As the comedian-turned-actor-turned-author lends his hand to children’s book writing, it seems there’s nothing British comedy legend Ade Edmondson can’t do.
He didn’t set out to write a book for children – but Ade Edmondson was forced into it. “Some kids moved in next door to me. These kids were storybook age, five seven and nine. I thought this is great because I love reading to kids.
“I suggested Roald Dahl and they said: ‘No, We’ve heard that’. I said: “I’ll read you Wind in the Willows.’ They said: “No. We have heard that’. So I said – I’ll write one of my own because you won’t have heard that.”
So that’s how the founder of the Comic Strip, the Young Ones and Bottom came to create Tilly and the Time Machine – the story of a little girl who accidentally goes back in time. It’s funny, silly and designed to be read out loud, with hilarious illustrations by Danny Noble. Tilly, aged seven, is forthright and direct – even when speaking to Queen Victoria or Horatio Nelson.
“I like reading out loud. I read adult books moving my mouth. I’ve always liked history and read a lot of history. I can do ten minutes on Nelson. He’s a very interesting gothic character. No one really knows what his last words were – so that is why you are allowed to interpret it.”
When Edmondson started writing he didn’t know the book was going to be so much about death and grief. “You don’t know where these things come from. But I have reached the age where people have started dying around me. I think some of my friends have started to avoid me because they think I’ll just start talking about death.
“People treat death differently but I feel a girl of seven is able to cut through that and talk about death more openly. When someone asks if her mum is in, Tilly says: “No. She’s in a box in a hole in the ground near the church, all covered up with mud and dirt. I’d been trying to write a novel for 20 years but if you tried to write an adult novel about grief it comes across as whining.”
Edmondson lost his friend and comic partner Rik Mayall in 2014. “He was like a brother to me,” he says, although the pair stopped working together regularly in 2003. Together Mayall, Edmondson and the other members of The Comic Strip, including his wife Jennifer Saunders, revolutionised comedy.
“At the time there was a circuit for racist men in tuxedos but there wasn’t anything else. ‘Alternative comedy’ is what they called us but it is a terrible name. ‘Funny comedy’ I like to call it.”
There are some good jokes in Tilly, but the humour is incidental. “She’s a joyous character rather than funny. Joyous is a better word than funny.”
He’s already started a new book for children, about ‘kindness and unkindness’. And he’ll be appearing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford as Malvolio. “I worked with someone at the RSC on the Rocky Horror Show. I guess they must have seen something in me.”
WORDS: Claire Smith
WHERE & WHEN
Time Travels with Adrian Edmonson, Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, 13 August, 3.15pm
from £5 Tel: 0845 373 5888