Imagine having the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the theatre, discovering backstage secrets and becoming immersed in the magical atmosphere as you watch the performers from the wings.
Hetty Backstage is the first of six books for children written by local author Lowri Madoc. Reading is an important part of a child’s development and when they invest in a character, there is no doubt they will go on to read the subsequent books in a series. Hetty Jones is one of those characters.
As the daughter of actors Ruth Madoc, fondly remembered as the Chief Yellowcoat Gladys in Hi-de-Hi and more recently as Daffyd Thomas’s mother in the second series of Little Britain, and the late Phillip Madoc, known for his numerous television and film roles including the German U-boat captain in Dad’s Army, Lowri Madoc has drawn on her childhood memories of following her famous parents to theatres and venues around the UK.
Arriving in Gibraltar twenty years ago with plans to stay for only two, Lowri built up a successful career, met her husband Brendan on a blind date and went on to have three children here. “Life has been good to us but, like many ex-pats, we really miss our families back in the UK,” she says. “Mum is 76 now and living in Wales and she is still active, so the lockdown restrictions have hit her hard, but she is very positive and we are both ‘glass-half-full’ type of people.”
Born in 1974, Lowri and her older brother Rhys lived in St. Albans, Hertfordshire. “Mum and Dad divorced in 1981, although they still adored each other and it was always really amicable between them,” she says. In the books, Hetty is the child of divorced parents, something that Lowri hopes that children who are in the same situation will identify with.
From the age of 12, Lowri attending boarding school from Monday to Friday and remembers being picked up at the end of the week to visit her parents in the various venues that they were filming or appearing in. “I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but looking back now as a parent myself, I realise that it was a really great childhood.”Hetty is named after Lowri’s great grandmother and her surname Jones is a nod to her father’s real name. “He had to change his surname to Madoc because there was already a Philip Jones in Equity.”
The idea for the Hetty series of books had been in the back of her mind for some time, but it was whilst volunteering in the library at the Loreto Convent and looking at some of the early readers for children aged between six and seven that Lowri realised her stories would be particularly suitable. “It’s about giving them a sense of achievement when they are reading; helping to instil confidence in young readers, and my books are colourful, straightforward stories, each one taking place in a real setting.”
Hetty Backstage is set in a theatre at the last technical dress rehearsal before the opening of a performance. “When I was growing up I was allowed backstage,” Lowri states, adding, “but I was also very much aware of where I could go and couldn’t go, what I could and couldn’t touch.” That discipline is echoed throughout the book, but Hetty’s adventurous character takes her off on a journey of exploration and she ends up in her favourite place – the chorus girls dressing room.
“Although I never wanted to be on stage I would watch from the wings with utter admiration as my parents performed,” Lowri says. “Particularly when mum was in panto and I would yearn to be one of the children in the cast.” Lowri tells how sometimes one of the nicer wardrobe ladies would allow her to join in and there were occasions when her mum, who always played principal boy, would be singing a love song to the female lead and she would suddenly see Lowri’s face peering out, dressed up in costume as a bird or some other character. “I loved the smells that emanated from the hair, makeup and props departments and watching the smoke machines – all those things that added to the special ambiance backstage, and I have included all those elements into the Hetty books,” she states. Although she didn’t follow her parents into acting, after university Lowri went into stage management, got her Equity card and then went on to theatre management,working in London’s West End.
The cover illustration by talented young artist Eve Leoni showing Hetty peering out from behind stage curtains perfectly defines the character. “That is the sort of art work I would love to have done if I was brave enough to do the cover,” Lowri says, “but I have contributed two or three of my own little sketches in each chapter.”
Details of where to buy Hetty Backstage can be found at R&D Publishing on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rdpublishing) and Lowri will have copiesfor sale in Gibraltar. It will also be available for purchase on Amazon, on Kindle and in a really nice family touch; Lowri’s mum Ruth will be narrating the audio book.