An Interview with Swapna Haddow
Swapna Haddow has serious chops when it comes to comedic writing for children, and this time she’s moved from pigeons and bunnies, to pandas. Bad Panda hits the spot for Pearl DSilva and her two kids, as she prepared to interview Swapna for the final day of her blog tour. The interview explores the book in depth, while sending us on holiday with some incredible photos.
As a mum to two young children, I am constantly on the lookout for books that we
can read together at bedtime; especially ones that help us relax, enjoy and laugh
together. Swapna Haddow’s Bad Panda delivered in all those aspects and
also provided us with opportunities to have meaningful conversations about life.
Firstly, who doesn’t love pandas? I mean, those cute, fluffy bundles of fur that you
can spend your life cuddling up with (I hope the said panda, Lin isn’t reading this or
we will be her latest targets of absolutely rotter-like behaviour!) The story revolves
around Lin’s journey from being absolutely cute to trying desperately but
unsuccessfully to be bad. The reader can revel in her hilarious adventures and meet
characters (with rather interesting names such as Face-Like-A-Bag-Of-Potatoes)
from a panda sanctuary to a Zoo interspersed through the book.
The story is fast-paced, with a good dose of humour on almost every page and a fair share of panda poo references to make any child chuckle with delight. The book has been illustrated by Sheena Dempsey (who also collaborated with Swapna on her Dave Pigeon books) whose illustrations lend a unique design to the story with a mixture of illustrations and a comic book format.
What is a Day in Swapna Haddow- the author’s life like?
Usually, my day starts with trying to get my son to school on time – he’s eleven now and loves a lie-in. Once he’s at school, my husband at work and the dog has been walked, I finally get to sit down at my desk.
I start with replying to emails and letters before returning to the book I’m currently writing or editing. It’s not long after that that my son is home from school and chaos resumes in the house, so I try to get a bit of writing done in the evenings once everyone is in bed. I need quiet to write, so I snatch those pockets of time when I can.
After some successful books involving a certain pigeon, your latest book Bad Panda seems to be equally captivating. Can you tell us a little more about the inspiration behind the book?
In 2017, I took a trip to China with my in-laws. My lovely mother-in-law organised for us all to volunteer as panda keepers at the Chengdu Panda Base. It was around that time that Sheena Dempsey and I had finished working on our third Dave Pigeon book and I was wondering what we might work on next.
I came home from that trip buzzing with ideas about adorable pandas and suggested to Sheena we pitch a book that turns the idea of celebrity and fame in its head. Luckily, our agent loved the idea and so did our publisher.
It’s hard not to be influenced by Jelly Tips and a New Zealand beach!
Like Lin, you’ve moved miles across from your home country to New Zealand. What did that feel like and how has New Zealand influenced you so far?
It’s been the most epic adventure. We couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome and three years on we still can’t quite believe we are here! There has definitely been a New Zealand influence on my writing – Jelly Tips made it into Bad Panda, and I have a book about a surfer coming out next year. It’s hard not to be influenced by Jelly Tips and a New Zealand beach!
My children and I have never laughed so hard reading a book in ages! How important is humour in children’s books? How do you manage to weave humour into your books?
That’s so wonderful to hear. Humour is so important to me. Funny books got me hooked on reading and I love reading these kinds of book with my son – it’s wonderfully bonding to laugh together.
I’m not sure what the trick is to writing humour, only that I try and write things that make me laugh so I’m very glad when they make others laugh too. My top tip for writing humour is to let it happen naturally and not to overthink it.
Humour is so important to me. Funny books got me hooked on reading and I love reading these kinds of book with my son.
Bad Panda draws attention to a rather sad reality—that of animals in captivity. Did you intentionally consider bringing this into your book?
This was a really important part of the book. I respect that zoos do a lot to protect endangered animals and educate the public about wildlife but I have to confess I have questions about the health and welfare of animals in captivity, especially as not all zoos around the world prioritise welfare over entertainment.
I don’t like to write ‘messagey’ books but I do like to write stories that get readers thinking and talking about bigger questions and that’s my intention with the story.
Tell us more about the research process behind writing a book such as Bad Panda.
I learned a heap of stuff about pandas during my holiday in China which was the basis of my research. I had also previously been to Sri Lanka where we had visited an elephant orphanage and this is what inspired Lin’s actions towards the end of the book.
The elephants were free to roam wherever they pleased, and it was the humans that stayed in enclosed areas. The elephants even strolled through the market to go to the river for a swim! It was quite extraordinary to see.
How long did it take you to write the book once you finished all the research?
It didn’t take too long. Chapter books tend to take me a month to write and then I work with my editor to get it perfect before Sheena gets the text to illustrate.
The process from having the idea to seeing the book on a shelf took a few years because Sheena and I and the publishing house often have other projects on so we need to work around each other’s schedules.
You and Sheena Dempsey have collaboratively worked on the Dave Pigeon books and now Bad Panda. What has been your experience working with her on your books?
Often writers and illustrators don’t get to meet so I was really lucky to meet Sheena very early on in the process of writing our first book together. Sheena and I became friends as we have so much in common and now, working on our seventh book together, I couldn’t be luckier to get to work on fun books with a best pal.
So, tell us about the format of the book—a mix between a traditional one and a comic-strip one. What makes it appeal to children?
Sheena and I originally wanted to create the book as a full graphic novel but we had no idea how much work it would take so decided on take a baby step into the graphic novel scene with comic strip sections throughout the book.
I love graphic novels and it’s a market that is proving popular with young readers with creators like Dav Pilkey and Raina Telgemeier spearheading the way. I think storytelling through illustrations is crucial to keeping young readers, who have moved on from picture books but might find the amount of text in an older reader intimidating, excited about books. Bad Panda has the feel of a weighty book without the anxiety of masses of text.
I think storytelling through illustrations is crucial to keeping young readers, who have moved on from picture books but might find the amount of text in an older reader intimidating...
I loved the reference back to Dave Pigeon in the book. Is there a chance that the two might meet in future books?
I would love that! I have a few ideas up my sleeve so we shall see…
And finally, a question that both my kids NEED to know! Will Lin be successful in being a “rotter” and find her way back to Face-Like-A Bag-Of-Potatoes? When will readers get to read her next adventure?
The second book in the series is out next year so not too long to wait. I can’t give away too much, but I have loved writing it so much because there is a brilliant, villainous mastermind in the second book, and I absolutely love writing villains.
by Swapna Haddow
illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
Faber and Faber
A self-proclaimed Enid Blyton aficionado, Pearl Dsilva can be usually found at the topmost rung of the Ladder on The Faraway Tree, anticipating The Land of Goodies and Take-what-you-want. Pearl is an early childhood education lecturer and children’s literature enthusiast.