BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Zeb Soanes has a new children’s book out next week – described by Dame Judi Dench as a ‘wonderous adventure’. Here, he explains why Fred and the Fantastic Tub-Tub has an environmental message – without being an ‘issue’ book
I had a wonderful childhood, rich with play and creativity. I could have easily opted for a safer career, but I am grateful to the teachers who didn’t extinguish my creative ambitions and to my parents who have always encouraged and supported me, even when they must have worried early-on about the security of the path I was taking. I feel thankful to have spent the past 25 years making a living from writing and performing. It wasn’t luck, it was hard work and a lot of kindness from people who encouraged me.
My family have lived in and around Lowestoft for centuries and all my immediate family are there, save my niece Jessica, who is studying illustration at Norwich University of the Arts. Suffolk is my spiritual home; London is where I live. A walk on the beach at Pakefield puts everything in perspective.
At the start of the pandemic, I was due to have a World Premiere and a year ago I had a stroke. What I learned about myself is that it’s okay to say no to things and, after building a career in London for 25 years, I now want to spend much more time with my family.
I was one of those who, for operational reasons, couldn’t do their jobs from home, so I continued cycling-in to Broadcasting House throughout the pandemic, socially distanced from colleagues with whom I had sat shoulder-to-shoulder for years. It did feel as if we were providing a true public service and, of course, at times the news was difficult to relate…but that’s the job.
The Gaspard the Fox series was inspired by my near-daily encounters with a real urban fox. I was commissioned by an orchestra to write Fred and the Fantastic Tub-Tub around the same time as the first Gaspard book. My head was full of foxes at the time, so it was a real challenge to come up with a completely new adventure and characters, but I was inspired by Blue Planet II which the BBC had recently broadcast and consequently the environment is at the heart of the story.
I wanted the environmental message to be a central part of the story, without it feeling like an ‘issue’ book. Fred and her grandfather travel to a wonderful island. When they get there, they discover that it lies in an area of the Pacific Ocean where all the world’s plastic gathers and, if something isn’t done about it, they may be the last to witness the island’s wonders. The book contains lots of ideas for reducing our plastic consumption and ways to reuse it at the back.
I’ll keep writing stories as long as I have ideas and children want to read them. I’ve always imagined ten adventures for Gaspard the Fox (we’re now up to four). I had a hugely enjoyable time at UEA, and it gave me the space and opportunities to try things out (which is what university is for) and Norwich is a wonderfully creative city in which to live.
My partner Christophe and I are looking to move to Norwich and divide our time between there and London, where I still need to be for my broadcasting work. Christophe took to Norwich instantly as it reminded him of the mediaeval French city in which he grew up and, for me, it will be lovely to return to my university city, ‘the city of stories’, which I hope will inspire a few more of mine.
Featured image of Zeb Soanes – picture credit: Andrew Crowley