Interview with storyteller extraordinaire Bob Hartman

Bob Hartman has been working for over twenty years as a performance storyteller for children, using his dynamic and interactive style to entertain audiences. He’s also the author of over sixty books. He and his wife have two grown children and three grandchildren, and they split their time between the UK and the USA.

IMG_1917Part of the reason I’m a writer is CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. I know everyone says that! But when I was at elementary school, every Friday afternoon Mr McKee would lower the blinds in our hundred-year-old classroom and read to us. The gloomy schoolroom would be filled with his voice and a special kind of magic. And I thought, “Yes, this is amazing!” Those books have always been at the heart of things for me.

My brother used to love puppets. When he was 9, he asked me to write him a script. I jumped at the chance and soon we were putting on shows regularly. I was usually the narrator and Tim did the puppets. I soon learned firsthand what it was that made an audience laugh.

It’s so sad that very few in the UK know Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It’s fantasy shot through with faith but not in an overt fashion. It was one of the first science-fiction books with a strong female lead. We enjoyed reading it to our kids.

Angels, Angels All Around is my favorite of the books I’ve written, for it was the first time I felt I succeeded in bringing an original idea to life. It’s a series of stories; some are moving and some are funny. I worked really hard on that book, and I was allowed to play. My editor kept saying, “You can do it better; you can do it better.” So I kept rewriting, and in the end I felt like that book came out.

Tapestry, one of my books for children, has flowed out of my reading of Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope; I have a lot of admiration for his ability to make theology sensible. Tapestry seems to be meeting a need. I met a woman recently who works in a bookshop whose brother died, followed by a close friend. She said my book was honest but not sentimental, and for me that that made all the difference in the world.

Frederick Buechner’s Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale is amazing. When I first read it I was studying for the ministry. Previously I had an English major, and then began doing theology. Telling the Truth said you could do both – telling stories was telling the truth. This was before the whole narrative theology movement. I felt like he was saying, “Oh you can do it! Yeah; go for it!” So I did.

I don’t go to the beach much but I enjoy reading literary fiction. Such as Gilead by Marilynne Robison. Or The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The Times called it the novel of the decade and I think that’s fair enough.

People in my book club hate it when I pick the books because I always pick the heavy, sad, angsty, violent ones…. You know, those featuring post-apocalyptic cannibals. They hate me when we’re reading but eventually they love the books. But everyone nearly quit when we did Flannery O’Connor; they couldn’t make heads or tales of the story. She has a gift of pouring grace into the reality of life. Still, not everyone quite gets it. One guy just got up and left, saying, “I’ve had it.”

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