A Q&A with author Frank Cottrell Boyce
“Being a dad has been my life’s great adventure”
By Julie Rattey
British screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce began his foray into children’s literature by turning his screenplay for the 2004 film “Millions,” directed by Danny Boyle of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame, into a book that won the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Writing for children, says this Catholic father of seven, “felt like coming home.” Boyce spoke with us about his latest book — Cosmic — as well as faith, fiction, and fatherhood.
How does your faith affect your work?
In every single way, I think. I’ve got a very kind of specific faith idea when I’m writing my children’s books, which comes from St. Paul about thinking on the good things (“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” Philippians 4:8). Because so much of what’s aimed at our children is about how rubbish life is. They’re always being told that life is scary and life is dark. Saying “Life is amazing, and the world is a phenomenally wonderful place and full of grace” is my starting point.
Does being a dad play a role in wanting to convey that message?
Yes, (though) it’s not so much a conscious thing. I’ve got seven children. So the dad thing comes into it. But that’s not traditional in children’s books. If you read most children’s books they get rid of the parents. Whereas for me, I found another theme of children’s books like Swiss Family Robinson or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where the whole family is on the adventure. I want to be part of the story.
Also I’m aware that a lot of children now don’t have that positive experience of a family. And I think conveying what a wonderful thing a family can be is really important. I did a film about the war in the Balkans and I interviewed some kids who had been brought up in this awful orphanage. The one I was talking to was incredibly articulate and sweet, and she’d really moved on from the experience. I said to her, “When you were growing up in this place because it was all you’d known, how did you know that this wasn’t right? That you deserved better than this?” And she said, “Books.”
People are selling a lot of fake happiness to our children. You know what real happiness is? It’s the day we did this together, the day we played in the sun together, whatever. Those little tiny pleasures that families share. It’s a really subversive thing to point to those happinesses.
Your latest book, Cosmic, has a strong fatherhood theme. What inspired that choice?
(Editor’s note: Cosmic is a children’s novel about Liam, a 12-year-old who looks 30 and is always mistaken for an adult. He and a friend pretend to be father and daughter, winning entry into an elite program for dads and kids that leads to a series of adventures, including a journey into space.)
I didn’t intend to write a book about fatherhood; I sat down to write a book about space. And very late in the day I suddenly had this kind of blinding insight that (in the context of my story) you need to be a dad to get into space. Therefore I have to study what it means to be a dad. It just seemed innately funny to me, the idea of a teenager trying to be like a dad and then discovering how complicated it was.
Years from now, what do you hope you’ll be remembered for as a writer?
I don’t care if I’m remembered as a writer. I’d like to be remembered as a dad. CD
To learn more about Cosmic, and to enter your family in a contest to go on a two-day VIP Behind-the-Scenes Tour of NASA and Space Center Houston, visit walden.com/book/cosmic.
For the complete interview, see the June issue of Catholic Digest.