Werner Herzog's ‘Heart of Glass’ is a film that still haunts me, long after I first saw it. The actors, famously hypnotised into stilted and glazed performances, play characters struggling to rediscover the recipe for blood red glass, a secret lost when an old glassmaker dies. Without this knowledge the village economy begins to collapse. It is apocalyptic, visionary, idiosyncratic and very, very weird.
There aren't a lot of jokes in ‘Heart of Glass', but like all Herzog’s films, it is extremely funny.
One of Herzog's more recent productions is a documentary about a man who wants to commune with bears. It's a true and tragic story. The bears eat him in the end. They do, really. And then there’s the film in which Herzog eats his shoe, inspirationally titled ‘Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe’.
Herzog's films teeter between the mystical and the insane; between high art and farce.
Whenever I set out to write a book, I watch a little of ‘Heart of Glass’. I want something of that weirdness in everything I do. Ideas for books usually begin with a subtle image: a dilapidated shop, a boy on sunlit steps. I want to create half-worlds in which realities are questioned and undermined.
If my books turn out a little weird (or ‘bonkers’ as one editor put it) then all the better. I realise it gets harder and harder for publishers to accept eccentric books, but I’m not going to write something that I hate, just to please someone who probably doesn’t really want what they are asking for in the first place.
Herzog never worries about what anyone wants. He does what he likes. He has been an outsider all his life, but has produced works of incomparable beauty and strangeness.
In these difficult times it may be that many children’s writers will take stock and decide to write something mainstream; something that will sell. Instead of doing what instinct has us do, we might try and determine a gap in the market, or attempt to have a guess at what will the next big thing. We’ve had wizards and vampires, what next, wombats?
I'm lucky, I have a day job, it affords me the luxury of being able to write what I like, and if I don't get published, I don't starve. But I still want to encourage everyone to Think Like Werner Herzog, do something extreme, and do it with all the energy you can muster. Be yourself. Be weird. You already are anyway. Just admit it.