Hal Holbrook, of Cottage Grove, recently had his work recognized at the 2018 Paris Book Festival. He was awarded honorable mention for his children’s book, ”The King Who Wanted a Whale.” ERIN TIERNEY/THE CRESWELL CHRONICLE
Back in March, The Chronicle had the opportunity to attend a world premiere musical play performance, ”The King Who Wanted a Whale,” by Cottage Grove Playwright Hal Holbrook at The Opal Center. It was a whimsical children’s tale of a king ram with a grandiose idea to bring a whale for the moat around his castle, and chronicles all the troubleshooting that comes with such a daunting task.
This fantastical tale has since garnered attention all the way from Paris, France.
Holbrook was awarded honorable mention in the children’s book category at the Paris Book Festival this year, to which he attended.
At the festival, judges looked for general excellence, the author’s passion for telling a good story and the potential of the work to gain a wider audience in the worldwide market.
Holbrook’s work fits the description to a T.
He said the fact that this story was a book-turned-musical especially caught the judges’ eyes.
”They even asked me to bring the play to Paris,” he said.
Holbrook has lived in Cottage Grove for 40 years, and is originally from Greenville, S.C. He went to the University of Alabama and later met his wife, Carol, in San Diego, Calif.
He is a retired library media specialist. He spent his last five years at Oregon City School District, and also spent 17 years at North Douglas School District.
He said the job gave him an opportunity to be able to write more, so he did.
”The King Who Wanted a Whale” has been a tale in the making since 1991. As creative projects often do, this work was put on the backburner and revisited time and time again.
”The story’s been rewritten at least 25 times,” Holbrook said. ”And sometimes, the story rewrites itself.”
When Holbrook first birthed the idea, he knew he wanted the scenes to be in a fantasy setting. He’d do research on kings, castles, the sea, as well as collect and commission drawings for the book. The characters were originally people, but they were later transformed into animals to up the excitement.
Holbrook was a bit long-winded in his first versions; he said typically, childrens’ books are no longer that 2,500 words, but his was over 7,8000 words so he had to significantly hack it down to better appeal to children.
It’s part of the creative process, he said. As the story transforms, sometimes things just don’t fit in place anymore; sometimes things need to be cut.
The version published in 2011 and 2016 are vastly different. The earlier version is much longer with 44 pages and is sized 8 ½ by 11. Inside are impressive pencil sketches illustrated by Holbrook’s daughter, Hollye Chapman, and superimposed Shakespeare writing fading into the background of the pages.
The 2016 version is about half the size, half the verbiage and twice as vibrant. This version was illustrated by Dutch Artist Tejo Verstappen and bursts with colors and textures. That’s the version of the story The Opal Center ran with, and boy, was that a hoot for Holbrook.
Though the play generally follows the book closely, directors and actors at Opal oftentimes came up with ideas during practice that were incorporated into the performance.
”It was a brand new unproven play, so it was more like a workshop than anything,” Holbrook said.
For the play, Holbrook also received help from Cottage Grove Playwright Keith Kessler, who writes melodramas for kids participating in the Cottage Theatre Summer Melodrama summer camp.
”Music is an integral part of the play; that’s what drives the story forward,” he said, noting that Kessler’s knowledge in the arena helped with his show immensely.
Holbrook is currently wrapping up another children’s book, furthering the adventures of the Ram King and his Royal Whale Fetching Council. In the sequel, ”The King is Dead!,” a rumor has been spread that the King is dead. It will be up to the Royal Whale Fetching Council to save the whale boat and the Ram King.
This one too will be a book-turned-play. Last time there were sets, but this go around Holbrook wants to use projectors to cast scenes on the walls of the playhouse.
”The King is Dead!” will premier at Opal Center for the Performing Arts in May 2019.
As for the rest of Holbrook’s work, he’s also in the midst of a trilogy of historical fiction novel based his great uncle, who lived and worked in NYC during in the early 1900s. ”Looking Through the Walls” is the first part of the trilogy.
You can find more information about Holbrook, and check out more of his work by searching his name on Amazon in the book department.