Monday, 9 December 2013

An Interview with Elen Caldecott



Eden Endfield first met Elen Caldecott earlier this year when she was tutoring on the MAWYP at Bath Spa and was intrigued to find out she’d written a dual language play to be performed this December at the Sherman Cymru Theatre in Wales. In this interview, she finds out how she’d made the transition from novelist to playwright.





I love the title ‘Corina Pavlova and the Lion’s Roar’, it sounds so much fun. How did you get the idea for the play? 

Well, I didn't, exactly. Maybe 18 months ago I was appearing at a children's literature festival in Cardiff. I was touring my novel 'Operation Eiffel Tower' and did my usual half-baked, part-stand-up, part-SATS prep routine. Anyway, after the event a wild, Irish woman came up to me and asked if I'd ever thought of writing a play. The truth was, no, I hadn't (at least not since the long ago Bjork-listening days of my A-Level drama course). Anyway, her enthusiasm was totally infectious so we arranged to meet. At that meeting, she told me that the Sherman Cymru Theatre were actively looking to increase the number of Welsh playwrights writing for children. Their idea was to find artists working in other mediums and mentor them. Trepidatious may or may not be a real word - it was definitely how I was feeling. I really didn't know where to begin. Then, I remembered a picture book idea I'd had a few years earlier and wondered whether it could be dusted off, put in its Sunday best and be presented to the company as a shiny new play concept. Luckily, they were willing to take a chance and the mentoring began.

Can you tell me a bit about the story? 

Corina Pavlova is the disgruntled big sister of a brand new baby brother. When Mr McAlistair offers her a new pet to cheer her up, she leaps at the chance. The trouble is, Mr McAlistair's pet shop is unique - the animals choose their own owners, so Corina has no idea what pet she'll get. 'Corina Pavlova and the Lion's Roar' is an exciting adventure filled with animals of all shapes and sizes in a festive family treat!


Is it is being performed at the Sherman Cymru Theatre in Wales with both Welsh and English language performances. Are you bilingual? 

Am I bilingual? Well, no. My Welsh is competent at best, and the company have been very patient with my mis-gendered nouns and poorly mutated verbs. It's been really interesting working in a bilingual workplace, actually. I've noticed that the work gets done in English, but the gossip all happens in Welsh. I wrote the script in English and a lovely translator called Branwen Davies took over for the Welsh version. I've read her script, which is fab, but I had no hand in it.

Have you written a play before? 

Not since Oasis were at number one and my beautiful drama mates were willing to perform my terrible, angsty, teen nonsense.

How different was the experience of writing a play as opposed to a book? 

There were lots of similarities, actually. It didn't feel too alien. I still needed a dilemma for the character, things needed to get worse in the middle, then it needed a happy ending. In some ways it was easier - I decided I needed three acts, each with three scenes, so I was sure the structure was there. In fact, with the novel I'm working on just now, I have taken to calling the chapters Act 1, scene 1 etc. It's done wonders for my pacing.

The differences have come from working with people who have such a diverse skill set. Everyone is really amazing at what they do, and they can do things that I couldn't do in a month of snowballs in hell. The actors, the director, the designers, makers and musicians have all brought their talents and have turned something 2-dimensional into something larger than life. There is singing and dancing in the play.


Can you tell me a bit about that? 

I had to write the lyrics for the songs, but a musician came on board to do the rest. The director suggested that I treat it as if I were writing poems, which really helped. They were actually the first sections I wrote. I was so worried about making them work I wanted to leave enough time to write, re-write, throw them in the bin, stamp my foot, have a little cry and then start again. In the end, I was really pleased with how they turned out. I even found myself humming one on the way home from rehearsals. 

How much involvement, if any, did you have with the production? 

Quite a lot. I've felt as if I've had trainer wheels on and the company has been holding the back of my saddle. The months developing the script were very much a back-and-forth between the director, the literary manager and me. Then actors helped with a script development day, which was so exciting, it was a good job I was already in a darkened room. I attended a couple of times during the first week of rehearsals in order to tweak the script (the week began with Draft 1, and ended with Draft 7). Now, I am just waiting on tenterhooks for opening night (though, as it's for 3-6 year olds, it's actually opening morning!).

Thank you for your insights Elen, and good luck with the opening night! 

Corina Pavlova and the Lion's Roar will be playing at the Sherman Cymru Theatre from 9 December to 4 January.


Elen Caldecott is best known for her funny adventure stories with heart for children in the 7-11 category, and writes about ‘successful unconventional families’ (Nicolette Jones). She graduated with an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and was highly commended in the PFD Prize for Most Promising Writer for Young People. Her debut novel, How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant, was shortlisted for the Waterstone's Children's Prize and longlisted for the 2010 Carnegie Award. Elen's third novel, Operation Eiffel Tower, was shortlisted for the Red House Book Award 2013. Her most recent book, The Great Ice-Cream Heist, was published by Bloomsbury in June this year. Elen was born in Wrexham and now lives in Bristol with her husband, Simon, and their dog.

Eden Endfield trained as an artist at the Slade, with paintings in the Nat West collection, the National Portrait Gallery and private collections. After the birth of her daughter she rediscovered children’s fiction, and decided to write a children’s story. She is currently editing her first completed novel, a psychological drama for 10+ with gothic elements set on the Jurassic coast, for a London agent. She is writing her second novel, a teen love story set in upstate New York, as part of the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. She lives in London with her best supporters and harshest critics – her husband and 14 year old daughter.

4 comments:

  1. This is so exciting! I wish I could see the result! How does one find one's own wild Irish woman though?

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  2. An excellent question, Candy! I think this was being in the right place at the right time. And the only way to make that happen is to try to say yes when you're invited places. Not always possible, of course, but the more places you're in, the more likely one of them will be 'right'!

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  3. Thank You Elen, very interesting to read about your experience of developing a play. I love the concept and am just as keen as Candy to be provoked into action by a wild Irish woman.
    And thank You Eden for putting together such a great interview!

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