Interview with Author Peter Bunzl, Part 5

Welcome back to part five in our talk with filmmaker and animator Peter Bunzl, who is the author of Cogheart.

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.

Read Part Three here.

Read Part Four here.


Airship Ambassador: What do you consider your first real writing experience? Was it a school assignment or something you just did on your own?

Peter Bunzl: When I was a kid I used to write and illustrate my own stories and comics, my dad kept them all in a folder and gave them to me a few years ago. I adore them, they are far more fun than my school writing assignments, none of which I kept. Then, when I was a teenager, I got into animation, I used to write ideas for short films, storyboard them and animate one or two scenes.


AA: How have you and your work grown and changed over time?

PB: When I used to write animated shorts, my ideas were always very visually oriented and cinematic. And they still are – I love magic realism and weird quirky story ideas – that’s the animator in me. Those things are essential to sustain a short story or film. But for a novel you need to learn to write stronger plots, dimensional characters and dialogue. It takes work, but I hope I’ve improved at those skills over the years.


AA: In your experience as a writer, what have been the hardest and most useful skills to learn?

PB: When to take criticism onboard, and when to ignore it! If it’s from your editor or a writing buddy – people who care about your growth as a writer – it’s probably worth listening to. If it’s from some random person on Goodreads, you should probably ignore it, and let it go (as the song suggests).


AA: Isn’t the first lesson as an author “Don’t read the comments!” ? What story would you like to write but haven’t, yet?

PB: I want to write a contemporary story about kids with magic powers, but I don’t want it to be like Harry Potter – the world would be quite different. I’d also like to write a third book with Robert and Lily set in the Cogheart world


AA: Writing can be a challenge some days. What are some of your methods to stay motivated and creative?

PB: Procrastination is my biggest sin – thanks broadband! I have an internet blocker programme for when I desperately need to write. So I put that on, find a good music soundtrack and try and hammer through the scene that I’m stuck on. I try not to read back what I’ve written on a first draft because it won’t be pretty, and it’s best to get to the end before you start editing things or doing drastic rewrites anyway.


AA: You are speaking to the choir about procrastination. It’s a lifelong fight. How is London for writing?

PB: It’s good to be in London for events and publicity, you meet a lot of other writers and can build up a network and contacts. There’s tons of writing groups and talks and festivals and things going on. Sometimes writing at home can be noisy and distracting, but there’s always the library. Libraries are a superb place to go and write or do you edits, also to find books you’d never think of reading.


AA: In your experience, does it seem like readers prefer a print or electronic format?

PB: I think most children still read paper books. I prefer them too, because the artwork and design is such a contributing factor, plus a real book feels tangible and special – especially as a writer – there’s a joy of seeing your words on the printed page.


AA: It’s nice to have an ereader while traveling but I, too, like a good solid book when I’m reading on the couch of by the fireplace. Have you been affected by electronic piracy of your work?

PB: I haven’t yet, but I know other writers who get this a lot. Some of the stories I’ve heard about piracy are very depressing. Some internet platforms seem to make it quite difficult for authors to report piracy of their work, and I don’t think that’s helpful at all in the long run.


AA: Do people outside the regular reading, steampunk, and convention communities recognize you for Cogheart?

PB: Nope. I’m not that famous!


AA: What? Say it’s not true! How was school for you growing up?

PB: I enjoyed primary school a lot more than secondary school, it was a much more creative environment and there was less pressure to work and to conform. I think that’s why I’m a little more comfortable writing for that age group. I don’t think secondary school encourages creative thinking, or at least it didn’t when I was at school, which is a shame, because that’s what will be of value in the future. Learning things by rote, retaining facts and figures – it’s not so useful nowadays, is it?


AA: Memorization only gets one so far. Your mother was a costume designer working on television shows and movies, and you were able to visit on set sometimes. How did those experiences help with story ideas and storytelling?

PB: My mum made the costumes for the animated series Postman Pat, and I remember as a child the director bringing the puppets round in little shoeboxes, with a drawing of what their outfits should look like and notes about their personality. One day we went to the studio and he showed us the sets and then ran some film through a Moviola – which is like a tabletop projector – and I saw all the characters moving. I think that started me off on my obsession with animation, and bringing my own characters to life in whatever way I could.


AA: If you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing now?

PB: I would be doing film and animation, which is what I trained in at art college and film school.


We’ll break here in chatting with Peter. Join us next time when he talks about interests and inspirations.

Keep up to date with Peter’s latest news on his website, Twitter, and YouTube.

You can support Peter and our community by getting your copy of Cogheart here.

Published in: on October 20, 2016 at 9:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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Interview with Author Peter Bunzl, Part 4

Welcome back to part four in our talk with filmmaker and animator Peter Bunzl, who is the author of Cogheart.

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.

Read Part Three here.


Airship Ambassador: What do you think puts Cogheart on someone’s must read/have list?

Peter Bunzl: It’s an exhilarating and astonishing adventure filled with action and imagination, danger and daring, airships and automata, murder, mayhem and mysterious machines, dastardly deeds and devilry, and an over-opinionated mechanical fox. Plus it’s a story with heart… what more could you want from a children’s book?


AA: And a fox! If Cogheart were made into a movie, who would you cast as the main characters?

PB: I would want it to be an animation made by someone like Laika or Studio Ghibli, I so admire their quirky characters and design aesthetics.


AA: If Cogheart had a soundtrack, what would it be like?

PB: There’s an excellent soundtrack for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events by Thomas Newman, also the soundtrack for Oliver Twist by Rachel Portman is delightful, I listened to both a lot while I was writing the book. Film soundtracks are brilliant for creating an atmosphere and mood while you’re writing, whereas I find any music with words becomes distracting.


AA: I have to say that while I was formatting this to post, I listened to both of those soundtracks, and really enjoyed them! Two more on the favorites list. What are some memorable fan reactions to Cogheart which you’ve heard about?

PB: Kids are the best readers because if they enjoy your book they’ll tell you so in no uncertain terms. They say things like: “You’re my favourite author of all time!” “Better than Roald Dahl!” “One of the best books I’ve ever read!” …Those kind of comments are ace, especially if they tell you personally.


AA: What kind of attention has Cogheart generated?

PB: Cogheart was in The Bookseller’s top ten children’s pick for autumn 2016. It was Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for august, which was a spectacular start for the book. It has also hit the top ten children’s chart in WH Smiths, and is Book of the Month in Blackwell Oxford for September. Booksellers have been fantastic – creating all sorts of buzz through beautiful windows and point of sale displays. I’ve been round dozens of shops and met them in person, and they’re so lovely and enthusiastic, telling me how much they enjoyed the book, and how they’ve been hand-selling it – which is what you want! It’s been a pretty stupendous reception really!


AA: That really is very rewarding, and quite the accomplishment. How are new readers finding you?

PB: Through word of mouth recommendations from booksellers and librarians, and through written reviews from bloggers and on book sites. My website is: and you can find out more about the book there, as well as some of my other projects.


AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?

PB: Editors and agents want to help you make your book shine, so consider all their suggestions and if you think those things make the book better, take them on board. If there’s something you’re not sure you agree with have a chat. They love your book and want to hear your thoughts and discuss them. They’re your first loyal readers and supportive fans, and with their help you can hopefully clarify all the plot issues as you edit, because if you don’t your readers down the line might misunderstand something about the story.


AA: Have you been on book tours and to conventions? What has that been like, and the fan reaction?

PB: I have done a book tour around primary schools. You get great reactions when you meet the kids, they’re so excited to hear about how you wrote your book and where the ideas came from. If you can make the presentation interactive and fun and talk to them about themselves too that draws them in. It’s so cool when they come up to you at the end and say they loved your book, or talk about their favourite stories, or what mechanimal they’d like; tell you who’s the best Pokemon, or ask about animation.


AA: That sounds like a great opportunity where kids get excited about trying it for themselves. What do you do to keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?

PB: Probably not enough. I love writing, but at the moment it seems to be taking a back seat to promotion, so I need to balance that out. I also need to cut down on the social media a bit – that starts to take over your free time. I’m a little bit addicted to Twitter at the moment.


AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers about writing?

PB: Over the years I have been a member of three different writers groups. It’s an awesome way to get feedback on your work, and also to join other writers in celebrations, commiserations, learning and support.

The other thing I did when I was trying to get an agent was join SCBWI – the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – it’s a fabulous organisation that supports published and pre-published children’s writers and illustrators. They have events and socials and a conference. Through SCBWI I’ve met so many friendly writers who’ve given me wise advice about the publishing industry.


AA: Some people might say that writers need to be readers, too. What do you think about that and what would you say your ratio of reading to writing is/was?

PB: Writers definitely need to read. A lot! I’ve no idea what my ratio of reading to writing is. I would say I read more than I write, and across all genres – I think that’s so important when you’re searching for ideas. So I read Victorian novels, children’s books, YA, science fiction, steampunk, fantasy, literary fiction, screenplays, poetry – an eclectic mix.


AA: As a reader, what has made you stop reading something before finishing it? How do you try to avoid that issue in your own writing?

PB: Info-dumping annoys me more than anything else, especially at the start of a novel or short story. I will put up with it for a while, but if there’s reams and reams in early chapters, that makes me want to stop reading.


We’ll break here in chatting with Peter. Join us next time when he talks about his writing process.

Keep up to date with Peter’s latest news on his website, Twitter, and YouTube.

You can support Peter and our community by getting your copy of Cogheart here.

Published in: on October 19, 2016 at 6:37 pm  Comments (2)  

Interview with Author Peter Bunzl, Part 3

Welcome back to part three in our talk with filmmaker and animator Peter Bunzl, who is the author of Cogheart.

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.


Airship Ambassador: What was one memorable story while writing this story?

Peter Bunzl: It’s somewhat astonishing as an author when a character appears as you write them. It’s almost as if they’re alive already and they jump off the page. Of course, that rarely happens, but it did in the case of Malkin. One of the first sequences I wrote was an early scene, where he’s running through the woods, trying to escape a gang of men. When I put down the opening lines of that scene, I didn’t know who the character was, where he was going, or why he was being chased.

After I’d written a page I stopped and wondered what kind of animal might find himself in that situation. Immediately, I knew he was a fox: a scruffy opinionated fellow, with his own thoughts and ideas about everything, and that fed into his voice. As he complained about the indignity of being chased through the woods like a common scavenger it was like he’d popped out of a thicket of words and onto the page.


AA: That’s a pretty fun origin story! Are there any plans for more adventures?

PB: I am working on a sequel to Cogheart at the moment. It features all the same characters, plus some new ones. There’s an escaped convict and a woman from the past, who are both searching for a missing locket that holds a secret. It’s called Moonlocket and is due out next year.


AA: What kind of research went into creating the Cogheart world?

PB: I researched quite a lot into airships and automata, but I’m not particularly technically minded, that sort of detail washes over me. Steampunk doesn’t have to be authentically accurate anyway, so I felt free to make up bits and pieces around the basics of airships and inventions.

One thing did stick out in my research: I found the most intriguing audio interview with an English woman who’d flown on the Graf Zeppelin when she was a girl. She described the view from the lounge windows – people waving as they flew over the coast of Spain – and how she was shown the interior of the balloon and even the flight deck, it sounded magical. I hope one day they bring back airship flights and we can all experience that again!


AA: That is a captivating experience to hear in that kind of interview, and then to imagine what that would be like. There are pictures and news reels, but that’s a whole added dimension to hear someone’s story firsthand. What elements did you specifically include so readers could feel the Cogheart history?

PB: The best way to discover detail in a story is through the characters and what they see, hear and experience as they go on their adventure. This is how I try to give information out about the Cogheart world. Through their conversations I think you discover a lot about the history of mechanicals and the technology of Cogheart, but there are still mysteries and hopefully that leaves space to develop further stories.


AA: Which gets us back to hearing someone’s personal story, firsthand. How long did it take to write, and rewrite, Cogheart? What were the deadlines and publishing schedule like for you?

PB: It took three years, altogether. In the beginning I would show sections to the different writers groups I was in. One day when I’d finished the second or third draft, a few of them said to me: ‘just send it’. I did and it got some rejections, so I worked on the story some more for six months and I sent it out again. On that second round of submissions I got a couple of full requests and nice personal replies, and that helped me hold my nerve through some rejections and near-misses until I found an agent who loved my story and saw potential in it.

After I’d written another draft with my agent, she sent it out to publishers. A month later, we had five offers, which was a dream scenario! I had to make a choice and I chose Usborne because I loved their take on the story and their visual pitch for the book.

For most of 2015, I was working on the story with my editors at Usborne. They were pretty nice about deadlines, for them the important thing is getting the book right. I try to hit my deadlines anyway – near as I can – it’s good form after all!


AA: Ack, deadlines. A necessary evil, though, otherwise most of us probably wouldn’t get things finished. Your experience with Usborne is encouraging to know that quality came first. There still needs to be a product, but a good product, and that’s a win for everyone. Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?

PB: There have been so many magnificent moments… seeing the gorgeous cover art by Kath Millichope and Becca Stadtlander for the first time, stands out as one of them. It truly captures the adventure and excitement of the story. Getting proofs and reading your words in a proper book is amazing too, second only to seeing the final book. We were doing a promotional event that day and Becky, one of my editors, pulled a finished copy from her bag and handed it to me! Glimpsing it in shops and reading the stellar reviews coming in from other authors and bloggers. But the biggest highlight of all is when you meet a kid who’s read the book and loved it, and tells you so.


AA: What a rewarding feeling and sense of accomplishment – seeing something which started off so abstract to become something you could actually hold in your hands. If someone likes “X”, then they’ll like Cogheart. What is “X”?

PB: His Dark Materials.


We’ll break here in chatting with Peter. Join us next time when he talks about writing and feedback.

Keep up to date with Peter’s latest news on his website, Twitter, and YouTube.

You can support Peter and our community by getting your copy of Cogheart here.

Published in: on October 18, 2016 at 7:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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