To say that many of us have been expecting this collaboration with much trepidation would be an understatement. The Twitter-sphere, for all its vastness, can often feel like a close-knit family, a family of kindred spirits and like-minded people. Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy are very much part of my (and a few others’, of course!) Twitter family, and I was so happy to find out they were ‘making a book’ together. To finally hold Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig (Walker Books) in my hands was therefore a much-anticipated delight, and it did not disappoint.
It is a beautifully designed little tome with four independent stories depicting the adventures of Mango, a little girl with a very busy daddy and Bambang a Malaysian tapir who, after their chance encounter, comes and live with her and becomes her best friend. The artwork is wonderfully retro and elegant, while managing to ooze fun, vitality and be utterly child-friendly. The limited palette (black, white, purple and a touch of gold) is absolutely stunning. The text is witty and zany, and mixes great humour with a gentle comforting style which is perfect for bedtime reading. Because beyond the slight wackiness of a tapir turning up in the city also lies some thoughtful themes: not fitting in, being easily overwhelmed (whether it is crowds or noises or anything else) or simply being different. But this is subtly nested in the charming storylines, which will capture little people’s imaginations. In the best tradition of highly illustrated fiction for newly independent readers, Mango and Bambang sits wonderfully between Rupert Kingfisher’s Madame Pamplemousse and Chris Riddell’s Ottoline series.
I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Polly to Library Mice to talk about how her collaboration with Clara came to life:
Collaborating on ‘Mango and Bambang’
by Polly Faber
Writing is supposed to be a solitary and serious pursuit; a tortured process involving late nights, cigarettes and a waste paper basket full of scrumpled balls of paper and curses.
It is like that- of COURSE it is…
Except that sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes a book ignites from a spark from another person or people. And sometimes writing, when you’ve found the right thing to write, is actually a joy.
Mango and Bambang began with a conversation over an overdue thank you coffee and buns. Clara had been a patient and wise reader and cheerleader since I’d started writing but she surprised me when she said:
“Why don’t you write a book for me?”
“Oh! Okay. What about?” said me.
“There MUST be an animal that hasn’t had its story told yet.” said Clara.
We were just joking I thought. But the longer, first person narrative book I was coming to an end of drafting that autumn had been flowing with as much grace as the last dregs of a ketchup bottle. I knew that project wasn’t really ‘right’ for me and I was ready to be distracted from it. I did a bit of pencil chewing at London zoo.
“I am,” I suggested, “rather taken by the Malaysian tapir. They are beautiful and big and black and white striped and shy and a bit short- sighted and too many people don’t seem to know what they are. Plus, in the wild they get eaten a lot by tigers, but in London zoo they are PART of the tiger exhibit, kept in full view of them and introduced with this sign! They deserve a book of their own.”
But I was still just joking.
Then one evening, a week or two later, I opened an email from Clara which said, “Just a doodle-” with THIS picture:
I looked and made a kind of gaspy-happy-shriek noise. Because I knew straight away, who these two characters were and the sort of adventures they might have together and that I really, really wanted to write about them.
And apparently we weren’t joking.
Only the Christmas holidays were starting, which meant a lot of wrapping and then unwrapping, and cooking and then eating, and not a lot of space and quiet and empty house for writing. Over those few weeks I found myself thinking constantly about that picture as I stuffed and basted, and dragged children out for constitutional walks, and put batteries in things.
By the time the new school term began I had names and a meeting and a story bursting to be written in a way I’ve never experienced before. My poor children were thrust into the playground, with barely a wave goodbye on the first day back. I more or less ran home to start.
A short while later, there was a draft to show to Clara. I was nervous. I was pretty sure it was the best thing I’d written and the most ‘right’ for me. But would she like it?
Our tapir and his best friend went to the Bologna book fair where they found their perfect home with Walker books. Which brought new collaborators in the form of brilliant editors Denise Johnstone-Burt and Daisy Jellicoe and brilliant designer Louise Jackson.
Writing is a solitary and serious; tortured pursuit. Only it turns out MY best words come from shared buns, jokes and a picture from the perfect illustrator.
Thank you Polly. I wish you and Clara all the success in the world with Mango & Bambang!
Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig is published by Walker Books and is released on Thursday
source: review copy from publisher