Pollockmaniacs: Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf
Published on: 10 June 2013 Author: Katherine Woodfine
Katherine interviews author duo Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf about their bestselling children's adventure series Oksa Pollock which has now been published in English for the first time.
Tell us a bit about Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope
Anne: Oksa is the story of a 13-year-old who has a very ordinary life. She just moved to London. Like any kid her age, she lives with her parents and goes to school. The story takes place today, in the world we live in and know, when all of a sudden magic starts to happen, when Oksa discovers she has special powers and is faced with a dilemma: she wants to show off what she can do – she's just an ordinary teenager, something extraordinary happens to her and she wants to talk about it – but she also comes to understand very quickly that if she does indeed show her powers, she'll put herself in danger, herself and also her family. So she has to reconcile who she really is with the external world which is not ready to accept it.
There is also a whole story about Oksa's origins, which she finds out about thanks to her grandmother. She comes from a land which has been lost, and Oksa has come to represent the key, for a community of exiles, to find the path back to this lost land.
How did the original idea for the Oksa Pollock series come about?
Cendrine: The idea came on New Year's Eve 2006, by complete chance, when I was in my bath. I talked to Anne about it and she immediately jumped on the idea and the following day we got started on building the outline for the book: a girl, rather than a boy, because it seemed easier to us as a main character, the major ideas, the creatures, a whole bible.
You self-published the Oksa books to begin with: can you tell us about how they first came to be published by Editions XO?
Anne: We self-published for two years. We were lucky to find booksellers who trusted and supported us and even more importantly readers, who grew in number and supported us and encouraged us. This was an amazing source of motivation for us, a real vitamin to go on. These readers learnt about us through word of mouth and wanted to help us. They realised how hard it was for us to self-publish and do everything by ourselves, from writing to distributing the books and everything in-between. So they took the matter into their own hands and wrote a letter of complaint to journalists, saying 'We love this book. You always focus the limelight and support heavily on books we don't necessarily like, but now here is a book we love. Pay attention and listen, this is what we like.'
A journalist decided to publish this in a major weekly magazine in France, and from then on a number of people started getting interested, both media and publishing houses. A number of publishing houses got in touch, we decided to meet Editions XO, which seemed to us a good fit with our expectations, and we met them very quickly, in the week following the publication of the fans' letter. We signed a contract we couldn't say no to. It's really the fans who have asserted their power as readers to express their taste and help the books out. The whole thing was in reverse order of what normally takes place, as the readers found the publisher and not vice-versa, but readers have a real strength we certainly didn't know existed, and which is very effective – and somewhat magical.
You write the Oksa books together – can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
Anne: We spent several months putting together a plan of the entire series, like a story-board, with the beginning, the end, the key moments. We came up with life stories for all the characters, worked out how they would relate to each other, and how their relationships would develop. Then, for each chapter we would get together and discuss what was going to happen, and how we were going to write it. We actually talked everything through before putting pen to paper. Then I would write a first draft and pass it to Cendrine. I write in black and Cendrine in red. We add layers of writing, one on top of the other, like an artist building up a painting. It's a collaboration. A fusion of what each of us does best.
We are very different from one another. We each bring our own style, our own vision, our own approach, our own preferences... and our own favourites among the characters! Of course we don't always agree. Even though the plot is planned out in advance, there are always unexpected issues which arise—ideas which come to us, and characters' personalities which develop... So we have to adapt, and sometimes we disagree on the route to follow. Then we discuss some more, negotiate, argue... You always have to convince the other person of your case. It can get quite heated! And on occasion we both have a good idea and we have to choose between them—sometimes it's decided by a game of table football, sometimes by the promise of a good meal... (We both have our methods!)
Cendrine: The important thing when working together, though, is to put one's ego aside, to listen and to respect the other author's point of view, and to make concessions. You also have to accept that you're not always right... as you have to in life! Ultimately, you have to reach a point where you are not concerned with pride, or with who did what, but where both of you are satisfied with the result.
The books have since been translated into 26 languages and published all over the world. Pushkin Children's Books have now brought the Oksa phenomenon to the UK – are you surprised that they are only now being translated into English? Do you think that attitudes to literature in translation in the UK are different to those in France and the rest of Europe?
Anne: We're aware that the UK market is difficult for French books to break into. We don't really know why, but it does mean that we're incredibly proud that our book is now translated into English. It brings a different dimension to the book, which is different from the other languages. English is the 27th language for this book and we do consider it an achievement.
What are your hopes for the Oksa books in the UK?
Cendrine: We hope that the young – and less young – audience will like and get into the book! It is a story which straddles several generations and we hope it will appeal to everyone.
Anne: We expect the best, and we look forward to it!
The Oksa series has an enormous fan following ('Pollockmaniacs') all over the world. What do you think it is about the books that makes them appeal to young people in many different countries?
Anne: Oksa is a perfectly normal teenager, who is indeed like every teenager in the world. She's not necessarily very polished, she gets angry, she has issues controlling her feelings, good and bad, she's surrounded by people she loves and who love her. This is the case for the majority of teenagers – thankfully, not everyone is an orphan like in most fantasy series. She makes mistakes, she has weaknesses, she's not perfect. She's not extraordinarily beautiful, she's just normal. She may be a very powerful magician, but it's very easy to identify with her as she has very human feelings and states of mind, and she's fallible. It may be this fallible side which makes it easy to identify with her. She's not a superhero, she just has a small something which makes her different and that's the case for all of us, we each have a small part of ourselves which is magical and makes us different from everyone else. Some of us have a gift for sports, or music, or another special gift which is specific to us, and we're all capable of extraordinary things, of the best and of the worst, but mostly of the best.
Can you tell us a bit about the charity you have set up together, The Runaways, which is entirely funded by the royalties of the Oksa Pollock series?
Cendrine: The idea came from our fans. Some of them had issues buying books, or travelling to come see us, or play music. So we decided with a group of our readers aged between 12 and 15 to create a charity called The Runaways [after the group of people who has fled Edefia in the book], to help young people who want to play music, to buy their instrument or pay a piano teacher, buy tickets to a performance for teenagers whose parents cannot afford it. So basically our committee – which is, as I said, a group of young readers alongside ourselves and the people who facilitate the Oksa website – decides who gets help. Education is free in France. The goal is to help young people to have access to extra-curricular activities which their family can't afford: art, sports, etc.
Anne: we want to support the funding of activities which are unavailable to underprivileged families. When things are tough, people focus on food and paying the bills, and there is no room left for leisure and hobbies, a small slice in their lives where they can relax and have fun and forget about the daily grind, take a breather. It's also our way to give back to our fans, we believe we owe them. They've been there since the beginning and are still there and supporting us.
How do you feel about the Oksa series being compared to the Harry Potter books?
Cendrine: Actually, people compare Oksa to Harry Potter before having read Oksa. Then, once they've started, they understand the differences: Oksa lives in our world, not in a world of witches and wizards; she is not an orphan, she is not lonely, she has to hide what she is...
Of course, we have many things in common, but we also share those things with all other fantasy writers. In all the novels of this genre, we find the same ingredients: magical powers, strange creatures, other worlds, a quest, the search for identity, the struggle of good against evil... Then, it's like cooking: you can have all the same ingredients and the same recipe, but in the end everyone's dish will be different.
Anne: We can't deny J K Rowling has been a source of encouragement: at the time her determination, her perseverance, set an example, and proved that anything was possible. But, while remaining in the same vein, our initial goal was to get out of the great traditional patterns of fantasy literature in general, and Harry Potter in particular: a heroine instead of a hero (the girls so often have secondary roles), a girl who is not an orphan but who is surrounded by her family (which complicates things, because we do not act in the same way when our actions can affect those we love), heroes (men and women) who are not superheroes (they have weaknesses, doubts, defects, they make mistakes), original gadgets and magical creatures (no wands, no elves, but... we couldn't resist and we added the traditional dragon!).
What can we expect from Oksa later in the series?
Anne: I think you should expect the worst. In the first volume, The Last Hope, you discover the universe, the history, you meet the Runaways. In Volume 2, The Forest of Lost Souls, more action kicks in, and it becomes more fantastic in some way. Gus is under a spell, is in great danger, and the Runaways have to come to his rescue. In parallel, the Felons led by Orthon attack and increase the pressure. The Forest of Lost Souls really takes place in two worlds in parallel. In the more imaginary world some of the characters are fighting for their lives, while in the more "real" world, the Runaways have to resist and remain hidden.
I hear that there may be a film of Oksa Pollock coming soon – can you tell us more?
Cendrine: The film rights have been bought by the production company SND, who made Twilight and Heavenly Creatures. That's all we can say at the moment...
Thank you Anne and Cendrine!