I am delighted to introduce to the Inkpot Janet Foxley who is the author of the delightful and charming fantasy MUNCLE TROGG, which straddles the divide between young reader and middle grade fiction and is hugely enjoyed by readers of all ages, but particularly those aged between 7 and 10.
The United Kingdom's been lucky to have enjoyed two adventures with Muncle so far, with the release of MUNCLE TROGG in February 2011 and MUNCLE TROGG AND THE FLYING DONKEY in January this year. However we weren't able to keep him to ourselves and it's no surprise that he's gone global with sales into 20 territories (including Germany, China, Russia, Australia and Brazil) and the release of his first story in the United States earlier this month. In March 2011, Sony Pictures acquired the film rights to MUNCLE TROGG and is currently developing it into an animated feature film.
MUNCLE TROGG is a small giant who lives in a community of other giants on Mount Grumble. Laughed at by the other giants because of his tiny stature, he's frequently told that he's a Smalling (or as we call them, humans). When he decides to see for himself what Smallings actually look like, he ends up befriending one of them - a young girl called Emily. Together they make a series of surprising discoveries that might just help them to save the giants from a very deadly threat ...
In this interview, my questions are in bold and Janet's answers are in italics.
Hi, Janet, and welcome to the Inkpot!
In an interview you gave to the Booktrust last year, you said that. “All my stories start with a vision in my head of a character in a setting and in the case of Muncle I could see him quite clearly, dangling from his brother’s hand as flickering firelight cast his shadow on to an underground wall.” Do you know what it was that sparked the idea of a small giant or did it just pop into your head?
I’d already decided that I wanted to write a story set in a fairy tale world, and giants were what appealed to me most. I also wanted to write it from the point of view of a giant and not, as in most fairy tales, from the point of view of a human who encounters giants. This was because what I most enjoy in writing is making up whole societies complete with their way of life, culture, belief systems etc. and I thought this was best described from within. I could also see more potential for humour in doing it that way round, with the giants’ disgusting habits and tastes being the norm. I decided my protagonist would be a boy (to maximise the book’s appeal, because girls will read books about boys but not vice versa) and only then did I start to think about the plot. What problem might my boy giant have to overcome? Immediately it occurred to me that the worst possible thing for a giant boy would be to be small, and that was when I first had that vision of Muncle in his brother’s hand.
There’s a strong theme in MUNCLE TROGG about bullying in that Muncle’s younger brother, Gritt, picks on him, as do many of the other giants. Was this something that came to you out of that first vision or was it something that really developed as you were writing?
I had a friend who was always worried that her smaller-than-average son would be bullied at school. As soon as I decided that Muncle’s problem was his size the first problem I imagined him encountering was bullying.
You’ve previously said that you think through the “bare bones” of the story and what happens first. Do you have a set method for approaching that or is your approach different for each book? Linked into that, given that there is more than one book in Muncle’s story, do you think ahead for the story arc into other books as well or do you see what happens in each book as you complete them?
Until I was published I was a sit-down-with-an-initial-idea-and-see-what-happens sort of writer, although I usually had some idea of an ending. MUNCLE TROGG was written in that way and started life as a stand-alone book. When the publisher wanted to publish a sequel I had to produce a plot outline in two months. As far as thinking ahead to future books is concerned, all I do is leave a way open for the story to continue if required.
Much as I love Muncle, I’ve got to admit that my favourite character is probably Princess Puglug, the spoilt daughter of the king and queen of Mount Grumble – mainly because she goes from being completely awful in MUNCLE TROGG to being still awful but also strangely awesome in MUNCLE TROGG AND THE FLYING DONKEY. Do you have a favourite character in the books and if so, who is it and why?
I do, and it’s the same as yours – Princess Puglug. She’s one of those characters who get away from their author and develop a personality of their own choosing. She’s huge fun to write about and I think my love for her probably shows through and is what makes her popular with readers.
Can you share with us a taster of what will happen next in the MUNCLE TROGG books? I’m particularly keen to know if we ever get to see a Wonder Donkey.
Well, we’ve left everybody literally up in the air looking for Back of Beyond. Eventually the dragons get tired and have to land, but are they in Back of Beyond? Muncle is not convinced until they spot a herd of Wonder Donkeys. But the giants soon find themselves in trouble and it is Muncle, helped by the unexpected arrival of Emily, who again has to save the day.
Do you have a particular approach to your writing? For example, some authors will only write in the early morning, others prefer writing in long hand and then transcribing it to the computer.
I do household chores for the first half of the morning, then write till lunch. After lunch I often have a nap (well, I am a pensioner!) followed by a cup of tea and then write again till dinner. I normally write direct on to my desk-top PC, but I do take a little netbook with me if I’m away from home, and there are notepads dotted round the house for jotting down ideas that occur during chores, meals or in the night.
You’d been writing for 35 years before winning the 3rd Chicken House/Times Children’s Fiction Award in 2010 and since then MUNCLE TROGG has become a bit of a phenomenon, selling into 20 other countries and having the film rights bought by Sony. How have you coped with the success and what’s been the coolest moment?
Much of the ‘coping’ is still ahead, as the success is only now beginning to sink in, a year after publication, with the foreign editions starting to arrive in the post and MUNCLE TROGG being short-listed for a few awards. Sometimes I feel that I’m living two separate lives, one as me and one as a writer. It has been quite a surreal experience. Probably the coolest moment was the phone call from Barry Cunningham when I was in a busy street in Newcastle. A bus roared past and I had to duck into a sports shop to hear him tell me how many dollars he’d sold the film option for. It’s the only time in my life I’ve been in a sports shop!
But the most moving moments have been when I've received a message from a grateful parent, grandparent or teacher telling me that MUNCLE TROGG has been the book that has turned their reluctant reader on to reading. That was not a consequence I foresaw when I was writing my little fairy-tale and it is worth any number of short lists and film options.
What are you planning to do once Muncle’s story is told? Do you think that you’ll keep writing for children or are you looking to do something different?
I’ve got one or two ideas for stand-alone books, and one for a potential series, all for a similar age group to MUNCLE TROGG. And I’ve just been invited by an educational publisher to contribute to a reading series for that age group. If I ever have a grown-up idea I daresay I might try writing a novel for adults, but I can’t see any grown-up ideas on the horizon at the moment.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Janet, and best of luck to Muncle on his quest for world domination!
MUNCLE TROGG is available in the United States from Amazon.
You can find out more about Janet and her books on her website here.