Stephen Mangan's first book is a family affair
- Credit: Marie Mangan
Primrose Hill actor Stephen Mangan has published his first children's book with help from his illustrator sister Anita.
Escape The Rooms is an action-packed, laugh-out-loud adventure with an important theme at its heart.
Anita, 51, who lives in Muswell Hill, has designed and illustrated more than 60 books, and was excited to have the chance to work with her brother.
And the 53-year-old father of three was delighted at the family collaboration: “We’re a very close family," he said. "Laughter was very much part of our childhood. Dad was a big joker and mum always laughed at all of his jokes, even if she’d heard them before.”
Anita and Stephen's sister Lisa also lives locally in Crouch End. The siblings lost their mother Mary to colon cancer when she was just 45 and their father James to brain cancer fourteen years later aged 63, and the book is dedicated to their parents.
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The two heroes Jack and Cally, discover that they have been thrown together in a weird and wonderful world after both suffering a bereavement. They find themselves in a labyrinth of rooms where they have to solve puzzles and work together to find their way back - encountering animals dressed in clothes, talking dogs, a tiny man with eyebrows for hair stuck on by spit, poisonous spiders and ferocious lions.
Stephen said: “I‘m a firm believer that comedy is the best vehicle for exploring all the profound human experiences that we go through. I wanted to write something funny and surprising and exciting and scary, whilst having this underlying theme of friendship and childhood loss.”
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Although Lisa 50, a media trainer and copywriter, wasn’t involved in the book, she inspired the story that launches Jack into his adventure. During a bungee jump in her 20s, the organisers shouted ‘wait’ just has she was leaning forward to go, implying there was something wrong with her harness. Thankfully they were just teasing, but Stephen has always found the story amusing and weaves it into the book. In this case Jack's bungee doesn’t stop and he plummets through the Earth into another world.
Working together was an extension of the sibling's close relationship: “I have always admired Anita’s creative talent. I literally cannot draw a straight line with a ruler!" said Stephen, who presents Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year.
"I was completely in awe of her ability to draw what was in my head. When she sent me her illustrations I didn’t have to change a thing, she just got it like magic!”
Anita added: “Stephen, Lisa and I share a silly sense of humour. His character descriptions jumped off the page and I didn’t have any trouble interpreting them. The benefit of working with your sibling is you just get each other’s humour. There was no need to explain himself! It was a joy to work with Stephen. It has been a long time coming. Our work worlds have never collided before, but hopefully this is just the beginning of more projects.”
Lisa Mangan said: “Having spent our childhood making up plays for the babysitter, it is great that Stephen and Anita are making up stories for children everywhere now. I am very proud of them both and love that they are working together.”
Anita couldn't resist putting all three siblings in the book. One room that Jack and Cally escape from is full of people smiling with big teeth. Known for their toothy smiles, the illustrator thought it would be funny to include herself and her siblings on the page.
Escape The Rooms ( £6.99 Scholastic) reached number one in Amazon’s children’s bestsellers list on the day of publication and Stephen said: “I feel quite overwhelmed. Writing a book is such a personal thing. As a child I read voraciously. I’d even have a book on my lap at the family dinner table. I wanted to create the kind of book that I loved to read. I have three young sons who have read it several times now. My youngest is called Jack, so the other two are now expecting me to write books where they are the main character!”
Anita has decorated the window of The Children’s Bookshop in Muswell Hill with characters from the book. Order a signed copy at the bookshop before June 20.