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We chat to Ade Edmondson

The comedy star turned children's author talks about his new book 'Tilly and the Time Machine'

We chat to Ade Edmondson

Ade Edmonson may be best known for his roles in The Young Ones and Bottom, but he is now releasing his first children’s fiction book called Tilly and the Time Machine.

The book tells the story of young, inquisitive girl Tilly, whose Dad creates a time machine and all Tilly want to do is go back in time to her sixth birthday when she ate too many cupcakes and her mummy was still there…

We chatted to Ade about writing the book, who inspired the main character and where he would go if he could use a time machine…

Who is the character of Tilly based on?

A friend of mine has three young children and they moved in next door. There’s two boys and a young girl and she’s the inspiration for Tilly. She’s a very direct 7 year old. You’ll find yourself in a staring competition with her before you know you’ve started one. She’s very funny. I offered her dad a drink once and she said, ‘now you’re going to drink beer and start laughing and nobody will have said anything funny’. She’s got a bluntness which is endearing.


Where do you write?

I have a study, which is like a man cave with lots of maps on the wall, lots of instruments, toys; lots of things to play with. It’s where I spend most of my days actually even when I’m not working.


Where did the idea for Tilly come from?

When they moved in next door I thought I could write a story about these kids. I was looking after them one night and I thought I’d read them some Roald Dahl but they said, ‘we’ve heard all those’. So I thought I’d better start making one up.

Is Tilly like any other famous fictional characters?

You try not to copy characters but a lot of kids books, well the ones I like, involve kids who are faced with something to fix that they’d usually have adults help them with. Things like Emil and the Detectives and most of the Grimm stories involve kids being up against it.


Do you prefer writing adult or children’s fiction?

I’ve been trying to write a second adult book for years and doing this project kind of broke the spell on that. I found I could write about adult stuff much more easily in a kids book than in an adult book. This book is about how you deal with grief, which is a present thing as you get older, lots of people start to die. I’ve been able to tackle it much better in this form than in adult form where it can become a bit self regarding and pompous.

I thought a character like Tilly could talk about it much more easily. I’ve noticed that adults find it very difficult to talk about death. Bizarre isn’t it. I don’t know if we used to be able to do it – maybe the Victorians were better at it. We don’t talk about it nowadays; everyone clams up and talks about the weather whereas Tilly is more on the nose. She says, ‘why haven’t we got any photos up?’


Do you prefer writing on your own or collaboratively?

Both. I’m writing a play at the minute with Nigel Planer and I enjoy that, but I think if you’re writing fiction it’s hard to do with someone else. Anything that involves two people talking like a play or TV comedy you sort of inhabit the two characters and do it that way.


Who did you get to read the book?

I wrote the first draft very quickly in about three weeks and had people read it. The kids I mentioned read it and they wrote little book reports. My youngest daughter, who is 26, read it at most stages – she was a good sounding board.


Whose books did you read growing up?

My favourite book as a kid was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It’s about a boy who receives a magic tollbooth, drives through it in a little pedal car and goes to the Kingdom of Wisdom. It’s the first time I learnt about word play – at one point they’re sitting in the car and it won’t go and the duke says, ‘be very quiet, for it goes without saying’, and they become silent and the car drives. I remember he jumps to conclusions as well, and jumps to the island of conclusions.


Whose novels do you most enjoy now?

I generally read textbooks and encyclopedias. I’ve started reading Thomas Hardy which is a land I didn’t know about. I didn’t realise how modern he is and how funny he is. It’s just very human stuff; how people fall in and out of love and how they don’t say anything. The stuff they get really badly wrong on Eastenders.


Do you want to write more children’s books?

Yes the second one is nearly finished. It’s about a little boy called Henry who runs away with a talking horse – a Shetland pony who is very cross and sort of Edwardian. He talks in old fashioned language and says things like ‘gadzooks’.


What age is the book aimed at?

For the kids next door – around age 7.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go?

I’d quite like to go back to my own teens and say the right thing and correct all the bits that I said that were stupid. That’s how the book started actually - Tilly was originally just going to use the time machine to work out how to defeat the bullies on the way back from school.


What specific era would you like to revisit?

There’s a series of landscape paintings by early explorers that you can see in New York – they’re vistas of virgin territory and I’d quite like to go back to that. They’re pioneers in 1600’s America.


If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

An interesting conundrum – If you go back and change something then the future wouldn’t be the same as it was. I spent quite a few days puzzling over how time travel could work, and the truth is, it can’t.

Tilly and the Time Machine is available to buy in your local Asda store