Ed Wood: What kind of child were you?
Frank Cottrell Boyce: My younger brother is much taller and more athletic than I am. All through school no one would believe he was my younger brother. Everyone suspected we were up to some sort of year-switching scam. Also it was widely felt that if my own little brother was taller than me, then I must be tiny. So if you asked my teachers or classmates what I was like they would have said “tiny and dodgy”. And if you asked me what I was like, I would have said: “Wrongly accused and of at least average height.”
What are your most vivid memories from childhood?
I lived near the docks [in Liverpool] when I was small but never realised this because there were so many crowded streets in the area. We lived in a block of flats and I remember looking out of the balcony one day and seeing the twin funnels of a massive ship passing behind the rooftops a few streets away. For some reason this didn’t make me think that the river must be nearby. It just made me think that there was a really weird street down there with ships instead of cars.
How did you start reading and what’s stayed with you?
I remember a Paul Hamlyn wildlife encyclopaedia. The pages were so thin that they got stuck together in little clumps, which meant that you were constantly finding pages that you’d never seen before. A magic, inexhaustible book. I found a copy of Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes during a particularly wet holiday in Wales, and devoured that, convinced that all this stuff about Hercules was true. My first fiction came from Jackanory on TV. That’s where I first heard of Joan Aiken, Philippa Pearce and E. Nesbit, and I’d go and check them out of the library.
In what ways do you draw on your own childhood?
When we were casting Millions, we interviewed hundreds of boys for the parts of Damian and Anthony and asked them what they would do if they found a bag of money (which is the plot of the book). Until then, when I’d tried to imagine those characters I’d just thought of me and my brother as children and what we would have done – probably buy a boat and sail away on a magical adventure. But these children had really strong ideas about how and where they’d spent this money. I think they would have got through the £229,000
in one afternoon in the Trafford Centre. Ever since then I’ve been painfully aware that my childhood is no guide to modern childhood and I’ve never consciously used it as a source.
How do you read with your own children?
The bedtime story is the plum job in our house so my wife usually gets that. I fill in with a Just William story if she’s busy. The great joy of recent years has been shadowing the reading habits of my grown-up sons. There’s no need to stop sharing books just because they’re older. If it hadn’t been for them I’d never have found David Foster Wallace or George Saunders.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce is out 7 October, published by Macmillan.