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.