Julie Don­ald­son’s lat­est book plus more good reads

Ju­lia Don­ald­son’s new book will res­onate with lo­cal fans – it was a trip to SA that in­spired it


EV­ERY­ONE knows the Big Five, but how about the Ugly Five? When Ju­lia Don­ald­son heard a game ranger us­ing the term while she was on sa­fari in the Madikwe re­serve in North West last year she knew she’d just had the idea for a new book handed to her on a plate.

“One day we saw a herd of wilde­beest and my hus­band, Mal­colm, said to our ranger, who was named Lucky, that he thought the wilde­beest was a much ma­ligned an­i­mal and was ac­tu­ally beau­ti­ful in a rather odd way.

"And the ranger said: ‘Mal­colm, I’m sorry to have to in­form you but the wilde­beest is one of the Ugly Five’.”

The term is a fun al­ter­na­tive to the Big Five and in­cludes the hyena, marabou stork, vul­ture, warthog and wilde­beest.

“I im­me­di­ately pricked up my ears,” Ju­lia re­calls. “I knew then and there how I was go­ing to write this story, which is quite un­usual – most of the time it takes months.”

She was so grate­ful for the in­spi­ra­tion she ded­i­cated the book to Lucky and a tracker named Char­lie.

As she chats to us by tele­phone, the Bri­tish pub­lish­ing phe­nom­e­non is as far from the Madikwe re­serve as it’s pos­si­ble to get. She’s in a car with Mal­colm and her 92-year-old aunt on a high­way in the UK wend­ing her way to Scot­land for the Ed­in­burgh Book Festival.

There are many perks to be­ing a best­selling au­thor – the money, the fame, world ac­claim. But for Ju­lia none of th­ese top the sense of sat­is­fac­tion she feels see­ing the ef­fect her books have on young read­ers.

It’s through smash-hit books such as The Gruf­falo, What the Lady­bird Heard, Room on a Broom and A Squash and a Squeeze that many chil­dren have dis­cov­ered the joys of read­ing.

Be­cause of what she’s writ­ten they feel that they know her – and that’s why they don’t hes­i­tate to write to her.

Ju­lia re­ceives so much fan mail she needs to take a day off each month to re­ply to all the let­ters that merit per­sonal re­sponses.

There are those that are so sad they’ve had her “in floods of tears”. Let­ters from par­ents who write to her af­ter a child has died telling her they plan to place a copy of one of her much-loved books in the cof­fin.

She also re­sponds to let­ters from kids who’ve lost sib­lings. But most of the let­ters are sweet. One was so can­did and funny she now has it taped up on her bath­room wall.

“It’s from a lit­tle boy and it goes ‘Hello, Ju­lia. My name is David. I’m a big fan of yours, but never mind about that. Let’s get back to talk­ing about me’.”

She’s the au­thor of around 200 books – in ad­di­tion to the 60 in book­shops, she’s writ­ten scores of phon­ics read­ers for schools. As she ap­proaches her 70th birth­day, how long can Ju­lia see her­self con­tin­u­ing to storm up the chil­dren’s best­seller lists?

“I don’t have the kind of job that you need to re­tire from. As long as I con­tinue to get the ideas I’ll carry on writ­ing.”

Bet that’s mu­sic to her fans’ ears.

Ju­lia's books are witty, wise and of­ten a bit rude – and her young fans love her for it.

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