AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JULIA DONALDSON
I grew up in a tall Victorian London house with my parents, grandmother, aunt, uncle, younger sister Mary and cat Geoffrey (who was really a prince in disguise. Mary and I would argue about which of us would marry him). Mary and I were always creating imaginary characters and mimicking real ones, and I used to write shows and choreograph ballets for us. I studied French at Bristol University, where I met Macolm, a guitar-playing medic to whom I’m now married.
Before Malcolm and I had our family, we used to go busking together and I would write special songs for each country; the best one was in Italian about pasta. The busking led to a career in singing and song-writing, mainly for children’s television. I became an expert at writing to order on such subject as guinea pigs, window-cleaning and horrible smells. One of my television songs, A SQUASH AND A SQUEEZE, was made into a book in 1993, with illustrations by the wonderful Axel Scheffler.
My real breakthrough was THE GRUFFALO, again illustrated by Axel. We work separately – he’s in London and I’m in Glasgow – but he sends me letters with lovely funny pictures on the envelopes.
THE GIANTS AND THE JONESES is a novel for 7 – 11 year olds, and I have written three books of stories about the anarchic PRINCESS MIRROR-BELLE who appears from the mirror and disrupts the life of an otherwise ordinary eight-year old. For teenager there is a novel called RUNNING ON THE CRACKS.
When I’m not writing I am often performing, at book festivals and in theatres. I really enjoy getting the children in the audience to help me act out the stories and sing the songs. When Malcolm can take time off from the hospital he and his guitar come too. It feels as if we’ve come full circle – back to busking.
SOME OF THE BOOKS WRITTEN BY JULIA DONALDSON
Julie Donaldson has written over 200 books. This includes over 100 titles in reading schemes for schools such as the Songbirds phonic reading scheme which we use in school.
Use the link to find out more about Julie Donaldson and her amazing books.
ASK THE AUTHOR
Q When did you decide to be a writer?
A For my fifth birthday, my father gave me a very fat book called “The Book of a Thousand Poems”. I loved it. I read the poems, recited them, learnt them, and then started making up some of my own. Although I wanted to be a poet all those years ago, I later decided I would rather go on the stage. That didn’t quite work out, so I did other jobs – teaching and publishing. But somehow I’ve ended up doing what I wanted to do when I was five years old. I have a theory that this happens to quite a lot of people
Q When did you start to write books?
A In 1993, when one of my songs, “A Squash and a Squeeze” was made into a book. Before that I just wrote songs for children’s television.
Q Where do you get your ideas?
A Anywhere and everywhere: things that happen to my children; memories of my own childhood; things people say; places I go to; old folk tales and fairy stories. The hard part for me is not getting the idea, it is turning it into a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Q How long does it take to write a book?
A It can take months or years for the idea to grow in my head and for me to plan the book. This is a very important part. Then, when I am ready it could take anything between a week (for a picture book) and six months (for a chapter book) to write it. For THE GRUFFALO the ideas and planning stage lasted a year (obviously I was doing other things too!) and the actual writing took about two weeks.
Q Do you write with a pencil?
A When I’m writing a rhyming book I start off with a pencil or pen, writing in a big exercise book and doing lots of doodles along the way. If the book isn’t going to rhyme I often write it on the computer
Q Where do you write?
A In my head when I’m in the bath or out for a walk. (I do have my own study, too, and sometimes I write on trains or in the library.
Q How do you find an illustrator?
A The publisher knows lots of illustrators and they choose the one which they think would suit my words best. (They usually ask me first if I like the illustrator’s work.)
Q Where did the inspiration for the Gruffalo come from?
A The book was going to be about a tiger but I couldn’t get anything to rhyme with “tiger”. Then I thought up the lines: “Silly old Fox, doesn’t he know/There’s no such thing as a _________________ ” and somehow the word “gruffalo” came to mind to fill the gap. The gruffalo looks the way he does because various things that just happened to rhyme (like toes and nose, and black and back)
Q Do you and Axel Scheffler work closely together on your picture books?
A No. I don’t breathe down his neck and he doesn’t breathe down mine! I write a story and send it to the publisher. Then the publisher sends it to Axel to illustrate. I do get to make comments on his rough sketches but try not to interfere too much – and anyway, I wouldn’t want to as they’re always so funny and brilliant.
Q Do you like being an author?
A I find the actual writing quite hard work. I often get stuck, or feel that I’m plodding along in an uninspired way. But when I realise that a story is working after all it’s a very exciting feeling – and I love doing all the polishing touches at the end (or “tweaking” as publishers call it). It’s lovely when the first rough illustrations arrive and I see how my characters are going to look.
Q How many books have you written?
A I have written 204 books. (83 of them can be bought in shops, and the other 121 are for schools.)
Q Which one of your books is your favourite?
A It keeps changing. At the moment I have two: “The Highway Rat” for younger children and “The Giants and the Joneses” for older ones.
Q What is your favourite book (not by you)?
A One of my favourites is “Watership Down” by Richard Adams, an exciting story about rabbits.
Q What are your hobbies?
A Walking, cycling, playing the piano, singing. I’m also interested in wild flowers and fungi.
Q Do you have any pets?
Sadly my black cat Goblin died recently (he was very old). I do have a huge fish called Swimmy and quite a lot of other fish (I can’t count them because they won’t keep still) in a pond in my garden.
FACTS ABOUT JULIA DONALDSON