To celebrate the publication of The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit, Oscar-winning actress - and now children's author - Emma Thompson joined us for a Q&A in September 2012.
The book is the 24th tale in the existing collection of Peter Rabbit stories. And it's the first time that an additional tale to the series which Beatrix Potter wrote between 1902 and 1930 has been published.
Peter's adventures take him beyond the boundaries of Mr McGregor's garden all the way to Scotland, where he meets gentle giant Finlay McBurney, a distant Scottish relative. Emma was inspired to set the tale in Scotland and create this new character by her knowledge of Beatrix Potter's childhood holidays there.
Q: Do you remember your first meeting with Peter Rabbit? Or was he always "just there" with you from when you were a child and you have no memory of how or when he came into your life? Grannyactivist
A: No, I don’t have a clear memory of exactly when he entered my consciousness but I do remember my mother gently raising a question in my mind about the true excellence of Noddy and Big Ears – and possibly tweaking Blyton out of my grasp and replacing it with Beatrix Potter.
Q: Do you think it might be time for Peter to have a girlfriend or perhaps a boyfriend? Stephgr
A: It’s a lovely idea but don’t you think it would interfere with the primary relationship between Peter and his young reader? Also, isn’t Benjamin his main companion?
Q: Were you torn between writing and acting when you started your career? Getmehrt
A: Never torn. Always grateful to have the chance to do either. And especially grateful to be paid. These days I do both and love both. I wrote all last year and have acted all this year so I have been very lucky.
Q: I would like to ask what your reaction was when you were approached to write the book? Following in the footsteps of Beatrix Potter must have been a scary prospect. Rosiemus
A: Well I would have been frightened if it had been a formal invitation from the publishers – but as it was a delightfully witty letter from Peter himself (and accompanied by a couple of half-eaten radishes). I felt absolutely unable to refuse.
Q: What do you think makes the "magic" Peter Rabbit is so loved for? Pennwood
A: Well – P.L.Travers called Potter one of "the archangels". She loved her sense of jeopardy, her unsentimentality and her penchant for sudden non-sequiturs, difficult words and leaving things out. I feel the same.
She was a huge influence on my relationship with my language. As for Peter himself – he is innocent, naughty, anti-authoritarian and curious – he’s the perfect hero for a child.
Q: Is Finlay, the giant rabbit that Peter meets when he is in Scotland based on someone we know like Robbie Coltrane or Billy Connolly as you "acted" with both in the latest Pixar film Brave? Alidoll
A: Finlay is actually inspired by a character invented by my father (Eric Thompson, who wrote and narrated The Magic Roundabout) in a book called Dougal’s Scottish Holiday.
The character is a gigantic black Highland cow called Angus – to whom Ermintrude takes rather a shine. They meet a wild haggis who shouts "Wheee!" a lot and has one leg shorter than the other for walking the hills.
Q: Did you run your ideas for the book past your daughter before finally deciding on a story? waterbabymum
A: Actually, I ran all my ideas past my mother, first, as she’s a brilliant writer herself and a great editor. I kept asking Gaia as she was still interested and she always asked the good questions, ones that would make me go back and think again – like how long was the journey and how did he get home and did he find his shoes in the end.
Q: Which Peter Rabbit character do you think most resembles you? Funkyferret
A: I laughed out loud when I read this question. It’s such a good one. I think I’m Squirrel Nutkin. Dreadfully naughty and always pushing it a bit too far.
Q: What would Beatrix Potter think of this? Kathrob
A: I think she’d be furious she wasn’t getting paid.
Q: Will you being writing more children's books? Constance
A: They have asked me for two more Peter stories and I have written the first draft of one which we hope will be out next Christmas.
Q: I like you, I really do, you are a wonderful actress, as are your mother and sister. However, why write a book based on a well-loved classic character from another author? You obviously has talent; why not choose your own character? Dorsetpennt
A: Indeed – why not? Well, yes, yes. Perhaps I should. The book is a sort of homage, isn’t it, rather than anything else – and the invitation was so delicious but now you mention it, perhaps it’s time for me to come up with an original character. Thank you for prodding me.
Q: Of all the characters you’ve played, do you have a favourite role? Flopsybunny
A: I loved playing Elinor Dashwood and I adored playing Nanny McPhee. Most recently my favourite role has been of a really nice, normal woman called Kate in a romantic comedy with Pierce Brosnan which will be out next year. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on.
Q: Would Nanny McPhee approve of this book? Lucid
A: I think Nanny McPhee would definitely have read and loved Potter. They have the same sternly unsentimental attitude to childhood. So I think she’d approve but you can never tell. She’s a contrary old thing.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Scotland? Sneetch
A: I spent my childhood hols and pre-school days there and all my daughter's holidays are there in an old house that my parents bought when I was 15.
My sister and her family live in the cottage we stayed in when I was three months old and she not yet born! The landscape is meat and drink to me and if I don’t get there regularly I start to shrivel. It’s the place I love most in the world for its wild beauty and its wild people.
Q: What is your view of the roles available to 50+ women in theatre, television and film: does it get more difficult? Hopefulgran
A: Well, it is a bit more difficult and I do always say to aspiring actors that if they can write, or create in other ways then it’s excellent to have another string to their bows.
Theatre’s not so bad, TV seems particularly tricky and film flickers in and out. Some years are quite good for mature women and then some are totally bald.
I’ve just played two fantastic roles so I can’t complain but generally speaking, they are thin on the ground and tend to be mothers or heartless, childless career-driven bitches.
And one comment:
I would just like to say to Emma - a propos of nothing - that The Winter Guest which she made with her Mum some few years ago, is absolutely my most fave film of all time, probably partly because the area is so familiar to me, as is the weather (!) but also the story line is close to my heart. If I want to have a good old blub and a laugh, I watch it and achieve all emotions. Gally
ET: Thank you, Gally, for the Winter Guest rave. I loved making that film with my mum – it was a precious time.
You can find out more about Peter and chums on his very own website.