INTERVIEW: “I felt as if I was walking in to a page of the book!” Illustrator Lydia Monks on What the Ladybird Heard

After touring the world, the stage adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks’ best-selling, award-winning picturebook made its West End debut this summer. We talked to Lydia Monks about Ladybird Live and seeing her illustrations come to life…

Thank you so much for talking to Children’s Theatre Reviews. You are a best-selling illustrator and author of children’s books – can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career in children’s literature?

I’ve been writing and illustrating books for a long time now – over twenty years! I started writing books just so I’d have something to illustrate! The first book I illustrated was called Bad Bad Cats by Roger McGough.

Illustration Workshop. Lydia Monks. Credit - Adam Bennett.jpg

Photo: Adam Bennett

You often collaborate with Julia Donaldson to create picturebooks, including What The Ladybird Heard. How do you work together – do the story and illustration develop at the same time or separately? Do you need to be in the same room or can you work remotely?

Julia Donaldson and I don’t work in the same room! We both work separately. Occasionally, Julia has asked me if there is anything I’d like her to write a story about. I’ve suggested mermaids and unicorns in the past. Usually I don’t know what is coming next, which always turns out to be a lovely surprise!

What is it like seeing your illustrations come to life on stage?  

It was really exciting to see my illustrations for What the Ladybird Heard turn into a full size set for Ladybird Live. I felt as if I was walking in to a page of the book! To see and hear the characters come to life was brilliant. I particularly love Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len.

What the Ladybird Heard

Photo: Michael Jean-Marain

Were you involved in the creative process for the stage adapatation of What the Ladybird Heard?

I was very fortunate to be involved in the creative process for Ladybird Live. I was invited to sit in on lots of development meetings where the plot and the music were discussed. It was such a privilege to have a team of creative people working on our short story and turning it in to an hour long performance.

Do you have any advice for authors and illustrators wanting to create work for young people?

I’m often asked for advice about creating for children, and it’s a tricky one to answer as I still don’t know what the secret is! I think remembering to have fun is probably the main ingredient.

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Photo: Michael Jean-Marain

What was your experience of theatre growing up?

When I was little, we went to the pantomime every year, and my mum always took us to see the ballet whenever they were in town. Our local theatre was the Royal and Derngate in Northampton, which is presenting a new adaptation of one of our books, The Singing Mermaid, in December. I shall definitely have to go back home to visit!

What are you working on next?

At the moment I am working on one of my own books, the next in the series of Twit Twoo School, which is about a frog. Then, in the autumn I shall start work on the next Julia Donaldson story, which will be published next year.

What the Ladybird Heard is at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until 10th September. For further info & to book tickets: www.whattheladybirdheardlive.co.uk

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