With more than 95 books for children, young adults, and adults to her name, preparing for today’s interview was somewhat daunting. I needn’t have worried though for Adele Geras, who is speaking on the Saturday at conference, was delightful to correspond with.
FCBG: In what ways do you think great books are like great theatre? I ask, because I know that theatre was an early passion of yours, indeed I belive you intended to become an actress at one point in your life.
Adele Geras: Yes, indeed I did long to be an actress and for a while it almost worked out! I was acting (and singing because I fancied myself as a kind of latter day Judy Garland!) all the way through school and university and after I left Oxford I was in a show that moved from the Edinburgh Festival to the West End…but then I got married and moved to Manchester and became a teacher instead. As we all know, teaching is a performing art! In retrospect, it’s much more convenient being a writer than being an actress if you want to have any kind of settled and comfortable life and children and so on…all that touring etc would have put a damper on that! Are great books like great theatre? I suppose in a way they are: they can transport you to somewhere else entirely….and they’re a much cheaper option. It’s all going on in your head, all those sets, costumes etc. And you are the casting director too…you can imagine the protagonists in just the way that pleases you.
FCBG: Have you written any plays or film scripts? Is this an avenue that you might go down one day?
Adele Geras: These days it’s very hard to get plays on the BBC, for instance, commissioned. I have written one play which had a rehearsed reading at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester…and yes, theoretically it’s a possibility but in actual fact I don’t see myself doing it. Perhaps I’m too lazy.
FCBG: Do you still see much theatre? What was the last play you saw? Are there any dramatists you particularly admire (contemporary or historical)?
Adele Geras: I don’t see as much theatre as I’d like to, out of sheer inertia and laziness. Last play we saw last month was Kiss Me Kate which was ace! I adore musicals and can sing my way through several of them which I know by heart.. I love Shakespeare, Chekhov and Oscar Wilde and also fond of Alan Bennett and lots of modern playwrights but have to confess I get my drama fix most often from boxed sets on tv: The Wire, The Sopranos, the West Wing and most recently Breaking Bad. Also love the Scandinavian thrillers and more than them, even, the French drama series SPIRAL. That is tremendous.
FCBG: As a child, I believe another route you thought you might go down was music, and singing especially. Do you think your early vocal training has in anyway influenced how you write poetry? I ask this because I’ve seen it suggested that lyrics are one way to get kids interested in poetry. Also I can imagine that being “inside” a song as a singer gives one a quite different experience of how words, rhythm and phrasing can roll around the mouth.
Adele Geras: I never had any vocal training whatsoever and my ‘teachers’ were all the movies I saw in my childhood and all the records I listened to. My music is tied up with musical theatre rather than separate from it. And yes, probably the singing and being conscious of lyrics etc does help the poetry….. I’ve never thought of that but perhaps it’s important. I was exposed to poetry from the earliest age. Not specially written for children but all the greats. My father was a lover of poetry and he passed that on to me. I know LOTS of poems by heart and I approve of children doing this: finding things they love and learning them by heart.
FCBG: Getting children excited about poetry is quite high up on the educational agenda at the moment. What advice do you have for parents and teachers who want to help their children get excited about poetry?
Adele Geras: READ IT TO THEM ALL THE TIME!! I speak as the mother of a really good poet, SOPHIE HANNAH and I am quite convinced that her love of poetry comes from having the MOTHER GOOSE TREASURY read aloud to her for years when she was a toddler. She knew most of those poems by heart by the time she was five. Read verse aloud to your kids and sing them songs and nursery rhymes. NOT just poems for children, either but good poems from all over the place.
FCBG: I’m always on the look out for authors and illustrators from outside the US-UK book market. You were born in Jerualem: What other writers from Jerusalem would you recommend for children? (That is, if you don’t mind being described as “from Jerusalem” – I know you’ve said that as a child and into young adulthood you “didn’t know what to say when people asked” where you lived – I guess I’m looking for interesting suggestions about Jewish and/or Israeli writers who perhaps deserve to be better known by an English-reading audience.
Adele Geras: I’m afraid I’m going to be most unhelpful here, Zoe! So sorry…I left Jerusalem when I was four. I can speak Hebrew because my mother spoke it to me as a child but I can’t read it and therefore I can’t recommend any modern Israeli writers, though I’m sure there are probably dozens! Jewish writers in English tend to be mostly American and I’m not au fait with them either, these days. Of course there is the wonderful Maurice Sendak but he’s not particularly known for his Jewishness. Then there’s Morris Gleiztman, who’s an Aussie and he’s written of course about the Holocaust. Of British writers, there’s Ann Jungman and Michael Rosen but I doubt that he’d be wanting to be thought of as a Jewish writer! A Jewish English writer writing about Jewish English experience would be interesting and good but I haven’t come across one. My ‘Jewish’ books are all out of print except for A CANDLE IN THE DARK and they related to my experiences of Jerusalem as a child rather than to anything about modern Jewish life. My book VOYAGE, (also out of print) was about emigration of Jews to the USA at the turn of the 20th century…so sorry not to be more helpful.
FCBG: From reading the many interviews with you which are available on the web I’m struck with what seems to be a very focussed and fast, direct way you go about writing. You’ve said you do relatively little research (“My rule is to read one book for each thing I need to know.“) and once you start to actually put pen to paper (or is it finger to keyboard?) the prose flows quite quickly. Has this always been how you have written? How as your approach to writing changed (if at all) over your career so far?
Adele Geras: It’s all much harder now, even for people who have published lots of books. Nowadays I wait for commissions for the most part and I am also writing for adults at the same time. My research for my next adult book for instance is going to be somewhat more thorough than any I’ve done so far but that’s because I’m so interested in the subject. I may read more than one book and also talk to a good friend of mine who is an expert in this period. Sorry I can’t say more than that about it yet! But yes, in general, I am a believer in LESS rather than more research and I stick to my guns about the fact that kitchens and bedrooms and what goes on in them hasn’t changed too much over the centuries, so if you’re writing a certain kind of historical fiction, you don’t need all that much research. Really you need someone who knows the period you’re writing about to go over the book for obvious bloomers and howlers. That’s what I’ve found, anyway. And yes, I’ve always written quickly. It comes from having done 3 hour exams in every subject for eight years on the trot! “Turn the paper over and start writing…” It concentrates the mind wonderfully. My attitude to writing has changed a bit…I am lazier I think now…but I’ve always been quite lazy so perhaps I haven’t changed as much as all that!
FCBG: I enjoy the section on your blog all about what you are currently reading. But what have you read most recently with you grandchildren? What are your favourite books to read as a granny?
Adele Geras: My two elder grandchildren are fluent readers on their own now…they are into David Walliams, JKRowling, and my 10 year old granddaughter loves Eva Ibbotson and Jacqueline Wilson. My youngest grandson is a lover of Julia Jarman and Julia Donaldson and also all kinds of wonderful things he brings from the library. I read him my picture books and IT’S TIME FOR BED is dedicated to him.
FCBG: Can you give us a flavour of what you will be talking about at this year’s conference?
Adele Geras: I am not quite sure yet but I think I will be making an impassioned plea for the PHYSICAL PAPER BOOK as opposed to anything electronic, for children especially. With examples from my own work, so to speak. The conference title being THE POWER OF THE PAGE I’m going to go one further and call my talk. THE POWER OF THE PRINTED PAPER PAGE.
FCBG: How exciting, Adele! I’m sure I’m not alone in now being even more eager to hear your talk at conference.