Where did you get the idea for Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig?
The stories began with a first sketch Clara sent me of a girl and a tapir. We’d become friends and over coffee and cake a week or two before, Clara had suggested I write a book for her to illustrate. I hadn’t taken her seriously at all and had made a jokey response: “Alright but it must be about a tapir, because they’re such beautiful and brilliant animals and nobody knows what they are.” I really hadn’t been expecting anything more to come of it. When I saw her sketch I actually shrieked out loud: I was so excited to start finding out about these characters. But her picture arrived right at the beginning of the Christmas holidays and I had to do a lot of entertaining guests and fielding my children, with no time for writing for the next fortnight. I found myself thinking about Mango and Bambang all the time I was making stuffing and mince pies or wrapping presents. By the time I could properly sit down at my desk again the words were ready to fly out.
Are there any special challenges when writing early chapter books for new readers?
Actually I don’t think I knew that was what I was writing when I was writing it. I was telling the story I wanted to tell in my own voice and that’s where I ended up. And perhaps new readers aren’t so very different from old readers? We all like plenty of pictures if we’re allowed them and a story that feels satisfying when you reach the end. I think I was fortunate that my editor here at Walker didn’t ask me to adjust my language or worry about reading band categories. I know there is occasionally challenging vocabulary in the stories but I hope the adventures of a banana pancake-eating, hat-wearing tapir are enough to carry the reader through any tricky words without worry! As a child I certainly read words I couldn’t sound out quite right in my head and it didn’t matter if I loved the story. For years I thought there was a delicious treat I was yet to experience called a ‘mer-in-gyoo’. I was rather disappointed when I finally discovered they were only meringues!
Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
I was very fortunate to be brought up in a reading family where books were more or less piled up in every room. But I think I was even more fortunate to be brought up in a reading-aloud family where stories were shared even when everyone could read for themselves. My father read to me every night until I was quite old, often from more complicated books than I would have picked up for myself. I grew up surrounded by stories and always enjoyed making up my own in games and imaginary play.
Actually writing down those stories took much longer for me to do though. I have terrible handwriting and hated all the exercises I was made to do at school to improve it. Being able to use a computer made all the difference for me.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I loved Gwynned Rae’s ‘Mary Plain’ stories about an orphaned bear cub and, when I was a little bit older, all of Noel Streatfeild’s books. I had a huge collection of second-hand pony stories passed on to me that I read and re-read. I also spent plenty of rainy Sundays sneaking into my brother’s room to curl up with his collection of Asterix.
What piece of advice would you give to a young writer?
Reading, playing and thinking is as much part of writing as sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen. But adding just a few words every day adds up to a satisfying lot of words surprisingly quickly!
Thank you so much for your time!