Lemony Snicket: You Ask The Questions

'So Lemony Snicket, what do you think of Harry Potter? Are your stories based on real life? And why do grown-ups insist on reading children's books?'
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Lemony Snicket is the alter ego of the novelist Daniel Handler, 34, who was born in San Francisco. In 1999, Handler published the first of the hugely successful A Series of Unfortunate Events children's books under the Snicket name. Since inventing the nom de plume on a whim, Handler has accorded Snicket a full biography, claiming to act merely as his representative. Snicket, so Handler claims, was born in a small town near the sea and devotes his life to recounting the misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans, the central characters of the books. Handler lives in New York and occasionally plays the accordion with the band The Magnetic Fields.

Lemony Snicket is the alter ego of the novelist Daniel Handler, 34, who was born in San Francisco. In 1999, Handler published the first of the hugely successful A Series of Unfortunate Events children's books under the Snicket name. Since inventing the nom de plume on a whim, Handler has accorded Snicket a full biography, claiming to act merely as his representative. Snicket, so Handler claims, was born in a small town near the sea and devotes his life to recounting the misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans, the central characters of the books. Handler lives in New York and occasionally plays the accordion with the band The Magnetic Fields.

Who are you, and why are you writing these books?
Robert Singh, aged 9

I am Lemony Snicket, and why do you want to know?

What is your opinion of Harry Potter?
Yvonne George, London

Harry Potter seems like a very nice young fictional man. If I were in the habit of befriending fictional people, I'd be happy to make his acquaintance, but the trouble with fictional friendships is that you tend to find yourself sitting in a café,

talking excitedly to an empty chair. After several hours, the staff will probably force you to leave, even if there are still uneaten madeleines sitting on your plate, all ready to be covered in strawberry jam. Normally, if you were being treated unfairly, you could count on a friend to help you, but a fictional friend - even one with fictional magic powers - will probably just stand there with a confused and fictional look on his or her face.

You warn children against reading your books. Would you advise me not to ask you a question?
Lily Cook, London

I would advise you not to ask me a certain question - "Are you aware of any sinister plans afoot involving Ms Lily Cook of London?" - as the answer just may not please you.

Are you excited about the film of A Series of Unfortunate Events that opens this week? Is Jim Carrey evil enough to play Count Olaf?
Sam Finch, Birmingham

There are countless people in Hollywood evil enough to play Count Olaf. You are very wise to stay in Birmingham instead, and I hope that you have locked yourself inside your house, apartment or yurt rather than venturing outside to a cinema where a certain dreadful film might be showing.

What is the most unfortunate event that has ever happened to you?
Gayle Bosworth, Cambridge

Once, I made the mistake of ordering the chicken at a certain restaurant. Also, I have witnessed a number of deaths.

Why do you never show your face in pictures?
Rebecca Leharne, aged 12, by e-mail

My face does appear in quite a few pictures - but it is simply the back of my face.

Why do you always keep yourself mysterious? Is it because you are a relative of Count Olaf and you look like him?
Bryony Bingle, aged 10, Wilmslow

I do not keep myself mysterious - other people keep me mysterious, and I am most grateful to them for their assistance in this. Everyone has a villain or two in their family, but it is not a matter of closeness in facial features or on the family tree. It is a matter of one's own villainous behaviour.

I have a question for your friend, Daniel Handler. You have met a lot of children over the past few years; has this encouraged you to have some of your own?
Pippa Baker, Ipswich

Mr Handler informs me that his first child has recently survived his first year, and is seriously considering learning to walk. The creation of this child was encouraged by the observation of other children, and also for the usual reasons, such as having piles and piles of children's books lying around the house without any children to read them, and a sneaking suspicion that one is getting far too much sleep.

Has all the crazy stuff that you say has happened to you, really happened to you?
Angus Owen, by e-mail

As far as I know, it has all really happened, and some of it may happen to you, sir.

What were your favourite books when you were a child?
Bibi Stacey, Portishead

Among my favourites were: Dino Buzzati's The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily; Edward Gorey's The Blue Aspic; Roald Dahl's Danny the Champion of the World; Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby; Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None; Eleanor Estes's The Witch Family; CS Lewis's The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader'; Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows; Beverly Cleary's Ramona the Pest; and a version of The Arabian Nights that included the more scandalous sections.

Where do you get your suits?
Peter Hunter, Staines

Off the backs of men who do not need them, and in certain shops.

When did you start playing the accordion? Who taught you? And what is your relationship to The Magnetic Fields?
Jonathan Clay, by e-mail

I took up the accordion while at school, as a grand piano could not fit into my locker. I am self-taught, like most accordion players. My relationship to The Magnetic Fields is one of utter respect, although my associate, Mr Handler, has been known to participate more directly.

Is negativity underrated?
Simon Armfelt, by e-mail

Underrated by whom? Optimists tend to underrate negativity, and pessimists tend to overrate it.

Your books don't end happily. Their message seems to be that it is only by luck and cunning that you can get ahead in life. Do you agree? And do you think that this is a valuable lesson for children?
Karen Gregory, Manchester (mother of a big fan)

There are as many methods to get ahead in life as there are "messages" in books, ranging from the methods you cite - luck and cunning - to more noble methods such as integrity, honesty and the careful study of the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop; and less noble methods such as arson, blackmail and making obscene gestures at motorists.

In fact, it is virtually impossible to get behind in life, as life has a tendency to march forward obliviously, like so many people we know, and eventually life is over and one's position is not "ahead" or "behind" but "underground" or "scattered to the winds". For this reason it seems like a waste of time to dwell on methods that one might use to get ahead in life, and instead concentrate on what might be a noble and pleasing thing to do with one's time as this march continues. This is a lesson for all of us, not just the young, and it might properly be described not as "valuable" but "inevitable".

Is the human race improving?
Dan Tait, by e-mail

Improving what? Or, more properly, improving whom? One certainly sees a small, wealthy group of optimists on television and in the newspapers, but I am not tempted to dine with such people.

Is there a UK branch of the VFD, the secret organisation in your books, that we could join?
Hannah and Mimi Smith, by e-mail

It is not safe to discuss the specifics of a secret organisation in a newspaper, for reasons to be found in the phrase "secret organisation". But, in general, volunteer organisations always welcome volunteers, and enough people volunteering tend to constitute a volunteer organisation.

What brings a smile to your face?
Cathy Smith, Tunbridge Wells

Justice served, the news that Haruki Murakami has published a new novel, and the tinkle of ice in a glass.

Why do so many grown-ups want to read children's books these days?
Holly Mills, by e-mail

Grown-ups have always read children's books. They have only recently stopped being ashamed of this practice and have become very brazen, a word that here means "showing off about their reading material and occasionally saying tiresome things such as, 'Goodness gracious! This children's book is good enough to be enjoyed by an adult!'."

As the mum of a child obsessed with your books, can I ask what you do to give your head a rest from the plight of the Baudelaire three?
Samantha Campbell, by e-mail

I do not answer the impertinent questions of wicked women who ought to be protecting their children from the menaces of depressing literature.

Parents are increasingly paranoid about their children's safety, wanting to tag them via their mobile phones and watch them in the classroom via a webcam. Should children be let out of an adult's sight?
Harriet Brown, Salisbury

It depends on the adult. Any adult who places faith in mobile phones and webcams should not be allowed within 50ft of a child - or another adult.

What are you hoping to get for Christmas?
Ben Norman, Streatham

I celebrate Hanukkah, and am in somewhat desperate need of some sturdy and eye-pleasing cuff links.

Are your stories based on real-life things?
Matthew Shuttleworth, aged 10, by e-mail

All stories are based on two things: real-life things, and other stories, but these "other stories", of course, are also based on the same two things - real-life things or other stories, and these "other stories" are also based on the same two things, and so on, and so on, and this complicated arrangement is further complicated by the tendency for real-life things to become stories as time passes, and the difference between real-life things and stories becomes complicated, so real-life things tend to get lost inside stories that are based on real-life things and on other stories, or perhaps it's the other way round, with stories based on real-life things and other stories getting lost inside real-life things, which might explain why, in real life, we often feel so very lost that even answering a simple question becomes so exhausting and confusing that we want to lie down with our eyes closed and listen closely to the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich and certain 12in singles by New Order.

You dedicate your books to Beatrice. Who is Beatrice? What is she?
Michelle Haynes, by e-mail

Please, Ms Haynes - can't you see that I'm lying down with my eyes closed, listening to the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich and certain 12in singles by New Order?

The film, 'Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events', based on the books, is released on Friday

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