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We Talk to Cornelia Funke About YA Lit, Mirrorworld, and Her New Publishing Company

Inkheart is one of those classic stories, a kind of love letter to readers I have always thought. Imagine if the words we read off the page in the stories we loved came to life, dripping off the page into our real world. It’s a prospect both mesmerizing and terrifying, especially when I stop to consider what some of my favorite stories really are. As a lover of the Inkheart Trilogy, I was very excited to get the opportunity to have a brief conversation with its author, Cornelia Funke, about what she’s writing now and starting her own publishing company.


1. Why did you want to start your own company?

I had thought about it for a long time as I love to do unusual projects that both challenge me as a writer and as an illustrator. Publishing though is vastly commercialized by now, especially in the US, so to do adventurous things is easier when I finance and develop myself. So when my English language publishers asked me for changes in The Golden Yarn, a book already published in German (where it received passionately positive reader reactions) I decided this is the time – and founded Breathing Books.

2. What are some of your favorite classic YA titles that have influenced you as a writer and the direction you want to take YA publishing?

I don’t really think in these categories, I admit. I never tell a story saying: oh this is for 10-12 year olds and that story is YA and this one…well, this is for grown ups. I am storyteller so I try to entertain all ages to a certain degree with each story I write. Even a picture book should be both enjoyable for the kindergarten reader and the parent or teacher who reads it aloud! As for YA readers…who exactly  are those I wonder? Is it the 12 year old who already reads John Steinbeck, is it the 45 year old who loves fantasy? If YA means Young At heart I always write YA. If it only means putting readers into another box and denying teenagers the respect to be adult in their very own way none of my books would like to be called YA.

So…are my favorite books YA? Is The Princess Bride or The Once and Future King YA? What about East of Eden, what about Henderson, the Rain King or Neverwhere?

3. What are some upcoming trends or highlights you see happening in YA?

See my answer above. I think YA can have the advantage, as I heard a young YA writer point out, that it frees writers of genre limitations and mixes them happily. But on the other hand I fear calling for example Huckleberry Finn and Treasure Island YA by now continues the sad trend of limiting stories to certain age groups and of telling readers what they should read according to their biological age – which I find very problematic. Good stories are for all ages, and some 8 year olds are much older than their parents. 150 years ago Dickens and Kipling were read aloud to children and entertained four generations with one story. A good story still can do that and I hope we don’t forget about that fact by calling books middle grade or YA.

4. Having worked with teens, what do you think they really want from teen fiction?

I don’t think a writer should think about that. As a passionate reader I want a book to both challenge and enchant me. I for sure don’t want it to contain just motives, characters and plot lines that publishers expect me to like. Each book should be as unique as the writer…and the reader. And a story should tell the writer whether it wants to sound a bit younger or older. Sometimes that choice comes as surprise to the writer. 🙂

About The Golden Yarn and the MirrorWorld Series

thegoldenyarnFunke first introduced readers to MirrorWorld in Reckless with her hero Jacob Reckless and his adventures in a fantastical and dangerous world found behind a magical mirror, which was inspired by the stories Funke grew up with: the tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The second novel, Fearless, played with Bluebeards, Mal de Mer and Puss in Boots, motives from the treasure trove of French tales. THE GOLDEN YARN, Jacob Reckless’s third journey behind the mirrors,  heads eastward, inspired by Russian and Ukrainian fairy tales, to the hut of a Baba Yaga and the Tsar’s chambers of miracles. The golden yarn that gives this story its name is the yarn that connects lovers…forever.

Jacob Reckless has to face the consequences of a desperate moment, in which he pledged to give his firstborn child to an Alderelf. His immortal enemy calls himself Spieler and when Jacob is unwilling to repay his debt, Spieler traps both him and his brother Will in his silver net .They find themselves hunted by creatures created from Mirror glass—wearing a hundred stolen faces – and play their part in Spieler’s master plan. Yet, there is someone the Alderelf did not account for: Fox, a shapeshifting woman and vixen, Jacob’s faithful companion since he saved her from a hunter’s trap. Can she change the game? Or will Fox pay the ultimate price for the debt Jacob owes?

 THE GOLDEN YARN is a story about love,” explains Funke. “Love in many forms. Love that feeds and love that makes small. It tells the story of a Fairy who wants to get rid of love, to cut the Golden Yarn. It is the story of love, that can’t be. Forbidden love. Of love between brothers. Friends. Love unexpected. Love misunderstood. Ignored.”

Vivid, engrossing, and intricately crafted, THE GOLDEN YARN, is Funke’s most impressive journey behind the mirrors yet.

About Breathing Books

New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Cornelia Funke is launching her own publishing company, Breathing Books, along with creative partner Mathew Cullen, Director of Mirada Studios. The press’s debut title will be THE GOLDEN YARN, which is the third book in Funke’s internationally bestselling MirrorWorld series and it will release on December 1, 2015. The book will be available in e-book format and there will also be a limited print run available. Listening Library, an imprint of Penguin Random House Audio, will simultaneously release a digital audiobook edition, narrated by Cornelia Funke.

Breathing Books will mainly publish transmedia projects like the acclaimed MirrorWorld App developed with Mirada Studios in 2014. However, the decision to launch Breathing Books with THE GOLDEN YARN, a traditional novel, came in response to a creative difference between Funke and her U.S. and U.K. publishers, Little, Brown & Company and Chickenhouse/Scholastic, who required certain changes be made before moving forward with publication. “I am sure they had respectable reasons,” says Funke. “And I owe a lot to my publishers all over the world, but I want my readers to get the same story whether they live in Germany or in the US. So, I decided to publish THE GOLDEN YARN unchanged – with my own publishing company—Breathing Books.”

Funke has long envisioned a more creative and imaginative platform for her books with which to connect with her readers on a more profound level. With Breathing Books, Funke intends to work more visually, telling her stories both as writer and illustrator. She intends to create a forum for stories that don’t fit traditional publishing patterns, but also for her back list books, which are either out of print or not yet translated into English.

 “Breathing Books is to be a home for creative adventure, unusual books that try new paths, and small books that may find only a few hundred readers, along with picture books, EBooks, graphic novels and whatever costume my stories wish to wear,” explains Funke. “And I can finally be, what I always tried to be: a storyteller not just for readers of young adult, middle grade, and children’s books—but for all ages.”  What Funke and Cullen are setting out to do is truly different and will bring Funke together with her readers/fans in ways not possible via traditional publishing.

About Cornelia Funke

Cornelia Funke is a multiple award-winning German author, best known for writing the Inkworld trilogy as well as The Thief Lord. The Inkworld books, which have won the 2003 Mildred L. Batchelder Award as well as the 2004 and 2006 BookSense Book of the Year Children’s Literature Awards, have gained incredible attention and Funke has been dubbed the “German J.K. Rowling” This November, she will launch her own publishing company, Breathing Books. She lives in Los Angeles, California.  www.corneliafunke.com

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  1. I love the MirrorWorld series!

  2. I really enjoyed the article. I’ve long been a fan of Cornelia’s writing.

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