Author Jacqueline Wilson on the music that shaped her

One of the world’s best-selling children’s authors, Jacqueline Wilson is a former children’s laureate and a staunch campaigner for the benefits of reading. Author of over 100 books, her stories about Tracy Beaker were made into a much-loved television series. Jacqueline Wilson’s Wonderful World with the BBC Symphony Orchestra was broadcast on Radio 3 on 31 December, 2021.

‘The first time I was struck by music, it was the theme tune of the 1957 television adaptation of The Railway Children. This tune, the second of Grieg’s Symphonic Dancesis so haunting and beautiful that it summed up the experience of the book for me.

‘Bizarrely, my latest book is a kind of reimagining of The Railway Children and when I was thinking about how I could take on this rather impertinent task, somebody mentioned that theme music. I tracked it down and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up to remember just how much it meant to me. The television company ran a painting competition based on The Railway Children and I’d just been given a painting set, so I got to work. I couldn’t make the train look right so I just painted the three main children waving their red flags and, astonishingly, I won!

‘My second choice is Linda Ronstadt singing ‘Freezing’ from Philip Glass’s album Songs from Liquid Days. When I was writing my early books, I played it over and over again and it was just like the angel was singing to me. I discovered I really like that rhythmic repetition of music to get myself into a particular mood.

‘I was working very hard in those days, writing many books that no one remembers now. An editor told me that they liked my stories but they would never be popular with children. ‘Freezing’ reminds me of those days, when I wasn’t selling many books but I wrote for the joy of it. Laughs The Story of Tracy Beakerparticularly the TV adaptation, changed my career around.

‘I first came across Michael Nyman’s music via the stunning Peter Greenaway film The Draughtsman’s Contract. He’s another composer who uses repetition, and I’ve picked ‘The Heart Asks Pleasure First’ from his score for Jane Campion’s film The Piano. The piano plays such a crucial part in the film and that little piece expresses so many emotions, from danger to passion.

‘As well as the wonderful Harvey Keitel, I loved the strong relationship between the mother and the daughter – Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin – which is so lovely and unusual. I’ve actually mentioned it in one of my books, although watching it again I realize it’s really not suitable for children!

‘Tasmin Little’s recording of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending is a great favorite and I’ve known and admired her playing for a long time. I made probably the biggest faux pas of my life when I met the 20-something Tasmin and her mother in a hotel in Hay-on-Wye.

‘She looked much younger and when her mother mentioned that Tasmin went to the Menuhin School, I said brightly, ‘Maybe you’ll be able to play the violin professionally’. Little did I know that she was already an international star with several recordings to her name! I’ve been to several of her concerts and she transmits such joy in her playing.

‘I had a wonderful time collaborating with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on a family concert that combined readings from my books with music, and it introduced me to some unfamiliar works, including Masquerade by the brilliant composer Anna Clyne. I didn’t grasp it on first hearing but after listening again and again, I realized it’s a bit like starting to read a 19th-century novel – you have to readjust yourself. Then it became very special to me.

‘Mei-Ann Chen conducted the whole concert with such joy and respect, and it was good to show the children in the audience that music isn’t just made by men, it’s interpreted and imagined by women too. Since that lovely opportunity to be involved in a concert myself, I am going to pursue this interest in classical music and become a dedicated concert-goer from now on!’

Jacqueline Wilson’s musical choices

Grieg Symphonic Dances, Op. 64 no. 2

Academy of St Martin in the Fields/ Neville Marriner

Hänssler CD 98.128

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