The Mad Hatter and The Easter Vibe.

Posted by Nette on Apr 13, 2017 in Uncategorized |

So, in Sydney this weekend there is a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party which, sadly, is too far for me to attend but the lovely, wonderful Mr Billy Bilby will be there representing me. I thought, as I can’t be there to chat about the Billy Bilby’s actual story, I might just do it here.

First things first. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is on at Sir Stamford at the Quay on Saturday 15th April 11am – 2pm Certainly looks like fun. If you can get there I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed.

And now, to Billy Bilby. He began in 2001 with a phone call from my agent, Brian Cook. We discussed the likelihood of developing books and stories about a Bilby becoming the Easter Bunny. The idea had been first mooted to Brian when he was Children’s publisher at Harpercollins by Rosemary Dusting who had always been interested in the idea. From this small acorn we began our work. Several ideas were thrown around, not the least being my favourite which was a ‘Watership Down’ type of story with the Bilbies being threatened by foxes and rabbits and feral cats (the lovely Swayne, the biggest feral with the messiest fur featured in this manuscript). I just loved it. Billy was found by the Ancients who dragged him around in a felt slipper that had been salvaged from a garbage dump until they had to leave him to find his own way. He was the one chosen to save all the Bilbies from extinction.

I really did love it. It made me laugh. The Ancients were glorious and – you know it. Publishers said …. oh, well its about bilbies. Big kids don’t like bilbies so it can’t be a novel. It has to be a picture book.

Fine. So into a picture book we had to fit an Easter message (as Easter is a Christian celebration and to have a bilby become the Easter bunny we sorta had to have an Easter connection), danger in terms of cats, and foxes and rabbits and eggs. Of  course, eggs aren’t dangerous but if you have an Easter Bilby you have to have Easter eggs. It was a big ask, let me tell you.

So, after many failed attempts the story of The Smallest Bilby and The Midnight Star emerged. It is a story of love and faith and teamwork. And it just so happened to fit into an Easter theme. I  sighed a sigh of relief, Billy went on to become a White Raven, which is a special award he received in Bologna and we busied ourselves preparing a lovely colouring book and an activity book about Billy and his mates.

Many more failed attempts eventually led to The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Games . Bruce Whatley did the most wonderful artwork for this book – I still laugh at the animals all trying to be fluffy –  and have loved playing Giant’s treasure with lots and lots of littlies in schools because this is where the idea came from.

Finally, and this one took so long I thought I might explode, the final book was finished, The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Tale. Jane Covernton, the publisher and I had many, many, many conversations about how these eggs were going to be delivered. My favourite idea was with a mad cat who kept being splattered whenever he tried to catch a bilby. Jane was a bit horrified and said, in a rather firm voice, I recall, that the cat was way tooooo scary. (Incidentally, the first cover was also dismissed as it was considered too fearful for small readers – and this was a bit of a conundrum as it was to be the cover on the novel – so not for small readers but … do big kids really want to read stories about Bilby wars?)

Billy was tested in his own little movie and was great. I really wish I had a copy as it was nearly good enough for ABC but not quite. A big shame! He did get to be his own little plushie though. A truly sweet little guy.

All up it took eleven years to get Billy Bilby sorted. I still have folders and folders of stories developed for him which might, one day, become stories for another. Just between you and me I ‘m thinking Arfie and Ben might like some of the adventures and they’re not bilbies at all. In fact, they’re my newest fun thing discovered in a pattern on textured tiles in my bathroom. There they were, two little Westies, standing together, captured in the shadow of the late afternoon sun and just waiting for me to notice them. I guess, if you asked me where did the idea for their stories come from I’d have to say … well, part of it came from The Smallest Bilby, little Bill.

Have a wonderful Easter. I hope its peaceful and joyous, gentle and restful and all the things you want it to be. Oh, and remember there’s no such thing as too many chocolates.

 

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