Writers Series: Cornelia Funke

Source: Wikipedia © Cruccone

  • born in 1958 in Germany
  • Education: studied pedagogy and illustration
  • first publication: children’s book Die große Drachensuche (The great dragon search) in 1988 (aged 30)

Funke says, she wrote her first story, when she was “ancient”. Before she studied pedagogy and worked on an activity playground in Hamburg. Something that had come up in the late 60s, when children develop skills and play in nature. Something of that sort, I think. Simultaneously, she studied to become an illustrator of children’s books. When she finally worked as an illustrator, however, she claims to not have liked to stories she was given to illustrate – she started writing her own. She published her first story with her own illustrations in 1988, when she was 30.

On her website she says that she realized that one couldn’t live against their talents or skills, during the time that she was working at the activity playground.


2015-01-28 09.41.50To me, Cornelia Funke was always one of those authors, who became popular and famous in the aftermath of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and the popularity of these kinds of fantasy stories of witches and wizards. Suddenly everybody seemed to be reading children’s books, even teenagers and students like me and my friends. I always thought, however, that the original was the best without ever bothering to look at other authors like Funke or Pratchett.

It was only a year ago or so that I saw Funke on TV. They showed a portrait of her a one of the most famous German writers. Turns out she now lives in the US and has sold the film rights to many of her books to Hollywood producers. She was shown in her huge and beautiful house with a dog and an amazing view of LA and palm trees and the ocean. I was rather impressed, I have to admit. I had no idea.

Today I am using many of her children’s books in my German classes with primary age students. At the end of class, I always read a chapter from one of her books. Right now, we are reading Gespensterjäger (Ghosthunters).


Artists that inspire: Vivian Maier

I’ve started a series about writers this year, where I want to share information about how writers find their profession/calling and when and why and what kind of carrer paths they take and how they later create myths around their initiation as writers. This post would generally fall in the same category, if only the artist concerned was a writer. She was a photographer: Vivian Maier.

I heart about her for the first time a few months ago through a social network… facebook probably. Somebody posted an article with her photos, which grabbed my attention. I googled her and then her biography more than anything grabbed my attention. It is just too fascinating.

Vivian Maier worked as a Nanny for rich people’s kids almost all her life. When she wasn’t living with a stranger’s family, she was traveling the world. On her days off or even together with the kids, she was taking care of, she would wander the streets of Chicago or New York and take pictures with her camera. Apparently, she never left the house without a camera around her neck. While living with on the family’s she had a her own bathroom. That wasn’t so common for house staff at the time, I suppose. We are talking about the 1950s and 1960s. In that bathroom she developed her pictures. When she moved to another family, she didn’t have that possibility any more. So, she didn’t develop her pictures and her film rolls started piling up. She gave them into storage, but later in life had no more income and couldn’t pay the the rent. The boxes full of undeveloped films where auctioned off. The guy, who bought them, made her famous. She has exhibitions all over the world now. She never knew anything about that. She died in 2009. I’m sure, it would have been rather intimidating her.

Yesterday went to see her exhibition at FOAM Amsterdam. It is so intriguing to see this artist, who has never seen her own work of art. Can you image she took all those pictures (about 120,000) and not seeing most of her work? How could she develop as an artist without learning from her own work? Was she only interested in the process of taking the picture rather than the end product?

To see some of her pictures, visit her website.

Writers Series: Ernest James Gaines


  • born 1933
  • Education: Writing and American Literature in San Francisco and at Stanford University
  • First publication: a short story in 1956

Gaines was born on a plantation in Lousiana 1933. He says about himself that he started his training to become a writer when he was about 12 years old. He had to write letters for the old workers on the plantation, who didn’t know how to read or write. Since they had not much to say by themselves he wrote the letters for them. Part of it was his own imagination; part of it came from questioning them.

Aged 15, he moved to California and first entered a library. It is not that there had been no libraries in Lousiana – but they were only for white people. The saw the amount of books, however, none them delt with his people. So, he decided to write his own novel.

He wrote his first novel aged 17. It was rejected and he burned it.

He published his first piece, a short story, in 1956.

In short

He knew he wanted to be a writer from very early on and he followed that career path. He studied Literature and Creative Writing, he sent out manuscripts to publishers and he got a fellowship at Stanford University. In general, in was a very straight forward career path.