happily I’m working on the movie of Cosmic.  And on a new book of course.

KC: What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book authors?

FCB: I would give the same advice to aspiring children’s book authors as I would to aspiring chefs,  or engineers, or astronauts,  or parents, or mathematicians or brain surgeons or carpenters or plumbers -  read a lot!  Anything you do you will do better if you read a lot. Obviously that’s extra true of writing.

Thanks Frank!  I'm completely agree that reading improves everything!

Frank Cottrell Boyce is the author of Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth, The Astounding Broccoli Boy, Cosmic, Framed, and Millions, the last of which was a New York Times bestseller and was made into a movie by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. His books have won or been nominated for numerous awards, including the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, and the Whitbread Children's Book Award. Frank is also a screenwriter, having penned the scripts for a number of feature films as well as the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. He lives in Liverpool with his family.