Acclaimed children’s author Julia Donaldson is excited about Horsham District Year of Culture 2019 and has generously agreed to be its patron.
As a resident of the district for five years, the former Children’s Laureate is the perfect example of the creativity within the area and the resulting astounding success.
Julia feels honoured and delighted to be patron and says the project is a great opportunity for celebration. She hopes it will bring everyone in the district closer together as a community.
“We encompass over 200 square miles,” said Julia. “There is Rusper in the north down to Bramber in the south, and I am looking forward to discovering more about other places within the wider area, just discovering more about my neighbours, and also for visitors to come in and find out about us.
“It is nice to get a feeling of identity and belonging to the district. People tend to know what is going on in their own little pocket of Sussex but they don’t always know what is going on further afield.
“I am quite inspired by all the things that are going on, such as the comedy competition and the film festival.”
The Gruffalo, the Witch and the Warthog
As well as being patron, Julia will actually be taking part in the events programme, with the staging of her show The Gruffalo, the Witch and the Warthog at The Capitol in November 2019.
Julia said: “The show, we call it GWAW, we did throughout August at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. There are five of us, my husband Malcolm, my sister and me, and two actors.
“We have a really lovely set, we have magic and there are things that pop up from the stage, so it is several notches up from what we do at the Steyning Festival, because we have a bigger budget.
“It starts with a song, The World Inside a Book, which links all the stories. When you open a book, you get taken into a different world. We act out six or seven stories, one after the other. We do each one differently.
“I am the witch in Room on the Broom and for The Ugly Five, we have African animals. For The Magic Paintbrush, a magician came and coached us.
“That is quite a dramatic one. We do a very funny new one, The Cook and the King, and we have the Superworm song where we have children on the stage dangling spiders and waving butterflies. And of course, we have The Gruffalo.
“It is a great show. It went down really, really well at Edinburgh. We will also be doing it in the spring in Basingstoke and Winchester.”
Julia has written dozens of books and plays, with a multitude of characters, but it is always The Gruffalo, her breakthrough book, that stands out.
The much-loved character will be a key part of the Year of Culture, thanks to the Global Gruffalo project, a worldwide phenomenon.
Julia explained: “The Gruffalos will go on their travels. I am quite pleased about that because there are a lot of Gruffalo and other trails based on my books, so the idea was to have a new trail, something more original.
“They are plushes and there are 20 of them, which will be sponsored. It is an extension of the idea of the class mascot, which goes homes with the children each weekend.”
Julia is particularly pleased Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice will be sponsoring one, as she is one of its birthday patrons for 2018.
The premise of Global Gruffalo is straightforward – receive the Gruffalo, take a photo of yourself and the toy and upload to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, saying where you are in the world, then pass him on to someone else to do the same.
They will set off on their journeys in January 2019, with the aim to get all of them home to Horsham for December 2019 to be part of an exhibition at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens during 2020.
Julia hopes to be able to personally attend events throughout the project but she knows she has a busy year ahead, having had several books published recently and more to follow.
Bombs and Blackberries, for example, is a reissue of a play she wrote a while ago but it means a lot to Julia.
She explained: “It was so fascinating writing it because it is about evacuees in the Second World War and I did a huge amount of research. I did a lot of research in Manchester, which was bombed on Christmas Day.
“They had this special song and they sang it when they got on the train. The song is in the book. It is so beautifully illustrated this time around, by Thomas Docherty.
“It is good for schools and there are enough parts for a class to act it out if they want to but I think it should be possible to just read it as a story.”
Animalphabet is something a bit different, an exquisite exploration of the animal world with peep-through pages and fold-out flaps.
Jula admitted: “Animalphabet I feel is a bit of a cheat. It is a very simple idea and it is not a rhyming one but it has got absolutely beautiful flaps and cut-outs.
“It is a gift book. It is also for children to learn their letters. My own children had a book where there was just a black letter with a picture and that was a very good way of learning the shape of the letter.
“It could have been done very simply but this is sturdy and it is absolutely beautiful. It is a book to share.”
The Girl, the Bear and the Magic Shoes has a colours theme and different shoes for when the girl is in different terrains.
Julia said; “They are looking for a bear and they are quite cheerful about it until they realise they are being chased by a bear.
“I don’t want to give too much away but there is a reason the bear is following them.”
Look out for Julia doing book signings at The Steyning Bookshop, as she has done in the past.
Julia said: “We are very lucky that we have such a wonderful bookshop in Steyning.”