As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Shirley Temple. I didn’t think about growing up, I just wanted to be whisked to Hollywood and transformed into a ringlet-haired tap dancer with a cute voice and a simper. Later I still wanted to be an actress, and a dress designer, and a writer; only the last of these did I have enough talent and persistence to be.
What other jobs have you had? Reporter, receptionist. costume designer, teacher, mother. One summer I addressed envelopes for the Arizona Revenue Service. Hats off to anyone who can do that for a lifetime!
What was the hardest part of writing ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’? Finding the right rhymes. It’s always a struggle when writing in rhyme to find the pair (or more) of sounds that match the meaning of the moment. You have to discard so many! And so many of those are tempting! But the moment must be served.
What was the best part of writing ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’? John Lord’s luminous, intricate illustrations – because they are so detailed and can be pondered for a long time, and yet they pop off the page at you: pop! pop! pop!
What was the most interesting thing you discovered when writing this book? That you really can catch wasps with jam. Put some water in a jar, float some jam on top, cover with aluminium foil and poke a few holes in it with a sharp pencil. If you have wasps in the area, they will find the jam and crawl in.
What was one of the best things that happened because of this book? The best is that children loved it. People in twenty languages found it worth their while to translate it. The first toddlers who had it read to them now write and say they are reading it to their grandkids. The same is true of ‘The Truck on the Track’, which John and I also did together. That feels wonderful.
What do you think made ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’ so successful? John’s illustrations, and that the story lies close to home. Lots of children have been annoyed-frightened by bees, hornets, or wasps; the giant jam sandwich gives us power over them.
What is the most creative interpretation based on ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’ you have seen or heard of? Philip Wharton has written a symphony for string orchestra for ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’. It’s wonderful. Most years, he and Carey Bostian at the Iowa City String Orchestra perform it with projected details of the pictures for audiences of children at the Englert Theatre. It has also had other productions throughout the Midwest. You should hear those wasps buzz!
Do you collect anything? I love china and glassware. It’s a pointless obsession, but there they sit: amethyst crystal, Royal Doulton China Tree pattern, Noritake, B & G Copenhagen, cranberry, etched and carved glass. My grandmother, stepmother and aunt started me on some of these hunts by leaving me starter sets, but I think none of my 3 granddaughters are likely to want them – or the elegant kind of life they imply, which I don’t live either!
What are you working on next? I’m three drafts into my first musical, an adaptation of Barry Unsworth’s delightful novel ‘Morality Play’. Here’s where the rhymes come in again. I love writing lyrics. It feels as if it’s what I was meant to do.
Read my review of ‘The Giant Jam Sandwich’ here.