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Transcript from an interview with Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton

Below is an edited transcript from Reading Rockets' interview with Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton. The transcript is divided into the following clips:

It started with a game of dare

Julie Andrews: I've been writing for about thirty-five years now, and my first book for children came about as a result of a game that I was playing with my children and the game was about a dare. If you lost the game you had to pay a forfeit, and I was the first to lose the game and my eldest daughter said write us a story as a forfeit and I thought whoa, I might be able to do that. I could write two pages like an Aesop's Fable or something, a little tiny, tiny piece.

And then I thought no. My eldest daughter at the time was in a new step-daughter and I thought maybe it would be something that would help us bond. And so I began writing, and I would never have continued writing if it hadn't been for my husband who is the writer in the family- or at least has been for many, many, many years. He just kept saying it's a sweet idea: just keep the pages going. Keep it growing.

I did which is encouragement which is why I wrote for so many years under the name Julie Edwards and then gradually it became Julie Andrews-Edwards. Then people didn't know whether to ask for a Julie Andrews book or a Julie Edwards book so eventually I stuck with Julie Andrews.

But thanks to my husband and his encouragement I began to write and so enjoyed it and gave the book to my daughter, Jenny, and then wrote another one and a little thing called life got in the way and do you want to take it from there, how he began?

Emma Walton Hamilton: Well we were about – now about twelve years ago – I was and continue to be an arts educator and my son who was one at the time had been born and was a great part of our lives, and my mom was asked by her publisher if she had ever considered writing for a younger audience because her first two novels were middle grade, YA-ish.

She said, well let me think about it. And she came to me and she said if you were looking for something for Sam but maybe were having trouble finding it or wished it existed what would it be? Because he was so passionate about trucks and I mean to the exclusion of all else I said no contest it would be something about trucks but something that had substance to it and had perhaps you know was character driven and had a little theme and so forth.

Julie Andrews: Which you couldn't find, could you?

Emma Walton Hamilton: Which I was having trouble finding, yeah. So we set about trying our hand at writing a truck book together that was character-driven and it became such a labor of love and such a wonderful extension of our relationship.

Julie Andrews: We weren't sure that we'd compatible at first. We thought maybe we're both fairly bossy individuals.

Emma Walton Hamilton: But I was also say, Marie, because you asked about specifically why we're interested in writing for young people, and I will say that I think your work has really, most of your life, revolved around young people in one way or another as a performer, as a writer, all the many things you do – as an advocate.

Julie Andrews: Yes.

Emma Walton Hamilton: You know so that has been a theme in your life even before you started writing for children. I think they've been part of your life.

Julie Andrews: Before I even really knew it was I a way. It was something that happened and everything evolved out of that.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Maybe because you were a great big sister.

Julie Andrews: Yes. I was the eldest. A big, bossy sister, yes.

Emma Walton Hamilton: And for me I think I was originally a theater person, a producer/director/actor. But I had turned to books a great deal as a child myself as a source of companionship and inspiration and learning and comfort and all of those great things that books can be.

So at a certain moment in my life, actually the moment being when I had my own children. It is amazing what that does. My work in the theater began to shift more towards young audience type of work and education programs for children, arts education programs.

And I think the segue to writing for kids was kind of natural from there because it was such an important part of my life as a kid. I wanted to be able to contribute that to my own kids and other kids as well.

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Spoken word

Julie Andrews: For me, the songs that I choose to sing it has always been about what am I saying, what are the words meaning? I'm not very good at singing – I mean I can do a coloratura moment or a cadenza or something, but a song for me has to have meaning in a story or say something very, very clearly.

I realized in short order that lyrics are poems also. They are beautiful poems, especially the ones that I choose to sing. It was a very easy thing to include some lyrics in our new children's anthology.

In terms of the arts, everything about singing is about spoken word really. It is an extension of a spoken word. You just add your singing voice to it. So songs get broken down just as a scene would get broken down: what did it mean, where am I going with this, what is the end result, what do I want? Then I think your teaching in the arts was so important to you.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Yeah, I think the arts and literature have always been irrevocably connected. Because if you think about it, every film script, every play, every song starts as words on the page before it is ever performed or filmed or sung.

And so it is a form of literature. It's a performing art rather than a literature art in a sense. But it is irrevocably intertwined, and it's all about story. They're both about story. They're all about story.

Julie Andrews: And whenever possible – we made a pack pact when we first began writing and publishing together that we would combine as much of the arts in every way into our books. What is the paper, what are the end papers like, can we package it with a CD, can we include music in some way? We've been fairly successful.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Can we adapt it into a play? Can we adapt it…

Julie Andrews: Can we do this or that, yes. And the pieces continues to kind of grow and stretch.

Emma Walton Hamilton: I think we also in terms of the way in which the two synergize, we think symmetrically when we write. So, for example, a lot of our openings are somewhat cinematic or theatrical.

Julie Andrews: For me they certain are. I mean think of any symphony. Does it open with a fanfare? Did it open with a quiet, quiet passage where suddenly the theme comes in? And it is so exciting to say, what mood am I trying to convey in this particular book? And no matter how young the book, for instance, the first books that you and I wrote together, the Little Dumpy series, they usually begin with the cockerel crowing on the barn roof and that is a fanfare, and he says it's morning and we're here. It's a sort of musical thought that translates to the written word.

The book we wrote called Dragon opens with a very pastoral passage, and I heard in my head as we were writing it – I saw the plain. I saw it as a movie. What would it look like if that were realized, and it helps enormously to have been in the theater or film and be able to envision that kind of thing. It helps me anyway, and I think we both utilize that.

Julie Andrews: I have to say one other thing also, and that is we've discovered that particularly with the poets that it's true now. We've made a pack pact now that we will read all our books aloud before we send them for publication because there's a huge difference between reading the written page and reading it aloud.

And in the case of the poems in our newest anthology we were asked to make the audio book of the anthology and it was a revelation. Poems that I thought might be a little old or stayed turned out to be of course, the best. Tennyson's "The Brook" for instance.

I mean, afterwards we both looked at each other and said that is a phenomenal poem because it rolls like the brook and it ripples like the brook and it trickles and falls over waterfalls and the alliterations are so great. Just everything about it- when it's read out loud, adds a dimension.

So you cannot extricate every aspect of the arts from any other aspect of the arts I don't think. That's not very well put is it?

Emma Walton Hamilton: That says it perfectly.

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Reading together, writing together

Emma Walton Hamilton: I think that the great benefit of reading together as a family and sharing books and sharing the arts in all there wonderful forms but particularly reading together. Whether it's literature, poetry, fiction or non-fiction is the opportunity that it affords for family bonding, for shared experience, for memory building.

There is nothing like it to ignite a conversation about a meaningful topic, to explore an issue that perhaps a young person may be wrestling with and needs guidance on to spark a conversation, to create an association or a legacy as one grows and think back to oh, where we were when we read The Wind in the Willows or where we were each time of the year what that favorite Christmas poem was brought out or New Year's or whatever it is.

I mean it's a wonderful, wonderful way to create memories and bonding traditions and legacy together as a family. But of course the extension of that for us is that we've had this wonderful gift of writing together as well as reading together. The great surprise for us in that is the degree to which it has further strengthened our relationship.

I mean, I think we've been very fortunate to have enjoyed a strong mother/daughter relationship, but we certainly went through our mom/daughter thing as every mom and daughter does. But the thing about writing together is that during that time when we are playing in our creative sandbox the rest of the world goes by and it's not about family drama and it's not about health complaints or politics or worries or anxieties or quibbles with one another or any of those things. It's just about the creative play. And it's an enormous gift because we have these extended periods of time where all we do is play together creatively.

Julie Andrews: And stir the pot and literally work our way towards our end or our aim depending on what we're writing.

Emma Walton Hamilton: And learn. And we learn from the …

Julie Andrews: Oh the research is tremendous.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Tremendous amounts of research, and so when we're working together we might be online exploring the country where a book takes place or a particular— for instance, Dragon.

Julie Andrews: I'm a whiz on medieval armor.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Exactly. Or our middle grade novel Dragon takes place in medieval times, and neither of us is a medieval scholar.

Julie Andrews: In France no less. So it's not Italian tilting and fighting. It's French and what kind of uniform? Did they have chainmail at the time that we have set our story in?

Emma Walton Hamilton: And what did they eat and what did they sleep on? What did they drink and how did they speak and all of those issues that we found on every single page we would have to stop and go research.

Julie Andrews: I think if we'd known when we began – well, we'd still have done it. But the other thing is we have enormous respect for each other I believe. Emma has strengths that are different than mine.

Emma Walton Hamilton: They're complimentary.

Julie Andrews: They are very complimentary. So, whereas Emma is – I think you're more about the structure of what we need and where we're going. You're tremendous with outlines and things like that. I do more the flights of fancy and the moments when the book should take off some where or…

Emma Walton Hamilton: The great opening sentence or the great closing sentence. Or the wonderful characters and twists.

Julie Andrews: Or something in between. How can we fold people in together. I mean the joy – we say 'oh, but we must do that and weave that back in' and suddenly everything begins to fall into place. It's a great journey of discovery for us both.

Emma Walton Hamilton: It is. I also would just add that I was sort of in the background helping mom with her autobiography when she was writing her autobiography and I cannot recommend highly enough that exercise as a gift for parents and children whether they're children or adult children. To explore one's parent's history with them and to listen to the family stories and to learn about one's history through that experience was just such a gift. A gift not only to me and to our relationship but to my children and hopefully to their children.

Julie Andrews: And there were pieces of English history that you were unaware of until I said that I was a part of this or I was a part of that.

Emma Walton Hamilton: I think it should be mandatory. I think that at a certain point in our lives we should have to interview our parents. And whether we publish that as a book is irrelevant.

Julie Andrews: It's the doing.

Emma Walton Hamilton: It's just about the stories that we learn and the way in which they inform our lives.

Julie Andrews: Happily, she's the most wonderfully curious daughter. So you would draw me out too which was very helpful in writing a memoir.

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Creating the anthology of poems, songs, and lullabies

Julie Andrews: Every anthology of poems has sea poems and…

Emma Walton Hamilton: Animal poems.

Julie Andrews: Animal poems – but we hoped that poems about optimism or poems about…

Emma Walton Hamilton: Growing up.

Julie Andrews: Or going to sleep. Well, there are a lot of books that have lullabyish poems.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Poems about the world. That was a great discovery actually in culling this collection and in pulling it all together we didn't set out to say these are what the sections will be. We pulled the choices first and then kind of spread them out and allowed the sections to reveal themselves to us based on what we had selected.

It was fascinating to discover. We expected that there would be the section on animals or the section on the sea. But we never expected a section on optimism. But it became apparent from the collection, from the selections that we had made, that there were so many, and who knew that this was a shared family value as much as it was. Annoyingly Pollyannaish though we may be.

Julie Andrews: Yes, I get it

Emma Walton Hamilton: Both of us.

Julie Andrews: I say in the introductions if you think about it poems are the first things we learn and remember as children. Things like [singing] "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P." It rhymes, and it has a certain rhythm and music to it. So it captures our ear.

And also think about Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are. Or Rain, Rain Go Away, Come Again Another Day. Things that, they catch you. You remember them always. Those early sing-song poems begin the journey toward a love of poetry.

I think of a poem as a gift. I think we both do. There's one that teaches us about the wonder of our world or it captures a moment or a feeling that we may never have recognized until the poem was a voices it for us.

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"The Loveliest of Trees" and "Sea Fever"

Julie Andrews: I'd be thrilled to read a poem. Shall I read my dad's favorite poem?

Emma Walton Hamilton: Sure.

Julie Andrews: Certainly one of the ones he always used to quote to me when we were walking the lanes of the countryside together. And it's a poem by A.E. Housman, and it's called "Loveliest of Trees" and it is a beautiful poem.

"Loveliest of Trees, the cherry now is hung with bloom along the bow, and stands about the woodland ride wearing white for Easter tide. Now of my three score years and ten, twenty will not come again, and take from seventy springs of score it only leaves me fifty more. And since to look at things in bloom, fifty springs are little room. About the woodlands I will go, to see the cherry hung with snow."

I think it's a beautiful, beautiful poem and somehow comes alive if you read it aloud. What do you feel like reading?

Emma Walton Hamilton: Gosh.

Emma Walton Hamilton: This is "Sea Fever" by John Mansfield. "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by. And the wheels kick and the winds song and the white sails shaking, and gray mist on the sea's face and a gray dawn breaking.

"I must go down to the seas again for the call of the running tide is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied. And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying and the flung spray and the blown spewn and the seagulls crying. I must go down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life. To the gulls way and the whales way where the wind's like a wetted knife. And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover, and quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over".

Julie Andrews: I wish I'd written that. I would have loved to have written that. Wouldn't you love to have written that?

Emma Walton Hamilton: Wouldn't you love to be able to write like that?

Julie Andrews: Oh, I'd be so proud if I'd written that. Isn't that a beautiful poem?

Emma Walton Hamilton: Yeah, it's a beautiful, beautiful poem.

Julie Andrews: It's got such rhythm and music and it's so evocative.

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"The King's Breakfast"

Emma Walton Hamilton: This is the first poem that we decided to include in the anthology when we were first asked to put this collection together and it is a family favorite. It was read to you when you were a little girl. You read it to me when I was a little girl. I read it to my children and it is "The King's Breakfast" by A.A. Milne.

Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton: "The king asked the queen and the queen asked the dairy maid, 'could we have some butter for the royal slice of bread?' The queen asked the dairy maid and the dairy maid said, 'Certainly. I'll go and tell the cow now before she goes to bed.' The dairy maid, she curtsied and went and told the alder maid, 'don't forget the butter for the royal slice of bread.'

"The alder maid said sleepily 'you better tell his majesty that many people nowadays like marmalade instead.' The dairy maid said 'fancy' and went to her majesty. She curtsied to the queen and she turned a little red. 'Excuse me your majesty for taking the liberty, but marmalade is tasty if it's very thickly spread.'

"The queen said 'oh,' and went to his majesty. 'Talking of the butter for the royal slice of bread many people think that marmalade is nicer. Would you like to try a little marmalade instead?' The kind said 'bother' and then he said 'oh dear me.' The king said 'Oh, dear me.' The King sobbed, "Oh, deary me!" and went back to bed.

"'Nobody' he whispered 'could call me a fussy man. I only want a little bit of butter for my bread.' The queen said there, 'there and went to the dairy maid.' The dairy maid said 'there, there' and went to the shed. The cow said 'there, there I didn't really mean it. He has milk for his porringer and butter for his bread.'

"The queen took the butter and brought it to his majesty. The king said 'butter, eh!' and bounced out of bed. 'Nobody' he said as he kissed her tenderly. 'Nobody,' he said as he slid down the banisters. 'Nobody my darling could call me a fussy man. But I do like a little bit of butter to my bread.'"

Julie Andrews: Don't we all?

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Finding your voice

Julie Andrews: The ear, it's very, very complicated. The ear informs the mind and although – the truth is when singing, you should not listen to yourself too much because if you start listening to yourself it's very, very important to do it while you're practicing and rehearsing and working it out.

And it helps enormously to tape something and listen back to it because you'll see where you're not making something clear or where an emphasis needs to be. But once you are actually performing if you listen too much to yourself you're turning inward and in fact what you want to do is send what you're doing. You want to send it out there and not sort of revel in what you're doing as much as giving it to the audience.

But I cannot stress how important the ear is because somehow everything you do, where you place your voice, how you place it, it's an amazing set- it's muscle memory with brain, with ear. It's so knit together it's hard to explain.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Well I think a voice as an extension of one's authenticity. I mean in other words I think of voice as the way in which we each individually express who we are. That may be expressed through our singing voice through a song or it may be expressed through out spoken voice, through dialog and words, or it may be expressed through our written voice which is also our voice. It is the way in which we put ourselves out into the world and offer our perspective and our unique persona to the world.

Julie Andrews: Would that we would hear as we hope to be. I mean sometimes it's very muddling there are so many choices. But yes, ultimately what you choose to put on paper is your voice.

Emma Walton Hamilton: And I – I actually teach play writing and writing of all forms to middle school and high school students, and the focus of all the writing programs that we teach is in fact not so much about the skill set of writing – although that's of course important, the grammar and the structure and so forth – as it is about finding and accessing and expressing voice because helping young people to discover what it is they want to say and then how to articulate that and finding the courage to express it is I think at the root of all writing that ultimately reaches other people's hearts.

Julie Andrews: I think you've often said to me, the surprise is the children that don't think they could do it and discover that they do have a voice and a very valid one and a very good one.

Emma Walton Hamilton: And the other part of the conversation is, when you stopped singing as much and began writing more we had a discussion about voice then as well.

Julie Andrews: Emma said to me – I was bemoaning the fact that I wasn't singing as much – and she said mom, you've just found a different way of using your voice.

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A parent's gift

Julie Andrews: He often committed a poem to memory and kept it as a friend. If he was walking alone in the countryside and he felt the need he would bring back a poem that he knew by heart and recite it and he said it kept him company.

I was terribly impressed by that. I thought it was such a clever thing to do first of all to commit a poem really to memory. You might learn it by rote, but to actually learn something because it makes you feel very, very good inside and then walk the country lanes and recite it to yourself.

I was impressed. But he bought me my first books, he bought me my first poetry anthology. His love, his reading to me when I was a child did influence everything from then on. I think I've passed that on to Emma and she passes it on to her children which are my grandchildren. It's wonderful to see the traditions continuing.

Emma Walton Hamilton: For me the key to raising a bookworm or to being a bookworm is holding on to the joy of reading and promoting and advancing and continuing to experience the connection between reading and pleasure.

So often when we go to school and we learn to read independently reading can become associated with chore or with pressure or with frustration and that's counter-intuitive in terms of growing up to love reading. What we really want is to further the love of reading and all the warm and fuzzy feelings that it can promote.

And so what I try to do in my house and what I write about in Raising Bookworms is to look for those very obvious proactive ways to continue to support the joy of reading but also stealth mode activities to support the joy of reading. So it's everything from keeping books everywhere whether it's in the kitchen or the bathroom or the bedroom or the car ready at hand, available for a good read whenever the opportunity strikes.

It's making sure that you have a warm and inviting reading environment that has good lighting and isn't distracted by noise and perhaps the opportunity when we're reading together as a family to snuggle up and cuddle and equate reading with love and pleasure that way.

It's been giving of books as gifts, its the visits to libraries and bookstores to experience all the tactile pleasures that books represent.

Julie Andrews: It's the discovery.

Emma Walton Hamilton: All those things that feed the association between books and pleasure I think are the key to raising a bookworm.

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Family scrapbooks filled with poems, letters

Julie Andrews: In terms of the poems, poems in our family ripple through our lives. We frequently write poems for each other as gifts. All members of the family – birthdays, Christmases, special occasions, something that we wish to capture or…

Emma Walton Hamilton: Graduations, weddings, transitions, all sorts of…

Julie Andrews: Just a thought sometimes, how one feels about something.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Coming of age.

Julie Andrews: Yes. There's a poem in here called "I've Lost My Sense of Humor" which is me feeling very bad tempered one day because everybody was picking on me and so I turned it into a humorous poem. Poems as gifts are wonderful, and we always have continued that tradition in our family I think. You do it with your children.

Emma Walton Hamilton: I do it with my kids. My kids write poems.

Julie Andrews: I have several books of all our poems, all our little scraps.

Emma Walton Hamilton: That's actually something we should talk about. I think one of the great gifts that you gave to our family and continue to give to our family even before we had digital publishing and it wasn't easy as it is now.

With the fact that my mom kept every single thing that we – my brother and sisters and I wrote – and had it bound in these wonderful leather bound books with our initials on them so that we had them forever and we felt honored and supported in our writing and we felt that these were worthy.

Julie Andrews: And those memories are extraordinary.

Emma Walton Hamilton: They are, and each one of them…

Julie Andrews: Sometimes it was a letter, sometimes it was a poem.

Emma Walton Hamilton: And each one of them takes us back to a particular time or a particular place or an association or a memory.

Julie Andrews: I'll never forget your saying dear mommy, I have run away. I'll be in the pool house if you need me. Wonderful letter.

Emma Walton Hamilton: Yeah, yeah.

Julie Andrews: You were very mad at me for some reason. You were about this high.

Emma Walton Hamilton: To me it's a great, great lesson in keeping everything one writes and everything one's children write because you know you can look back on them years later and they become these cherished memories.

Julie Andrews: Dusty…

Emma Walton Hamilton: These treasures.

Julie Andrews: ….and in the way but worth it, very worth it.

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A poetry Renaissance?

Emma Walton Hamilton: I think poetry is actually having a real come back at the moment, and I think people are re-discovering not just it's music, and it's lyricism, and it's sweetness, but also it's muscle. I think that poetry has chops in a sense and really has the power to give us a very satisfying experience in a very short period of time.

Julie Andrews: Yes, in this era of sound bites and the electronic age and so on, it's a fabulous way to capture a memory, a moment, to feel something, to have somebody voice something for you through a poem.

Emma Walton Hamilton: And what I'm seeing at schools and in the younger generation now, is poetry slams and you see these won

"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." — Paul Sweeney