Maguire says his latest book ‘is like comfort food’

Alicia Rancilio

NEW YORK (AP) – Gregory Maguire attributes the first grain of the idea for his new book A Wild Winter Swan to Mary Poppins author PL Travers.

He met her 25 years ago as he was getting ready to publish the hugely popular Wicked, written from the perspective of the witches in Oz.

“We talked about fairy tales that we loved and mythology that we were attracted to, and when the subject of Hans Christian Andersen came up she said, ‘Well, there’s that boy with one wing,’” (from The Wild Swans.) Give him something to do. Maguire said he hung onto that nugget for 24 years until last year when he was transferring decades of handwritten journals to the computer.

“I transcribed the conversation I had written down with her after I left her parlour in London and I thought, ‘I’ve always loved that kid’. When I was a boy, I used to think, ‘If he was around here, we would be best friends’.”

In A Wild Winter Swan, that boy with a swan wing for a left arm is prominent in a teen’s coming-of-age story set in New York City in 1962. Maguire said he believes the book is “a perfect pandemic read” and “comfort food like mashed potatoes”’

He spoke with The Associated Press (AP) about his life-long love of fairy tales, the celebrities he cast in his mind as characters in “Wicked” and how his kids ended up online despite his best efforts. Answers are edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: Did you always love fairy tales?

Maguire: Those were the books where magic happened. My favourite books were the Narnia chronicles, the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, the Andersen tales.

In eighth grade I began to realise there’s something dubious about someone in middle school reading fairy tales so I began taking out books for camouflage like ‘Bronco Joe’ and ‘Quarterback Joe’ and would slip Grimms’ Fairy Tales between them.

AP: Wicked is now marking its 25th year since publication and the Broadway show has been such a huge success. Share what that writing process was like?

Maguire: My ambition was to write something that was like War and Peace or Gone with the Wind set in Oz, and something that had scope and sweep and time.

The Oz books are all really compressed. I wanted to write about generations and family lines and great political powers at play.

When I set off to write that because it was such a big task, I actually cast my novel with Hollywood actors so I could keep them straight. I had the young Antonio Banderas playing Fiyero. I had Glinda being played by Melanie Griffith with her high-squeak, helium voice and blonde curls.

And my Elphaba was played by kd lang like from the cover of Vanity Fair. I cast even smaller parts, like Angela Lansbury and Emma Thompson.

In a certain way I was filming it in my head as I was writing it. I think it’s not uncommon for writers that the story unspools as kind of a private film… I used to say when I taught kids writing, “Every sentence has to be rich enough that if Steven Spielberg shows up at school tomorrow and says, ’Give me that’ and looks at it, he can find a direction for his camera crew or his actors in every sentence.”