Ahead of Awful Auntie heading to Sunderland Empire this summer, Diane Parkes chats to hit children’s author David Walliams
Q: What or who inspired Awful Auntie?
A: It may not be the answer you were expecting but I am obsessed with 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.
Q: I have to ask the question – did/do you have any awful aunties and are they recreated in any way in the book?
A: 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.
Q: Any lovely aunties and did they give you any inspiration?
A: My real-life granny inspired Gangsta Granny, but my aunties have yet to inspire me to write anything about them.
Q: This is the second time you’ve worked with Birmingham Stage Company (BSC). Why do you think the collaboration has been so successful?
A: 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 is really successful, and have been making magnificent family shows for years, so I completely trust them.
Q: How did you feel watching Gangsta Granny and seeing audience reactions?
A: 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.
Q: What did you like best about the show?
A: 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.
Q: Eighteen months on, are you surprised at how successful Gangsta Granny has proved to be?
A: 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 the stage.
Q: 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?
A: 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.
Q: How do you anticipate whether children will react differently to the stage show than reading the book?
A: 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.
Q: What do you hope children will take away from seeing the production?
A: 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.
Q: And what message is there for adults?
A: 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.
Q: 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?
A: I think books are so immersive that children like being alone with them. I think we have JK Rowling to thank for turning children onto books in their millions. A good children’s books should be funny and exciting, and a message that makes you think long after you have finished.
• Awful Auntie is at Sunderland Empire from June 28 – July 1. Tickets from 0844 871 3022.
We’ve teamed up with Sunderland Empire to give away a family ticket to Awful Auntie on June 28 at 7pm.
Great news in store for Harry Potter fans as Georgina Leonidas, who played Katie Bell in three of the Harry Potter films will play Stella Saxby alongside Timothy Speyer (The Witches, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr Fox and The BFG) as Aunt Alberta, Stella’s awful auntie.
Awful Auntie tells the story of Stella, who when she sets off to visit London with her parents has no idea her life is in danger.
Waking up from a coma three months later, only her Aunt Alberta can tell Stella what has actually happened.
But not everything Aunt Alberta tells her turns out to be true.
To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: Who wrote the book upon which Awful Auntie is based?
Send your answer and your contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk by March 22.