Piers Torday  

Piers Torday, 45, is the adaptor of A Christmas Carol and The Box of Delights for stage as well as the author of eight children’s novels. Susan Elkin chats to him.

Let’s start with your A Christmas Carol, featuring a female Scrooge, which almost sold out at Wilton’s Music Hall over Christmas. Yes, I’m delighted with the way that has gone. Holly Kendrick, an old friend from university, is now running Wilton’s with its wonderful Victorian atmosphere and she invited me to write this adaptation. I wanted to do something distinctive because it’s been done so many times before.

And a female Scrooge makes points both about 1842 and 2020? Definitely. And there were two factors which led me to it. First, in the 1840s a woman surrendered all her property, money and rights to her husband. She was powerless. Second, although Dickens campaigned for the rights of women, his treatment of his own wife Catherine was appalling by any standards at any time. So I wondered what would happen, if Scrooge’s younger sister Fan were Jacob Marley’s widow and now running the money lending business after the deaths of both men.

Did everyone like it? We had some wonderful 4- and 5-star reviews along with a few negative reactions – I was as pleased with the latter as the former. If theatre doesn’t challenge audiences, then I feel that in sense we’ve failed.

So how did you get into writing? I grew up in Northumberland where my father (later the author, Paul Torday who wrote Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) worked in the family engineering business. My mother ran a children’s bookshop in Hexham called Toad Hall Books so some of my earliest memories are of crawling round the shop floor, with my younger brother, looking at books. I went on to read everything from comics to classics. And of course, I wrote lots of stories for fun.

What happened at Oxford? Well I’d always loved theatre and comedy so inevitably I spent a great deal of time writing and creating plays. I also made lots of like-minded friends. We took shows to Edinburgh and then after university I became programmer and producer at the Pleasance Theatre – in London as well as Edinburgh. I also started a production company and we toured shows.

What made you leave all that and go into television? I needed to earn some money! I spent the noughties in TV helping to develop shows, but in the end, it got very frustrating. I love the collaboration of theatre but there are so many people involved in TV that it’s very hard to hang onto your original idea.

So how did you change direction? I took a whole summer off – something I hadn’t done since university and I was 36 by then – and did an Arvon creative writing course in West Yorkshire. I began writing a story about a boy who could talk only to animals, although there aren’t many left in the world of the story. It eventually became The Last Wild which won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2014. And I discovered how much I liked the world of publishing, visiting schools and everything which goes with being a writer. My father was a novelist by then, so it all seemed very natural.

And the shift into theatre? Well I suppose it was a case of coming full circle. I’d loved John Masefield’s The Box of Delights in childhood, both the book and the TV adaptation. We talked about it at university, but the rights weren’t then available – and certainly not to a bunch of students. Then, a quarter of a century later, Holly contacted me and said “Well I’ve got the rights now. How about it?” That went so well that it was me she came to for Wilton’s next Christmas show too – and the result was A Christmas Carol.

What’s in the pipeline for the future? I have strong hope that A Christmas Carol might come back but don’t at present know whether that will happen. I love taking old stories and reworking them as well as writing new stories of my own. I’m working on a film adaptation which is still under wraps at present. Otherwise it’s just more ideas for books and waiting to see where it all takes me. It’s amazing the cyclical way things from childhood so often seem to slot neatly into place. Suddenly things you loved then come to life again in new projects.

Do you have children of your own to share all this with? No. I have a small dog who neither reads books nor goes to plays, but I’m working on it.

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.