As well as being a TV star DAVID WALLIAMS has become one of today’s most influential writers. Since the publication of his first novel, The Boy in the Dress (2008), illustrated by the iconic Sir Quentin Blake, David Walliams has celebrated more than ten years of writing success with global sales exceeding 40 million copies, and his books have been translated into fifty-three languages. David’s titles have spent 190 weeks (non-consecutive) at the top of the children’s charts – more than any other children’s author ever.
In addition to his fiction, David has worked with Tony Ross on five bestselling short-story collections, The World’s Worst Series as well as seven picture books. In 2020, David formed a new partnership with award-winning illustrator Adam Stower for his eighth picture book, Little Monsters. BIRMINGHAM STAGE COMPANY since its foundation in 1992 has become one of the world’s leading producers of theatre for children and their families, including Horrible Histories Live on Stage for sixteen years in the UK, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. They have originated three productions by David Walliams – Billionaire Boy, Awful Auntie and Gangsta Granny. The company are behind Car Park Party, which launched last summer, staging Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain and Horrible Christmas, playing to over 40,000 people. They have also launched a brand new boat tour of Horrible Histories – Terrible Thames
Q What inspired Gangsta Granny?
A When I was a child I would spend lots of time with my grandmas. Sometimes I would selfishly think spending time with them could be boring but when I got them on a subject like living in London during World War II when bombs were raining down, they would become very animated and I would be enthralled. I realised everyone has a story to tell.
Q What were your grannies like and are there any elements of their characters in Gangsta Granny?
A There was definitely a smell of cabbages in one of my grandmas’ houses. The other did break wind like a duck quacking when she walked across the room.
Q Many people would say there’s a special bond between children and their grandparents, why do you think that is?
A I think grandparents love being grandparents because they get to give the children back to the parents! Children love spending time with their grandparents because they love hearing their stories and being allowed to stay up past their bedtime.
Q When did you decide to write children’s fiction and what encouraged you?
A Ten years ago I had an idea for a story. What if a boy went to school dressed as a girl? I thought it would be a thought-provoking children’s book. That became The Boy in the Dress, the first of my children’s novels.
Q What are the delights of writing children’s fiction?
A The only limitation in a children’s book is your imagination. You can take children on magical journeys in books that many adults would be reluctant to go on.
Q And the challenges of writing for children?
A Children love to be scared but it can’t be too horrifying. Children love to laugh but it can’t be too rude. You always have to be the right side of the line.
Q You’ve often talked about Roald Dahl, what do you think makes him special?
A I think Dahl’s books always feel a little bit forbidden. He manages to balance the humour and scary elements in his stories perfectly.
Q Which Dahl books do you particularly like and why?
A The Twits is utterly hilarious and I love that it is a children’s book with no child characters.
Q Which other children’s writers did you enjoy as a child and why?
A I loved Dr Seuss books as a child, especially ‘Green Eggs and Ham’. His books are like nightmares come to life. They are rich and strange and utterly unlike anybody else’s work.
Q What do you think children enjoy in your books?
A I imagine they like the humour and that I don’t patronise them. I deal with quite big topics, crossdressing, homelessness, grief. I know children are a lot smarter than most grown-ups think.
Q What were your feelings on seeing Gangsta Granny adapted for the stage?
A It’s a huge thrill seeing Gangsta Granny have this whole new life on the stage. It has already been a TV film. People seem to really like the story. In fact, Gangsta Granny is my best-selling book by far and the stage production is brilliant.
Q Do you feel there are any particular challenges or difficulties with staging Gangsta Granny?
A There is lots of action in Gangsta Granny, especially when they try to steal the Crown Jewels – so it’s quite a challenge for the Birmingham Stage Company to bring those scenes to life, but they do it so wonderfully well.
Q Are there any scenes you particularly like seeing on stage?
A I like the characters of Ben’s mum and dad. Their obsession with ballroom dancing is very funny brought to life in the play.
Q Why were you keen to work with Birmingham Stage Company on the adaptation?
A I saw their Horrible Histories show which was superb. I loved the humour and the interaction with the audience, so I knew they were the right people to stage my book.
Q What do you hope children will take away from watching Gangsta Granny on stage?
A The moral of the story is ‘don’t assume old people are boring just because they are old’. In fact, they are likely to have had a much more interesting life than yours. Talk to old folk, listen to their stories. They are bound to be full of magic and wonder.
Q In what way do you think experiencing the stage show will differ from their experiences when reading the book?
A The great thing about seeing Gangsta Granny on stage is you will get to share it with an audience. So hopefully you will laugh and cry along with everyone else. That’s what makes theatre so special.
Q What do you think are the elements that make up a good theatrical production for children?
A Those for children need to be fun and fast-paced which Gangsta Granny certainly is.
Q Strictly Come Dancing raises its head in Gangsta Granny – would you like to be in the show and, if so, how do you rate your hopes of holding the glitter ball?
A I can’t dance at all (as you might have seen in the TV adaptation of Gangsta Granny when I tried to dance with Miranda Hart). So I would say my chances are less than zero