Good Reading : July 2007
author profile I was about 12 because I was in a children’s opera group and got to understudy a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream , in the Old Vic, in a wonderful production with a wonderful cast which included a young Judi Dench. I was completely stagestruck and knew the whole play off by heart.That’s when I really, really wanted to go on stage.’ This led to her studying drama at university, where she met her future husband Malcolm, a guitar-playing fellow student studying medicine.They decided to travel together. ‘Malcolm and I really got to know each other through busking in Paris.Then we went to Venice and busked in the street, and a policeman and some very nice people stopped us and said, look, you mustn’t do that as there’s some sort of ambassador on the balcony above. These nice people took us under their wing and out on a boat to the Lido, to a lovely inn – one of those places people come and are given rabbit casserole; no looking at the menu.We sang.We decided to sing there every evening, and we got the free rabbit casserole and got paid! We used to pay for holidays by busking: we’d buy the airfare but once we were in a place we’d go busking and that paid for accommodation (although we usually camped) and meals.’ As their busking and Julia’s song writing evolved, they began performing after dinner songs for cabaret, and she started writing songs more for children. Julia took these songs to the BBC and this led to a ‘patchwork career in children’s television’. ‘It was fun, and then it wasn’t, because sometimes you would write 17 songs for a series and everyone would love them but then the program would stop or the producer would leave. It was never a career that ever went anywhere. I kept thinking it was going to, but it didn’t. It wasn’t like being in a play and getting offered a slightly better part each time.’ One of the songs she wrote for children’s television, called A Squash and a Squeeze , was based on a folk tale about an old woman whose small house was full of animals, and it was that song which many years later got her into books. ‘Someone had heard it on a BBC cassette and thought “I remember that!”.They thought it would make a good picture book, so I got approached by a pub- lisher. And that’s how my first book came about.’ The first two illustrators who were approached couldn’t do it, but then they asked Axel Scheffler and a successful rela- tionship was born. ‘That gave me the courage to get various stuff out of the drawer. I’d written lots of little plays especially tailored for reading groups in primary school, and I sent them When she was six her father gave her a copy of The Book of a Thousand Poems, which she loved to death.