Emma Kennedy looks forward to Hitchin return

Emma Kennedy will discuss her work and her latest book Shoes for Anthony' at Hitchin Priory on Frid

Emma Kennedy will discuss her work and her latest book Shoes for Anthony' at Hitchin Priory on Friday, July 28. - Credit: Archant

Actor, writer, broadcaster, comedian and all-round good-egg Emma Kennedy is coming to Hitchin as the town’s festival draws to a close.

Good-natured former Hitchin Girls’ School pupil Emma – who achieved incredible success with her bestselling book The Tent, The Bucket and Me will be speaking at a special event on the evening of Friday, July 28.

The Comic Relief star – who has helped raised considerable funds for the charity – penned the book as a love letter to social housing.

The former Celebrity Masterchef winner lived in a Stevenage council house and went to Roebuck Primary School and Nursery in Broadwater, before later going to Whitehill Junior School in Hitchin, and Hitchin Girls’ School on Highbury Road.

And now’s she coming back to the town for an evening called ‘A Literary Supper with Emma Kennedy’.

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Read on her exclusive with the Comet’s Layth Yousif ahead of the eagerly-anticipated event.

Hi Emma, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to the Comet, it’s great to talk to you again. You must be looking forward to the event for lots of reasons – but firstly how important is it that Hitchin now has its first book festival [to be held at the British Schools’ Museum on Saturday, July 29, the day after Emma’s Priory event] How important is it to encourage reading?

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It’s a massive thing for Hitchin. It’s incredible Hitchin has turned itself into this vibrant, creative epicentre in Herts.

I remember when I was growing up, the Queen Mother Theatre was literally just for thespians. Nowadays, every now and again a tweet will pop up saying ‘I’m in Hitchin tonight’ and you just think ‘blimey, I wish I had that when I was younger’. I would have been up there all the time.

I think especially today when we are bombarded with social media and people are just attached to their smart phones from the day they’re born ‘til death that actually that adds to the stress. Social media and the internet adds to stress.

Whereas if you sit down with a book it’s just a brilliant way of being able to spend a quiet moment in your day. It just slows you down and it’s relaxing, and it transports you to a world you may have had no experience of. You engage with characters on an emotional level which is healthy and good.

People’s attention spans now are just all over the place and there’s nothing like a sunny day and thinking ‘you know what, I’m just going to sit in the garden and read a book’. It is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Which books did you love to read as a youngster?

One of my favourite books was My Family and Other Animals. I absolutely loved that. I adored To Kill A Mockingbird. I was quite a voracious reader but there was no such thing as the internet when I was growing up, no one had phones in their hands or anything. The only thing you could play with when you were a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s was your calculator, that was literally it, just turn it upside down a write funny words. That was the sum total of what you could do.

I was reading books constantly, just all the time. I read all the Jane Austin books by the time I was 12. I love Dickens and Thomas Hardy, all the Victorian novelists who were great story tellers and the brilliant thing about Victorian novels is they were written as serials so they were sort of like the first soap operas. The reason those books are all so amazing is they are constant cliff hangers because it’s how they were serialised.

The reaction to your bestseller The Tent, The Bucket and Me has been phenomenal...

Still to this day, there’s not a week goes by without me getting a tweet, an email or a letter from somebody who’s read it. When I first wrote that book I didn’t think in a million years anyone would be interested in reading about someone’s disastrous childhood. It turns out everyone was interested in my disastrous childhood. It was just something everyone could sort of recognise and empathise with because everyone has been on terrible family holidays and I just happened to write them all down.

It’ll be a Hollywood film next...

Funny you should say that! It’s been bought by 20th Century Fox. The original TV version is out on Netflix and there might be an American version. It’ll have to be different, maybe they could do it in an American version of Stevenage. It’ll have to be completely different. At the moment, we are thinking it’ll either be a suburb or San Francisco or a suburb of Los Angeles. You’d never think in a million years that we’d be saying Stevenage is like a suburb of Los Angeles.

What would the American equivalent of Hitchin be – Haight Ashbury...?

Hitchin would be a very posh part of San Francisco where they make their own pork pies.

You must love speaking about the book, as you’ll be doing at Hitchin Priory on Friday, July 28 – what’s the best part about an event like that?

I always love the question section – when we get to that bit, that’s the most fun. One of the best ones I ever had, I once went to a school and a child was going crackers with their arm up and I said ‘yes’, he looked at me and he said ‘how old are you?’ and I said ‘I’m 48.’ He frowned and he said ‘does that mean you were born in the last century?’ and I said ‘yes I was’ and the whole group went ‘woooow, born in the last century’. It was so funny, I just laughed. I always like meeting other writers and enjoying their work. It’s always wonderful to see what people are turning up. I love it.

You’ve always been a very hardworking comedian/actor/presenter/writer – what are you up to now?

I’ve just finished writing a new story for CBeebies called Waffle the Wonderdog. It’s been tremendous fun we are filming that at the moment. I am about to find out whether or not a BBC drama is going to go through. It’s a contemporary relationship drama set in London. I’ve just been to the decks of David Walliams book.

I recently turned 50 and I’ve made it a rule of every decade I have to learn something completely different. So I have signed up for a three-year gardening course which I have to do at home so I don’t have to physically go to college I get sent all the coursework. My first project has now been marked by my tutor and I got an A-, which I’m very pleased about.

For £25 tickets, call the Hitchin Initiative office on 01462 453335.

With additional reporting by Dan Mountney.

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