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Jacqueline Wilson: We need more spaces making work just for children

The Tracy Beaker and Hetty Feather writer talks about the magic of theatre, and what it's like seeing her characters in the flesh onstage

Jacqueline Wilson
© Dan Wooller, 2006

The children's writer Jacqueline Wilson has written many bestselling books for young people, from the Tracy Beaker series to the Hetty Feather series. Several of her books have been adapted for the stage, including the Olivier Award-nominated Hetty Feather which follows a young girl who believes her mother is part of a circus and Double Act, which tells of identical twins Ruby and Garnet. A stage adaptation of the latter originally opened at the Polka Theatre in 2003 and is making a return to the west London children's theatre this summer. Here Wilson explains why she's delighted.

I really like the magic of theatre. The story of Double Act follows identical twin girls and you can't always have child actors because you'd need triple the number and it's expensive. It would also be hard to find a pair of identical twins who are also actors. So Vicky Ireland, the director and adapter, has two young women playing the parts who don't actually look alike if you look at them together. But she choreographs them and it gives the eerie feeling that they are absolutely identical children.

It sounds ridiculous, but I was in tears when I first saw it. Sometimes when authors write the books, they don't realise exactly what they are writing. But seeing it onstage was such an emotional experience. That's the joy of theatre. When I write a book, it's very rare that I actually spot a child reading it. It's a private experience, whereas sitting in a theatre everybody is experiencing the same thing at the same time.

Sometimes authors of original books can be a bit irritating in a rehearsal room.' But I have been lucky enough to be invited in to watch the process of each stage adaptation of my work and I have promised to be very quiet and sit in a corner and not say anything. It's a fascinating experience, as a punter, to see what goes on and how the actors warm up. I think initially you have to really trust somebody who is going to adapt your book, but when that's there, it's important for them to do what they want with it.

I am better at writing when it's just inside my head. When it takes on three dimensions and other characters are on stage, somebody else knows how to do that better than me. Long ago I wrote scripts for television and I did once write a one act play for a children's theatre, but it's not something that comes easily to me.

Ruby Ablett (Ruby) and Lydia Orange (Garnet) in Double Act
© The Other Richard

It would be wonderful if there were more spaces making work for children. I think part of the challenge for children's theatres is that they are quite reliant on school trips, and schools only have the budget for one trip a year and it's such a performance getting a group of children to the theatre. I think it's lovely for children to feel that they have a theatre which belongs to them.

I was a fan of the child star Mandy Miller and when she was about 11 I went to see her in Alice in Wonderland. I also went to see Peter Pan several times, which I adored and also a rather earnest Edwardian play called Where the Rainbow Ends. That was old fashioned even when I went to see it in the '50s. But I found it a very stirring experience. These were all stand out experiences in my childhood. We didn't go out much but I am grateful that my parents took me.