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A Gruffalo film? Oh help! Oh no! Author Julia Donaldson snubs Hollywood but vows to write on into her 70s

Author Julia Donaldson (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Author Julia Donaldson (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

THE author of global smash The Gruffalo has revealed why she won’t let her most famous character become a movie.

Julia Donaldson has already seen a string of her books successfully adapted to TV.

However, when Hollywood made an offer for The Gruffalo, Julia said no, fearing they’d “take the Gruffalo and the mouse and just make up some ludicrous story” to expand it to movie length.

Julia’s The Highway Rat pulled in six million viewers last Christmas on the BBC while Zog has been announced as this year’s festive feast.

“I think it’s going to be really good, I’ve seen the storyboard for it,” Julia, 69, told The Sunday Post.

“They’re very good at consulting me – they were going to have a lot of stuff that wasn’t in The Highway Rat book. I didn’t like it and they did listen.

“It’s amazing that my stories have become a Christmas tradition. I was brought up not to watch TV on Christmas Day but I have to admit I do sit down now with the family and watch the animations of my books.

“I get an awful lot of fan mail, so I suppose I could get quite swollen-headed if I was inclined. But then others say other things and that stops that happening.

“I’ve got contracts for a couple of others, but I can’t really say any more.”

The half-hour animations, such as Stick Man and Room On The Broom, are big-budget affairs filmed at a studio in South Africa. It’s exactly 25 years since her first book, A Squash And A Squeeze, was published.

Originally it was one of many songs Julia wrote for BBC children’s TV. It was spotted by a publisher who asked to turn into a book.

Now one of Britain’s biggest-selling, most famous authors, Julia, whose dad was from East Lothian and who lived with husband Malcolm and their kids in Bearsden for 25 years, remembers the life-changing phone call well.

“I pretended to be very cool and casual. I said I would have to look at the small print but I thought it would be permissible.

“Then I put the phone down and leapt around the room because I was so excited.”

Julia has a remarkable 200-plus books to her name, some multi-million bestsellers, others written for schools.

“My dad gave me The Book Of 1000 Poems, with the words ‘To Julia on her fifth birthday’, and I’ve still got it. Some were a bit soppy about fairies but others were by Keats and Shakespeare,” she recalls.

“I learned them off by heart and my ambition then was to be a poet – I think ballerina was second choice.

“It’s a lovely thought that I was inspired to rhyme and scan and that perhaps some of my readers might end up writing in verse like I did.”

Julia was appointed Children’s Laureate in 2011, the same year she was awarded her MBE.

She created a series of plays and poems for schoolkids and has visited countless schools and libraries, enthralling tens of thousands of youngsters.

Demand is such she admits she could spend her entire time attending events.

But she will be hitting the road again later this month for the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour. It’s organised by the Scottish Book Trust and when Julia last did the library tour in 2012, more than 1,000 primary school pupils came along.

This year’s tour, which begins on Monday, March 19, visits Dundee, Stirling, Glasgow and the Scottish Borders. The sessions will be held in libraries, of which Julia is a fierce advocate.

“I’m always getting approached by library services telling me about cuts,” sighs Julia. “Some of them are now run by volunteers, which isn’t a great idea but it’s better than nothing.

“My hope is that they don’t get rid of too many of the buildings and that maybe there will be some more enlightened government thinking eventually and some more money.

“I don’t want to get started because it just makes me . . .”

Julia and consultant paediatrician Malcolm moved back down south in 2014 but had lived in Scotland for a quarter of a century before.

Malcolm still has his Glasgow hospital connections, the couple are regular visitors to their Edinburgh flat and one of their sons, Jerry, lives in Broughty Ferry.

“Malcolm’s parents were from Scotland, as well as my dad, so I’ve always felt Scottish and it’s still very much part of our lives.

“We didn’t move to Scotland until we were in our 40s, but after I was published I did so many tours and festivals and visited so many places that were off the beaten track.

“I’m looking forward to getting back for the Children’s Book Tour. And I’m going to be doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

“We did one a few years ago and we’re just devising that now.”

Julia turns 70 this September. “You feel the same inside but it creeps up on you,” she admits.

“Malcolm is 70 next year and he’s more of a party animal than I am. He has relations in America and I think some big do is going to be organised for us both.

“So maybe it’ll be a joint celebration of 140 years in 2019.”

Julia shows no signs of slowing down, which she says will be the case assuming the characters and stories keep finding their way into her head.

“I’m not quite sure how, but the books keep on getting written.

“I don’t see myself writing any more long novels, but as long as I keep getting ideas for the picture books then I’ll carry on doing that. I’ve got quite a full publishing schedule for the next few years.”