Hello from me,
Where to start? The last year has been a long dream. For so many a nightmare. I thought right from the beginning that there was only one way to get though. I would have to set sadness aside, and just do what I do, tell my tales. Time passes more easily when your busy, I knew that. So be busy. Lose yourself in your Dreamtime. Read. Write.
I think I have written more, brought out more books, been involved in more theatre and film over this last year than ever before. And I’ve loved doing it. I’ve worked to a routine, with no interruptions, few excuses not to get on. Procrastination was always a weakness of mine. No more. I knew instinctively I think that I had to hide myself away deep down in my stories. So procrastination was banished. Needed a pandemic to do it!
I can’t remember the order in which all the stories and poems and projects tumbled out of me. It’s all been a bit of a tumble-jumble. Let’s unjumble.
Books first maybe.
In October there will be my very first book of poetry, Carnival of Animals, beautifully illustrated by my old friend Michael Foreman, to be published by Harper Collins. I wrote them for a new Decca CD of composer Saint-Saens’ famous musical piece, played by the brilliant Kanneh-Mason family. Their playing is glorious, and some of my animal poems are read by the Queen – sorry, I mean Olivia Coleman. And she makes them sound wonderful.
The Birthday Duck, published on 15 April by HarperCollins, illustrated by the amazing Sam Usher, is a story about a boy who comes from the city to spend a week on the farm we live on, Nethercott Farm – which is of course run by the charity, Farms for City Children – and he decides to rescue a duck from the market, hide her away in his bag, and take her home as a present for his Grandpa. But there are problems! I’ve written nine more stories about children coming down to the farm, which will all be published next year. All these ten books will help raise funds for Farms for City Children, which sadly has had to close down for a year and more. We hope, all being well, to welcome our first city children back to the three farms very soon.
A Song of Gladness. I wrote this about a year ago because I felt what we needed most in this pandemic was gladness, because gladness drives out sadness. It is a story-poem inspired by a blackbird I heard one morning singing his heart out in our vegetable garden. I remembered an email I had received just the day before from that hugely talented children’s author, Katherine Rundell, who had asked me, amongst many writers and illustrators too, to contribute to a wonderful idea of hers. She wanted to create a Book of Hopes, a book right for its time. Hope, gladness, I knew as she did, how badly we needed both. In A Song of Gladness, to be published very soon by Macmillan, there are the most extraordinary illustrations by Emily Gravett. So thank you my blackbird, thank you Katherine, thank you Emily, thank you Macmillan.
And in time for the summer Puffin Books are bringing out the paperback edition of The Puffin Keeper, set as so many of my stories have been on the Isles of Scilly, where I go every year on holiday, where I write and write. On Scilly stories are everywhere if you can find them, but you have to look and listen. They hide in amongst the rocks, in wrecks under the waves. Seals and whales sing them, the wind sings them. It’s where I dreamed up Why the Whales Came, The Wreck of the Zanzibar, Listen to the Moon, The Sleeping Sword and many others. Now The Puffin Keeper, brought to life by Benji Davies’ beautiful pictures. It’s the story of the life of Allen, a small boy saved with many others from a wreck by a mysterious and silent lighthouse keeper.
More books in autumn, but more of those another time.
As we all know theatres and cinemas and concert halls have been closed. Our wonderful film of Waiting for Anya, directed by Ben Cookson, came out a week before cinemas closed. But you can see it on DVD. Glorious photography and acting, an unforgettable film, a story seen through the eyes of a twelve year old boy, set in the French Pyrenees during the German Occupation of France in WW2.
Excitingly, there are two feature length animated films of my stories now in production, unaffected by the pandemic, because much of the animation can be done at home. Kensuke’s Kingdom is being made from the same studio in London as Raymond Briggs’ wonderful Snowman, and Michael Rosen’s much loved We’re all going on a Bear Hunt. And Toto – Toto’s take (and mine) of The Wizard of Oz, his side of the story – is being made by Warner Bros in the US.
Oh yes, And I’ve been busying away myself on a screenplay, but that’s still a secret. So I’ll say no more.
And now theatre. After all the recent trauma theatre has endured as much and as inventively as it can, and is finding ways to survive, mostly virtually for the moment. But the seeds of live theatre and live music are growing, plays and concerts being planned and some in rehearsals.
The Barn Theatre in Cirencester has been at the forefront of this revival. I have had five of my stories adapted or being adapted for their stage, one way or the other, Private Peaceful, The Butterfly Lion, Elephant in the Garden, and in preparation The Mozart Question and An Eagle in the Snow. Like so many theatres now, it’s alive and kicking, doors opening soon, lights going down, curtains going up.
And that great storyteller Danyah Miller is telling again in her own inimitable way her wonderfully inventive adaptation of my short story I Believe in Unicorns.
Maybe it won’t be long now before I can get out and we can all meet up, alive-alive-O!, at book shops and book festivals, in libraries or schools, in concert halls or tents – wherever- how great would that be!
Meanwhile we can zoom together, not the same but a whole lot better than nothing. I discovered after one zoom event recently, to which I had been expecting about 90 people, that more than 90,000 linked up and looked and listened in, from all over the world. I mean that’s more than Wembley Stadium, and I’m no rock star. And then there were 240,000 subscribers to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s website wanting to be there for the performance of retellings I had written of ten of Shakespeare’s plays. Virtual may not be the real thing, but my goodness it has more reach than I had ever imagined, and to such good purpose too, the spread and joy of stories we can all share. We are, countrywide, the world over, joined by our stories. And that’s good. That’s great.
On we go.