His name is Charlie Ashanti, a.k.a. Lionboy. He talks to cats, he moonlights in a circus, he saves his parents from kidnappers and very soon he’ll be known to young readers throughout the world. Charlie’s story, told in the new novel Lionboy, is an unassuming tale full of heroics and adventure, all created from the bedtime stories shared by adult author Louisa Young and her 10-year-old daughter, Isabel Adomako Young. Writing together under the penname Zizou Corder, the dynamic writing duo is taking the U.K. and the literary world, it seems by storm. Their extended tale of adventure, intended as a trilogy, has been compared to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The film rights to the book have already been snatched up by Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks company, and the book is set to be published in 33 languages. The mother-daughter team, who live in London, recently took a break from their busy schedule to answer a few questions for BookPage about their creative process and their whirlwind success.
BookPage: What was your initial inspiration for the stories of Charlie and his adventures?
Louisa Young: Isabel was my inspiration. She said, tell me a story, and I said, OK, what about? And she said, a naughty little boy called Charlie. We used to tell each other stories all the time when she was little. She’d want a story, and I’d make her do half the work.
In the book, Charlie joins a circus. Have either of you had the desire to run away to the circus?
Louisa: Oh yes. When I was a teenager there was a fantastic outfit called Le Grand Magic Circus, full of incredibly handsome French and Italian hippies with long curls and satin trousers. I just adored them, and desperately wanted to be one of them. Real circuses though are different. I don’t like the performing animals thing. In fantasy it is beautiful and exciting, but not in reality. It’s just sad.
I’ve read that both of you are allergic to cats. Why, then, did you choose cats to be such an important element in the book?
Isabel: We didn’t choose them, they just arrived.
Louisa: There’s a lot less decision-making involved in writing stories than people expect. Half the time stuff happens, characters do stuff, and you haven’t the faintest idea why or where it came from.
What kind of cat is your favorite?
Louisa: The kind that doesn’t poop in our garden. Otherwise I love the Iberian lynx, a wildcat which still survives just in Spain. It has the most charming ears. And it lives in the wild in Europe, which is a pretty extraordinary achievement, given what’s happening to so many wild animals.
Isabel: The cats in our street Missy and Freddy. They’re just ordinary cats.
Are you excited about having your story made into a movie?
Louisa: It is really exciting to think that our finished product now becomes somebody else’s raw material. At the moment it’s all in the future, and we have no idea what they’re going to do with it. But our producers made the Austin Powers movies, and Memento; and DreamWorks made Shrek, and the screenwriter wrote Edward Scissorhands and The Secret Garden, so we’re in really good hands. People say, oh, what if they ruin your book? To which we just reply, the book is fine! Look, there it is on the shelf. It’s fine! Isabel: Someone said you shouldn’t get excited about a film till you’re getting dressed to go to the premiere because up until then you don’t know if it’s really going to happen. But I’m really excited already.
How has writing this book together affected your mother/daughter relationship?
Louisa: Well, it hasn’t ruined it. We’re still talking to each other. Plus, it lets us go off on lovely trips together to meet our foreign publishers.
Do you ever have creative differences?
Isabel: Yes. Mum wants to kill one of the characters and I won’t let her.