Jim's Spectacular Christmas
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That's my dad. That's the Magic Roundabout,” the Matilda actress shared. “I was brought up by somebody who said you cannot talk down to children. Why would you do that? I mean, he'd meet a baby and shake his hand and go, ‘Hello, nice to meet you,’ and was quite forthright and firm with children.” I find it very therapeutic actually. You make it as simple as possible, but at the same time, the language has got to really land, and that's what takes the time. So I always go, if I'm writing something for children, generally speaking, I go and do it in Scotland, because it's quiet.” Being able to write for both children and adults is a skill Emma credits her father, the late Eric Thompson, with. He wrote and narrated The Magic Roundabout, which targeted families as a whole, rather than just little ones.
The question is not if, but when, Thompson and Scheffler will collaborate again – they circle around the idea during the interview as if neither can quite believe that the other would actually stoop to it. When time’s up we’re ushered out along the corridors to a staircase that museum staff have identified as the exact one that Scheffler has depicted, where an excited gaggle of east London schoolchildren awaits.
Settling herself on the steps in their midst, beside a large cardboard cut-out of Jim, Thompson asks who has heard of the Gruffalo and a rafter-rattling cheer goes up. Scheffler lurks in the shadows as she starts to read from the book. “Now what,” she asks, “do you think ‘a gamey whiff’ means?” For Jim’s Spectacular Christmas, the Love Actually star teamed up with Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler, and Emma explained to Chris why she wanted to centre a story around a dog and his feelings in the festive season. Emma was first inspired to write the book after receiving a Jim-shaped Christmas decoration as a gift, with the original spark coming from a drawing that Sir Henry had made of his pet.
Actress and author Dame Emma Thompson is feeling festive with her latest children’s book, Jim’s Spectacular Christmas, which is out now. While speaking on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, the Oscar winner revealed the real-life inspiration behind the loveable dog who lived in the V&A museum, and why she found the process of writing “therapeutic”. Jim’s Spectacular Christmas is about the real pup, called Jim, who belonged to Sir Henry Cole, the V&A museum’s founding director. Sir Henry famously sent the first ever Christmas Card in 1843, and founded the V&A in 1852. Axel Scheffler was an unknown illustrator, working largely for Good Housekeeping magazine, when he received a letter in response to a small exhibition of his work. It was from Emma Thompson, a young actor who had begun to attract attention with TV series such as Fortunes of War and Tutti Frutti. Neatly written in fountain pen, it inquired whether he would accept a commission. “Ken Branagh, my chap, runs his own theatre company,” it explained. He was playing Hamlet to her sister Sophie’s Ophelia and she wanted something to commemorate a moment in time. “I have a vague notion of what you charge for your work, which doesn’t seem to me to be enough,” it went on. “I enclose a picture of Ken and Sophie in case it’s of use.”
A gamey whiff’ and ‘a rheumy eye’: Jim the dog. Illustration: Axel Scheffler/Puffin in collaboration with the V&A/PA She said: “It’s actually about canine conscience…because he does something that makes him feel guilty. So it's about guilt, which of course is what Christmas is all about. Christmas is all about guilt. The guilt present, that guilt gift, the fact that you feel guilty because you're not with your parents, auntie, siblings, Christmas is just a time that's absolutely built for guilt.” Emma Thompson reads Jim’s Spectacular Christmas to schoolchildren at the V&A Museum. Photograph: James Watkins/Puffin