This second Saturday Stories at Bristol Old Vic features Charlie and Lola creator, Lauren Child. The first was with former Children’s Laureate, Michael Morpugo. Nothing shabby about the Old Vic is there?
Event number two and the main theatre is about three-quarters full with families. At just £4 a ticket, I reckon, it should be at least that!
Two chairs and a small table are placed at the front of the stage, a large screen with a pair of eyes and the name “Ruby Redfort” behind them. The interviewer, James Peries, enters and tells us the format of the show – for 45 minutes he will ask Lauren Child questions and then he’ll hand over to the audience for about the same amount of time. After minimal fuss, James welcomes the successful author and immediately begins to ask about her work.
My seven-year old daughter doesn’t seem too bothered by the applause that bursts from the auditorium; she’s busy drawing in her notebook. We home-educate and I’ve learnt by now that drawing whilst listening is one of the ways she absorbs. At least I think it is.
Ruby Redfort is a series of books for older children. Ruby herself is 13 and, very cleverly, has been developed from a marginal character in Child’s Clarice Bean, whose audience will one day outgrow Clarice and require something more substantial to suit their age group. The privileged audience here discovers that Ruby and her family were borne of the author’s own childhood fixation with Hollywood glamour and we get a glimpse of how her house may look. But really it’s up to us, the readers, to decide those finer points, she points out.
We learn a lot about Lauren’s fictional characters. Lola, for example came about as the result of a train ride in Denmark – a real little girl with captivatingly pointy eyes, very blond hair and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Her brother, Charlie, is based on a friend of his creator, while Lola’s invisible friend, Soren Lorensen, is also real (in an imaginary way).
Lauren Child is friendly and interesting and she must be inspiring so many of the kids here, listening to her talk. And so many of the adults. Questions are answered fully, wittily, sometimes going off on relevant tangents. She tells us about her earlier-life “Chandeliers for Poor People,” a venture with her friend Andrew that, though it collapsed as an enterprise, left her with all this material, some of which became the backdrop to the Charlie and Lola series. We hear how she wasn’t an overnight success as a writer (“not many people are”) and she tells us about those painful rejections from publishing houses. She explains the “low-tech, high-tech” quality of her work and we get to see some of her early illustrations. Throughout the talk, we are able to look at hand-picked images, projected on that screen behind.
There are more Q & As from the audience than Lauren has time to answer but, Boy, she gives it a good go. We hear about the importance of gerbils in her younger life and how they came to appear in so much of her work, about her grandmother’s lumpy mash and eyelash gravy and that she loves to write sitting up in bed. We are given an insight into this writer’s life and work. It is a truly lovely way to spend a Saturday morning.
And, after all, did my daughter get anything out of it?
After the interview, over cake in the Arnolfini café, she draws a picture of her own imaginary friend, Hillary, and challenges me to ask questions about him. Hillary has been around for five years but this is the first time that I’ve ever seen a representation of him or even been allowed to find out more about his life. We spend the rest of the day in Bristol and when we get home some hours later, she rushes to the ipad, heading straight for Netflix to watch Charlie and Lola, a show I thought she’d recently grown out of. She must have been thinking about it all day. I’m in the kitchen, “Mum! Come here!!” She’s paused the screen to show me – “Look! Lauren Child. It says Lauren Child! We met her today!” So excited. She watches pretty much until bedtime.
I have no idea whether Bristol Old Vic will continue the Saturday Stories series, as none are currently being advertised. I can only hope that more quality interviews, like this one with Lauren Child, are brought to the people of Bristol and its satellites.
– Review by Becky Condron