Jordan: Before I delve into the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, I’d like to ask you a few questions about your life before the publication of your first book. It is my understanding that you’ve worked as a writer since the tender age of sixteen. Can you tell me a bit about how and why you started down this particular path?
John: I’ve always loved reading and the idea of earning my living as a writer seemed like a natural progression to me. When I left school, I applied for a job in an advertising agency and gradually convinced them that I should be trained as a copywriter. I’m not entirely sure how I managed that, but that was what started me down the road of writing for a living.
Jordan: Be it in advertising, television, or later, corporate work, you’ve obviously needed to be consistently creative throughout your career. How do you go about coming up with ideas? What are the most rewarding and least rewarding aspects of being a professional writer?
John: Least rewarding? Deadlines. Editing and proof reading. Most rewarding? Well, these days, it’s the fact that I’m doing what I have always wanted to do. I don’t seem to have a problem coming up with ideas. They’re all around us. You just have train yourself to notice them when they happen.
Jordan: I was genuinely surprised to find out that you co-created the legendary Australian comedy ‘Hey Dad!’ Can you tell me a little about your role behind the scenes? What is it like writing for television?
John: It was great fun. Gary Reilly (the producer and co-writer on the series) and I spent our time amusing each other, making each other laugh. Plus we had complete autonomy. The contract Gary negotiated with the network stipulated that we delivered a show each week and they had no authority to vet scripts. Nobody today has that sort of freedom. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about story structure when I was doing it.
Jordan: Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to talk about Ranger’s Apprentice. The series found its beginnings in several short stories you wrote for your son, Michael, who was twelve at the time. It has now gone on to become an international bestseller. Who were some the influences behind your writing, and what made you decide to transform your work into a full-blown novel?
John: Influences? I’ve always been interested in novels with a historical background – as I didn’t study history in school. So, ever since I was young, I’ve lapped up books about Roman legions, Greek and Norse mythology. I read the Iliad when I was about 12 (although I could never manage the Odyssey). The decision to change the short stories into a full length book came at the suggestion of my daughter. She’d just read the Harry Potter series and she suggested that kids would want something more to read when they finished it.
Jordan: Ranger’s Apprentice is marketed as fantasy. However, there are very few fantastic elements involved in the books – instead you seem to favour a more medieval theme and setting. Why did you make this particular choice? What is your stance towards fantasy as a genre?
John: I enjoy fantasy. But I decided that I wouldn’t go with magic, as so many other people were using it – some well and some not so well. I noticed that the people doing it well had set up rules and parameters and that seemed like a lot of hard work. My books are fantasy only in the sense that they are set in a parallel world to ours. That way, I can juggle history if I want to. Really, the correct genre classification should be “Adventure”.
Jordan: Why do you think Ranger’s Apprentice has had such broad appeal?
John: Primarily the characters. Plus the pace of the books. I try to keep the books moving along at a fast clip. I don’t like being bored when I’m reading so I try not to bore my readers.
Jordan: How has the profound success of this series changed your life?
John: I’m now free to write books for a living. I don’t have to write them in my spare time any more. As my wife says, I go into my office each morning and “make stuff up.” Nothing could be better, so far as I’m concerned.
Jordan: There are rumours that Ranger’s Apprentice is about to receive the Hollywood treatment. How do you feel about your work getting a film adaptation? Are you allowed to share any juicy details with us?
John: It’s under development by the writer-director Paul Haggis. He keeps me informed as to how it’s going and I’m confident he’ll do a good job. The film will be a little different – that’s inevitable. But it’ll be true to the spirit of the book.
Jordan: Earlier this year, you released your first book targeted at an adult audience. Storm Peak, a thriller set in Colorado, is substantially different to your previous work. What were your motivations and influences in writing this particular book? Do you prefer writing for a certain audience over another?
John: I write what I enjoy reading. I enjoy crime novels and action novels and novels in medieval settings. I like the idea of setting a thriller in a ski town. It’s an ambience I’ve enjoyed for years. I’m happy writing for either adults or children. Frankly, I don’t see there’s much difference, aside from some subject matter.
Jordan: Finally, do you think the ability to write well and think creatively comes innately, or is it something you learn through experience?
John: I believe people are born with the ability to have ideas and write well. But it’s a skill that has to be developed and disciplined. Just as some people are born with athletic ability – but they have to train and practise different techniques to make the most of it. You’re born with the talent. You develop the skill.
Jordan: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Mr. Flanagan!
You can find a full listing of the Ranger’s Apprentice series here!