Style that still lets the bride shine...
During author-illustrator Polly Dunbar’s recent visit to South Africa for a book festival in Cape Town, followed by a few days in Jozi, I stole her away for a few minutes to chat about her book Tilly and Friends being turned into a Cbeebies kiddies’ show.
Quickly finishing the last bites of her lunch, Dunbar (pictured), in her charming British accent, says, “I arrived on Friday and went straight to Cape Town for a book launch. I managed to find a day to drive around but, on that day, it rained. So it was a bit of a shame.”
Her art director is from the Mother City, she says. “We have worked together for over 10 years now. And it is lovely to be here at last,” she smiles.
Dunbar’s career choice isn’t surprising as her mom, Joyce, is also a children’s book writer. With over 25 books to her name, Dunbar, who featured in The Times’s 2008 list for ‘The Best New Picture Book Illustrators’, says she was “most chuffed” when the children’s show was commissioned.
The project was four years in the making, she says. “We had to spend a couple of years raking in the money to make the actual show. What happened was Walker Books, who publish the Tilly book series, teamed up with Jam Media, an animation studio in Ireland, who liked the tele-books and said, ‘Okay, we will make a trailer and see if we can sell it’.
“We did, took it to the BBC and they loved it. They saw that it had potential.”
What’s perhaps most flattering for Dunbar is that the BBC commissioned 52 episodes for a first season – which isn’t the industry norm.
On finding herself in the television arena, she shares: “I was lucky because you hear of productions that keep you (the writer) away. But they wanted as much input as I wanted to give. I was on board at every stage. We started at scriptwriting; I did some and then there was a head writer and 16 writers. That was new for me – scriptwriting for television, that is. I was also reading the other scripts to make sure they stayed true to the characters. The volume was incredible. It was a tidal wave of Tilly stuff.”
As the title suggests, the show revolves around Tilly and her five animal friends.
Dunbar says: “The characters came about when I was sharing a house with a few friends. The struggles of getting along in such close quarters inspired the characters, who upset, love and get in each others’ way.”
“There is Pru, a very pretty chicken, who is quite vain but great fun. Tiptoe, the rabbit, is the quiet, enigmatic one. He has a bit of a magical air about him. Then there is Doodle, a tomboyish crocodile, and Hector is the little boy pig who loves to wear pink.
“I thought if we have all these extraordinary characters and a little girl in charge, she is the one they all go to. Tilly and Friends is a very quiet and gentle series.”
As for whether it will captivate the attention of the techno-savvy new generation of kids, she offers, “There was a worry it would get lost. But if you are calm, children will be calm too. That is what the series achieves through the strength of its characters, and we have a lot of music and fancy imaginative sequences. We want to explore adventures through imaginative play.”
As long as she clings on to her inner child, Dunbar’s magical world will continue to flourish in books and on TV. Well, that is her aim anyway!
• Tilly and Friends is on Cbeebies (DStv Channel 306) at 10.25am and 2.30pm on Mondays.