Tim Minchin, the award-winning musician-comedian, Matilda The Musical lyricist and father of two tells all about his new children’s book and his own writing heroes
Who came up with the idea to put the lyrics of When I Grow Up to a picture book?
It’s one of those things where I, admittedly, haven’t had to do very much! When the publishers approached me and asked if we should see if there was anyone who was interested in illustrating the lyrics, I thought it was great. Scholastic showed me Steve Antony’s work and it just seemed perfect. He’s a talented guy.
Are your children, Violet and Caspar, fans of the song?
Caspar [now eight] was my deadline for Matilda, so he was born around the time I was writing those lyrics. I can’t remember what Violet thought of the song when she first heard it – she would have been just two at the time – but I’ve shown them the book and they think it’s cool. I really should talk to Violet more about my work – she’s 10 now…
What did you read when you were growing up?
I was a massive Roald Dahl fan. In terms of picture books, the ones that come to mind are the Thomas books by Gunilla Wolde. Oh, and Miffy. Weirdly, my relationship with illustrated books came back round when I went to university with [Australian illustrator] Shaun Tan. Years later he contacted me and asked if I wanted to voice this animated short [film] that he had written, called The Lost Thing, which he later won an Oscar for. Now I would say he is one of my top authors, along with Julia Donaldson and Oliver Jeffers.
Would you like to write more for children?
I would love to. I’d especially love to write poems. When I Grow Up has that disarming thing about it, where on the surface it’s just about childhood aspirations, but it also has the power to make adults cry. I think that’s also why I love Julia Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale too – because while the kids see a story about a snail that hitches a ride on a whale’s tail, the adults are seeing a story about what it is to live and have adventures. There is a particular page which I obsess over – ‘She gazed and gazed, amazed by it all / and she said to the whale, I feel so small.’ The idea that the snail needs to see the world to feel small is amazing. So yes, I would love to write more things that are both fun for kids and beautiful for adults.
You live in LA now, are you back in London much?
Not as much as we’d like. We miss London so much. It’s kind of been the great turmoil of our lives – our kids were born there and our dearest friends are there. We always knew we would leave but it was incredibly difficult to do so. And now LA’s kind of… [groans]. We’ll be moving back to Australia soon, which was always the plan. London is our great, lost love, really.