The Hawkweed Prophecy Blends Fantasy and Feminist Thought
An exclusive AUTHORLINK interview with Irena Brignull
Columnist Anna Roins
The Hawkweed Prophecy
by Irena Brignull
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Irena Brignull, is a successful Hollywood screenwriter who wrote the Oscar-nominated film, The Boxtrolls and worked on The Little Prince, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and many others. She has created a buzz about her sensational debut Young Adults novel, The Hawkweed Prophecy.
The book that ‘blends fantasy and feminist thought,’ is about two girls born in different worlds at the exact same time. Poppy has an odd kinship with animals and objects fly into the air whenever she’s mad. Ember, sweet and naïve, grew up in a coven of witches yet is hopeless at potions and spells, much to her dismay. When they meet, these outsiders form an immediate bond and they become friends. In the meantime, the old prophecy draws near that a Hawkweed woman will become queen of the witches. A fight for the throne ensues that involves magic, surprises, love, and betrayal.
PW proclaimed in their *starred* review that the novel has, ‘the air of a classic, yet one that is entirely contemporary in its tight focus on identity, friendship, and romance.’
|“It was such a treat to be able to express in prose what a character is thinking and feeling. “|
AUTHORLINK: Thank you for sharing your time with us today to talk about your gripping debut novel, The Hawkweed Prophecy. You are a successful screenwriter and have worked on many book-to-film adaptations such as Bravo Two Zero, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Little Prince and the Oscar-nominated movie, The Boxtrolls, to name a few. Would you say with a novel, you can get inside a character’s thoughts and feelings, but in a screenplay, it’s about the action and the dialogue? How liberating (or not) did this make you feel?
BRIGNULL: That’s absolutely right. In a screenplay, you’re quite restricted on how you reveal the psychology of your characters. You use what they say and don’t say. Do and don’t do. And also how other characters react to them. It’s a great challenge, but you have actors who bring them to life and can reveal so much with just a look. With a novel, of course, you can tell as well as show. I have to admit this did feel really liberating. It was such a treat to be able to express in prose what a character is thinking and feeling. But I tried not to overindulge. I still wanted to put the characters in situations where they, usually unwittingly, revealed their own inner workings.
AUTHORLINK: In your opinion, what is the easiest aspect of creating a screenplay from an established novel? What is the hardest? Is it usually difficult collaborating with the authors if that’s in their contract to contribute?
BRIGNULL: The easiest aspect is that you have the characters and plot ready and waiting for you to work with. Some novels need more adaptation than others but, in either case, I always feel really blessed to have the author’s talent and endeavour to guide me. I’ve only had good experiences with collaborating with authors. Andy McNab was the most hands on, and it was great to work with him. Other authors have been less involved, reading some of the drafts and usually being very generous and encouraging with their comments. I find the hardest aspect is turning a novel with all its description into a drama that is driven by action. The Boxtrolls comes from the novel Here Be Monsters, and that had so much marvellous invention that we had to strip it right back and shape a plot that would suit a movie length piece. The Little Prince is more of a novella and we didn’t feel would be best served by a straight adaptation. So we built a story around it. My hope is always that the movie might inspire an audience to go back to the novel.
|“I’m not going to lie – I often find the juggling of work and family quite hectic.”|
AUTHORLINK: Yes, that’s what happened to me with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin! My daughter absolutely loved the Boxtrolls and The Little Prince. What did your children think of their mum developing these wonderful films? Has it been a challenge balancing work and family while writing a novel as compared to a screenplay?
BRIGNULL: I’m so happy your daughter enjoyed those movies. I feel so lucky to have worked on them. My kids seem to like them too. They have to put up with a rather over-worked, chaotic mum at times. I’m not going to lie – I often find the juggling of work and family quite hectic. I veer between being a daydreamer lost in my work to being totally stressed out! It’s been better with the novel as there are way less deadlines, meetings, and travel. But I love writing, and I think my kids are proud of me. They know that they always come first. I just don’t have any time to exercise much (or that’s my excuse anyway!).
|For me, writing a screenplay is all about structure. The order of scenes, the rhythm, the building to the high points. “|
AUTHORLINK: I think there are a lot of over-worked, chaotic mums out there! Don’t worry. What are the technical differences, would you say, between writing for screen and writing a novel? For instance, in structure, descriptive language, dialogue or even action?
BRIGNULL: For me, writing a screenplay is all about structure. The order of scenes, the rhythm, the building to the high points. To a certain extent, this is also true of a novel, but it’s much more critical in a screenplay. For instance, when editing a screenplay, you can move scenes around easily and experiment with when you begin and end a scene. A novel is far less malleable. Instead of dialogue-focused scenes, you have chapters full of flowing descriptive prose that are harder to lift and reposition. In a screenplay, the rare bits of prose are pared down. The camera will do the describing for you. In my novel, I still wanted and needed the action and the dialogue, but I relished the opportunity to describe more, to play with words and enjoy how they read and how they sounded. I felt like I was the writer, director, cast and crew wrapped up in one, delivering as fully imagined story as I could.
AUTHORLINK: Yes, novels are best for me when they’re cinematic with their descriptions. When did you know you wanted to become a writer? How did you fall into screenwriting?
BRIGNULL: I think I always wanted to be a writer, I just didn’t have the confidence to admit it. I held writers in such high esteem. Then as a script editor and development executive, I worked on so many screenplays that I gradually learnt how to write my own. It took me until my late twenties to write my first screenplay, but it was more by accident than design. I think we’d run out of funds to develop a project, so my colleague and I decided to write the script ourselves. After that, I got an agent and, luckily, the work followed.
AUTHORLINK: I’m sure luck had little to do with it. We understand your ideal scenery when writing is, ‘’looking out to the Aegean see’’. A lot of your family is from Greece. Do you feel you could write a novel set in Greece one day? What do you think of humanitarian efforts of the Greeks towards refugees despite the financial crisis they are experiencing?
BRIGNULL: I’d love to write a novel set in Greece one day. Not only is this country stunningly beautiful but it has such a long and dramatic history. My Greek relatives have such extraordinary stories to tell. Also, Greece’s geography, located at the border of Europe means that it’s often caught in the middle of big geopolitical events. Right now, despite their significant financial hardships, the islanders of Lesbos, Kos, Chios and others are rescuing tens of thousands of refugees from the Aegean and providing them with shelter and aid. In so many ways, they are an example to the rest of us and they desperately need more help from their allies in Europe and throughout the world.
AUTHORLINK: Agree wholeheartedly. We understand your second book is the sequel to your novel and is called The Hawkweed Legacy, due out this time next year. You’re also working on the script for a TV series. Can you tell us a bit about them? Are you nurturing any further novels for the future? Maybe a children’s book?
BRIGNULL: The Hawkweed Legacy feels like a more ambitious novel than Prophecy. It interweaves a past story as well as present day one, introducing some new characters to the existing cast. It’s got witches and a tragic love story but, at its heart, it’s really about forgiveness. I’m delivering the final edit next week, and then I’ll move on to writing the treatment for a TV version of The Swiss Family Robinson. The idea is to update the story and shipwreck a modern day, blended family and see how they fare away from the comforts of city life. After that, I’ve got a couple of book ideas I’m keen to write, and I’ve actually already completed three picture books, one for each of my kids, that I’d love to try and get published.
|“My absolute favourite author is Anne Tyler. She makes it seem so effortless, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. “|
AUTHORLINK: How wonderful. Good luck with all of it! To finish with a few fun questions, which writers inspire you? And who given the choice of anyone in the world, would you want as a dinner guest?
BRIGNULL: My absolute favourite author is Anne Tyler. She makes it seem so effortless, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. I’ve loved and admired Toni Morrison’s work since college. And for YA, a genre I’m just getting to know, it has to be Rainbow Rowell. With screenwriting, the brilliant Aaron Sorkin and Billy Wilder.
As for my dinner guest – that’s so hard! I’ve always loved old Hollywood, so I’m going to pick one of my favs, Bette Davis.
AUTHORLINK: That’s great. Ms Brignull, thank you so much for your time today. We wish you the very best, and continued success for the Hawkweed series!
BRIGNULL: Thank you so much, Anna and Authorlink. It’s been a total pleasure answering your questions.
|About the Author:|
Irena Brignull, is a screenwriter, novelist, and mum. She lives with her family in London but was brought up in beautiful Chiltern Hills. However, her heart belongs to Greece; many of her relatives are from there.
|About Anna Roins:|
Anna Roins is a lawyer, previously of the Australian Government Solicitor, as well as a freelance journalist who writes about social and community issues and has edited dissertations, websites, and books.
She has continued her studies in creative literature with The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London.
Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with best-selling authors.
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