David Walliams talks about Awful Aunty ahead of its @TRPlymouth show on 4 – 8th December
What or who inspired Awful Auntie?
It may not be the answer you were expecting but I am obsessed with the film ‘The Shining’. I wanted to create a horror story where a child was trapped in a house with a dangerous relative, cut off from the outside world. As for the character herself I had a lot of fun creating Aunt Alberta. Villains are always so much more fun than heroes. I wanted her to be funny as much as scary, which is something my literary hero Roald Dahl always did so brilliantly.
I have to ask the question – did/do you have any awful aunties and are they recreated in any way in the book?
I am lucky enough to have three nice aunties, so no Alberta is not based on them. So in writing the book I let my imagination run riot which is normally the best way to go.
Any lovely aunties and did they give you any inspiration?
My real-life granny inspired ‘Gangsta Granny’, but my aunties have yet to inspire me to write anything about them.
This is the second time you’ve worked with BSC. Why do you think the collaboration has been so successful?
I think I share a sense of humour with Neal Foster who runs BSC and has written both adaptations, so it has been very harmonious. Also the company are really successful, and have been making magnificent family shows for years, so I completely trust them.
How did you feel watching Gangsta Granny and seeing audience reactions?
You feel like a magician when as an author you see your book come to life. It’s a real thrill to hear audiences laughing, one that never leaves you even though I have been making comedy shows of my own for many years.
What did you like best about the show?
I think the heart of the story is intact, but there are lots of great new jokes too. The cast are fantastically talented and all work off each other brilliantly. I couldn’t be happier with it.
Eighteen months on, are you surprised at how successful Gangsta Granny has proved to be?
I feel it should now be on stage somewhere in the world until the end of time. Then I can retire! I am proud of the book, it seems to have really struck a chord with readers, so I am glad that more and more people can enjoy the story by seeing it on stage.
Bearing in mind the colourful array of characters in Awful Auntie, do you think there are any particular challenges in bringing it to the stage?
I think the world of ‘Awful Auntie’ is very heightened, for example Aunt Alberta has a henchman who is actually an owl. So I think capturing the tone of the book and still making it believable will be the biggest challenge. Also trying to balance the humour with the frightening moments is never easy, but I have every faith in the BSC.
How do you anticipate children will react differently to the stage show than reading the book?
When you read a book it’s normally on your own, whereas when you watch a stage show you share the experience with an audience. You are likely to laugh more in an audience, so hopefully the stage show will be a hoot.
What do you hope children will take away from seeing the production?
Stella is a pretty self-reliant heroine, and so I hope children will be inspired to find the strength within themselves to deal with bad situations. Also Stella is posh and even has the title ‘Lady’, but by the end of the story she realises none of that is important and that all people should be treated the same. I believe that too.
And what message is there for adults?
The message for adults is don’t lock your niece in a country house, or you may end up being killed by a giant snow-owl.
Tiddlywinks makes an appearance in Awful Auntie – what’s your secret for tiddlywinks success?
The great thing about Tiddlywinks is the name. It’s the best named game out there. I haven’t played it for years but I think speed is the key. Or feel free to cheat.
When there are so many technologies and activities vying for children’s attention, why do you think children will still pick up a good book?
I think books are so immersive that children do like being alone with them. I think we all have JK Rowling to thank for turning children onto books in their millions.
And what actually makes a ‘good’ book for a child?
I think a good children’s books should be funny and exciting, and a message that makes you think about it long after you have finished reading it
Which other modern children’s authors do you admire and why?
Dame Jacqueline Wilson is a genius. I read ‘Tracy Beaker’ and instantly thought I should give up it’s so brilliant. Michael Morpurgo is an astonishingly good writer who has found an exciting way to teach children about history. He is an absolute gentleman too. Andy Stanton’s books are very funny, as are Jeff Kinney’s. I love to read Julia Donaldson books with my son. Judith Kerr is a brilliant author and illustrator, and let’s not forget Michael Bond who created ‘Paddington’.
Do you have a favourite of your own novels and why?
‘Mr Stink’ is my favourite. I think it has a strong message about how we treat people less fortunate than ourselves, and Sir Quentin Blake’s illustrations are absolutely magical.
And what one thing would you still like to do but haven’t got round to yet?
I would like to meet and hopefully marry Rihanna.
Tuesday 4-Saturday 8 December , The Lyric