Creating The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord

I am often asked by children, parents and teachers what made me think up the ideas for my books. Many of the ideas for my picture books seem to have come out of small experiences in my life that I have wanted to reflect upon and then the wish to turn part of these memory glimpses into fantasy stories for children. My father has a loose connection with some of the stories I’ve done: with his advice as to how to get rid of wasps at picnics (for The Giant Jam Sandwich); the fact that I was too scared to tell him that I had lost one of my new roller-skates when I was a boy at school (for Mr Ellwood’s chase in The Runaway Roller-skate); and his annoyance at his next door neighbour for chucking snails over the garden wall (for the exploits of Mr Mead and his Garden).

I am describing here the background and evolution of events that led to the publication of The Giant Jam Sandwich, as this will probably be the most familiar of my children’s books. The story tells how a village called Itching Down is invaded by wasps one hot summer and of the residents’ efforts to rid themselves of their unwelcome guests by baking a huge loaf and spreading a slice of it with jam. As the wasps begin to gorge themselves on the strawberry jam, a second slice of bread is dropped on top of them from a great height (with the aid of helicopters and a flying tractor) and squashes flat most of the wasps, trapping them inside the sandwich. While all the villagers rejoice in a celebration, the wasp-filled sandwich is finally taken out to sea by hundreds of crows for the rest of the birds to feast upon.

The idea for this story was prompted by an event, which took place during an August holiday in Devon. My family was staying at a fairly remote farmhouse in Milton Damerel with a couple of friends who had two young boys, Alexander and Jonathan, aged five and three years. These young lads were terrified by wasps and, whenever there was a buzzing sound about the dining table or picnic cloth, they would squeal with alarm until the offending insects were removed from the scene.

One afternoon, during a walk across the fields, Alexander started to scream and shout because a wasp insisted on hovering continually about him. In order to quell his anxiety and divert his attention I settled the two boys and our three girls on the grass and, on the spur of the moment, proceeded to invent the bare bones of the story of what came to be The Giant Jam Sandwich.

wasp-and-jamThe germ of the idea must have sprung from my own childhood memory of my father’s habit of placing a slice of jam-covered crust some distance away from where we were picnicking in order to encourage aggravating wasps away from our food. My father was a baker, who had a bakery and cafe in Glossop in Derbyshire and you can see his old shop at the end of the book when the villagers are dancing. In the book my father can be seen in his familiar white coat, puffing upon his pipe and standing at the door of ‘Bert’s Cafe’.  I spent many hours working in his bake house on Saturdays and during the vacation period when I was an art student and I can remember hurling lumps of discarded dough at any wasp that dared to venture in and hover about the white tiled walls.

Over the years I have often received letters from children. On the first page of the book we can see the wasps swarming towards the village; ‘four million’ of them it states in the text. I once had a letter from a classroom of school children asking me why I had not drawn all the four million wasps as stated in the text. I wrote back saying that it took me on average about 45 seconds to draw a single wasp and I suggested that they should work out how long it would have taken me to draw all four million wasps. The answer is 180 million seconds, or 3 million minutes, or 50 thousand hours, or 2,083 days, making it nearly five years and nine months (if you were working on it 24 hours a day!).

John Vernon Lord originally presented this article as a case study at Bookquest in 1984; it was re-produced in ‘An author’s view: John Vernon Lord talking about picture books’ published in Reflections on Early Reading by Collins in 1990 and updated for a paper presented in Barcelona in 1999.


The Giant Jam Sandwich opens as a half term treat in association with Derby LIVE at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre on Saturday 11 February with performances daily at 11am and 2.30pm through to Saturday 18 February – you can book tickets here.

The production moves to Polka Theatre, Wimbledon, followed by tour dates around the country through to Saturday 25 March – you can see a full list of performance dates with booking links by clicking here.


John Vernon Lord is an author, illustrator and teacher. His children’s books have been published widely and translated into several languages. His picture book The Giant Jam Sandwich has become a classic, having been in print for over forty-four years. His career in education includes being head of various departments and schools during his many years teaching at Brighton. He was Professor of Illustration at the University of Brighton 1986-99, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He was the chair of the Graphic Design Board of the Council for National Academic Awards 1981-84. He is allergic to wasps!



Tim Elgood’s ‘Unforgettable’ on-tour Blog, Part II

Blog On The Tyne (Trent Nene and Welland)


So – Unforgettable duly up sticks from its temporary residential home at the Guildhall Theatre, Derby, and took to the road. Good to the lyrics of ‘My Old Man Said Follow The Band’, the wife and I didn’t dilly dally and pursued the “Dementia Roadshow” (audience member’s words – not mine) in our aged campervan.

St. Christopher’s Church Hall in downtown Sneinton was a gospel revelation. The predominantly female ‘full house’ which had congregated were vociferous in their appreciation of the play’s issues. Particularly audible appreciation was voiced for Rosie’s disclosure that her ex-husband of 29 years was still her best friend. Three couples gathered for their Interval refreshments and debated whether they too would remain friends in the event of separating. Mid-debate another audience member (who was also eaves-dropping) intervened and declared “This play could be about me and my ex – we’ve got on so well since splitting up we’re in danger of re-marrying”.


Onwards from Sneinton and Arnold to County Hall at Matlock – HQ for Derbyshire’s social worker brigade. The cast coped superbly with a tight performing space and equally lean off stage area. The silver lining to this intimate scenario was the close and intense presence of the production. It has become increasingly apparent upon this tour that a true ‘fraternity’ has developed both on and off stage in this play – and this was displayed no better than at Matlock.

I was approached post performance by Gay Bolton who is Arts reviewer for The Derbyshire Times. With a hint of a tear still in her eye and the need to blow her nose periodically she was glowing in her praise for all four actors. I wish Theresa had been within earshot – because praise was also heaped upon her direction and “seamless” time changes that – for this reviewer – had made the piece particularly “poignant and uncomfortably self-analytical”.

Onto Northants and Lincs – for two contrastingly sized audiences – but two customarily accomplished performances. For my wife and I (apologies for sounding a bit regal) the latter performance at Spalding was pretty much 10/10 all round for cast and crew alike. Another week on tour and then a finale performance in my home town of Crich which has long since sold out (100) and has a waiting list that  has now reached double figures I am informed. A fitting testament to all on board this “Dementia Roadshow”.

Other overheard audience quotes of the past week -:Pamela Raith Photography_Unforgettable_043

“Rosie and Jed are going to haunt me for a horribly long time”.

“I wanted to offer Jed my sit-on mower… he looked just like I used to feel”.

“Moaning’s the only bit I enjoy about caring”… “Sounded just like you when I had my stroke”.

“As one arthritic baboon to another – do you want an interval drink”?

Don’t ‘dilly dally’ – get out there and see it.

Tim Elgood.

Read Gay Bolton’s review for the Derbyshire Times HERE.

Tim Elgood’s ‘Unforgettable’ on-tour Blog

Blog On The Tyne (more on this title choice later)

Well… what an ‘unforgettable’ week’s production…

The Derby Guildhall Theatre

The Derby Guildhall Theatre

How was the play received?

Tearfully. Now that could reflect poorly upon the World Premiere of any play. As too could the elderly lady’s comment to me as she left the auditorium at the interval with a wry smile, “Oi young man …” (ok – she did wear thick specs) “have you been eavesdropping on my sister and me for the last decade”?

How was it received?

With open arms and opened hearts. Not that you will ever persuade a cast of actors of that fact. The great ‘play within a play’ was the sister/brother post match analysis that developed in the pub each night. The scene was wholly juxtaposed with the lines from the play: “The old ones loved it – and the young ones were too pissed to care”. Our ‘young ones’ were clearly relieved and celebrating getting the first night under their belts. Unbeknown to them they also had a lot of glowing audience feedback to later digest.

The ‘older ones’? Well… what do they say about fine wine? Lesson learnt by me: You cannot tell an older actor they have performed well. It’s almost seen as a criticism. Lesson for older actors: How often did you see Tony Hancock smile? On stage or off. And how many times did he give a ‘forgettable’ performance?

The Guildhall might have provided us with a stage… but equally so did ‘The Brewery Tap’. After-show catch-ups with Anna, joined in The Tap by her husband, John.

Whereas Anna only drinks pints of things with a lemonade top, what are those colourful drinks Hayley drinks with a straw? And let’s raise a glass to her colourful lifestyle upon the Nottingham canal (for now) in her narrowboat, where she keeps her trusty bicycle and equally trusty ‘Brett’ (raise your glasses to a man who rolls his sleeves up on the final night at the Guildhall and gets stuck into ‘getting out’).

Hayley Dohert's narrowboat, 'Wanderer'

Hayley Doherty’s narrowboat, ‘Wanderer’

No time at this precise moment to mention the stars of backstage; Alison, Mandy, Gem, Mark and Drew, but their time will come. Also… conspicuous by her absence is director Theresa. Likewise, her time will come. And what of our ‘skipper’ Sally? Well the only photo I remembered to take (along with the tip of my forefinger to point her out) was Sally attending her al fresco supervision meeting with Anna’s husband, a retired probation officer, outside The Assembly Rooms.

'Skipper' Sally

‘Skipper’ Sally

So finally. What about the title of this blog? Hell’s bells. Forget Tony Hancock and the ‘stars of stage’. You can keep ‘em. We are in the company of a true talent. ‘Geordie Boy’ Adam… nurtured by a couple of pints of ‘Fine Continental Ale’ (aka lager) speaks of life before acting. ‘North West Young Footballer of The Year’. Lennox and I both sat up straight simultaneously and turned our respective ‘good ears’ towards young Donaldson. Presented to him by Gary Linneker no less. So why? Why on earth pursue such a dodgy career as acting? ‘Because football is marginally dodgier’. Good answer, Adam. But… his brother Ryan did pursue football and, as Lennox and I could both tell you, very nearly knocked Man Utd out of this year’s FA Cup.

So go and Google Ryan Donaldson, and while there check out the ‘Unforgettable’ reviews.


Tim Elgood

… And here are those reviews!:

Peter Ryley, Fat Man On A Keyboard Blog

Amanda Penman, Artsbeat

An Interview with Tim Elgood – Unforgettable

unforgettable_bw Derbyshire-born writer Tim Elgood has come a long way since winning New Perspectives’ Long Play Competition 2014. His winning play, Unforgettable, is about to go into rehearsals, directed by also Derby-born Theresa Keogh, before a national tour begins on 20 May 2015 at the Guildhall Theatre, Derby. We decided to ask him a few questions about the writing of the show and gain an insight into his Long Play 2014 journey.

How has writing Unforgettable clarified or distilled your own experiences, both as a social worker and as someone with experience of dementia in their family? 

Whenever I or my wife (who was also a social worker) used to support families with relatives who were suffering from dementia-related problems – we would always qualify our advice by saying, “It’s all very well someone like me coming into your home and sounding objective, but you have to live with this difficulty day in, day out”. We never really appreciated how true that statement was until my mother-in-law developed Alzheimer’s and my wife and her brother and sisters commenced a 24/7 package of live-in care. It doesn’t matter what term you give the notion of full time care – the upshot is that your lives are turned upside down. For me the writing of ‘Unforgettable’ was wholly cathartic and helped me come to terms with two opposing sentiments. On the one hand the sadness of ‘losing’ a close relative whose memory and faculties are dying in front of your eyes – and on the other the awful sense of guilt and resentment that mounts within you because of the restrictions that relative’s afflictions are having upon your own life. The former sentiment of sadness is well documented – the second sentiment less so. I wanted to redress the balance a bit.

For a play with mental health issues as a central theme, Unforgettable is remarkably lively and funny. Was it difficult to find humour within these heavy subjects?

No. (Part of me wanted to leave the answer as brief as that). Life is sink or swim. ‘There is always a worse scenario than your own’ etc etc. My father and father-in-law were both great advocates of the half-full philosophy of Life, and they both made a big impression upon me and my wife. I must stress that my wife did 99% of the caring for her mother when we were on call – my job was to support her and exploit the humour that always materialises out of heartfelt situations. Look at any enduring comedies – whether they be TV sitcoms, films or stage plays – the vast majority thrive upon stressful situations and well-observed humour.

The play is unique in that explores a brother and sisters’ relationship in later life. What is it about this particular dynamic that interested you?

My own sister and brother. I couldn’t help thinking about how we would cope in my wife’s family predicament. Naturally I am close to my brother and sisters-in-law – but ‘Unforgettable’ is driven by the sibling bond between my brother and I and my sister and I. (Lord help my mother if she ever develops Alzheimer’s).

From first winning Long Play 2014 to now, what changes has the script undergone through your work with NP? How have you found this process?

Desperately not wanting to sound gushing – but what changes have come about are testament to the director Theresa Keogh. We had a working week on the script with 4 actors which helped me to hear it and Theresa to both hear and see it. It required changes. I don’t envy any director having to suggest to a writer that their ‘new born’ has health problems, but Theresa is a subtle and perceptive tactician. She commences any suggestion with the wording, ”This is probably a really daft  idea but… ” (and they seldom prove to be daft). As a result I left the working week highly charged and motivated to make changes – because they were for the good of the piece.

What advice do you have for playwrights with a desire to write about subjects close to their Tim Elgood and 'co-writer' Harryheart?

Apply the litmus test. Make a start. Get something down on paper. Don’t pontificate about a ‘great idea that is close to your heart’ too long – else it will become precious and overstated (check me out ??). Once you have something tangible down on paper you will be in a better position to judge if your ‘new born’ has any chance of survival.

For details on the upcoming tour, visit our production page on the website HERE.

neat14 blogger, Beth Dawson, interviews Long Play competition winner Tim Elgood


Tim Elgood, with his dog Harry

In March, New Perspectives – a national touring company – announced the winners and runners up of their Long Playwriting Competition and on 27 May there were readings of the plays as part of this year’s Neat Festival. In the lead up to these readings, I spoke to the competition winner, Tim Elgood, about his inspirations, how he got into playwriting and his thoughts on writing for competitions.

Tim Elgood’s play, Unforgettable, is a play about a brother and sister’s relationship as they and their parents grow older.

When you found out you had won New Perspectives’ Long Playwriting Competition, what was your reaction?

I’ve submitted a lot of scripts to competitions before and quite often before the closing date passes you’ve convinced yourself that there isn’t a chance that your play has got picked. It was absolutely brilliant to receive an email, towards the end of March, from New Perspectives to say that they’d like to talk to me about the competition and then to find out I had won.

There can be a lot of bad moments and rejections in playwriting, so I think it’s really important cherish the good ones!

How do you feel about the process of working up to the readings?

There’s always compromise taking something from page to performance and in some ways it’s hard to hand a play over, as the best reading is the one in your mind. But I wanted to attend the reading as it’s really useful to go away and make changes after seeing a work live, and the New Perspectives team have done an excellent job with choosing the cast for the reading and bringing the play to life.

Your play, Unforgettable, deals with very emotionally-charged subject matter. What was your inspiration for this play?

My career in social work has without a doubt been an influencing factor of this play. Added to that, you can only write about what you know, and this play is dedicated to my mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Despite all the work I had done with elderly people, the situation is different when it is suddenly on your doorstep. Having personal experience gives you a subjective insight, while in social work a lot of the advice you’re giving is objective and theoretical. As we had a big family, we could provide care 24/7, but this process of organising care led me to think, what would happen if there were only two people dealing with this situation? And it’s this incredible stress the play covers.

I tried to not let Unforgettable become oversentimental, I always try to look at the humorous side of situations, as the subject matter could easily lead to something that’s too dark and there’s a lot of humour in this play -I think the subject matter will strike a chord with a lot of people.

How did you get into playwriting from social work?

Although I’d always loved writing and English literature, I didn’t take up scriptwriting until I was 41. I would often hear my teenage children and their friends talking about how they’d like to get involved with acting, so I decided to write something for them. This coincided with a campaign to raise money to build a community centre for the elderly that I wanted to contribute to. In the play I wrote, the teenage cast played elderly versions of themselves, in their 70s and 80s. At first I didn’t think it’d go down very well with the young actors, but they really took to it and it was really poignant considering the cause it was raising money for.

After the performances, I was approached by a member of Derby Playhouse, who said he’d like to produce the play on a larger scale for a youth theatre company to perform and everything went from there. Of course, once I’d written one play, I was eager to write another, and started writing for Derby Playhouse every year for about six years.

What’s your opinion on writing for competitions like the New Perspectives Long Playwriting competition?

I didn’t write Unforgettable with the sole aim of entering it into the competition, it was subject driven. I don’t feel that you can tailor-make a play for a competition without it feeling manufactured: you have to write by your own instincts and produce a work based on subject matter and then find the right home for it.

It’s important to write about something that really interests you, producing a work takes a long time and it’s all too easy to fall out of love with your story or lose motivation when working on a project. I think everyone has at least one story in them.

Find out more about New Perspectives

Find out more about Emerging Perspectives and the Long Play Competition