Interview with Lauren Child and Judy Golding

Originally in: Wiltshire Magazine

The second Marlborough Literature Festival will feature two Wiltshire-born writers, Lauren Child and Judy Golding. Tom Mellors spoke to them about their recent work.

Of all of Wiltshire’s sons and daughters, few have had the kind of literary success that William Golding and Lauren Child have enjoyed. Anyone who has studied literature in school since the 1960s will almost certainly be familiar with Golding – the author of Lord of the Flies and Nobel laureate – while every parent in the country will know Lauren Child – creator of the astronomically successful Charlie and Lola series, the Clarice Bean series, and The Princess and The Pea.

This year’s Marlborough Literature Festival will feature, among other notable writers, Lauren Child and William Golding’s daughter Judy Golding – who published an intimate memoir of her father earlier this year. Wiltshire Magazine caught up with both writers to ask about their work…

Lauren Child is well known for her depiction of eccentric, intelligent and entertaining children. In the Charlie and Lola series, Charlie is the patient older brother to the lively and imaginative Lola. In the Clarice Bean series, the title character struggles to find peace and quiet amidst a big and crazy family, while at the same time encountering the dilemmas that mark her growing awareness of the complexities of the adult world.

It is no surprise then that Lauren was just as creative as her fictional characters. “I was one of those children that was always exploring and making things, so I always thought I would do something that involved art in some way or another.”

Lauren grew up in Marlborough where her father was Head of Art at Marlborough College. Although her family wasn’t as crazy as Clarice Bean’s, she remembers it being busy. “One thing I do remember about my parents is that they were very sociable, so we were always having people around to the house.”

Lauren now lives in London with her partner… and yet she often returns to Wiltshire to visit her good friend Pat Cutforth. “I see her regularly and I go down and write at her farmhouse… I try to do most of my writing down there because it’s a very nice place to be and it gets me away from the phone and interruptions.”

Lauren first met Pat Cutforth when she was seven years old. Pat was the mother of a school friend and she often went to house to learn how to make miniature furniture for dollhouses. This childhood experience started a lifelong interest in miniature models and dollhouses. For two years Pat Cutforth helped Lauren with what has arguably been her most original work to date, a photobook of the great fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea. Lauren’s version of the fairy tale is told through a kind of diorama, where tiny paper characters are photographed within delicately crafted sets.

“She helped me a lot with The Princess and the Pea set because here were things that I didn’t know how to do, so she would explain how to do them and she is a great problem solver. So I did quite a lot of her [dollhouse making] courses.”

The Princess and the Pea also saw Lauren collaborate with the well-known Australian photographer Polly Borland. “She wanted to do a children’s book and we had to think of something that would work as a children’s book and, I don’t know, be very appealing to children and yet be photographic. So we thought for a long time and we decided it would be really fun to do miniature sets.”

Lauren will be launching a new series of books this October based on Ruby Redfort – Clarice Bean’s favourite fictional detective. Giving Ruby Redfort her own series turned out to be more difficult than she anticipated however.

“It’s been very hard because Ruby Redfort obviously appears as a sort of device really in Clarice Bean, because I needed to have Clarice Bean passionate about a series of books so I invented this character… they are meant to be like pulp fiction in that they are trashy books.”

“And then when it came to writing them I realised it would be very, very boring to write pulp fiction books… so the idea for Ruby Redfort got more and more complex and ended up being twice the length I originally imagined it and for older readers.”

The first of the new series, Look Into My Eyes, will tell the story of how Ruby Redfort became an crime-fighting agent and how she solves her first mystery.

Ruby Redfort is looking to be as big as success as Lauren’s other literary ventures. It wasn’t an easy road to becoming a multi-million-copy bestseller though. Like many aspiring writers, Lauren struggled for years before finally getting a book deal with Clarice Bean, That’s Me.

“When you look from the outside, it looks like an overnight success… but it wasn’t and I kept another job for six years before I felt like I can really let go and do this utterly, utterly full time. So it does take a while but it’s very, very nice when you realise that you can make a living and that you’re doing what you love doing.”

In The Children of Lovers, Judy Golding recalls how her father also struggled to find success as a writer. William Golding sent the manuscript for Lord of the Flies (then titled Strangers from Within) to several publishers before it was finally picked off the slush pile at Faber & Faber by a young editor called Charles Monteith in 1953.

The novel quickly received critical acclaim and Judy remembers how things changed after this initial success.

“Well I think the most obvious thing is it suddenly meant we had a bit more money. We had been quite hard up until then. “ Sudden literary success had a more subtle effect on her father however: “I think to begin with it gave him more confidence and then curiously after a while it took that confidence away again.”

Despite this, William Golding considered his second novel The Inheritors – which follows the genocide of Neanderthal man by Homo sapiens in prehistoric times – to be his finest work. Judy Golding agrees: “It was his personal favourite and also I think a lot of people would say it was his best. I think it’s gigantic, as a novel.”

William Golding’s is often seen as a pessimist, as his novels tend to explore a darker side of human nature, one where the morality of society gives way to the brute force of power. Judy Golding strongly disagrees with this portrait of her father however, and is keen to show him how he really was.

“It’s very hard for people to realise [that] he was in fact incredibly funny… I wouldn’t say he was light hearted but he was very comic, and he hated the idea that he was a pessimist. He got quite stroppy about it in fact.”

“He said he was a universal pessimist but a cosmic optimist and I think he meant that very seriously, although it also sounds as if he was trying to confuse people a little bit.”

Judy’s beautifully written memoir of her father confronts her family’s past with courageous and stark honesty. She remembers and reveals aspects of family dynamics which most of us experience in our own families and yet we rarely speak about. Such an honest appraisal of her past was not easy to write though, and it took her 15 years in total. Asked why, she responded:

“Partly the sheer difficulty of coming to terms with the death of your parent, you know, it’s a huge shift of everything… And I wanted also to settle in my mind how truthful I was going to be, and that took a long time because I had a very idealised portrait of my father when he died and I had to realise that that wasn’t truthful.”

The title for Judy’s memoir comes from the proverb, “The children of lovers are orphans.” Throughout the memoir Judy remembers painful memories of the antagonistic relationship between her father and her brother David, of her own troubled relationship with her mother, and of the general feeling that her parents were interested more in themselves than their children.

At times her father is presented as being haunted by his past and in particular his childhood in Marlborough. William Golding resented the stark class divide that existed in the town and he both hated and envied the students of Marlborough College.

“He felt this very deeply,” said Judy, “that public schools are there for the benefit of the ruling classes. And who is to say he is wrong?”

William Golding was also terrified of the house he grew up in and had nightmares about the place until late in his life. Judy, who loved the house her grandparent’s lived in, is still confused about this. “I have some theories that aren’t quite at the point of being able to explain them. And it’s true he believed in the supernatural all his life, he never had any qualms about that.”

As tempting as it may be to dwell on the dark aspects of a person’s life, Judy’s memoir is also filled with fond memories of her childhood in Salisbury and her visits to see her grandparents. This fondness for Wiltshire and Marlborough in particular, continues to this day.

“I do adore Marlborough, I still do… My grandfather was the most … person I think in my entire life and I shall never forget him and the place where he lived.”

Lauren Child and Judy Golding will both be speaking the Marlborough Literature Festival in September.

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