Christopher Lloyd, founder of What on Earth Publishing, is the author of a series of books and wallcharts which present history in an entertaining and accessible manner. The books in the series to date cover history, sport and natural history. Christopher spoke to us about collaborating with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, a multi-coloured coat of many pockets and the delights of a Fat Rascal!
We understand that the concept for the What on Earth? Books came to you whilst you were travelling around Europe with your family. Could you tell us about that moment?
Of course! We decided to home educate after our eldest daughter, then aged 7, became reluctant to go to school because she found it boring. We discovered that if only the things she learned were more connected together then she could follow her curiosity and learning became fun – as it always should be. I wanted to find a book that would help connect everything together from nature and ancient history to science and religions. Nothing suitable seemed to exist. So I decided to write a book that went from the beginning of time to the present day – and I called it What on Earth Happened? The Wallbooks are a visualisation of the same book on a timeline, with 1,000 pictures and captions.
As the founder of What on Earth Publishing, what is the ethos behind the company and what do you hope your readers will take from the books?
Our ethos is to encourage people of all ages – young and old – to look at the big picture. In our culture we are obsessed with fragmenting knowledge into tiny pieces – so that when it comes to trying to make sense of the world we end up looking at a pane of shattered glass! Our aim is to connect knowledge together through narrative, chronology, pictures and performances so that information is both meaningful and memorable by being in context rather than being in abstraction. Readers will, I hope, take from the books a magical fascination of how incredible the view of the big picture looks, be they interested in History, Nature Sport or Science and that they will experience for themselves the joy of seeing knowledge connected together.
To date, the What on Earth? series includes wallbooks covering history, natural history and sport. Can we expect any more additions to the series in the near future?
Yes – we have just sent our latest Wallbook off to press – only last week. It is a collaboration with the Science Museum and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The What on Earth? Wallbook of Science & Engineering tells the story of human invention from the Stone Ages to the present day in more than 1,000 pictures and captions. One the back are 18 newspaper stories ranging from Archimedes’ famous ‘Eureka’ moment when he leaped out of the bath to Sir Tim Berners-Lees’ invention of the Worldwide Web. Now we are working on a fifth Wallbook with the Shakespeare Birthplace trust. It comes out in March, in time to celebrate William Shakespeare’s 450 birthday, and will provides a wonderful overview on a timeline of the top 100 moments across all of Shakespeare 37 plays.
You’ll be appearing at Harrogate Children’s Festival this summer, as well as events across the country and even as far as Japan. What can we expect when we come along to one of your events? Is it true that a multi-coloured coat features strongly?!
Oh yes! The multi-coloured coat of many pockets is an essential garment to be worn by any Wallbook presenter. My colleague John will be wearing the coat in Harrogate, taking visitors on a journey through billions of years of nature and thousands of years of sport – told through a range of objects hidden inside his glorious technicoloured costume!
Have you had many unusual questions from children in your audiences?
All the time! I remember talking about Alan Shepherd – one of the men on the moon – who took a golf shot. I asked the children how much further the ball would have travelled than if he has taken a shot on the Earth. After a while we worked out it was SIX times further as there is SIX times less gravity on the moon because it is SIX times smaller than the Earth. Then one girl, her name was Naomi, piped up from the back ”Excuse me Sir, but did he go and pick it up or is it still there?” I had no idea! But what a fabulous question, what beautiful curiosity!!! I have since researched this matter and apparently he never did bother to pick it up – so next time you look up into the night sky marvel at the fact that somewhere up there on the moon is a 44 year old golf-ball!
At the moment, What On Earth Happened? is being shown as a 50 part serialisation on Japanese TV. How did this brilliant opportunity come about and why do you think the wallbooks are so successful in Japan?
Well, I am very fortunate in that What on Earth Happened? has now been translated into 15 different languages and the most recently country to publish it was Japan in September last year. Since then it has sold more than 100,000 copies in less than 6 months! I was invited over to Japan in November last year on a book tour and I went to see the devastation in Fukushima – which was very moving indeed. I also met some TV Executives who were interested in serialising the book. One of them was really inspired by it and he had the courage of a Samurai and decided to turn the project into reality. The first episode was broadcast on 14th in April. I am now going back to Japan in July this year to do some filming for the series. I can’t wait!
One final question, will you be sampling one of Betty’s famous Fat Rascals while you’re visiting Harrogate?
I have heard they are world famous – and I’ll make a point of introducing them to the Japanese people when I visit in July!
To visit the What on Earth Books website, please click here.
To find out more about the Giant Wallbooks: Spectacular Journeys Through Time event at Harrogate Children’s Festival, Please click here.