Good Reading : July 2007
20 goodreading ı JULY 2007 author profile to an educational publisher.They started commis- sioning me, so I wrote quite a lot of things, plays and retelling of folk tales and things like that.’ But it was the picture book The Gruffalo that really launched Julia Donaldson as a superstar for picture book readers.The story features a mouse who, to scare off potentially dangerous predators, makes up a mythical Gruffalo. Imagine his surprise when he meets the real thing! The matching of her fun read-out-loud rhyming and Axel Scheffler’s clever illustrations makes a wonderful book. It wasn’t long before a sequel, The Gruffalo’s Child, was published and a stuffed toy appeared of the Gruffalo with a face only a mother could love. Rumours have abounded about a film. ‘We got approached by someone wanting to do 26 episodes for television just about the Gruffalo and the mouse, and we definitely didn’t want that. And a Hollywood company wanted to do a whole 90-minute movie and that would have been really just making up some silly story about the characters.We were a bit lured and our heads were a bit big for a while. And now it’s going to be made into a hopefully tasteful half-hour television special. Malcolm thinks there should be one called The Gruffalo and the Mouse Have a Slight Accident .’ The Gruffalo is not the only book by Julia destined for the screen. She also writes for older children: The Giants and the Joneses is about a girl giant who is a manic collector of things. She collects some children from a human family but they fall into the clutches of her sadistic giant brother.The giants talk a different language from humans, which Donaldson invented. ‘Every time the giants speak it’s in a language that I made up, I hope, so that the reader can actually understand what they are saying. But there is a dictionary at the back.’ Interestingly, years later she discovered that her mother’s mother used to make up stories and that she had actually written a children’s story about a girl giant called Grace. It seems genetic influences are not confined to twins. The Giants and the Joneses was picked up by the same company that picked up the first Harry Potter book; they then sent it on to Warner Bros, who bought the rights and are making a film. ‘I won’t really have much input, but then I don’t really want to have too much as it’s a full-length feature film and I don’t know how to write a film script. But I do have consultation rights, so they’ll show me the screenplay they are happy with and I can and will make comments.’ Writing picture books and novels are two different kettles of fish. ‘I found it much more daunting sitting down writing a novel.’ So what’s next in the publishing line? ‘The next book is a picture book I’ve done with Axel called Tiddler; it’s about a little fish who tells stories, makes excuses why he’s late for school. And there’s another one, Tyrannosaurus Drip. He’s ctually a vegetarian dinosaur but when he’s still n egg he ends up in a Tyrannosaurus’s nest, so he ets brought up as a T-Rex but just doesn’t fit in. Julia not only writes books but enjoys acting them out as well. At the moment both she and Malcolm appear in theatres where they put on a full show. ‘We might perform three or four books and intersperse that with a few songs and involve the audience a fair bit. Malcolm is a doctor, a paediatrician, but he’s taken a year’s sabbatical.’ After the year is up they’ll be back in Glasgow where they live. ‘We do a lot of performing, in theatres or at book festivals, and I do some schools and librar- ies.Ithinkin a waywe aregettingalotofitout of our system. It’s all very fulfilling as I get to do all the parts: writing, acting, singing and working with children is such good fun.’ Her two boys, Alistair and James, now both in their twenties, sometimes get involved in the performing. ‘Alistair is quite ood at the guitar; if he’s free he comes along and acts the wise old man or the giant. Jamie is quite a good actor, espe- ially acting rather disreputably. He often acts the baddies.’ Having never performed outside of Britain before, Julia and Malcolm started their three-month book-cum-theatre tour in Ber muda.Then it was off to Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Korea, China, India and Nepal. Donaldson has had 79 books published, and is enjoying enor mous success with millions of copies sold worldwide. But she is still very down to earth and untouched by her success.When we met, she and Malcolm were having fun traipsing around the world with big cases containing all sorts of outfits, including a giant head. And she isn’t finished yet, with ideas popping into her head all the time.You can see it coming as she twirls her hair, eyebrows raised, eyes searching for that next inspiration. Julia Donaldson summed up her daily existence in verse some years ago, when her sons were young: Tea in bed. Second cup. Dislodge cats. Get up On to school. Spouse to work. Sit at desk – mustn’t shirk. Scratch head. Dream up snail. Maybe team her up with whale? Chew pen.What next? Can’t think. Feel vexed. Feed cat. Open post. Read it, over a slice of toast. Little boy wants to know Date of birth of Gruffalo. Little girl wonders why Giant gave away his tie. Out to shops/ Get idea (Big grin, ear to ear): Brilliant climax – whale gets beached! (Rhyme a problem ... reached? Beseeched? Leeched? Well never mind, just now.) Snail then rescues whale – but how??? Back home, get stuck. Go off snail. Consider duck. Phone rings.Who is it? School, requesting author visit. Check diary … shocked to see ‘Monday, Brookwood Library’. That’s today! Leap in car. Thank goodness, not far. Tell a story, act and sing. Kids join in with everything. (Teacher sits there marking books, Blind to my accusing looks.) Answer questions. Back to house. Joined by son, later spouse. Open bottle. Cook salmon. Practise piano. Play Backgammon. Have bath – that’s when Inspiration strikes again: Snail could learn to write with slime! (Quite an easy word to rhyme.) Crawls on blackboard, leaves a trail ... Children run and save the whale. Story planned! Tomorrow, start Writing it – the easy part.