Cornelia Funke’s brave new world

Cornelia Funke, best-selling author of the "Inkheart" series, at her Beverly Hills home -- on top of her desk with a stuffed dragon.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times

Tucked in the back of a lush garden exploding with flowers, Cornelia Funke’s study is a wonderland of books. Her desk is cluttered with tomes about fairy tales, which are stacked next to those about mining, alongside travel guides for Spain, France and England. A sliding ladder leads to an upper tier of titles, next to a closet that is also chock-full of hardcovers and paperbacks.

Much like Meggie and the other characters in her Inkworld trilogy, the 51-year-old author of fantasies for middle-schoolers is a self-described “book maniac,” whose writing room is ringed with the works that have helped her research — and the string of books that research has helped yield: “Dragon Rider,” “The Thief Lord” and now “Reckless,” which will be released on Tuesday. With an initial worldwide print run exceeding 1 million copies, “Reckless” is the first in a series for readers 10 and older about two brothers lured through a mirror into a world populated with dwarves and fairies and gargoyles.

And it is a first in many other ways as well. It is the first time a Funke book will be simultaneously released in 12 countries. The first time Funke will do an international webcast to be screened at live events around the globe (10:30 a.m. Tuesday PST, The first time she is touring the U.S. with a theatrical storytelling event, including a stop at the Brentwood Theater in Los Angeles on Saturday.


Most significant, “Reckless” is the first time Funke has ever collaborated on a book. An interdisciplinary super duo of the most fantastical kind, Funke, who has sold more than 15 million books worldwide, partnered with Lionel Wigram, executive producer of some of the blockbuster Harry Potter films and former Warner Bros.’ vice president of production, to write the new series.

“I would never have looked at a movie producer as a creative writing partner. I never would have thought I’d work on a novel with somebody. I’ve done quite well without it so far,” said Funke, a native of western Germany who, since 2005, has been living in Beverly Hills in a home formerly owned by Faye Dunaway.

Funke met Wigram at a dinner in 2006. The two started working together the following day. Funke had just lost her husband of 27 years to cancer. Wigram filled the void creatively when he asked Funke to collaborate with him on an adventurous interpretation of “The Nutcracker.” But after eight months of almost daily “intellectual pugilism” in person whenever the two were in the same city and via Skype the many days they weren’t, that project came to an end when they learned a musical, big-screen version of “The Nutcracker” was in the works.

“I’m not used to projects dying,” said Funke, who had a hard time letting go of the world she and Wigram had created. “Suddenly, one day, I almost felt Jacob Reckless was standing behind me in my garden.”

Reckless is the main character in the new book — a complicated hero who quests to save his younger brother’s life in the mirror world. Funke told Wigram she wanted to write a book about the Reckless boys, presuming Wigram wouldn’t want to be involved. Instead, he said yes.

Before buildling an active and impressive film résumé, Wigram received his university degrees in Spanish and French literature from Oxford.


“While I have not been a writer by profession,” he said in a by telephone from London, “I am a storyteller by profession. My job as an executive and certainly as a producer has been to come up with stories and collaborate with writers to bring them to the screen, but what really gets me excited is trying to figure out stories. And that is exactly what happened in this particular case.”

It was Wigram’s idea to set the story in a 19th century “fairy-tale world grown up — almost like what would happen if technology came into the world we knew from the Brothers Grimm,” Funke explained.

It was also Wigram’s idea to start the book with Jacob Reckless as a young boy, even though every chapter past the first unfolds with the Reckless siblings in their 20s, which is how Funke wanted to write it.

“You don’t need a children’s character in children’s books, which so often and so easily is the rule,” said Funke. “That was my lesson from the Ink books. Everyone’s favorite character is {the colorful adult trickster }Dustfinger.”

For the next five months, the two collaborated daily. Wigram is not credited as the co-writer of the book, but he “found” and “told” “Reckless” along with Funke, according to the title page.

The first of the three books starts in New York but lands the Reckless boys in Europe on the other side of a mirror. Subsequent books will unfold in England, France and, possibly, Russia and feature creatures specific to each country. Although the theme of characters moving between alternate realities is a fantasy staple, it is also a metaphor for Funke and Wigram, who were born in Europe and live in the U.S.

“ ‘Reckless’ is a part of ourselves,” said Funke. “It’s a longing for the European history and our roots and on the other hand the excitement for the new world.”


As with her earlier books, Funke wrote “Reckless” in German. But unlike her other works, which were translated into English only after the final edit on the entire book had been competed, “Reckless” was translated into English by Oliver Latsch as she concluded each chapter so she could discuss it with Wigram.

Although “Reckless” is 100% Funke in its imaginative, fairy-populated alternate reality, the prose is less playful and the story line darker than in other titles that have made her such a beloved storyteller. Funke describes the tone as more modern and “unsentimental,” a mirror of protagonist Jacob. Targeting a slightly older reader than her earlier books, the “Reckless” story line is also more streamlined on Jacob’s quest to stop his brother from turning to stone.

Much as “Reckless” seems like a primer for a movie, that was not Funke’s, or even Wigram’s, intent.

“We owe it to be a book,” said Funke, whose “Inkheart” was turned into a film starring Brendan Fraser and Paul Bettany in 2008. “I don’t want a picture on there: ‘Soon to be a major motion picture.’ The problem with a movie is that it puts one image in [people’s] heads. I would like to have a million Jacobs in heads first, and then one. The book should breathe first and then come to life. Let’s see.”