We Interview: John Flanagan

Sunday, July 23, 2006

John Flanagan spent most of his life in the very modern world of advertising and TV, but now he's exploring medieval England -- and having more fun. His new series, "Ranger's Apprentice," describes the exciting 12th-century adventures of a young man named Will. The first two installments are now available here -- The Ruins of Gorlan and The Burning Bridge -- but kids in Australia, where Flanagan lives, can already get their hands on numbers three and four. (Not fair -- they get kangaroos too!) Book World senior editor Ron Charles talked with the author by phone in London.

How did you start writing this series?

When I was writing advertising, I started doing these as short stories for my 12-year-old son, Mike. He didn't like reading, and so I based the character on him and did the kinds of things Mike did. He'd stand around, you know, throwing knives at trees for hours. I said, "See what you think of this." Of course, he recognized that the character was like him and that sort of drew him in and got him reading. Mike was small, and his friends were all bigger and stronger than he, so that's why I created Will: to show that there's an advantage to being small and fast and agile. I did about a story a week for 20 weeks, and it got so he'd come in and ask for them, and they made him feel a bit better about himself. I remember, there's this one part where Will is on a ledge, and suddenly a hand comes out and grabs his wrist. Mike came back and said, "That scared me. I didn't know that could happen when you're reading." So I never changed a comma of that part.

Who are these Rangers that are training Will?

They're intelligence gatherers behind enemies' lines, crack shots with bows, highly skilled in camouflage. The common people think they might be sorcerers, but I don't have any magic in my books. I like the fact that the Rangers have to use their wits, their human skills, to get themselves out of trouble. And of course, they always have me on their side.

What are these "Wargals" that Will battles?

They're bestial, pitiless creatures that you can't feel sorry for. I had to invent them because I realized I couldn't have Will, at 15, going around shooting real people with a crossbow!

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