A few weeks ago, on a wet, grey Sunday afternoon, Zoe and I attended a retrospective talk from Judith Kerr. Held as part of the Highgate and Hampstead Literary Festival, it was to commemorate the publication of Creatures: A Celebration of the Life and Work of Judith Kerr.
I grew up adoring The Tiger Who came to Tea and the Mog books, so though it outwardly appeared work-related, it was the child in me whose appetite needed sating.
We walked into an already captivated room, headed up by Judith Kerr and Julia Eccleshare. The talk started, naturally, with her childhood and the fascinating experiences she had growing up as a German refugee in both France and England during World War II. Though turbulent, she described it all as an “adventure”. This period of her life later became the basis of her (partly-autobiographical) novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.
As Kerr continued, we heard about her time at Art College, working at the BBC, and her family life. Like many women at the time, she stayed at home to raise her children. It was then that early versions of ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ were being told to her young children. Her husband would often work late, or away, which she found, at times, could be lonely, and she would imagine what would happen if an unexpected visitor were to call. . .
Kerr told many stories to her children, but the one about the tiger proved the most popular request from her daughter. The enthusiasm for this tale, plus further encouragement from her husband (also a writer) became the starting point for an incredible career in children’s books.
Both Zoe and I found Judith Kerr to be incredibly modest, positive and entertaining. Her ability to observe and record the everyday, with a touch of artistic license, was very inspiring and relatable. It was particularly pleasing to find out Mog was in fact the family cat, although as the series spanned many years, he had a few replacements.
The talk was rounded off with a preview of Kerr’s new work, and a Q and A session. At which point, a concerned young fan was keen to check whether Kerr was “still upset about Pink Rabbit?”