Q: Where did the idea for the idea for THE SECRETS OF THE IMMORTAL NICOLAS FLAMEL develop? Had the idea for a children's book series been brewing for a long time?
Q: Can you tell us how you became familiar with the legend of Nicolas Flamel?
- I was introduced to the character of Flamel through Doctor John Dee. I had written a couple of novels which featured Dee as a secondary character before I finally decided that he needed a book to himself (The Merchant Prince.)
I've always been fascinated with the Elizabethan period. It was a time of extraordinary change, with new sciences, new countries, new races being discovered. And in this age of the extraordinary, Dee was exceptional. He was a mathematician and geographer, astronomer and astrologer and also part of the Queen's network of spies. Shakespeare is reputed to have modeled the character of Prospero in The Tempest on Dee.
Dee was an alchemist - that curious mixture of science and superstition. He also had one of the largest libraries in private hands - and that library included the writings of one of the most influential alchemists of the previous century: Nicholas Flamel.
Nicholas Flamel was one of the most famous alchemists of his day. He was born in 1330 and earned his living as a bookseller. (As an aside, I'll mention that I worked as a bookseller for 25 years, so that completely endeared him to me). One day he bought a book, the same book mentioned in The Alchemyst: the Book of Abraham. It too, really existed and Nicholas Flamel left us with a very detailed description of the copper-bound book. Although the book itself is lost, the illustrations from the text still exist.
Accompanied by his wife Perenelle, Nicholas spent more than twenty years trying to translate the book. He must have succeeded. He became extraordinarily wealthy and used some of his great wealth to found hospitals, churches and orphanages. Perhaps he had discovered the secret of the Philosopher's Stone: how to turn base metal into gold.
Of course the greatest mystery linked to Nicholas Flamel is the story of what happened after he died. When his tomb was opened by thieves looking for some of his great wealth, it was found to be empty. Had Nicholas and Perenelle been buried in secret graves, or had they never died in the first place? In the months and years to follow, sightings of the Flamels were reported all over Europe. Had Nicholas also discovered that other great mystery of alchemy: the secret of immortality?
What writer couldn't resist a story that combined magical books, an immortal magician, an empty grave and, even more excitingly, had a basis in fact?
- The plotting process is identical. I plot everything in great detail so I know exactly where I'm going. It also allows me to put in place all the research I need well in advance. I've been to all the places mentioned in the Nicholas Flamel series, photographed them endlessly. And if you think that sounds like visiting exotic locations using "research" as an excuse, then you're right!Once the research is complete, I can then write without interruption. Or at least, that's the theory.
In reality, the books always surprise me. A minor character takes on a new significance or a sequence simply does not work.
The main difference I've found with writing for young adults is language. YA writing requires greater precision in expression. Also, it's important to remember that young adults may not have the shorthand that simply comes with age. The best example I can give is: "Bay of Pigs." Children and adults have two entirely different impressions of those three words.
Young adults are also a much more attentive audience. Doing a Q&A with a young adult audience can be quite terrifying: more like being interrogated as stories, characters, scenes and situations are dissected.
- The entire series is plotted out in great detail. It had to be. With a series of this complexity, it would be so easy to get lost. The notes for book one for example, are bigger than the book itself.I first created an overall synopsis for the series. That is the most important step in the creation of any story; it allows me to see everything on a couple of pages. It is also the hardest part of the book to write, and can take weeks to get correct. With Flamel, for example, once it became obvious that the series was falling into six very distinct elements, I realized I needed to then create six individual and extremely detailed synopses, one per book.
That is my template. The major elements are then fixed in stone, but within the story there is room for movement and flexibility.
But, yes, I know how Book Six, The Enchantress, will end. I've actually written the epilogue to that particular story.
- Inasmuch as the Flamel series is built on elements drawn from world mythology, the ultimate heroes had to be twins, male and female, because the mythology of just about every nation considers twins to be special. Many of the creation myths are concerned with twins - not necessarily good and evil, but heaven and earth, sky and water. In much of West African mythology for example, twins are considered the ideal, the perfect marriage of the human and divine.And on a purely practical level, it allowed me to explore how an ordinary boy and girl would react if they were exposed to the knowledge they possessed certain magical powers. They've grown up together, lived together, they are identical and yet, once they are exposed to this knowledge, it changes them in different ways.
But to discover the real reason, you will have to wait until the end of the series. Then, all will be revealed.
- I would be thrilled if it encouraged people to check out some of the amazing stories which exist in the world's mythologies and legends.The early response to The Alchemyst has been astonishing. I've had countless emails from readers who went online (as Josh in the book does) and checked out the characters and creatures, and discovered that they once existed. Readers can then discover a back story to just about all the characters, a story that was written hundreds of years before I borrowed that character for The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.