Born in 1948 and brought up in Hampstead, London.
The family occupied a Victorian three-storey house near Hampstead Heath. Her parents, sister Mary and their pet cat Geoffrey lived on the ground floor, an aunt and uncle on the first floor and her grandmother on the second floor.
“Mary and I were always creating imaginary characters and mimicking real ones, and I used to write shows and choreograph ballets for us. A wind-up gramophone wafted out Chopin waltzes.”
Julia Donaldson studied Drama and French at Bristol University, where she met Malcolm, a guitar-playing medic, whom she married.
She worked for a few years in publishing and as a teacher. Julia and Malcolm use to travel and busk, making up acts and songs for each country. Together they wrote and directed two musicals for children.
This creativity led to a career in singing and song writing, mainly for children’s television.
“I became an expert at writing to order on such subjects as guinea pigs, window-cleaning and horrible smells.”
In 1983 they moved with their three boys to Bristol where Malcolm Donaldson was appointed as Senior Registrar in Paediatrics to United Bristol Hospitals.
In 1993, one of her songs was made into a book, A Squash and a Squeeze.
It made her realise that her song-writing talent could be applied to story-writing, and gave her the confidence to open her drawer of simple plays for schoolchildren and to send some samples to an educational publisher.
In 1995, while looking for ideas for an educational series of plays based on traditional tales, Donaldson came across a version of a Chinese story about a little girl who escapes being eaten by a tiger by claiming to be the fearsome Queen of the Jungle and inviting him to walk behind her. The tiger misinterprets the terror of the various animals they meet as being related to her rather than him, and flees.
Julia sensed that this story could be developed into more than an educational item and returned to it later as a possible basis for a picture book. This of course became the basis for the first of the Gruffalo stories.
Since then she has written over a hundred books and plays for children and teenagers, including the award-winning rhyming stories The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale and Zog, all illustrated by Axel Scheffler, which are among the UK’s best-selling picture books.
Julia has also worked with different illustrators, among them Lydia Monks, Nick Sharratt and David Roberts, and has written several young fiction titles, including three books about Princess Mirror-Belle, who is the badly-behaved reflection of a well-behaved girl.
Her novel for teenagers, Running on the Cracks, came out in 2009 and won the Nasen Inclusive Children’s Book Award.
She is also the author of many educational books, including the 60 books which comprise the phonic reading scheme Songbirds.
For three years she was writer in residence in Easterhouse, helping local children write and act. She is now patron of the charity Artlink Central which engages artists to work in hospitals, prisons and schools.
Her passion for drama is kept fresh by her frequent dramatic performances at book festivals and theatrical events, where she talks, acts and sings with her audiences.
She lives in Bearsden, Glasgow, with her husband Malcolm and two cats.
Julia’s Donaldson Books Reviewed
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