Children's book club Q&A with Mackenzie Crook
We invited Mackenzie Crook, author of The Windvale Sprites, our September 2012 children's book of the month to answer Mumsnetters' questions. They included how he juggles acting with writing, how the great storm of 1987 inspired his story and whether there's another children's book in the pipeline.
Mackenzie Crook's debut children's novel is full of charm and humour, containing his own beautiful illustrations. The Windvale Sprites is certain to be a treasured gift for any book-loving child.
gazzalw: You seem to be a Harry Potter natural, but I'm surprised you haven't been in any of the eight films. Were you approached for a part or was it a deliberate decision on your part not to act in any of them? If you had played a part in a Harry Potter film, who would you have felt a natural affinity to play?
Mackenzie Crook: I hear what you're saying. You're saying that my smouldering good looks and impressive physique would make an interesting contrast to the usually strange and quirky-looking characters in the Harry Potter films. You're not the first person to point it out. It's the same reason people are surprised to find I've not done much Dickens. I did actually audition for a part in the second movie and I read the first two books in a day to prepare. But it didn't go my way. I think they were looking for someone uglier.
Eirwen: My teenage daughter is a huge Pirates of the Caribbean fan and thought you were fantastic in the film. She's also really keen on anything to do with myths, legends, superstitions, fairies etc and was very impressed that you are also a writer and talented illustrator. If possible she would like to ask two questions. First, do you believe in fairies? Second, how on earth did they film you with a wooden eye!?
Mackenzie Crook: Children are often disappointed to find that I can't actually scoop out my right eye. The wooden eye effect was achieved with a massive contact lens. Two massive contact lenses in fact, sandwiched one on top of the other: the first to make my eye bulge out of its socket, the second painted with a wood-grain pattern. It meant I couldn't see out of that eye which, with no depth perception, made sword fighting even more hazardous.
I love the ideas behind myths and legends, they fascinate me but I can't bring myself to believe in the supernatural. That's why I wanted the creatures in The Windvale Sprites to be almost believable as a wild animal that had somehow managed to evade discovery but had given rise to stories and folklore. I wish there were such things as fairies and ghosts but I'm afraid I don't think there is.
Beanbagz: Is there another book in the pipeline?
Mackenzie Crook: I'm glad you asked. I've almost finished writing the follow up to The Windvale Sprites. It's more of an accompaniment than a sequel. In the first book, Asa finds an old 18th century journal, which helps him in his search. The next book is that diary, The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth.
aristocat: Do your children like your book? Have they had any influence in your writing or how the story developed?
Mackenzie Crook: My son, Jude, is nine and he loves it. My daughter, Scout, is four and a bit young.
I wanted to write a book that I would have enjoyed as a boy and my son is almost a clone of me at that age. I don't think anyone will ever enjoy The Windvale Sprites more than Jude enjoyed it. I talked to him about the story as I wrote it and I could easily tell if he was excited (or bored) by an idea.
Prairieflower: I just received your book for my eight-year-old twins, and I'm staggered to see you did the illustrations, too. My question is, when on earth did you find the time to do both and were you arty at school? Also, are you going to write any more books for kids?
Mackenzie Crook: There's a lot of sitting around to do when you're an actor. I'm writing this answer in a Belfast hotel after having spent the day in full costume and make-up sitting in a trailer. They didn't get around to my scene so at the end of the day I got out of costume without having done a thing. This happens often. So yes, I start to feel guilty if I'm sitting doing nothing.
I was arty at school, or rather I was a good drawer, I was 'the best drawer in the class'. I had a drawing duel with Alistair Petty. We both drew a fish. I won because I drew individual scales.
(I hope your twins enjoyed The Windvale Sprites. Whether they did or not, I think it's only fair to buy them a copy each.)
gazzalw: I've read this book to my daughter at bedtime and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a rare breed of book that, I think, appeals to young and older children, and girls and boys. The illustrations are beautiful, so I was wondering, what came first to you - the plot or the pictures in your mind?
Mackenzie Crook: Oh hi gazzalw. You again. Thank you very much, glad you liked it.
I wanted to make a book with a traditional feel to it. I grew up reading early editions of Roald Dahl books with incredibly beautiful and detailed illustrations by such artists as Jill Bennet (Fantastic Mr Fox) and Nancy Ekholm Burkert (James and the Giant Peach). I would lose myself those pictures and wanted The Windvale Sprites to have the same feel. The text came first and the drawings later although I was always scribbling and sketching ideas as I wrote..
dinkystinky: I'm reading your book to my six-year-old son and he's really enjoying it but he's asked me where you got the idea from (he's convinced sprites are real.)
Mackenzie Crook: The story first occurred to me between 9.30am and 9.45am on 16 October 1987. I'm afraid I can't be any more specific than that.
It was the morning after the great storm that devastated the south of England. There was a toy floating in the fishpond, one of my sister's dolls, and the sight of it made me jump. That was the seed of the story and it only took a quarter of a century to figure out the rest.
thisthreadwilloutme: We are reading this to my five-year-old daughter, and she loves it but there's no warning that it mentions that Father Christmas and fairies are not actually real! We missed out that bit but some older kids reading it who still believe might have their bubble burst.
Mackenzie Crook: Yes, this didn't occur to me when I wrote it. I kind of assumed that the children reading it would already have found out the shocking truth about Mr Christmas. I only realised the faux pas when I chose that very passage to read at a book festival. There were some horrified looks from parents who covered their children's ears.
Perhaps I should produce a 'safe' version with that line omitted. Or just accept that I am the next in a long line of hard-hitting writers (Kafka, Joyce, Dostoyevsky) who fearlessly expose the uncomfortable truths in society, tackling the real issues.
Firewall: We love your book and would love to know what inspired you to write a children's book? Is it something you've always wanted to do?
Mackenzie Crook: I think I have always wanted to write a story for children. I loved books so much as a boy: Tom's Midnight Garden, Danny the Champion of the World, Tom Sawyer, and quite often, as in the above, they were tales about a lonely boy that something incredible happens to. Those ones really appealed to me even though I had lots of friends and my parents were far from cruel. Those all influenced my book as well as The Borrowers and the brilliant story of The Cottingley Fairies.