Book launches are always lovely affairs, but few are as special as the one I attended on Monday evening on behalf of Armadillo Magazine. Michelle Magorian, author of the wonderful Goodnight Mr Tom, has just brought out a new title. It’s her first in six years, so very eagerly awaited. An important part of the action of Impossible! takes place in the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and it was there that she introduced us to vibrant hero Josie, her wonderful East End family and the mindlessly snobbish staff and pupils at her stage school. We also heard hints that the cast of characters includes some less than scrupulous villains.
Michelle read us three fabulous extracts from the book, which is set in 1959. Josie is acting mad, but her school’s rigid, class-bound rules and its insistence that etiquette, elocution and elegance rather than talent pave the path to stage success lead her to doubt her abilities. Her teachers and fellow students do their best to squash her natural flair. Luckily she has an aunt who takes a different view, and siblings in the trade. Less fortunately, danger stalks. Kidnap awaits. An unexpected consequence is that she stumbles upon the Theatre Royal and Joan Littlewood’s revolutionary theatrical vision and methods.
As ever with Magorian’s books, the evocation of time and place is pitch perfect. It was fascinating to hear her talk about her research. She spent a great deal of time at the Theatre Royal, determined to get every detail right.
Magorian told us her main character has several autobiographical elements. Josie is a tomboy, as was she. Josie loves books, especially Arthur Ransome, as did she. Josie loves camping, as did she. She herself was a drama student and met Joan Littlewood, whom she admired enormously. She was anathema to the theatrical establishment because of her bid to make theatre relevant to ordinary people, and was treated as a vulgar outcast, as comes out clearly in the book. Impossible! is in part an homage to Littlewood.
I felt very privileged to meet Michelle Magorian after the launch, and am now the proud possessor of a signed copy of Impossible! I’m a couple of hundred pages in, and it most certainly lives up to the promise of the extracts.