Having brought Liberty’s carved wooden animals to life with her enchanting prose, young talent Gabrielle Djanogly unveils the story behind Christmas at Liberty and the magical poems that run through it.
“’There’s magic in them salty beams’ – it’s as simple as that. Liberty is a fairy tale in itself, carved into London’s landscape, full of treasure and pockets of detail, from the painted glass windows and the tiled fireplaces to the Mayflower weathervane sailing on its rooftop. A festive dusting of snow and the glow of “stars hung on strings” only serve to enhance its charm.”
When did you first start writing?I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I still have ‘Pinky’s Secret Birthday’, one of the first books I wrote when I was around eight years old. I (using the term loosely) illustrated the story – an early clue that I would never be an author/illustrator.
Why poetry?Poetry felt right. When I embarked on the project I was open to writing prose or poetry. I tried both but there was something in the nature of rhyme that captured the voices of Liberty’s carved animals.
How did ‘Christmas at Liberty’ come about?In 2014 I approached Liberty with The Owl at Liberty, a story about the store’s carved wooden owl, beautifully illustrated by Adèle Mildred. It wasn’t quite right, but I realised it wasn’t completely wrong when Liberty got in touch earlier this year to discuss this new project. I was given a generously loose, but interesting brief, and had no idea at that point that the poems would become part of a festive colouring book.
What was your starting point for the poems within it?I leapt in with the frog! The Frog Prince is one of my favourite fairy tales – in all its adaptations. It is the first tale in the Brothers Grimm collection and, intriguingly, in their version it is not a kiss that transforms the frog into a prince but a bitterly angry princess throwing him against the wall! The frog at Liberty is hidden away on a staircase between the ground and first floor and I wondered if he longed for a royal promotion. On observation, it was quite obvious that he was entirely satisfied with his lot!
How did you go about characterising the animals?I spent quite a bit of time just looking at the animals. I took photographs but it was easier to hear their voices in the store. It’s on really looking that I noticed the detail. The lion has a proud stance but a rather panicked brow, while the bear sits with craving eyes and a hungry tongue sticking out. Each animal generously offered up its own character.
Which was your favourite to write?The Owl was a joy to revisit. I had the opportunity to give a faded dream new wings. I’m very fond of the owl who possesses an alert and expectant expression. I’m almost certain he looked at me and said, “Well, it’s about time!”