Buzz’s Amy Wild speaks to Kate Pankhurst – a descendant of the Suffragettes who themselves rattled a few cages globally, over a century ago – about Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, her illustrated kids’ book that’s been treated to a musical adaptation and visits Cardiff this month.
What ignited your passion for Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World? Was there a pivotal moment that made you put pen to paper?
It was one of those moments where you realise an idea has been staring at you in the face for quite a few years. My surname, Pankhurst, has a connection to Emmeline Pankhurst – who is prominently featured in the book. While working on a different project about Amelia Earhart, the first woman to solo-fly across the Atlantic, I delved into captivating old photographs of her, and this journey sparked a crucial conversation with my agent. He pointed out my familial connection to Emmeline, leading to a lightbulb moment – to look at all of the fantastic women throughout history.
At that time, 2015, there weren’t many children’s books that covered these kinds of stories; I thought, why has nobody done this already? These stories are crucial, and I wished I’d had such books during my childhood.
How did you curate the list of historical women for your book? What guided your selection process?
My aim was to make it reflective of today’s children, even while talking about history. I wanted to make it as diverse as possible, representing a variety of voices, stories, skills, and talents. The book features icons like Marie Curie and Frida Kahlo, offering readers a chance to see a little bit of themselves reflected back at them.
Given your familial link to Emmeline Pankhurst, how did this influence your portrayal of her in the book?
Growing up, I was aware of Emmeline’s legacy but only discovered our familial tie in my twenties. Nobody thought to mention there was a Suffragette in the family! This connection has deepened my appreciation for her, and given me lots of ideas for my writing and illustrations.
Could you shed light on the transition from a picture book to a musical?
I had never done that before! It came really out of the blue when a theatre company expressed interest in transforming my book into a musical, having previously produced Six. It was one of those mad emails. While I wasn’t directly involved in the musical’s creation, a lot of incredibly talented women in theatre worked on it; Chris Bush wrote the adaptation, and Amy Hodge directed.
Amy asked me, “What is your takeaway message of the book? What is really important to put in the show?” I said the Gallery Of Greatness – which showcases portraits of the women with their advice on changing the world. Amy took that away and ended up setting the musical in this gallery – centering on Jade, a character representing the readers’ journey. I really loved how Amy had taken that away, used it, and did something really amazing with it. The songs are also great – Miranda Cooper, known for her work with Girls Aloud, composed inspiring songs for the production.
What is it like to see your book come to life on stage?
The first time that I went to see it, it was just so amazing! I had to just sit quietly in the corner as I was a little bit overwhelmed by it all. It’s brilliant! It is something that I am very proud of. Each time that I view it I gain something new from it, much like refining my illustrations. Every time that I go it chimes a different way for me, I sit a bit taller in my chair, and I leave with a big smile on my face and ready to take on the world.
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Wed 17-Sun 21 Jan.
Tickets: £15-£37. Info: here
words AMY WILD