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'It offers families a couple of hours of escape and fantasy'

As her much loved book Four Kids And It makes its screen debut, author Jacqueline Wilson tells Gemma Dunn why it's ideal escapism - and how she's coping with lockdown


Staying home: Jacqueline Wilson

Staying home: Jacqueline Wilson

Psammead in Four Kids And It

Psammead in Four Kids And It

Staying home: Jacqueline Wilson

Much like the rest of the country, Dame Jacqueline Wilson is following orders to stay at home. The novelist - known for her iconic children's literature, including the award-winning Tracy Beaker series - is sitting tight, having had the release of her latest must-have read, Love Frankie, pushed back to late August.

"I do miss the excursions up to London, and they've cancelled the events lined up which I was looking forward to," she admits down the line, phone interviews having now become customary practice.

"But this bizarre situation isn't that different from normal life for me, (as a writer) - it's the sort of staying at home, writing and reading bit, I tell myself!

"Though I must admit the first week, instead of thinking, 'I must really do this and catch up with hundreds of emails', I felt on edge and couldn't quite settle.

"I'm back in a proper routine now - but I'm categorised in two very depressing headings: A. Old, and B. Vulnerable. But there we go, I have to face up to it occasionally!" she concedes, laughing.

At 74, it's hard to imagine Wilson - with a repertoire of well over 100 books, more than 40 million copies sold, and another book underway - ever slowing.

What's more, her 2012 bestseller Four Kids And It - inspired by Five Children And It, the turn-of-the-century classic by English author E Nesbit - is now making its page-to-screen debut on Sky Cinema.

Adapted by screenwriter Simon Lewis, and directed by Andy De Emmony, the family adventure tells the story of four step-siblings who, while on holiday in Cornwall, discover a cheeky magical creature (named Psammead) that grants their wildest wishes.

Unfortunately, they also run into local oddball Tristan, who wants to capture the being for his own gain. Hence the ensuing adventure that brings the siblings together and helps them accept their parents' newfound happiness.

While the couple in question is helmed by Paula Patton and Matthew Goode; Michael Caine voices Psammead, Russell Brand takes on Tristan, and there's even a cameo from pop star, Cheryl Cole. The kids Ros, Robbie, Smash and Maudie are played by Teddie Malleson-Allen, Billy Jenkins, Ashley Aufderheide and Ellie-Mae Siame, respectively.

It's a tale certain to provide respite for families stuck at home, reasons Wilson.

"If you can have the tiniest silver lining when the country is really in terror, it offers up a couple of hours of escape and fantasy," she says.

"And although I fully understand parents having a lie down if the kids are watching the film, it is a family film. It's what I look for - family viewing."

She adds: "I suppose it's also the right way to approach the film, because the children themselves don't want to be in this cottage at first with their parent's new partner - but sadly none of us have a magical fairy to divert us.

"I did think Michael Caine's voice for Psammead was amazing, though," she digresses. "He's got exactly the right tone to make him a lovable character and yet he's tart, funny and gruff.

"And the people that designed Psammead did a very good job. It's difficult to get right as I didn't want him to look too cutesy pie, but he doesn't."

"We wanted this grumbling older character, but we wanted to enjoy him as well," agrees De Emmony, whose background with Spitting Image placed him in familiar territory when it came to the use of puppets and effects.

"There's just a nice tone to his voice; it's incredibly expressive and he's just got some of that grumpiness, but without being unpleasant somehow.

"Michael's got grandchildren as well so he was keen to do some work for them, plus he found it very funny!" he reveals.

Wilson started reading E Nesbit when she was just seven or eight years old, from Five Children And It to The Railway Children and The Story Of The Treasure Seekers - "I've always been a huge fan!" she proclaims.

"When there first became this phase of modern authors taking a well-known classic and giving either a modernised version or a sequel or a prequel, I wasn't sure that was what I wanted to do because I have such reverence for E Nesbit's books," she says of her process.

"But then I did think that as Psammead has been around since the age of the dinosaurs and is just dug up occasionally, why don't I have him as a character, exactly the same as he is in the original Five Children And It? But have modern children with modern dilemmas.

"I wanted to find out what modern children would wish for," she muses.

Has Wilson been inspired to pen anything new, that reflects the current climate?

"I've thought about it," she says. "It's very interesting but somehow when I write, I prefer not to be writing about anything vaguely to do with my own life at the moment. So probably not.

"Although I have learnt that I can never tell..." she confesses. "We might ring off and then suddenly a way of doing it, that would be different, will occur to me, and I will think about it."

As for others: "Certainly I think a lot of people will write and that's a good thing - even if you just keep a private diary to express yourself," she maintains.

"But certainly, if you use King Lear as an example, it's a wonderful play, but it's about people becoming deranged," she says, Shakespeare having written the tragic play while in quarantine due to the plague.

"We could all do one week (in isolation). We could all do one month. But more than that and it does get a bit bleak.

"Even on the nicest holiday, I think by the end of the second week, the idea of going home, there is a sneaking, 'Right I've had enough now, I want to get back to my real life'," she says.

"So this is difficult."

Four Kids And It is available on Sky Cinema now

Belfast Telegraph