‘My original Gruffalo was scarier, with bigger claws – and the mouse had a Bavarian hat and lederhosen’.
Interviews by Sarah Crown
Julia Donaldson, writer
I used to write short plays for schools. In 1994, I was asked by a publisher if I could come up with something based on a folk story. I unearthed this tale about a girl who goes for a walk in a forest and meets a tiger who threatens to eat her. Thinking quickly, she says: “I’m the queen of the forest: if you eat me, everyone else will take revenge on you.” It’s a lesson in how to harness a greater power than your own. I decided to turn the girl into a mouse and add some more predators – and at that point I thought: “This has the makings of a good picture book.”
I quickly realised that using a tiger would be a problem; I had to invent a predator who wouldn’t really have been in the wood. It was then that I came up with the “Silly old fox, doesn’t he know/ There’s no such thing as a …” couplet. “Gruffalo” just fitted the rhyme.
I submitted the story to the publisher, and they sat on it for a year. I started to think it would never see the light, but one day my husband said: “Look, it’s so good. Why don’t you just send it to Axel?” So I did, although I hardly knew him; he’d illustrated my first book, but I’d only met him once or twice. Within a week I got a letter from Alison Green, Macmillan’s picture book editor, saying he’d shown it to them and they were desperate to publish it.
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