Welcome to the hellopipski blog, Peter Bunzl!
There’s been such a buzz about Peter’s novel Cogheart, that I just had to know how he’s created such a great and popular book.
When I read Cogheart recently, I was struck by all the fantastic characters and the totally believable world that Peter has created (see the full review here), and I’ve noticed that it has already become a huge hit! I’m so glad there’s more to come with Moonlocket.
Peter was generous enough to answer all my questions, so go on, pop the kettle on and enjoy the interview!
What sparked off your initial idea for Cogheart?
Cogheart was inspired by reading stories about automatons – which were clockwork robots created in the 18th and 19th century. The clockmaker who created them tried to make them as life-like as possible with the technology they had. That intrigued me because it brings up questions about what makes us human, and whether a machine could ever have those qualities.
How long did it take to write? Did it change much along the way?
It took about three years to write Cogheart, on and off. It probably went through something like 8-10 drafts all told, and it changed quite a lot along the way. The first draft was around 85k, by the middle drafts it was down to around 50k and then by the end it was back up to 70k again. Early on I cut a lot of extra plot and extraneous characters, then I was trying to pace up the story, and finally by the last few draft I was trying to make key scenes longer and deeper, adding in much needed emotional detail.
You have a very colourful cast of characters- how did you make them so vivid and distinctive? How did the characters come to you?
The characters came to me in different ways. Some are very hard to find, like they are hiding from you, and with others as soon as you write a page you know who they are.
Lily was more in that first of those two category – it took a lot of writing to get her right. There are good reasons for that – firstly, her personality is a bit different from my own, and so it was a little harder for me to get it. And, secondly, her story is the crux of the plot so it had to be right.
Robert and Malkin were much easier to write from the get go. With Malkin in particular, it felt like he jumped onto the page fully formed almost.
Do you have a favourite character?
My two favourite characters are probably Malkin and Mrs Rust – they’re not the main characters in the book, or the most complex, but they’re great fun to write. Mrs Rust because it’s a joy coming up with her exclamatory phrases like “Clanking clockwork!” or “Cogs and Chronometers!” and Malkin because he’s a bit of a wise-ass know it all, and those characters are always amusing.
You have created such an intricately detailed and believeable world. How?
Honestly, I don’t have the answer to this one. It feels in retrospect like I built the world outwards from the central premise of the book, which is also the big reveal. In a way it came together piece by piece, like un-peeling an onion, or like a puzzle, where only when you put the last pieces in place can you see what you’ve made.
The truth is even now I don’t know everything about my world, because I only created the things I needed for my story. Thinking about the wider Cogheart world feels a bit like that scene in the Truman show where Truman goes behind the scenes and discovers his city is just a stage set being held up by wooden beams.
Was it hard to know how far to take the darker or scarier elements of the story?
The rule I set myself at the beginning was that the scarier elements of my story would happen ‘off screen’. After that I pretty much wrote things how I wanted, knowing that my editor would rein me in if needs be. There was only one story-point that was debated – a certain character’s death – otherwise none of the darker stuff was changed. Personally, I enjoy scary stories – I don’t know if I felt the same when I was a child!
What is the main thing that you wanted readers to take from your story?
I want them to feel that it’s an exciting, edge-of-the-seat, action-adventure, but that it also has a heart and a moral centre to it, with characters you can love and root for, as well as bad guys you can boo and hiss!
How does your experience of film making and animation help you with your writing?
It helps me in so many ways. I always strive to create cinematic stories and part of that involves thinking like a filmmaker. The key element in film is how you stage and shoot a scene, which I would liken to choosing your POV when writing. So in film you have something called a master shot – which is a wide of the whole action. It’s kind of the external god’s eye/narrator’s view. Then you have close-ups and over the shoulder shots – which are like close-third-person narration. And then you have POV shots – which are exactly what the character sees. In both writing and film, you use these tricks to focus attention and tell a specific story with a specific point of view.
The same goes for the editing. It’s as if each sentence or clause is equivalent to the shot in a film edit. They function in the same way – each building on the last to create the illusion of movement and a story progressing sequentially. In film, for example, you know immediately if a shot is out of sequence, because it jars the flow, in writing it’s harder to spot.
What I’m trying to say is, though the technical aspects may seem superficially different, the story grammar is exactly the same.
Here’s Peter’s trailer for Cogheart
What would you say was your lucky break?
It’s true there’s a lot of luck involved in publishing. I was very lucky to find a good agent and a wonderful publisher for Cogheart. But you can help that luck in so many ways: By writing the best book you can. By polishing it until it shines. By believing what you have is good and not letting anyone sell it short or derail it. And by keeping going – doing that single thing you can do today to make it happen. It may not even be this book, this idea, that happens, but each step is a good step along the path, and it ain’t over ’til it’s over, so enjoy the journey!
Is the working life of an author what you expected? What kind of things have you been doing since the book was published?
There has been a lot more publicity than I imagined at the start. I’ve done library and small readers’ group events, trade show – which was another interesting perspective, I’ve visited bookshops and met loads of lovely booksellers. Cogheart was chosen as Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for August, which was amazing because they made such a fuss of it with windows and point-of-sale displays and hand-selling. It made a massive difference to the book’s visibility. (It helps that it has such a gorgeous cover too of course – thanks Becca and Kath!)
I’ve also done quite a few school talks. No one tells you before you’re published what’s involved in putting on a 30-45 minute school talk, so thank God for organisations like SCBWI – and for Robin and Non – who run events on that very subject! In truth, the best way to learn eventing is by doing it; and the best thing about events is meeting the kids afterwards and seeing their enthusiasm and excitement about the book.
And to finish, Peter, tell us what you’re currently working on!
I am working on a sequel to Cogheart called Moonlocket, due out in 2017. There’s spiritualism, stage-magic and escapology, plus a mechanical elephant, and a giant red diamond that once belonged to Queen Victoria. Robert and Lily find a mysterious locket, and we discover more about Robert’s family and the secrets his Da has kept from him since he was a boy, regarding who they are and where they come from…
Thankyou so much, Peter for answering these questions. It’s been a pleasure to host your visit! I’m genuinely looking forward to the arrival of Moonlocket. I just had a peek on Amazon, and it said the book is out next May-how can I wait that long?!
Find Peter at http://www.peterbunzl.com/ and on twitter he’s @peterbunzl.
1st November 2016