Talking Point: Julia Donaldson

Round & About

Interview

Multi award-winning author Julia Donaldson tells us about seeing her work adapted for the stage as Zog goes on tour across the UK this month.

Q. You’ve written almost 200 books – where do you get your ideas?

“It varies, but I always develop the storyline fully in my head before I start writing. I think you read some books and you can tell that people have just made it up as they go along – but I always think, you wouldn’t start telling a joke if you didn’t know what the punchline was.”

 

Q. Are you excited to see Zog adapted for the stage?

“I’m tremendously excited that Zog will be taking flight around the UK in this first ever stage production. Going to the theatre can be a truly magical experience, I know it will be such a thrill to see the world of Zog being brought to life on stage.”

 

Q. Where did the idea for Zog the dragon come from?

“My editor said to me ‘it would be lovely to have a story about a dragon’, so I started thinking about it and the name ‘Madam Dragon’ came into my head, which I thought had a nice sound. The story came to me bit by bit. My husband Malcolm, who is a doctor, also had some input here. Because when I was planning the story, I knew Zog would keep meeting the Princess, and originally I was going to have them play together and toast marshmallows. And Malcolm said that’s a bit soppy, couldn’t it be something with a bit more oomph? And then I came up with the doctor angle.”

 

Q. Animals feature very strongly in many of your books – why is that?

“It’s often used as a convention – like in Aesop’s Fables, where the animals aren’t really animals, they represent a quality or a characteristic. I also think it would be far more boring for the reader or listener, if Mouse in The Gruffalo was just a small but clever person, or the Gruffalo itself was a big, scary but rather stupid person. Or in The Snail and the Whale, if the Whale was just a big person and the snail a little person – I think you need animals to represent the qualities.”

 

Q. Your books always have a happy ending, which is very comforting, do you think it’s important to give that to your readers?

“I often think about the role of storytelling for young people. In life, not everything does have a happy ending – but I think storytelling is probably very important because to grow up with stories helps you have aspirations, even if life doesn’t turn out like that. Even as grown-ups, we know that there is a lot of sadness in life, but I think if we didn’t have those stories, aspirations and a sense of what’s ideal, life would be much harder to live.”

 

Q. As you’re writing, you must visualise characters in your head. What’s it like when an illustrator then comes up with something different?

“I always say it’s like going on holiday – you’ve got an idea in your head of how it’s going to be, and then it’s always totally different. But once you’re there and enjoying it, you just forget what was in your head before. It doesn’t influence the storyline, but it will influence how I picture the characters – so I’m usually not surprised when I see Axel’s interpretation.”

 

Q. What do you feel a visit to the theatre gives young children?

“Well I remember going to see The Nutcracker when I was a child and I found the whole thing completely magical. I can still remember how I felt when the curtain went up. I suppose in a way it’s the same thing that a book gives you, in that while you’re reading or watching, you believe in a different reality. And if it’s a good show, parents love to see that their children – even very young ones – can just be transfixed by it.”

 

Q. Your books are read around the world, and have been adapted many times, what do you think is the appeal?

“I don’t know for sure, but I think there are three main things: the storyline – it’s really important to have a well-crafted story; the language; and the illustration – and I do have to give a lot of credit to the illustrators. I think it’s a combination of those three things done well.”

 

Zog plays at various venues including Wycombe Swan, Guildford’s G Live and Oxford Playhouse between now and summer.

Photo credit: Zoglive.com

  For information and tickets visit ZogLive.com.

Talking Point: Nigel Havers

Round & About

Interview

Liz Nicholls chats to actor, dad, and all-round charming man Nigel Havers, 67, who is set to star in ART at Richmond Theatre.

February is here which brings Valentine’s Day! Do you celebrate?

“In a word: no! My wife is not interested in Valentine’s Day, thank God. We don’t bother at all. If that sounds unromantic, perhaps it would be to say that I think every day should be Valentine’s Day!”

Q. What do you enjoy most about ART?

“ART is my favourite play which is why I’ve done it so many times. It’s beautifully written by Yasmina [Reza] and one of the best comedies ever… Thirdly, it’s a joy to take part in because, being such a short play, you’re in the pub before 9pm!”

Q. You always have a lot on; how do you relax when you’re not working? Do you watch soaps?

“I don’t watch any soaps, no. It being panto season, I haven’t not worked for quite a while – I’ve forgotten how I relax! I tend to keep busy, but if I’m not lying down, I’m walking.”

Q. Does your dog accompany you much?

“Yes; she’s a black poodle who’s cut like a mongrel so people are always surprised when I tell them her breed. She’s called Charlie and a real character. I live between Wiltshire and London and we often take her to the pub with us. The Bell at Ramsbury is a lovely dog-friendly pub near us. In London there are several; we like Colbert in Sloane Square and a restaurant called Lucio’s in Fulham Road. I don’t know why more places don’t allow well-behaved dogs.”

Q. What’s the greatest lesson fatherhood has taught you?

“Agree with your daughter! Give them anything they want! Because they’ll win in the end so that little nugget will at least save you time.”

Q. Is there anywhere in the world you’d like to visit?

“I haven’t been to Vietnam and I’d like to explore that part of the world.”

Q. You’re godfather to Jack Whitehall, too. Do you see a hidden side to him?

“He’s a very bad influence on me! No; he’s a sweetheart; a really lovely man. There’s nothing secret about him because he lays it all bare in his acts. He’s very honest about his life. When he first started as a comedian, he performed at a pub in Putney and invited me to come along to watch and advise. My advice to him at the end of it was: look – don’t try to be a comedian! Well, that didn’t work and I’m glad he didn’t take it!”

  Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson star in ART on tour this month. Visit www.arttheplay.com for more information.

LONDON

See it at Richmond Theatre, 4th to 9th March.

For tickets, click here or call 0844 871 7651 (normal charge plus 7p per minute).

SURREY

See it at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, 18th to 23th February.

For tickets, click here or call 01483 440000

THAMES VALLEY

See it at Oxford Playhouse, 4th to 9th February.

For tickets, click here or call 01865 305305

 

Q&A with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody

Round & About

Interview

Snow Patrol’s frontman Gary Lightbody chats about his recent move to L.A. and what goes into their shows.

Q. Is it good to finally be back with Snow Patrol after so long away and obviously working with other musicians on other projects?

“Yeah, course. You know, we were working together all the way through those seven years. I mean we started making the album that would eventually be called Wildness in 2013 with a view of getting that out in 2014 I guess, but it just didn’t work out that way and we wanted to keep rolling really. All we did was take one year off Snow Patrol, and then we got back at it. The songs just weren’t ready, they weren’t right, unfortunately it took a lot longer than we thought. It’s so exciting to be back, to have the album finished, have the album out there, to get back out on tour, and you know, to tour Britain and Ireland again is amazing. We can’t wait.”

Q. With you having moved to LA and other members living in the UK, how easy was the writing process?

“Yeah I mean, we took a little bit of a break. Nathan went and started Little Matador, I did another Tired Pony album and co-wrote with a bunch of different people including Taylor Swift, and Johnny McDaid was doing that as well with lots of different people and producing. Jonny started Polar Publishing, Pablo was writing and producing with people, too, so everybody was doing their own thing, and I was trying to write the Snow Patrol album at the same time but, you know, I’ll write generally on my own and then I’ll take it in to Garrett (producer) and we will work on tracks together and then everyone else will come in over the period. The years between 2013 when I started writing and 2017 when we finished, we would get together for a couple of weeks or a month at a time. I think the album was probably about nine months work in those four, nearly five years. So it wasn’t constant working for five years – that would have probably killed us.”

Q. Now that you have had that turnaround in your personal life has this changed your songwriting?

“I have access now to a part of myself that I was always maybe afraid of. ‘Afraid of’ is maybe the wrong term, but I was afraid that it would make other people not want to be my friend! You know, like, as in, if I, if we all had that fear I think, or we all have that fear that our deepest, darkest thoughts would frighten everyone else, and that’s, to me that was always the reason why I never talked about it, you know, and I found quite the opposite when I started to talk about it, when I started to talk about my demons, I realised that people then go ‘oh yeah, you know, I’ve gone through the same thing’ or ‘I understand what you’re going through’. People, at the very least, understood what I was going through, and at the very best had actually been through the same thing themselves. It made me feel so much less isolated, so much less alone, and I waited until I was 40 years old before I opened my mouth about it. I feel like, I’m so glad that I did, I just wish I had done it sooner in my life. I guess this was just the right time to do it and you know, when you let the light flood into those dark places in yourself, you kind of create this space in yourself, you create this kind of bravery.”

Q. Do you find much difference between the large and the intimate shows, aside from the crowd size?

“Yeah, you know it’s funny, when I first started out, I had no confidence in my stagecraft. I just used to get on stage and stare at my feet and had a big red face the whole time, like I was embarrassed to be there. I guess I probably was, I was still probably questioning what I was doing and I didn’t really have any self belief. Then over time, over many, many gigs, many, many years, as the gigs started getting bigger the confidence kind of grew, that outer shell began to thicken a bit, and I was able to look at the crowd to begin with  and then interact with the crowd, and then cause a reaction in the crowd, go out there and try and make sure that everybody has a great night, make sure everybody has fun and get people singing along. Sometimes it happens naturally but other times it’s not a bad idea to start a sing-a-long, you know. Freddie Mercury showed the way on that one.

Towards the end of 2012 when we were finishing the last tour, I think I was a very good front man, and getting back into that has been an interesting thing. I sort of feel with the smaller shows, I was closing my eyes a lot, maybe feeling a little shy. The bigger shows; after the first few rows everything starts to blur a little bit; my eyesight is not that great at it, so you’re able to come out of yourself more and I think in the last few shows, I’ve really felt like my old self on stage again. We toured with U2 for many years, in 2005 and then in 2009, and ‘10 or ‘11, and I watched them every single night. I watched the two-hour set and it’s a masterclass.”

Q. Anything planned for the live shows?

“We don’t just turn up with our equipment and a couple of lights on the night and go ‘alright, well, where do you want us to set up these?’ We’re thinking about the visuals, we’re thinking about the staging, thinking about how the stage looks, we’re thinking about how everything is presented, we’re thinking about the lighting of course. We’ve got one of the best lighting directors in music – he’s won many awards – working with us. We call him ‘jock for life’. We’ve got some lovely, lovely little tricks up our sleeve and some things that we’re very excited to bringing out on this tour.

Cocklebarrow Races

Round & About

Interview

Celebrities galore and a great day out!

Whether it’s David Cameron, Jeremy Clarkson, Alex James, Giles Coren, John Inverdale, Jilly Cooper, Xander Armstrong, Zara Philips or Elizabeth Hurley, you are almost certain to see one or two A-list celebrities on Sunday, 27th January, at Cocklebarrow Races. Better still, everyone hangs out together, so it’s highly probably you will be able to rub shoulders and get that selfie in!

Cocklebarrow is the place to be and it promises to be bigger than ever, as well as a fabulously spoiling and enjoyable day out for all the family in the Cotswold countryside. The perfect cure to those January blues…

There will be pony racing at the beginning of the day followed by countless quality jump races to follow. Organisers have erected a massive heated marquee with space for you to enjoy a BYO picnic, a licensed bar, and a bucking bronco in case you need warming up some more! For children, there is a bouncy castle, bungee running and face painting. For all ages, there is dog racing, a “tough farmer challenge” and for those not content with their Christmas presents, there is plenty of retail therapy on offer too!

Gates open from 9am and admission is from £12.50 per person (16+) or £50 per car or £60 per car in the safe family-friendly premium car park in the middle of the track.

Use voucher code in your Round & About Magazine for your exclusive 20% discount when booking online.

  For tickets, please visit www.cocklebarrowraces.com

Talking Point: Alice’s adventures

Round & About

Interview

Academic, writer and Digging for Britain broadcaster Professor Alice Roberts chats to Peter Anderson ahead of her speaking tour this month

Q. What intrigued you about the human body and anatomy to prompt you to change tack? “I’ve always been fascinated by the structure of the human body – and by evolution as well. I read books by Richard Dawkins and Steven Jay Gould voraciously as a teenager, as well as watching David Attenborough of course – his series Life on Earth had a huge impact on me. I slipped from medicine into academia, teaching anatomy to medical students, and I did a PhD comparing the skeletons of humans and other apes. I just found anatomy endlessly fascinating; I still do!”

Q. You come into the tour off the back of doing the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture. Do you hope to inspire teenagers to follow your career path? “Not particularly! I hope to inspire teenagers about the world around them, about the wonders of science and archaeology, about evolution and history. But I think, in terms of choosing what to study and then what to do as a career, children should be nurtured and offered unfettered opportunities, rather than being encouraged into one area or another. I’m uncomfortable with the real focus on pushing science-related subjects at school, for instance – I can’t help feeling that’s sometimes at the expense of other subjects which are just as valid, fascinating and important. I’m particularly worried by the marginalisation of art, music and drama in schools.”

Q. Who are your biggest inspirations? “The scientists and writers Richard Dawkins and Steven Jay Gould, and Attenborough of course. But it was probably my teachers at school who had the most impact on me: Mrs Wood, who taught Ancient Greek, which I took at GCSE, was a real polymath and a huge influence on me – and she introduced me to the writings of Gould. My physics teachers, Mrs Ross and Miss Jones, were very different characters, but both inspirational, too. They tapped into the enthusiasms of our group at A level, and somehow we managed to cover all the exam material while still having plenty of time to follow our own passions. The lessons would just spark off in all kinds of directions – and we had the glorious feeling that learning could be something that we could lead. Heading off like this, following our own ideas and the passions of our teachers, made for some incredible, memorable lessons. That kind of creativity in the classroom is so precious.”

Q. We now have a female Doctor Who. If you were in charge of the Tardis, which period of history would you travel back to and why? “The Bronze Age. I’d love to see people living in a Bronze Age village, like the one at Must Farm – in roundhouses built on stilts over the each of a river, paddling log-canoes out on the water and driving their cattle down to the riverside to graze. I’d love to know how they wore the beads we find on our digs, and what they cooked for tea! I’d also love to know about their stories – and what they believed in – but I’d need a translator!”

Q. What’s the most memorable discovery you’ve either made or reported on? “A few stand out over the years – and we’ve covered some amazing discoveries on Digging for Britain, of course. In 2016, we reported on very early Neolithic crannogs or lake dwellings in the Hebrides; in 2017, we had two extraordinary Neolithic mounds which had been presumed to be focused on burials, but were found to contain the remains of huge timber buildings. This year, we devoted an entire programme to the incredible Iron Age chariot burial at Pocklington in Yorkshire – that just blew me away. The deceased man had been placed in his chariot, in the grave, and there was a pair of ponies standing up – reduced to skeletons of course – just extraordinary. I love the way that archaeology gives us these wonderful glimpses of our ancestors’ cultures.”

Q. What can people look forward to in Digging for Britain’s Past? “I’m going to be talking about archaeological sites that I’ve dug at and filmed over the years – from my very first Time Team shoot back in 2001, when we were excavating an Anglo Saxon cemetery with a lot of buckets buried in the dead – all the way through to the latest from Digging for Britain – including that amazing chariot burial. There will also be clips from my Channel 4 series, Britain’s Most Historic Towns – and plenty of behind-the-scenes stories, and time for Q&A with the audience, and I’ll be book-signing after each show.”

Q. How do you relax away from work? “I draw, paint, go for long walks and I absolutely love kayaking, on rivers and the sea, whenever I get the chance. I love watching with films with my kids, and reading to them. Visiting friends is important too – I have a lot of friends who are also busy, working mums and dads – and it’s so important to make time for a good cup of tea and a chat.

Q. If you were stranded on a desert island, but could have two or three companions living, historic or fictional who would you pick? “I assume I’m not allowed my family? If not, I’d have to have Bear Grylls, of course, to make sure everyone was comfortable and well fed on the island. And I think Dave Grohl would be a very entertaining companion, and could play us all the Foo Fighters back catalogue as well, of course (I’m assuming he’d bring a guitar). And I would have loved to met Mary Anning, the famous palaeontologist _ so let’s have her along, too.”

  • Catch Dr Alice Roberts on tour from this month, including Richmond, Oxford and Guildford. For more details please visit www.alice-roberts.co.uk

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Mr Tumble talks to us

Round & About

Interview

Peter Anderson chats to children’s TV star Justin Fletcher MBE, 48, ahead of another star turn delighting families as we hit pantomime season.

Q. What inspired you to go into acting? “I have always been interested in acting and drama, including making my own animated short films when I was younger with my dad’s Super 8 camera. I was born in – and have always lived in – the Reading area and went to drama school in Guildford. A chance meeting with Philip Scofield led me to asking him how I might get into BBC children’s television. He said ‘make a showreel’, and so I did! Having experience with the Super 8 was a great help. Now I have my own production company and am still loving my children’s television work.”

Q. Who were your inspirations? “One of the people I always wanted to appear with was David Suchet, whose career was also launched in Berkshire [at The Watermill in Newbury]. But one of my real loves – and obviously great for pantomime – is slapstick. I adore watching Laurel & Hardy and their looks directly to camera. I was blessed to have been taught slapstick by Jack Tripp, who is sadly no longer with us. He was considered one of, if not the best pantomime dame in this country.”

Q. How do you think children see your character within this year’s pantomime, at Reading’s Hexagon? “Although I am known and billed as ‘CBBC’s Mr Tumble’, I probably take on more than 20 roles across the programmes I make. But it is very important for the children to understand within the pantomime [Aladdin] who my character is. So, every performance we always have fun with the children about who I am as a character in the pantomime, and get them on-side to help me through the rest of the show.”

Q. Do you enjoy doing panto? “I always enjoy doing pantomimes, in the same way I enjoyed going to the Hexagon as a child in the 1980s to watch them. Aside from, as I said, slapstick being one of my favourite kinds of theatre, it is a marvellous way to get people – especially families – to go to the theatre. Pantomime is one of those things that can be enjoyed by the whole family, parents and children. Then if we can get them coming to pantomimes as they grow older they may wish to try other types of show.”

l Justin is patron of local charity Make A Wish foundation: www.make-a-wish.org.uk

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