Anne Fine, author of Mrs. Doubtfire: ‘There is almost no difference in the emotional depth of boys and girls’
Anne Fine is not a fan of Mrs Doubtfire. The former Children’s Prize winner may have written the book, Mrs. Doubtfire, which the beloved family comedy was based on, but had nothing to do with the 1993 big-screen adaptation that she once described as a “pantomime.” On the one hand, she had wanted Warren Beatty to play the role of the unfortunate dad Daniel, who disguises himself as an elderly nanny after losing custody of his three children, and not Robin Williams.
“I was quite amazed that so many people liked the movie and so many kids loved it,” Fine says now. “I found it a little sentimental at the end. And it’s very different from the book – except they used a lot of my jokes. But the 74-year-old was, she admits, “impressed with Robin Williams’ comedic talents” at the end. Who couldn’t be? Think of the pool scene where he throws a well-aimed lime at the head of his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, Pierce Brosnan. , then claims it was a “fleeting fruition” or when he shoves his face in a cream cake to hide his identity from the social worker.
Other scenes haven’t aged so well. When her son Kevin comes across “Mrs. Doubtfire” peeing while standing up, he demands that they call the police. Mrs. Doubtfire, he stammers to his sister Lydia, is “a she-he.” Is it transphobia?
“The issue of gender has become infinitely more complicated and tricky since the book was written,” Fine says, cautiously. “[It] was not nearly as noticeable when the book was published. Most of the concerns at the time were about the role of women in life, rather than anything else. Daniel applies for the job as a woman because Miranda would never have let him do the job himself…and also men didn’t tend to take nanny or cleaning jobs back then like they did. do now.
Fine has never met Williams, who killed himself in 2014 ahead of a project Mrs. Doubtfire following. She turned down an opportunity to join him on Michael Parkinson’s chat show to promote the film, as she had more important things to do. “I had been booked for several months to speak to 200 librarians. And librarians are a novelist’s bread and butter. I wasn’t going to throw them away at the last minute. So I said I couldn’t do it. I mean, I would have been terrified.
Watching the interview on TV, she felt nothing but relief. “He was wired…He was so smart. And I thought if I had gone there I would have been sitting on the other end of the couch looking like an overstuffed cushion. I mean really? Just totally embarrassing.
Fine’s novel was “much, much darker” than the film, she says. In one passage, she describes Daniel’s anger that Miranda dropped off the children 40 minutes late: “He reached into the drawer at the end of the table and pulled out an imaginary carving knife with one hand, while drawing the teapot towards him with the Other. Still smiling horribly, he slowly and carefully pulled the imaginary knife at the teapot’s imaginary throat. “It’s dark comedy,” Fine said proudly, “and I missed it [in Mrs Doubtfire].”
She had a successful surgery, however. “My only request was, ‘Please don’t make kids kids,'” says Fine, who disliked director Chris Columbus’ film. Alone at home franchise for this reason. When Daniel’s youngest daughter, Natalie, said to him as he left the marital home: “You can’t leave now, we’re in the middle of Charlotte’s web“, it is certainly in stark contrast to Alone at home Kevin yelling, “Guys, I’m eating junk food and looking at garbage!” You better get out there and arrest me! And while the Doubtfire kids support and love each other, Kevin’s siblings ridicule him. “I take no credit here for the success of the film,” Fine says. “But I think that’s one of the reasons kids love the movie — because they can relate to those kids.”
This is the secret of Fine’s children’s books: they reveal the complex world of adults for children. She’s written more than 70 articles across all age groups, covering divorce, blended families, politics, parenting and drug addiction, and now, the ‘horrifically difficult subject’ of grief in the fascinating replicas.
Fine, who has short greyish hair and an irrepressibly cheerful personality, speaks from his home office in Barnard Castle – a market town in northeast England, Dominic Cummings’ famous haunt during lockdown. She lives with her partner of 30 years, Richard, a botanist specializing in orchids, and has two adult children, Ione and Cordelia.
She grew up in the Midlands and moved to California before returning to Edinburgh, where the idea of Mrs. Doubtfire first emerged, after observing a divorced neighbor waiting for his children, who never showed up. “It made me think how awful this must be.”
Fine – who was named the second winner of the Children’s Award in 2001 and received an OBE in 2003 – acknowledges the benefits of the film: Mrs. Doubtfire paid his mortgage. But it was already his 15th novel and had been optional for six years until Williams lightened it; he was told that Williams was interested in the issue of a child’s easy access to the non-custodial parent due to “personal issues”.
Now, with 30 copies of every book she’s written stacked on long white shelves behind her, she’s keen not to put Mrs. Doubtfire on a pedestal. Bestsellers include Carnegie Prize-winning novel flour babies (1992), about a group of children who are given a bag of flour to look after like a baby, and 1989 Glasses-eyeswhich was adapted for the BBC in 1993. The show starred Honeysuckle Weeks as teenager Kitty, who doesn’t get along with her mother’s new boyfriend because of her anti-Campaign for nuclear disarmament.
“I was a very active member of the CND,” says Fine, “and I was helping to tear down the fence of the CND [at Greenham Common], and it just bothered me. I thought, ‘You know, I’m a writer. The pen is mightier than the sword. What am I doing? Why don’t I use my skills to educate children about, you know, the nuclear issue? »
While Bill’s new dressabout a boy forced to wear a pink dress to school, was intended to “eradicate sexism in primary schools”, the latest killer cat The series about a cat called Tuffy and her family, told by the murderous cat himself, was just a wickedly funny look into the mind of a feline. “OK OK. So hang me. I killed the bird. Please, I’m a cat.
replicas — her most important new book — explores loss and grief on both “the macroscopic and the microscopic level.” It follows Louie, who goes on a trip with his engineer father to a remote coastal region, where he is caught in an earthquake and watches a tsunami from a high ridge, a year after losing his brother in a car accident.
It’s fast and lively. On page 43, he sees “a massive, gathered mass of water now rushing towards the shore. Unstoppable… I saw it crawling to places it had never reached before… rumbling to the shacks where the fishermen kept their nets and gear, devouring them in an instant.
Fine had been asked several times to tackle the subject of grief and loss in a children’s book, but never felt ready. After the death of a close friend, she was prompted to action, but she still needed to “distance herself” by writing about it. “To be honest, the death of a child or the death of a loved one is such my worst fear… And so, I never even came close to it.”
Instead, the death of Louie’s brother occurs in flashbacks or memories, which was much easier for Fine to write about and more enjoyable for children to read. It’s not until Louie returns to the devastated area, to help the villagers mourn their fallen, that he and his estranged parents open up about their own grief – together. But despite exploring grief from a boy’s perspective, she doesn’t feel like she’s tackling toxic masculinity.
“I’ve been talking to readers, obviously, for a very, very long time. And in my experience, there’s almost no difference in the emotional breadth and depth of boys or girls,” she says. “I changed the gender of the character quite often a third of the way through the book, and I never had to go back and do much more than a little cosmetic stuff. Boys are just as sensitive as girls, even if they’re often less inclined to show it… Maybe for social reasons, lots of reasons. But it’s there. And the thing about books is that they’re entirely private. So from the minute you open a book, no one knows what’s going on in your brain, no one knows who you identify with.
‘Aftershocks’ is published by Old Barn Books on February 10