A photo of Lauren Child. And my right hip
When I was commissioned by The Sapling to interview Lauren Child, the creator of Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort and now UK Children’s Laureate, I asked an expert for advice. My publisher, man-of-words, Steve Braunias said: prepare 20 brief, specific, genuine- things-you-want-to-know questions. I did. But the more I researched, the more I felt challenged to ask things we didn’t already know about Lauren Child. But what?
Aside from the important question, ‘Do you have a preferred purveyor of sunglasses?’ I really wanted to know about Lauren’s adopted daughter’s name. Lauren adopted her daughter from Mongolia. She began this process in her mid-forties after she’d been a UNESCO Artist for Peace in Ulan Bator. As a single woman, she could not adopt in the UK. Lauren’s daughter is named Tuesday. Tuesday’s child is full of grace, did not seem at all Mongolian. But Tuesday Child is such a perfect name. And Lauren is a stickler for names. They must fit snugly. She changed her name on a trip to Australia in her twenties.
However, being an absolute interviewing novice, I was flummoxed as to how to approach personal questions. Fortuitously, a hilarious character I-fell-in-laugh-with in the 5th book in Ruby Redford series Pick Your Poison was my in. Femme fatale Amarjargel Oidov, the prize-winning Mongolian conservationist and ophiologist!
I rose early on a misty morning during Auckland Writer’s Week. Showered. Packed my handbag with: SONY tape recorder as recommended by Bec Eleven, spare AAA batteries, breath mints, 20 questions/typed, my camera. Fully charged. And some other shizz I thought I’d haul out if, you know, like, if we hit it off.
After brushing on, with a dizzying assortment of brushes, layer upon layer of illuminating poudres, concealers and highlighters, I dressed. In my brand spankers flowery pink ruffly dress. I dried my freshly washed hair. Zipped up my winter-treat-boots from Theodore & Scalan. Then I copped a load of my dim reflection in the hotel’s full-length mirror. And gagged. The Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies looked back at me. I tried hair down. With my freshly shellacked green fingernails, I was now The Old Princess and the Ten Peas. I changed. And thank god I took a cab from my hotel to hers. Because in my straight skirt and heels, walking up Hobson Street was out of the question. Let’s just say - geisha-gait.
I was 15 minutes early. By 9.10am I wondered if I really had imagined the whole thing. Then I was rung. Lauren was at TVNZ and wouldn’t be long. Breakfast to Bloomfield. Blimey.
Lauren strode in. She’s prettier IRL and looks a LOT younger than her Wiki birthdate of 52. If you’ve seen her on stage, she’s long of limb, almost awkward newborn filly. Coquettish. She was impeccably made up. Rectangular (reading) glasses. Zipped up grey/brown anorak. Black suit. Killer boots. She clutched a takeaway coffee cup without a smidge of lipstick.
Her friend Lucy, she later called Lozzle, eyed me up and down and said, “Oooh I’ve got dress envy.” I loved Lucy.
And so we began chatting, Lauren and I, under the vaulted ceiling of the Sky City Grand’s faux marble foyer café, with constant foot traffic so insanely noisy I feared my puny recorder would not work. Lauren was thoughtful in her responses and sometimes posed questions to me.
I don’t know why, but each time I repeat, In Pick Your Poison if you’re bitten by the extremely rare, fluoro yellow snakes in Amarjargel’s care, all the moisture from your body evaporates, you get really bad breath, and soon all that remains of you is a crumpled sack of skin! I find myself laughing so much I can barely get my words out.
On 19th May, sat in front of Lauren Child, tears formed in my giggling eyes. As did Lauren’s.
Once I recovered I asked is: how do you pronounce her name?
Do you speak Mongolian?
No! I don’t it’s a really hard language.
While you were writing the Ruby Redfort series you were in the process of adopting your daughter, Tuesday (now seven years old) from Mongolia. Is there, in fact, a yellow snake in Mongolia?
No! My Mongolian friends just got so excited that I might use Mongolia somehow in the book. Charlie and Lola is on TV there. I’ve got lots of Mongolian friends now so I thought it would be really nice to bring that in.
When I first read your daughter is named Tuesday, I thought of “Tuesday’s Child is full of grace”. You adopted her aged two and a half. Was that her given name? At this point, Lauren becomes thoughtful and takes her first pause and I wondered if I’d made a blunder.
No, she has a Mongolian name. But I felt really strongly that every mother names her child. I felt that was really important. She still has her Mongolian name. It’s her first name. But we* call her Tuesday and it’s because I always really wanted to call my daughter Tuesday. Tuesday’s Child it just seemed really sweet. But as fortune would have it, Tuesday in Mongolia is a very lucky name. They were very pleased about that.
*Tuesday adoptive father is Lauren’s partner criminal barrister, Adrian Darbishire.
Tuesday is illustrating already, and helped you with your latest Charlie &Lola picture book “A Dog With Nice Ears”?
Yes! She’s a really really good drawer! It’s the most extraordinary thing. You know obviously, I didn’t get to choose my child. She was given to me and yes I just feel like they couldn’t have made a better match.
We’ve all wanted to change our first name at one point. But you actually did! From Helen to Lauren. Was that huge for you?
The funny thing was I was travelling in Australia and I’d just left college and my sister and I were talking about it how I never really liked my name. I never felt it went. It’s that thing I can hear it on somebody else and think it sounds really pretty. I hear it and it suits them. But I just felt it doesn’t suit me.
It’s a hard name to say funnily enough. The ‘L’ thing in the middle of it. If you’ve got Hell-en-arh its got a much softer thing but Hell-en is really hard so I just thought ... why have that? I remember by sister saying, oh the best place to change your name is when you’re in a foreign country and meeting new people. Because she’d had a friend who’d done exactly the same when she’d gone to Australia – changed her name. It was like she became a new person as she became to embody the new name. So I changed mine. It was pretty hard for my parents, they still haven’t come to terms with it but everybody else has.
I imagine you missed illustrating during the seven years writing the 500 page a piece, six book Ruby Redfort series. Did you pursue any of your other creative passions – decorating doll’s houses, making miniatures, fabric design?
I did do lots of bits of pieces of things. Early on, for a time, I really really wanted to do fabric design as a career. But it’s so very particular. I have been able to do some work with Liberty’s London.
I saw your Clarice Bean Tana Lawns on the Liberty’s website. They’re lovely. They would make really pretty girls dresses. Are you a sewer?
Yes I am. But I’m not a great sewer. I do a very little bit of sewing. I’m not very patient.
Did you make the 12 fabric mattresses in The Princess and The Pea?
Yes. They’re terribly easy to do. It’s that funny thing that sometimes the things that are most effective are so simple. Whereas there were other things in that book that were really really hard but you don’t realise how hard they are. Every page was set up and photographed in that book by Australian, Polly Borland. It took a year to do.
You have an amazing memory of your childhood and all those early emotions come through in your young characters. Can you remember your first, or your happiest childhood memory?
One of my first childhood memories is - we lived in a cottage and I remember very very early one summer’s morning, my parents were still asleep, and me and my two sisters climbed out of our bedroom window into the garden. It was that thing of growing up in the countryside and the smells and the feel of a fresh new day. I think that’s really stayed with me. My love of the countryside. It’s funny, I’ve lived in the city for years and years but I think of the country a lot of the time.
I think the city is more invigorating for writing. I live in the countryside and it doesn’t full me up creatively.
You live in Queenstown?
Yes. (I was actually introduced to Lauren the day before, in the Remarkables Primary hall where she was giving her Charlie and Lola speech. We'd both been part of their book week.)
Ann-Janine my publisher and I - we didn’t want to leave Queenstown yesterday. It’s so beautiful. But there is something about the rub of a city that when you have a bad day you can go out and do something completely different. See something completely different. And the knowledge of that helps me somehow. But I do miss the countryside. I grew up in it and I know the strengths of it as well. You have to get on with what’s there.
We were talking about your hair yesterday!
You were? That’s so embarrassing. I stopped colouring it. I’m so white. (I lean in and show her my whitest bit!!!! OMG I did that!!!) I kept ringing up salons to try and make an appointment. I kept thinking, I can’t meet Lauren Child while I’m growing out my hair.
No, it’s lovely. It’s all the rage in the UK right now. To grow it out. It’s great.
You’ve got a bit of pink in your hair.
You said in your bio in Clarice Bean Utterly Me your ambition when you were younger was to wear Sunglasses on top of your head, which you’d achieved. Do you have many pairs of sunglasses?
Ha! I don’t have loads of them. But it’s such a funny thing. When I was small it was really all I could think of was that when you’re a woman you get to wear sunglasses on the top of your head. I think I saw it first on Charlie’s Angels. Then my friend’ s mum, who did the Thursday school run, would always have her sunglasses on the top of her head. She was so glamorous! And sunglasses can … I noticed yours actually, those pink ones. You had them on yesterday. They’re really cool.
I must admit I’m a bit of sunglass nut. There’s this great brand called Le Specs. They do new ranges all the time. They’re only eighty dollars a pair.
Where are they? Are they in this town?!
Yes lots of places. You can buy them in chemists, Sunglass Hut. Online is probably easiest. Lur Specks. L e S p e c s …
Did you see Lola on a train once?
I was travelling in Denmark with my then boyfriend who was Danish, from Copenhagen to Jutland. And there was this little girl. She was just the most extraordinary child. I was completely mesmerised. A couple of years ago a Danish journalist wrote to me and said, I’d really like to find Lola do you think we could find her? I replied, there’s not a chance we could find her. It was before everyone had mobile phones. I’d have no photos of her. I don’t even know when it was.
You are the middle of three girls. Are you the brightest daughter in your family?
No! My older sister is. We’re all different. My father would always say about my sister, she’d be the most wonderful writer. She does write beautifully but she just doesn’t want to do it. But my father’s so funny. When I have a book published he says, I always thought your sister would be the writer. And I say, No Dad, I’m the writer!
Your use of poison in Ruby Redfort Pick Your Poison is fascinating. Very Agatha Christie. The methanol soaked evening dress, which ends up on the wrong victim, Ruby’s mum Sabina ... OMG she’s such a pisshead.
I know! I know!
There’s Sabina’s knocking back martinis and (unknowingly) counteracting the effects of the methanol and thus saving herself. I know your books are 10+. But I don’t know if you’d get away with that here!
I wasn’t sure I’d get away with it either. But I have a wonderful publisher, Ann-Janine Murtagh, and she loved all that. She loved the fact they’re always slugging Martinis.
I didn’t really get how ditsy Sabina and Brant (Ruby’s parents) are until the last book!
Their daughter is a busy 13-year-old spy! I had to get the parents out of the way. I removed their brains. They’re very very stupid.
Is there going to be a Ruby Redfort movie?
No, but it’s interesting because I get asked that question all the time. I think children are so used to that book-film thing. Also, I wrote them with a movie running in my head, because I see them as movies. That’s what they’re meant to be. I’d love it so long as it worked. I’d have to step back. I’d need the right director. Whether it was a movie or TV series. They’re making really good TV series nowadays. I get a bit nervous because I’ve had interest from British production companies but you can’t set it in England it’s too American. It just wouldn’t work.
Any development on Clarice Bean as a stage show, that was once a pipe dream?
There was quite a lot of interest at one point. I’d be fascinated to see it.
Will Clarice come back in a book?
Yes. I think she will. I’m dying to write another Clarice.
Lauren is currently working on a illustrated chapter book series for young readers, bringing alive one of her beloved characters again. I sat behind her on the flight from Queenstown to Auckland. Lauren had given two talks at two venues. I finished the last Ruby Redfort book: Blink and You Die (which has some nerve-wracking character-trait-twists) and stared out the window. Lauren worked on her laptop on her new series. I inadvertently spied the character’s name. But I would not tell. Standards.
Lucy reappeared. Lauren said, ‘We need ten more minutes.’
It turned into twenty.
I asked Lucy to take our photograph for The Sapling. We sat on a high-backed, padded, black banquet. The block of deep orange on the wall above us, somehow the correct aesthetic. Me rubbing shoulders with Lauren Child. Lauren was sucking a breath mint.
I stopped my recorder on 49 minutes. Although, we were still chatting. About the closest Karen Walker sunglass outlet. Britomart I advised. Lauren’s plan to take up boxing. Her and Tuesday’s desire to own a puppy. My new puppy, now with a name approved by Lauren. Treacle.
Then on to Ruby Redfort Survival Skills. What to do when you see a bear? Wish you hadn’t! Snake bite cures and other tips before their next Writer’s Festival in Sydney.
Like all artists, Lauren was keenly observant. She asked me about my jewellery. My jacket. Told Lucy she’s already shared their observations of my hair. Eek. But I was beyond embarrassment by then. We'd laughed so much. I offered Lauren my two Lily Max books for Tuesday. She graciously accepted. Asked after the illustrator. Said, 'they're really nice.'
I showed her, ‘This Clarice Bean book got caught up in my drawer. It’s my first passport.’ The photo - me aged seven. Long blond hair, long fringe hiding soft brows. A curious stare.
The bio photo of Lauren is uncannily similar.
Lauren, ‘Oohhh I love that. That is too weird. You look like the spit of me. It’s like we’ve timed travelled. Can I take a picture? That is so funny. That’s amazing. I saw this little girl the other day at this festival and she had the same big fringe. I asked her if I could take a photo of her and send her mine … I think we’re exactly the same age.'
I said, ‘I’m March 64.’
Lauren said, ‘We are.’
Lucy said, ‘Sisters from another mother! What happened there?’
Lauren hugged me goodbye. It’s 10.33am. It had stopped raining. I tottered along the alley past TEN workmen in orange safety vest leaning on bollards eating pies. My skirt as tight as Spanx. My smile ridiculous. On along Hobson Street, passed the lonely stone church on the corner.
I don’t suppose I’ll ever meet Lauren Child again. I wouldn’t expect to. I don’t know if she has the same effect on everyone she meets. She’s an amazingly kind, funny, generous and inspiring woman.
“The mind free floating is a wonderful thing…” Lauren Child
Off I floated.
Off I floated.