JULIA Donaldson is the author of some of the world’s best-loved children’s books.

Her first picture book, A Squash and A Squeeze, was published over twenty years ago, and since then she has written over 160 books, including the modern classic The Gruffalo.

Julia also writes fiction, including the Princess Mirror-Belle series illustrated by Lydia Monks, as well as poems, plays and songs.

She was the 2011-2013 UK Children’s Laureate, has an MBE from the Queen and you can even find a painting of her in The National Portrait Gallery.

See What the Ladybird Heard at The Haymarket from July 11 until July 13. Tickets are £12.50 from 01256 844244 or online at anvilarts.org.uk.   

Q: How did the idea for the story of What the Ladybird Heard come about?

I was walking in the countryside with my youngest son and we were reminiscing about when he was a little boy. At an age when children are just learning to read, his teacher had given the class an exercise matching up animal noises with animal pictures, but because most of the children couldn’t yet read, the activity went comically wrong. 

The hen hissed instead of clucking and the dog miaowed and so on. I thought it would be lovely to somehow use this idea of animals making the wrong noises in a story and my son, now a young man, suggested animals playing a trick on the farmer.

Then I hit upon the idea of two thieves trying to steal the farmer’s fine prize cow. 

Q: What inspired you to work with Lydia Monks on this book? Is there anything about her illustrations and collages that particularly appeal to you?

I’d worked with Lydia before on a couple of books and I knew she liked drawing farm animals. She’s very good at it. I think Lydia’s work is very stylish really. She’s quite stylised and she’s got a tremendous sense of design. I see her very much as a designer in her work and that’s why I’m thrilled she was involved in the design of the stage show [Lydia is design consultant on the show] and I’m really pleased that the set and costumes are very truthful to her illustrations.

Q: Would you say the small [voice] outwitting the bigger and louder ones is a common theme in your books?

I suppose some of them yes, in The Gruffalo, What the Ladybird Heard and also The Snail and the Whale. I think it’s a very common theme in stories for children and adults. Often it’s a rather nerdy detective that solves the crime and wins against gangsters or crooks. I did try in Zog though, to make him the biggest and clumsiest dragon there is, because I think there’s a bit too much little and clever out there.

Q: How does it feel to see your stories come to life on stage?

Exciting and a little scary too. I have one eye on the stage and the other on the audience – to check that they are enjoying it.

Q: Would you ever consider revisiting any of the characters from What the Ladybird Heard?

Now that you mention it, I’m seriously considering a sequel.

Q: Do you sometimes look back to the beginning, to your first book, A Squash and a Squeeze and the millions of books you’ve sold since?

A Squash and a Squeeze was published in 1993. I had written it as a song years before, when I was in my twenties and wrote for television. Around the same time as Playschool was on television, there was another Watch with Mother programme called Play Board. I wrote songs for the show based on Aesop’s Fables and then came A Squash and a Squeeze.

It’s a traditional story and the song went on to be used a lot on children’s television. It’s on a BBC album of children’s songs and was heard by a book publisher who listened to it with her children. Years later, she approached me to write it as a book. So that’s how I made the jump from writing songs for television to writing books.

And now look where we are - the animated film of Room on Broom was nominated for an Oscar and I found out that I am Scotland’s number one selling author.

Q: How important do you think it is to have live instruments in this production of What the Ladybird Heard?

Basingstoke Gazette:

I’ve done three books of my own songs with Macmillan publishers and I insisted on real musicians. With each song book we held a performance - I was singing with about six musicians on stage – I loved that! I still do shows with my husband Malcolm, although he’s often the one persuading me onto the stage these days!

I do really like live instruments; it’s a very nice feature of the show as it’s great for children to see and hear live music. In fact when I started writing for Play Away and Playschool it was always with live musicians and with Play Away the band was visible on stage. Nowadays, you don’t see that so much.