For Librarians

Interview with Mark Lester, Oliver in the 1968 movie

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We are in for a real treat today!

For those who don’t know, I’m a huge fan of musicals, and perhaps my favorite of all time is Oliver. Even better, my daughter has recently become in love with it as well.

So, I have to say that it was an absolute thrill to get a chance to Zoom with the star of that movie about his experiences filming it. And let me tell you, he couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious. So, please help me welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Mark Lester!

JR: Hi Mark, and thanks for joining us! To start with, I was reading your bio, and saw that you came from a theater family, and got your first roles at the age of six. The movie The Counterfeit Constable and the TV series, The Human Jungle. At any point were you aware of how different that was from what most kids experienced, or did you just think that was what everyone did?

ML: I guess I thought that’s what everyone did. We were always going up for auditions, all the kids for commercials or TV parts, so we thought that was a normal thing. I was in Drama school, so I was okay with the auditions.

JR: I’ve read that there were thousands of kids auditioning for the role of Oliver. Were you nervous or it didn’t really faze you?

ML: I didn’t see thousands of people, I was only in small groups of people. So, I kept getting asked back, asked back, and asked back, and in the end, I obviously won the role.

JR: And I’m certainly glad you did! What was your reaction when you found out that you won the part?

ML: I think I was just like this is great, I’ve got time off school.

JR: That’s funny. Yes, I think that would’ve been my reaction as well. Had you read the book or watched other versions of Oliver Twist prior to filming?

ML: I hadn’t read the book, and I haven’t read it even until today.

JR: Really? That seems almost sacrilegious!

ML: No, I’m not a big Dickens fan. I had seen the previous movie with Alec Guinness. It was quite dark, and it wasn’t a musical. So, I knew the story, but until I got involved, I hadn’t known anything other than the movie.

JR: Now, you were 8 years old when you started filming Oliver, which is amazing to me, considering how incredible your performance was. The cast was perfect. So saying that, how was it for you to come into a production with such seasoned actors such as Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Shani Wallis, Harry Secombe, and Jack Wild who had already done the play on the West End? Were you intimidated at all?

ML: No, not really. Everyone was really supportive. The director, Carol Reed, was very good at getting everyone together. It was quite easy, really. Oliver Reed was a bit frightening. A method actor who got into the role of Bill Sykes, so he was a bit terrifying. Everyone else was pretty amazing to work with.

JR: Let’s go through them a little. What can you tell us about your experiences with Jack Wild the Artful Dodger?

ML: Jack was great. He was about five or six years older than me. So, he kind of took me under his wing. And right until the very end, when sadly, he died very young, we were still in contact with each other quite regularly. It was the same with Ron Moody. Fortunately with Ron and Shani, we did a couple of Comic Con things in the states. We did one, I think it was called the Hollywood Show in Los Angeles, and then we went to Chicago.

JR: Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble? 

ML: I didn’t really get to know him, even when we worked together afterwards, since I was a kid, and these were adults. I didn’t really get to hang out with anyone other than Jack and a few of the guys from Fagin’s gang, who I still keep in touch with.

JR: Oh, you still keep in touch with them? That’s great. Any anecdotes about Ron Moody as Fagin?

ML: Ron was great. He was very nurturing and very easy to work with. He was a very kind man, very gentle. He gave us a lot of encouragement.

JR: Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes?

ML: He came on the set as Bill Sykes. He held Ron up by his throat. And he dragged me around the rooftops of London.

 

JR: Oh my gosh. Were you scared during that time for real?

ML: No, people ask were you scared, but we were about two or three feet off the ground. I think the highest we got was three feet.

JR: That’s some great movie magic, then. Do you still have contact with Shani Wallis who played Nancy?

ML: Yes, in fact, we do. She emailed me a few weeks ago. She lives in LA. Her husband, sadly, died. Her daughter lives out that way, and looks after her. It was really nice seeing her again at the Oliver reunion. The last one I did must’ve been around a couple of years ago.

JR: Oh, I wish I could’ve seen that. What was your favorite number from the film?       

ML: Who Will Buy.

JR: It’s one of mine as well. I read that Who Will Buy took six weeks to film. It was a stunning sequence. What can you tell us about that particular number?

ML: I liked it because of the way it built up from one rose girl and developed into this huge musical routine. The set was amazing. The whole square was built. The fronts of all the houses were held up by plywood. A lot of people ask me, was that filmed in so and so and so and so? I say, No, it wasn’t. It was filmed in Shepperton Studios on a set. It was an incredible feat to make that, and that was only one of the sets. It took a long time, we filmed over the summer. We were really lucky and had really good weather for it. I was most of the time on a cherry picker, holding me up behind the window.

 

JR: That’s incredible. I never thought it was a set. Any other anecdotes that you can share from the filming?

ML: Harry Seacombe who played Mr. Bumble, they decided to play a joke on him. He has to pull Oliver around by his ear when I asked for More. So, the make up department made me up this little plastic ear to go over my ear. I think it was his birthday or something. So, when Harry got a hold of me, the fake ear came off in his hands. He just didn’t know what to do, and obviously, everyone fell about behind the camera.

JR: I love that. I can imagine his face. How often do you go back and watch the movie? And can you just watch it as a film or are you too invested in it?

ML: I don’t think I’ve actually watched it since maybe ten or fifteen years ago. My youngest daughter, Olivia, watched it when she was about three, and she thought it was actually my childhood.

JR: So funny! A couple of years later you reunited with Jack Wild for Melody. How was that experience to be back together again?

ML: It was great. Jack and I always got on really, really well. That whole movie was fun. It was just a bunch of kids having a good time, having to do a bit of work in between, which wasn’t really that difficult. Lots of guys who I knew from my school were involved in the film. It was great fun.

JR: The last full movie you made in the 70s was the Prince and the Pauper, or Crossed Swords here in the states. You reunited with Oliver Reed, and the film also had more big stars such as Ernest Borgnine, Raquel Welch, and Rex Harrison. Any anecdotes from the making of that?

ML: Oh my God, yeah. I remember cause I was seventeen, but I turned eighteen during the making of the movie, so I had to have a chaperone by law. She was with me when I turned seventeen, but when I turned eighteen, they sent her home. After I turned eighteen, Ollie invited me out for a meal with around a dozen other people. He got really, really drunk, as usual, so we decided to eat the meal in reverse, so they started off with brandy and then, and the dessert was some sort of chocolate pudding. And then someone flicked some around, and someone flicked some back, and it turned into a massive food fight, and we were asked to leave the restaurant in Budapest. And we were all still covered in chocolate. So, we go back to the hotel, and because of the brandy, I couldn’t do very much, and just fell asleep.

The next day, I had to get up early for filming, and later when I came back to the room, I noticed the maids hadn’t made the room up. I asked what was going on, and the maids said, “You’re a disgusting man, you’re a disgusting man.” I asked, “What do you mean?”

They thought I pooed in the bed. So, I explained to them and put my finger in the chocolate, and they started to scream, “No, you can’t do that!”, but eventually, they realized that it was chocolate pudding.

 

JR: That is hysterical! That scene is like something out of a movie. According to your IMDB page, you’re in two upcoming films? Fighting Talk and 1066, is that true?

ML: Fighting Talk was a project to help a mate out. We filmed about three days and it was pretty rubbish. It would’ve gone straight to DVD. So, that never really happened. I can’t even remember where we filmed, it was around three years ago.

There was another movie called 1066, which was on the cards for a bit, but I don’t think they can get the funding for it. It was a good idea and would’ve been quite a bit of fun to make.

JR: Are you open to doing more roles in the future?

ML: Yeah, if the right thing came along. I really enjoy it, it’s fun. I mean, it’s probably a little bit different now than when I was making them. There’s more freedom with using CGI and you can do more things on screen. Like, I just saw that movie Tenet and it was great. There’s no way they could’ve made things like that back then. There’s an awful amount of CGI in that, but it worked. It’s a very clever film, and it’s great. We used it a bit in Prince and the Pauper, but it was new technology. It would be fun to do something if the opportunity arose.

JR: Well, I would love to see you in more roles. We’ll have to get some casting directors on it! You currently have a successful practice, The Carlton Clinic, can you tell us about that, and how you got started doing it?

ML: I’ve been practicing as an osteopath and acupuncturist for about twenty-five, twenty-six years. I got into it through sports injuries. I did a high level of karate. I trained starting back in the late eighties. I used to have a practice in the town where I live, but now since Covid, I built a log cabin on my property, and I’m working from here, and it’s working out pretty well.

CARLTON CLINIC

JR: Other than it being a bad time for it, do you still do conventions and meet the fans?

ML: I’ve done a few in the states, and one in Japan. I do like the American ones, though, because I love your country. It’s a great country.

JR: So, come move!

ML: Well, my girlfriend is from Dallas. We go back and forth a lot. I was in New York, actually, when Covid kicked off. We saw the last Broadway show, before they shut everything down. Tragic.

JR: That’s sad. What’d you see?

ML: We saw the Bob Dylan show, Girl from the North Country. It’s kind of based on his songs. It was a fantastic show, but sadly, the next day they closed everything down, so we saw the last show.

JR: How often do fans reach out to you?

ML: Maybe three or four times a month. Usually sending photographs for me to sign and then I send them back.

 

JR: That’s really nice of you. I need to do that! Since we’re a site devoted to children’s books, what was your favorite book as a child?

ML: I used to read a lot of action books. I loved the author, Alistair Maclean, who wrote The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, those types of books. Where Eagles Dare was one of his popular books, and I loved reading that kind of stuff. And then, comic books.

JR: I grew up reading comics. Who was your favorite?

ML: I used to like the DC stuff. Flash.

JR: That’s my daughter’s favorite.

ML: They had really good stories, as well.

JR: And so many people love Oliver, what was your favorite childhood movie?

ML: Good question. I remember being taken to see The Exorcist when I was like twelve years old.

JR: That was your favorite childhood movie?

ML: Terrifying. I couldn’t sleep for around a week and had to go to bed with the lights on. I also saw The Godfather, which was a fantastic movie.

JR: You liked heavy movies as a child.

ML: I was never into Disney stuff, really, I was more into these.

 

JR: How can people follow you on social media?

ML: I have a Twitter account @MarkaLesterMark, but I’m not really active.

JR: Well, you might be getting some new followers now, so you might need to change that.

Mark, I thank you so much for your time today. It was a real pleasure!

 

That’s it for now, Mixed-Up Filers! Hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I enjoyed doing it. Until next time . . . 

 

Jonathan

Should Parents Let Their Kids Read Scary Books?

It’s the season of all things spooky, and readers of all ages are reaching for scary books. But for middle-graders, should parents, teachers, and librarians step in and vet kids’ frightening picks, or let their newly-independent readers decide for themselves how much spookiness they can handle?

To get advice, I turned to two experts: Derek Furr, Associate Professor of Literature & Dean of Teacher Education at Bard College, a reading specialist and former schoolteacher, and Trish Grace Malone, a children’s book author and psychotherapist based in the Hudson Valley. 

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

To start, it’s totally common if the children you know love reading frightening tales. After all, Malone says, “Scary stories are as old as storytelling and they fulfill important human needs. They draw us in with an immediate and compelling message – What would I or could I do if I were in this kind of scary situation? We are hard-wired by evolution to be very interested in how to survive,”

“There is satisfaction, even a kind of physical pleasure, that comes from not knowing, wanting to know, and finding out.”

A frightening page-turner’s attraction may be the same reason that such texts appeal to adults, adds Furr. “When reading a novel for pleasure, most of us read for the plot. A burning question pulls us in, suspense keeps us turning the pages, and a resolution is gratifying (especially if we’ve been right!) There is satisfaction, even a kind of physical pleasure, that comes from not knowing, wanting to know, and finding out.”

Beyond the engrossing thrills and chills, scary books can be beneficial for kids for a variety of reasons.  According to Malone, these books “Teach us lessons, like a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign for the psyche. Children need to know what might put them in danger. It might not be safe to trust a stranger with a house made of cookies and candy. Children also can feel a vicarious sense of courage and triumph by reading about how to defeat the monsters that lurk in dark corners.”

And Furr says that when he taught middle school, his students “devoured” the Goosebumps and Animorphs books, and that doing so seemed to set them up for more challenging ‘horror’ like Poe and Shirley Jackson down the line. Any genre that gets kids reading at this stage is, in his opinion, fantastic. “Remember that the intermediate years (grades four through nine) are crucial for the development of reading fluency—that is, increased reading speed by rapid word/vocabulary recognition and a sense of prosody. Reading volume–just the sheer amount of reading that a young person does, regularly–correlates with fluency and vocabulary development. Unsurprisingly, it has also been shown to correlate with academic achievement.”

“Exerting some kind of creative control over what scares us is one of the most powerful ways to deal with our fears.” 

I asked both my experts if parents should intervene if they’re concerned their student is going to scare themselves silly. Furr says, “I always think that it’s best to follow the child, especially if they’re reading,” but if your concern is that the subject matter may be inappropriate, he suggests reading along with the young person so you can discuss the book together.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Image by Peter H from Pixaba

Malone believes that most kids are smart about choosing the level of scary they can tolerate, and typically stop reading if the material is too much for them, but, “if you have a child who is dealing with anxiety, they may need support in avoiding scary stuff that other kids their age find fun, especially as they may feel some shame at their own sensitivity.”

But facing their fears in a safe way — inside the pages of an amazing book or story — is healthy and enjoyable for most #kidlit readers. And, Malone adds, “Ultimately, exerting some kind of creative control over what scares us is one of the most powerful ways to deal with our fears. That drives a lot of writers to write scary stuff in the first place, including me.”

Experts: 

Trish Grace Malone, a children’s book author and psychotherapist based in the Hudson Valley 

Derek Furr, Associate Professor of Literature & Dean of Teacher Education at Bard College

Middle-Grade Mysteries, Spy, & Sci-fi stories featuring South Asian Characters: Interview and Giveaway with Sheela Chari

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! I’m pleased to welcome Sheela Chari, author of the new mystery series, The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel, for an interview at Mixed-Up Files today.

                                   

Hi Sheela, thanks for joining us today at Mixed-Up Files.

Thank you for having me—it’s great to be back! Years ago, I was one of the original members, and I loved interviewing other writers! These days, writing, teaching, and being a parent has taken over much of my time. But it’s definitely fun to be in this familiar space again.

 

About THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel follows Mars Patel and his pals on their quest to find their missing friend, Aurora, who might be part of a chain of other disappearances around the world leading back to billionaire inventor, Oliver Pruitt. It’s a story filled with conspiracy theories, deceptive adults, and enterprising kids who know how to rely on technology and each other to solve problems.

Mars Patel was originally produced as a podcast mystery drama series for kids by Gen-Z Media.

Now, it’s also a middle-grade novel and series written by me!

When I was invited to write the novelization, I was asked to take an audio-drama and re-envision it in written form. I had to really think about who Mars, Caddie, JP, Toothpick and the rest of the characters were, and the stories of their lives not captured in the podcast. It was a lesson in character study and plotting, and even rethinking everything I knew about dialogue. In the book, you will find a traditional story littered with emails, texts, podcast transcripts, and other asides to capture the same chatty dynamic of the podcast. It was really my wish to reflect the very interesting, funny way that young people talk to each other today both online and IRL (that’s “in real life” for the uninitiated).

On Mars Patel identifying as an Indian-American spy kid

Representation have always been important for me. It’s the reason that I wrote my mystery novels, Vanished and Finding Mighty, which both feature Indian-American detectives, and are rooted in my experience of growing up Indian-American. I also make an effort for the other supporting characters in all my books to reflect the diversity and inclusiveness I see and cherish as a part of being an American immigrant. The Mars Patel series is a perfect representation of these ideals. Not only that, Mars gets to do those very things that ALL kids should be seen doing in novels: sleuthing, pranking, laughing, messing up, apologizing, doing better, taking risks, and growing up.

 

                                                         

 

On how reading mysteries was an integral part of your childhood

When I was young, I would pore over Nancy Drew books in my library and at home. Not just the stories themselves, but also those wonderful interior illustrations and cover art, observing how Nancy Drew, and her loyal friends, Beth and George, transformed from book to book. To me, they were heroes and old friends, and even the way I met my own best friend (we found each other in the Nancy Drew aisle of the Iowa City Public Library). From then on I would graduate to other mysteries and spooky stories (Lois Duncan comes to mind!). But I do believe this idea of mystery-solving and friendship finds it roots in those Nancy Drew mysteries and a shared love for them with a close friend.

On drawing inspiration from your own life when writing this book

The original podcast hints at a story set in the Northwest. I went a step further and set the book in Washington State, where I lived when I was in middle school and high school. Mars’s fictitious town of Port Elizabeth is based on all the trips I made to Seattle and the Puget Sound as a young person. So writing the book was truly a trip down memory lane for me. I also went on a recent vacation to visit an old friend in the Puget Sound, and it was very inspiring. I used all kinds of details — taking the ferry across the water to Seattle, that particular quality of rain, clouds, and occasional sun, the up-and-down hills, the inky waters of the Sound —to help me describe Port Elizabeth. It was so much fun!

On immersing yourself in a MG sci-fi with corporate conspiracies

Yes, in this story there are bad guys, surveillance, and a conspiracy to hoodwink kids. Even so, for me, Mars Patel is about looking to the future, where anything is possible, even a chance to start over as a society. It’s a book that celebrates technology, space travel, and innovation. Not to say there aren’t threats — Book 1 starts with a Code Red scene in school. Later books in the series take on the urgency of climate change. Even so, the story has always given me a surprising and upbeat way of looking ahead, of knowing that kids growing up now will have the mindset to invent and think differently. Thank goodness.

Sheela Chari is the author of FINDING MIGHTY and VANISHED, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. Her latest middle-grade novel, THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL, based on the Peabody-award winning podcast, is out this October from Walker Books US, an imprint of Candlewick Press. Sheela teaches creative writing at Mercy College and lives in New York.

Want to own your very own signed copy of The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on October 16, 2020 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US only) to receive a signed, personalized book.