Today’s post is my first ever fan-letter to an author. I think it’s my first. I may have forgotten scores of letters written as a child, but I suspect I was too shy to commit my enthusiasm to paper then, and when I grew older, and somewhat bolder, I had long since given up reading books by authors still able to receive letters.
But that’s not really true anymore. One quick think, and I came up with stacks of authors still living, who might very well appreciate a letter from someone they have never met, nor are ever likely to, and would not in the least resent being put into the position of having to consider whether to reply to such a forward creature, who seems to think her opinions worth the bother. You can probably guess the reasons I might put forward for not writing these letters, but you know, they can’t stand the least inquisition. I am no more than a thorough ingrate, and must put that right.
And so I began, my first fan-letter, RocketFullofPie-style, with a tapir. Oh yes, a tapir.
You can find them in zoos, in this country, and easily enough in the pages of Wikipedia (viz here), so there’s no need for me to tell you about them, except that I can’t resist the following:
Their closest relatives are the other odd-toed ungulates, which include horses, donkeys, zebras and rhinoceroses. (Wiki)
“The other odd-toed ungulates”: there’s so much here that almost compels further inquiry – unpacking, as I would have said in my younger, more pretentious days (the “Eng Lit Years”). For example: are they very strange, their toes, or just not even? and what is an ungulate, odd, or otherwise? It sounds like something Humpty Dumpty from the Looking Glass might be able to explain. “What are ungulates? Well, they’re a bit like waves, and a bit like corkscrews, and nothing like a sea bird having its dinner.” Indeed.
And, in colouring, some of them are a bit like something else too, as you can see in the picture above. Something that helps people cross the road, and is, unfairly, named after one of the other odd-toed ungulates. Which takes us, finally, to the book: Mango and Bambang by Polly Faber, and illustrated by Clara Vulliamy (check it out here).
It is a love of a book, and one to be read for many reasons, many times. But there is one moment above all that I cherish, and that is, when a zebra-crossing uncurls itself before the eyes of the young heroine, and turns out to be a tapir on the run. I hope that hasn’t ruined it for anyone, but it was hard to explain why this particular book opened the fan-letter floodgate, without explaining that gorgeous central image. It just seemed worthy – besides, I was slightly warmed up by Polly’s having featured in my own childhood, and her mother’s homemade strawberry ice-cream living long in my memory. (Homemade strawberry ice-cream, you understand, at a time when strawberry ice-cream meant the bright pink stripe in the Neopolitan.)
So, an embroidered tapir it was to be. Off I set, avoiding a sketch, because, how could I dare sketch a tapir in the footsteps of the divine Vulliamy’s:
Lots of pinky reds putting themselves forwards for background – strawberry ice-cream running riot in the subconscious, perhaps?
And here it is. A homage to Bambang.
Now that I’ve done so much research, I’m not sure those toes are sufficiently odd. Oh well, I’ll know for next time.
And talking of which, if you are a children’s author, desperate for an unsolicited but embroidered portrait of your animal character, do drop me a line over on the Commissions Page. You never know, if your name’s Michael Bond, Judith Kerr, or Shirley Hughes, you might get lucky.
And here it goes, my first fan letter.