INTERVIEW: Cornelia Funke

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingGerman author Cornelia Funke wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up…or live with a tribe of American Indians. She embraced childhood dreams as an adult, too, becoming first an illustrator of children’s stories and board games, and eventually a best-selling children’s author.

Last year, she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and for good reason. Her books have been read and adored by countless young people and adults throughout the world. She has published approximately forty novels in German, and has had ten translated into English (see our interview with translator Anthea Bell to learn about the process). Funke has won at least fourteen awards for her work. She’s been called the German JK Rowling…not only because of her popularity but because the worlds she has created are vivid and redefine the meaning of unique. How else to label Inkheart, a story about characters who fall out of a book and into real life? How else to label Inkspell, a story about trying to change a book by rewriting it from within its pages?

Maybe more than anything, what Cornelia Funke does so well is create fantastic and believable worlds and characters. As Time Magazine’s Clive Barker said,

There’s none of the mawkishness or attendant melodrama that so often mars Hollywood entertainment for children. She trusts her (underrated) prose, her moody, unpredictable characters and the instinctive feel of her plots, which are happily devoid of emotional manipulation. 

…and which might be why she’s been embraced by an adult audience as well.

A big thank you goes out to Anthea Bell, who helped make this interview possible.

Interview with Cornelia Funke

Q: What was your journey as a writer? When did you realize you wanted to write, and when were you first published?

CF: I first was an illustrator for some years, till I was so bored by the stories I had to illustrate that one night I decided to write my own story to do the pictures I always wanted to do. I was immediately published, in fact, I could choose between several publishers, but it took me another few years, till I realized that I am much more passionate about writing than about illustrating – so since then I only illustrate my own books (except for the picture books).

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingQ: You’ve had several books translated into English, including Dragon Rider, The Thief Lord, Inkheart and Inkspell. How many more books have you authored in German?

CF: About 40. [Note: You can visit the German National Library HERE.]

Q: Some of your books are for very young children (The Wildest Brother, Pirate Girl), others are for children just beginning to read “meaty” action-fantasy stories (Dragon Rider; the Ghosthunter series), and others are for the Young Adult crowd (The Thief Lord; the Inkworld series). What are your unique challenges when writing for these different groups? Is it
all about word choice, or must your plots also be constructed differently for these age groups?

CF: Yes, a picture book has to follow different language rules, but it is not easier – and I love to do different things for different ages and also for children who are not eager to read. For them they are as important as the ones who like me already and discovered what a thrill reading can be. As a writer though, I enjoy most to do stories like INKHEART – but I also love to do stories like DRAGONRIDER, which are more playful and are a quite different art. I think about doing another DRAGONRIDER and I hope I still can do that lightness.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingQ: What is your process? How, when, and for how long do you work on your stories?

CF: On the big books I do research and preparation for about half a year. Then I write the first draft for about 8-1o months and then I do another three drafts, so in all it takes about 2 years.

Q: Your characters have wonderful depth. What is your process for constructing characters? How long does it take for you to really “know” them? Who are your favorites?

CF: Some are there immediately, some take their time to take shape – and they always surprise me. Twigleg from Dragonrider is one of my favourites and all the characters from Inheart and Inkspell (except for the villains, I admit I am not too passionate about them) – Meggie and Mo, Dustfinger, Farid, Roxane and Resa, Fenoglio and of course Elinor, the Black Prince, Battista, Violante. I learn more about them with every chapter and that is a big adventure.

Q: Many haven’t yet heard about your brand new Ghosthunter series. What would you like people to know about it?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingCF: I wrote this series in Germany with boys in mind who think a book is a really boring thing. Many schools and teachers in Germany loved to work with them because those boys suddenly read the books in secret behind a bush in the school yard. But I also hear from kids who love Inkheart that they love to read them, so they are just big fun for me to write and hopefully for children to read. I love to make up new ghost abbreviations and I am very fond of Hetty and Tom and a character who joins them in part 4…so…it is just another side of me, a silly side.

Q: Sounds like fun! What are “ghost abbreviations?”

CF: When I started the series in Germany I did ghosthunter-abbreviations for every ghost, which was not that easy to translate into English, but let me see, whether I remember one – yes, the IRG for example, the incredibly revolting ghost.

Q: What draws you to fantasy? Do you think there’s much difference between YA fantasy and fantasy an adult can enjoy?

CF: No, there is no difference. And the wonderful thing about fantasy is that it is the oldest way of story telling – to clad what we feel and fear into disguises and make them more clear, to pass the borders of our every day life and use our imagination for travels into unknown worlds and unlimited experiences.

Q: Your voice is absolutely lovely. One of the things I enjoy most about reading your stories is the poetic feel in many of the passages. You are clearly a great lover of words and word choices. Who are your influences?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingCF: Everything I read I guess, everything I hear. For me writing is also about the sound of words, that’s why I always tell children to also get the audio-books of my story. I love to read poetry therefore, but I admire very different kinds of authors – I love both Michael Ondaatje and Graham Greene, Toni Morrison and Susan Minot, Shel Silverstein and Philip Pullman. I want a different dish of writing every day.

Q: Have you ever written in another style? Adult? Short stories? Poetry?

CF: No. I hope that my stories in some way include all these genres.

Q: What motivates you to write these stories?

CF: They come to me and I test whether they make me passionate enough to spend a year or two of my life on them…and then I go.

Q: Though I love all your books, I must admit to a soft spot for your Inkworld series. The concept, characters that can be called out of stories or fall into those stories themselves, is so unique. Being able to meet our own invented characters is probably something every author dreams about. Is this where your idea for this series came from? How did it evolve?

CF: Every reader knows the feeling that characters in a book are very real or sometimes even more real than the people we know, because books allow us to look into their souls. Photobucket - Video and Image HostingSo the idea comes quite natural to a book lover like me and then the characters showing up added the rest – and a lot of research!

Q: What kind of research did you do?

CF: Reading, looking at paintings, costumes, weapons, castles, flowers. trees, fairies…..

Q: Can you give us any hints about what to expect in the final Inkworld book, Inkdawn? And why did you decide on that particular title?

CF: I wanted the title to express that the dark story I told in Inkspell will see some light and hope in part 3. It will be very much about the Bluejay, and Violante and Orpheus will play a much bigger part, as does Resa. There will be questions answered such as: will Farid and Meggie stay together (in fact there will be another boy), will they stay in the Inkworld? What happens to Elinor? And- of course – will Dustfinger come back?

Q: Once the Inkworld trilogy is wrapped up, will you visit those characters again? What will you work on next?

CF: I won’t say never. I love them too much, so you never know, but my next project will either be another dragon rider or a story set in Salisbury, England…or something completely different. Let’s see…

Q: You mentioned perhaps returning to Dragon Rider and writing a follow-up story to it. Would the story be set in the new world they found? Are there any thoughts you can share at this point?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingCF: No, that is too early, but as far as I see now, it would take place not at the Rim of Heaven but somewhere along the route.

Q: Do you have many stories waiting for your attention? How do you decide which story to work on at any given time, and how many story ideas do you work on at one time?

CF: I work only at one – and sometimes at some movie projects at the same time. I have some waiting on my shelves and which one is next is really a decision of my heart.

Q: Have you ever worked with a critique group or partner?

CF: I only do this for movie projects – and enjoy it very much. And I work with illustrators on picture books.

Q: I recently saw (and very much enjoyed) the film version of The Thief Lord. I’ve heard that Dragon Rider and Inkheart are also soon to be adapted for the silver screen. How do you feel about your books being converted into film?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingCF: I love other artists to tell my story, whether on a screen or on a stage and I think it is thrilling to find other stories within my stories, strengthen motives, I didn’t see or learn more about my characters by looking at them through somebody else’s eyes.

Q: You mentioned movie projects. Are you involved in the making of your own books into film, or do you work on other kinds of projects? (If so, what kind of movies are you making?) Are you writing screenplays, producing, etc…?

CF: Some of my books are turned into movies at the moment, and I am especially involved with INKHEART, as I am also a producer on that project. [Note: click HERE and HERE for some inside information!] But additionally to that I have been working on a movie project with a producer, which is not based on one of my books and hopefully one day will be a big adventure movie. I don’t write the script though. This is just about developing characters and a detailed story line. Much fun.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received about writing and/or about the publishing business?

CF: Never trust your very first idea, look for the ones hiding under it, they are more original – I got this advice for illustration, but it works for all forms of art!

Q: What is one thing you wish you would have known when first starting out in the publishing business? And do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingCF: Well, I would not sell any rights except for my book rights to my publisher. Stage, movie, audio – a writer should keep all this. but otherwise my experiences were all very, very good, and I am friends with my publishers.

Q: Have you ever had writer’s block, and if so, what did you do to overcome it?

CF: I never had it so far.

Q: How do you keep the writing fresh for yourself? Is it important to keep striving for better things, to keep changing your goals? What are your goals right now?

CF: To get better. That is my goal for every book.

Thank you, Cornelia Funke, for a wonderful interview!


About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.


  1. thea mcginnis says

    an excellent interview! what it really told me about cornelia funke is that she knows herself and is very confident in her work. i admire how she has evolved from illustrator to author. i think you asked really spot on questions as well. thanks for the insight.

  2. says

    I love your books! I am working on a small story myself, like you sayd never go on your fist idea. well I did that one of my people in the book started off as a warrior but now she is a dragon rider , how neet. That was even before i read this interview. I am haveing lots and lots of fun with it, and that all I realy hope for. good luck on your books. I can’t wait to read Inkdawn and the new dragonrider when they come out.

  3. says

    Dear Cornelia,
    Thanks for writing all your books I’m reading Inkheart right now and can’t get my head out of it!
    It’s the best book ever by far I can’t wait until Inkdawn comes out wasn’t it supposed to be called Inkblood or Inkdeath?
    love your books

  4. Andrew says

    dear cornelia,
    ive ben reading your books for years i love inkheart and inkspell i cant wait till inkdeath comes out. and plz dont make the movie inkheart like the movie eragon plz go with the book thats how they ruend eragon they made alot of it up so if you could follow the book all of your fans would realy apriciate it.
    ty your freind and fan
    andrew ingram

  5. Carsen Grey says

    I just “discovered” Cornelia Funke recently, when I came across Inspell. And then ordered Inworld. So now I am looking forward to Indeath or whatever that third installment will be titled. I love these books. I am an older child, myself, being chronilogically six years senior to Ms.Funke. And I think so called “children’s” books are best when they appeal to all ages of readers. Thank you, Cornelia for doing just that. I look forward to all of your books as I am able to obtain them as I remain a grateful reader.
    carsen grey

  6. says

    Dear Cornelia,

    I agree a lot with what Andrew Ingram said about the
    movie Eragon. It was horrible! I had been a great fan
    of the Inheritance trillogy books until I saw the movie
    which was NOTHING like the book. I especially feel bad
    ’cause I had pretty much dragged my family to the theater to watch it the first day it came out and was SOOOOOO disappointed with what I saw.
    Please don’t let the movie makers change your amazing story when the shoot it! i would pretty much
    cry if they did. All the movies these days are changing
    what the books said and I, being a book lover, wish they wouldn’t!
    You truly are the German J.K. Rowling! Love your books…. all of them.

  7. Ruwaydah Hossain says

    Dear Cornelia
    I love Inkheart and Inkspell, they were fantastically written and i felt literaly pulled into them! I can’t wait till Inkdeath and i know it’s going to be as great as the others in the sereies! Yeah i agree with the people who said you should keep the movie similar to the book. I also looved the Eragon series and it did definatly get ruined in the film. Really good interveiw by the way!!!!
    Good Luck with further books

  8. says

    Everyone is right the producers took a lot out of Eragon and they made it virtually impossible to rectify their mistake in the second movie too. Pleeeeeeeaaaase don’t let them do that to Inkspell and Inkheart! As books they are positively riveting and I really don’t want the movie to be a total piece of poo. It’d be awful. I think you are amazing and I am even doing a 6 page essay on you for my english class. Why is there no info on your childhood? I’ve looked all over the internet and if you have your own website you should put some of that info on there. If you see this could you maybe find a way to contact me? ( Your books are amazing, you are amazing and if I got an e-mail from you it’d be AMAZING!
    Hope to hear from you,

  9. Claire says

    Dear Cornelia,
    I am abserloutly captivated by your books. The imagery is stunning and it creates an eriee feel about the whole book. You never know who to trust. I read more than 3/4 of Inkheart in 1 night! I just couldn’t put it down.
    I heard Inkdeath came out in German just before Christmas and was going to get my Auntie to get it for me but it was too expensive.
    I wait in excitment,
    Claire xxx

    ps- Basta was sooooooooo horrid to Tinker Bell…must KILL! x

  10. N. says

    In the interview, i think you made a mistake. You mentioned the third book in the Inktrilogy. You referred to it as “Inkdawn.” I have heard that the third book is to be called “Inkdeath.” I am not sure about this, but i just wanted to call it to your attention.
    I can’t wait until Inkheart the movie comes out!

  11. Candace DeYonna says

    I LOVE!!!! The Inkbooks!
    SOO! Much!
    And I’ve read some stuff about the movie.
    But who is going to play Meggie. The page I was on didn’t list it and I’m very curious!!!

  12. Jessica Thomson says

    Hi, Im Jessica and I just wanted to know, What your latest book, Inkdeath is about? I have read the other 2, Inkheart and Inkspell and I loved them. I love you books there really good. I liked Thief lord as well. Oh, I also want to know when the Movie for Inkheart will be coming out.

    Cornelia Funke, Your my favourite author! I love your fantasy books they’re great! Can you please let me know of anymore like Inkheart are coming out?

    Jessica Thomson

  13. says

    I loved the Inkworld books! Can’t wait till the final book in the Inktrilogy!
    Basta must die!!!!!!!!!! lol
    keep meggie and farid together!!!

  14. says

    no offense, but did you REALLY like the thief lord movie…i thought it was horrible, just hoping for a remake…

  15. R.S.G. says

    Hi Cornelia!
    I wish I could say my name, but this is the inernet… :(
    I love your books! I also think you have done some wondrful charity work. You write so well! I can’t wait to read more of your work. I especially enjoyed The Thief Lord. That was an amazing blend of reality and imagination, which I enjoy reading.

    Won’t Leave My Name

  16. Mekataki says

    Hey Cornelia,
    I always read yor books! You absouluty rock! I love the Ink books! I want to get Inkdeath as soon as I get to it!

    Not Telling Name (Sorry :)

  17. Silver says

    Hey funke your in my top three of favorite authors. heres why: I read Inkheart first and was intrigued with the concept of bringing people to life out of books. Then I read Dragon Rider and was astonished to find that it was almost exactely like a book I wrote in fourth grade. I know you probably won’t believe this but its true. The book was about a dragon named max, his talking cat named midnight and Borani a genie from sinbad who joined the adventure. the blue dragon (the bad one) stole all the catfish and Max’s girlfriend. So the three had to set off to kill him.

    Then I ‘m now reading Inkdeath and THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!! I had been looking for that highwayman poem FOREVER!! But I couldnt remember what it was called! Thanks its my favorite poem! I’m glad Dustfinger is back by the way.

    Also thats not my real name :)

  18. says

    Dear Cornelia,
    I am nine years old and I love to write books. I will soon be getting one of my own books published and I love your books. My favourite of any book I have ever read was Dragon Rider as I love dragons. I have read nearly all the Ink World books and I must say your are as good as JK Rowling! Your my favourite author and thanks for inspiering me.

  19. says

    I love ur books about the inkworld… who doesn’t! im currently reading Inkdeath and im angery! meggie’s love life seems so vague, WILL SHE CHOOSE FARID OR DORIA? CAN’T WAIT!
    Big fan,

  20. shane renshaw says

    huge fan of inkheart i love your work and i want to be an author like you one day keep up the good work