Nothing in historical fiction writer Conn Iggulden’s past could have prepared him for the success he and his brother Hal stumbled upon when they threw together their tongue-in-cheek how-to manual The Dangerous Book for Boys. Producer Scott Rudin recently acquired movie rights to the worldwide million-selling book — a series of instructions for dangerous activities (killing and cooking a rabbit, building a go-kart) peppered with various inspirational advice and historical anecdotes — and will (somehow) develop it for the screen for Disney.
Iggulden took a minute to tell EW.com how he was as surprised as anyone to learn that a big studio wanted to make a movie out of Dangerous Book, and explains just how he and his brother managed to spout off advice on so many different topics.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the movie deal come about?
CONN IGGULDEN: I usually write historical fiction. I’ve written books on Julius Caesar, and the film option for that was bought. So I was familiar with the format and the idea. But then someone mentioned that there might be interest in The Dangerous Book for Boys and I wasn’t sure how it would work because it’s a non-fiction book and it doesn’t have plots and characters.
So, were you surprised?
Yes, a little. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell my family or anything because I thought it probably wouldn’t come off. And then I heard a few days ago that Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Sony, and Disney [were bidding], and I suddenly realized that this was a bigger thing than I’d realized. In fact, that’s been the story of the book: I keep vastly underestimating it. Right from the beginning my brother said, ”Do you think we’ll get into the top 10 in Britain?” and I said, ”Look, Hal, come on. There are thousands of books publishing, it’s extremely unlikely. But, you know, we’ll sell a few and we’ll get copies for our own kids.” And then, a year later, 60 weeks later, it’s still in the top 10. It’s been extraordinary right from the beginning. For me, I wrote it as a kind of hobby book for my own son, and with my brother to remember the childhood that we had had. I didn’t expect it to take off, but that’s the nicest thing. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of emails now sort of saying exactly the same thing: Thank you for writing it and telling us your childhood memories and all of the rest of it. You realize you’re not the only one in thinking boys have had a hard time the last few decades.
Were you and your brother really that popular that you knew that many things? What are some of the things you didn’t know that you had to get a primer on?
There were quite a few things like that because some of the things, like bows and arrows, there are better ways of making bows and arrows, I know that. But we wanted to do the same low-tech [technique] — cut it on the same day and make it the bow — that we did when we were kids. Other things, historical sections, we had to do a fair bit of research for them. I did a piece on [Admiral Lord] Nelson, so I had to go to Nelson’s Tomb in London and, you know, read the prayer that he wrote on the day before he fought the Battle of Trafalgar and was killed. That was an absolutely wonderful time [for me]…. Anyone we mentioned to what we were doing, they kept saying things like, Oh gotta have rockets, obviously — everyone loves rockets. And so we started getting worried about telling anyone about it because they kept coming up with things and we had to stop somewhere. But the enthusiasm it seemed to create was just extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it. I doubt I ever will again.
Does writing historical fiction catch on quite as well?
I’ve made a very comfortable living writing historical fiction, but nothing has sold as well as The Dangerous Book for Boys, which I say is a bit ironic or odd because that’s the one that I thought would be completely passed over.
Those how-to books do really, really well.
Yeah, it’s strange. I honestly think if we had published it 15 years ago, when I was still teaching, it wouldn’t have worked. But things change and the pendulum starts to swing in society and I think it’s true, judging by the responses I’ve had — a lot of people are getting sort of fed up with the health and safety culture and finding it restrictive and deciding that it’s gone a little too far in some places.
People have become so sheltered in raising their kids.
I know, and there’s a lot of reasons for it. But parents do think their children are safer if they keep them inside with a Playstation. And just in the long run, having a generation of obese, pale children who’ve never had to handle risk is not actually safer. In the long run, that’s extremely bad for them in a number of ways. I don’t mean just being fat and pale. I mean you need to handle risk as an adult. When I cross a road or get in a car, I handle risk. You don’t want a kid getting to the age of 16 or 17 and deciding he’s going to have a bit of fun for the first time when he steps into a car. You need him to handle responsibility before then. But we don’t do that as much.
Any idea what the movie is going to be like? Have you had any conversation with producer Scott Rudin or Disney?
At this point, no. It’s fairly early, of course. We just heard in the last day or two that Disney were the ones who got it. But I’m not sure, I’m really not. I would hope for something like Jumanji, if you remember that film with Robin Williams. That would be absolutely brilliant, but I really don’t know. My brother and I are going to be consultants on it, apparently. I’m still trying to work out what that means. We’ll find out.