As the brand new UK stage show What the Ladybird Heard prepares for its UAE debut next month, we caught up with Children’s Laureate and story author Julia Donaldson for a chat.
With her crazy rhyming couplets, quirky refrains and funny storylines, Julia Donaldson has managed the impossible and captured not just the imaginations of millions of youngsters around the world, but those of their parents too. Her books have been turned into some of the most successful stage shows to date, many of which have already graced the UAE’s theatres.
The mum-of-three who grew up in London and once wanted to marry her cat Geoffrey (she was six at the time and was convinced he was a prince in disguise) has never lost her love of the fantastical. Now a grandmother, she is unashamedly busy with her hectic schedule of school visits, book tours and writing, but still finds time to indulge in lots of singing, song-writing and dramatic story-telling.
What the Ladybird Heard is the latest of your books to be turned into a stage show. Do you have a say in the creative adaptation of your stories from book to theatre?
Yes, the theatre companies are always very good at consulting me – but I do try not to breathe down anyone’s neck.
What’s it like seeing your stories performed live?
Exciting – and a little scary too. I have one eye on the stage and the other on the audience – to check that they are enjoying it.
What the Ladybird Heard is coming to the UAE’s theatres next month (March). Can you give us a few hints about what we can expect?
It’s a really bright colourful production, and one of the things I like best is that the set and costumes are very true to Lydia Monk’s brilliant illustrations to the books.
Lots of people don’t realise that the vast majority of your books have been written for educational literacy programmes. How did you become involved with this side of things?
I used to help out in my son’s primary school, writing short plays for the reading groups. I kept these plays, and once my first book, A Squash and a Squeeze, had been published, I plucked up courage to send them to an educational publisher. That’s how it all started.
Has being a mum helped you creatively?
Maybe a bit, but I think that being a grandmother for the past three-and-a-half years is proving even more helpful!
You’re a very experienced public story teller. What tale-telling tips can you give us for keeping children engaged and listening during story time?
I think you have to offer variety – a bit of this and a bit of that. I usually start with a song, then chat to them, then get them to help me act out a couple of stories, then invite questions.
If you hadn’t become a writer, what other careers would you have pursued?
I always used to want to go on the stage – but at least I can do that now when I act out my stories at book festivals.
What’s the silliest thing you’ve written a song/rhyme or story about?
I once had to write a song about horrible smells for a children’s TV company.
Which characters have you enjoyed creating the most – and why?
Princess Mirror-Belle (there are three chapter books about this cheeky girl who comes out of a mirror.) I always enjoy writing her dialogue and find that it comes very naturally to me – maybe it’s a way of giving vent to my own hidden (usually) cheeky side!
What The Ladybird Heard is at Centerpoint Theatre, Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, March 11-15. For more information call 04 304 2340, 050 880 5074 or visit www.ductac.org or www.timeouttickets.com.
Five things younever knew about Julia Donaldson
• She studied French and drama at university and speaks German
• She has a much-loved black pet cat called Goblin
• She is passionate about literacy and education and as such has written over 60 educational books for school reading schemes and she trained as a teacher in the seventies.
• As a student she was a total hippy and busked her way around Europe with her husband Malcolm.
• She wrote ‘The French Busking Song’ in French – and ‘The Spaghetti Song’ in Italian – of course!
• She plays the piano and enjoys a game of backgammon every now and then.