Writers can often be found either talking to themselves or to imaginary characters that exist only in their heads (crazy people). Given the extensive experience I've had of talking to myself I decided to interview myself.
Me: Where did you get the idea of writing about Marcel Marceau from?
Myself: Well, I wish could say I saw a wonderful mime performance when I was five years old and have been fascinated ever since but that would be a lie. The truth is I can't really take credit for the idea at all. I have my friend Mandy to thank. Mandy was visiting me one day and saw my book Janusz Korczak's Children on my desk. She said, "You know, you should write about Marcel Marceau. He was really interesting." I started reading, agreed with Mandy, and fortunately so did my editor and the rest as they say is history.
Me: What were the challenges?
Myself: Every book has its own challenges. For one thing, I had to tackle material in French, a language I had never learnt. But I love the challenge of a new language and amazingly I did find that with my knowledge of Spanish and the help of Google translate I somehow managed to understand enough of a text to know that it was worth bringing to Rina. Rina was the French teacher at the school where I was teaching at the time and sat with me in our free periods and break times and patiently talked me through the texts.
Me: Tell us something you didn't include.
Myself: I'm glad you asked that. When you write a book there is always so much you have to leave out, especially with such a short book. One of the hardest things is throwing out those interesting tidbits that you just can't include for whatever reason. In this case it was an anecdote I'd read in James Kirkup's article in The Independent. He describes an incident in wartime Paris. Marceau is stopped by the police who want to see his papers. As Marceau was on the Wanted List, his papers were perfect fakes. Kirkup wrote, "The narks kept examining his papers and looking at his face, while he stared back at them without batting an eyelid, showing no trace of fear. The men were baffled, and let him go. It was an early demonstration of the powers of mime." Now, wouldn't that have made a terrific illustration in a picture book? However, I could hardly include a story based on its mention in a single newspaper article so it couldn't go in.
Me: What was the most interesting thing you learned?
Myself: In our modern western society we put a lot of emphasis on the written word. Just look at how much time we devote in our schools to getting our children to read and write. Now, I freely admit to having a serious addiction to the written word, whether it's reading or writing but as I learnt about mime movements and watched mime performances I began to think about how efficient and economical non-verbal communication can be in conveying meaning. Let's take a simple sentence. "John smiled." Our immediate reaction to that is "John was happy." But that's not necessarily the case. John's smile could be feeling nostalgic. He could be saying 'Yeah, right. I don't believe a word." But gestures and movement convey this far better.