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Straight On Till Morning: Interview with Disney Twisted Tales author Liz Braswell

Speaking of Wendy, we never really knew Wendy Darling until we read Straight On Till Morning. Tell us about what inspired you to write this book from Wendy’s perspective?

It’s funny: if you ask a group of children who the main character of the movie is (and I have), they’ll all say Peter Pan. Of course! But if you ask a deeper version of the question: what character changes by the end of the movie, and whose point of view the movie is from, they often grow confused. It’s actually Wendy! And she deserved to tell it in her own way.

You depict Wendy and Tink as strong, brave women – and I would like to think they have always been – though you give them greater depth and a louder voice than they otherwise have in Peter Pan. Even Nana, the Darling family dog, has more dimension in your story and even has her own interlude! Tell us about the process for developing your characters in your story and what choices you had to make about and for them along the way.

Again it’s that tightrope between keeping them true to the classic tale while exploring characters’ inner depths. I’ll be honest about Nana though: those interludes and scenes just jumped onto the page fully formed from my head. It was instantaneous, brilliant fun—almost as if she wanted a word in too!

You meticulously map out the dreariness of London life in the beginning of the book which wonderfully sets up Wendy’s – and the reader’s – transition from mundane to magic as her journey unfolds. We know you were born in England – is it really as boring a place as the start of your story suggests? (Laughs)

Good heavens no. Especially, er, right now. London is a fabulous city. Utterly incomparable. We’re taking the kids this spring for their first visit. I cannot wait to go back.  

In all fairness, though, while it cannot compare (in size, at least) Glasgow has a special place in my heart. My husband and I have often talked about moving there.

Storytelling is a key theme in this story. How do you effectively tell a story within a story? What are the pros and cons of doing so?

The relationship Wendy has with Never Land (in the movie) is intriguing: was she merely reciting events to her brothers that already happened there, that she knew about? Or was she making up stories about Never Land (and Peter Pan) that would then come true? I would say SOTM is less a story in a story than an exploration of the transformative power of storytelling. In the book Wendy literally changes the geography of Never Land—forever—with her stories. And herself in the process!

Another key theme that sat with me throughout the book is the divergence between dreams and reality. They generally seem to be opposite ends of the scale and yet they often intersect or even switch roles in this story. Was this something you always thought about when you watched Peter Pan, or if not, how did this theme come about? 

Wishing/dreaming is an integral part of Peter Pan and one of the reasons why it has stood the test of time: it captures the desire, the longing, the childlike desire to FLY better than almost any other work of fiction. In the book I tried to capture the adult version of dreaming: the re-shaping of childhood wishes (to explore, to fight villains, to have an affect on the world around them) into mature goals (to push boundaries, to fight the good fight, to change the world) while keeping childhood’s whimsy.  

You give some examples throughout the book of what Never Land may mean to some: a single warm meal, for example.  What does Never Land mean to you?

You know, I had a contest in which I asked fans to list in 6 words what Never Land meant to them.  It often involved books, magic, and cats. Never Land on a personal level for me would mean a nice warm golden beach with warm water (I grew up swimming in Cape Cod—lovely, but COLD). Also flying, adventures and exploration.  On a grander level it would mean a world without climate change, mass extinctions, poverty, injustice…

Similar question – what do you think Never Land should or could mean to readers? To society? 

I think it’s a place to dream about and to inspire you. There is a thin line, subjectively, between Never Land and Pleasure Island. Don’t get ‘em confused.

You cleverly play on Wendy’s expectations of Peter and Peter’s unpredictable responses. How did you get inside the dreamed-up head of Peter Pan? What were some of the significant differences in your character planning between Peter and Wendy?

Well, you put it exactly: I had to get myself inside his head. What would Peter Pan do? He’s chaotic and self-centered but also fearless and well-meaning. That’s a lot to deal with! There was much editing and honing his dialogue until it sounded right. Wendy is also complicated, the way I wrote her, but she changes over the course of the book and therefore allows a lot more room for thoughts and speech.

What resources beyond the Disney films do you look to for inspiration for your Twisted Tales?

Well of course I loved the play and books by Barrie, but really I spent a lot of time with maps of islands and fantasy worlds. I love Never Land!

How do your writing and research approaches to each different Twisted Tale differ, if at all?

It’s pretty similar for each: I watch the movie again, several times, and chat with Brittany, and go off with my notebook to think for a while. Once I have a twist and a basic plot I work on a (detailed) outline. I often use Scrivener for this. Then I watch the movie more…and then I write!  

Who is your favorite character from your stories and why?

That’s like picking a favorite child! I think maybe Belle was the most personal one to develop.  Once Upon a Dream had a subtext about teenage depression, especially the quiet kind that causes people, often girls, to just drop out of life and withdraw from the world.  Drawing that out of the fairly quiet star of Sleeping Beauty was a fun challenge.  

But also Hook. Hook is just a blast to write.

What challenges did you face writing your books?

Lack of a good third wave coffee house at critical moments. You ever try to write a climax without a decent flat white?

I kid. I drink bodega brew like it’s going out of style. Sometimes I send my kids across the street to get me one if it’s particularly urgent.

What have been your favorite parts of writing your Twisted Tales?

Besides getting to live in a Disney world for 400 pages?!! Letters from readers. It is so amazing to be writing all by myself holed up somewhere and then receive a note from someone who was touched by what I wrote—who got it, on a personal level. That keeps me going on the hardest days.

Author Liz Braswell

What is next for Liz Braswell?

At least two more Twisted Tales (Alice!). I’m also working on a sequel to Stuffed, my mid-grade book about monsters are real and your stuffed animals really do protect you from them at night (published by Disney-Hyperion, I might add).

Somewhere in there I’d like some time on that nice golden beach I mentioned…

What do you ultimately hope readers get out of Straight On Till Morning?

Enjoyment of a good yarn, a reunion with old Disney friends, and maybe a gentle poke to look at the world around them and understand that they can change it too.

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