Andrew Hansen and Jessica Roberts are the authors of the highly entertaining Bab Sharkey and the Animal Mummies: The Weird Beard.
Words | Andrew Hansen and Jessica Roberts
What attracted you to writing about a boy who comes upon the mysterious and ancient world of Animal Mummies?
Andrew: I’ve adored animals since I was a kid. I also love fantasy fiction. The Bab Sharkey books are a dream combo of animals and fantasy – adventure stories about mummified animals brought magically to life in a lost city!
Jess: I always liked stories about mysterious and ancient worlds that were discovered by a seemingly regular kid. It’s fun to put yourself in the shoes of the hero and then imagine magic within your own world. I’d always wish to find a secret passage or a magic object that would open a gateway to a different land that only I knew about! I never found one… but writing the Bab Sharkey stories is close enough!
How did you come up with those hilarious names, such as Cainus the Jackal, the Unpharaoh, Scaler, and Prong?
Andrew: The Unpharaoh is ‘unlike’ any other Pharaoh. She’s very ‘unfair’. Plus she’s ‘undead’. What other name could she possibly have?! As for Prong, well, that’s simply a funny word, isn’t it. It’s a funny thing too – prongs are long and wobbly. Our Prong is an Ibis Mummy with a prong-like beak, so it’s perfect. ‘Prong’ also sounds like it could be an ancient Egyptian name.
J: My brother’s name is Cain and we added the ‘us’ on the end because we thought adding ‘us’ onto words makes them funnier. Scaler the Fish Mummy was originally called something like ‘Fishy’ but that’s lame, so we thought of Scaler because fish have scales and she plays the guitar.
The name Mumphis is a stroke of genius. Do you think the mayor of Memphis, in Egypt, might officially change the name?
Andrew: Yes. I’m on the phone to him right now.
J: Yes. Yes I do. I think it could seriously help tourism in the area.
What is the most fascinating thing you learnt about Animal Mummies during your travels to Egypt?
Andrew: The sheer number of animal mummies is fascinating. It’s mind boggling. Several million have been found in Egypt – millions! Including about half a million ibis mummies at Saqqara. Poor Prong! The Egyptians were obsessed with mummifying these critters in the belief the animal mummies would accompany them to the afterlife. I hope they’re all there, nibbling on treats.
J: That the ancient Egyptians mummified so many different types of animals! Crocodiles, goats, fish, baboons, bulls, cats, dogs… Animals played such an important role in ancient Egypt, they were seen as gods. It was interesting to learn that when the animals were first mummified the bandages were painted different colours and had faces drawn on them. I always thought mummies were made from just dirty off-white bandages, like you see in cartoons. This is why we made Scaler a faded purple and Prong washed out green.
If either of you wore the pharoah’s beard, what magic power would it give you?
Andrew: The magic Pharaoh’s Beard would come in very handy at dinner parties with large tables. No more asking people to pass the salad – I’d command the beard to extend in the form of a long, hairy hand and collect the various dishes for me. In addition, the Beard Hand could quietly clamp over the mouth of an irritating guest.
J: I’d turn the beard into a jet pack so I could get around quick and easy. And probably use it as an umbrella, I never have one when it’s pouring.
Who were your literary heroes or favourites growing up?
Andrew: Norman Hunter’s books made me hoot with laughter. I loved Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss for being funny and unsettling at the same time. I reread the Tintin and Asterixseries till the books dissolved into tatters. Around age 10, I fell in love with fantasy stuff including JRR Tolkien, David Eddings, Ursula Le Guin, CS Lewis, and the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.
J: R.L Stine’s Goosebumps filled up most of my bookshelf growing up. But I have fond memories reading many stories by Enid Blyton, Graeme Base, Paul Jennings, Roald Dahl, J.K Rowling and of course Dr Seuss. They’re all brilliant.
Jess, you also illustrated the book. How did you come up with the look of the characters? What were the most fun and most challenging parts of illustrating the book?
J: I first drew the characters with my finger on my iPad just after we came up with the idea. Over time I kept developing their looks and eventually they were very polished looking illustrations and didn’t really suit our bonkers story. I had to refer to my original drawings (which took about 10 minutes to create) and start stripping back the polished versions (which took countless hours to perfect). It’s hard to delete things you’ve worked hard on but when it’s not right, it’s not right. I find simple drawing challenging, I always want to add details but then I end up ruining what I had. Drawing Bab and the mummies has been a dream! It’s so fun to create characters and then write their personalities as well.
Andrew, please give us a couple of lines from the Animal Mummies songs. What have we got to look forward to?
At one point, Scaler the Fish Mummy performs a song called ‘Thirsty Work’. She’s trying to make the wicked Jackal Mummies work up a thirst in the hope that they’ll drink some magic cactus juice. ‘If I don’t drink I’ll go berserk! / This party is thirsty work!’, goes the chorus. The cool thing is readers will be able to listen to our songs at animal-mummies.com.
Andrew, you went from political satire to writing children’s books. Has becoming a Dad changed your career path for good?
Andrew: I guess I’ve made a fair bit of topical comedy, as well as silly sketch and character comedy, which I much prefer to the topical stuff. But co-writing Bab Sharkey and the Animal Mummies is a true passion project. It’s one of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on because fantasy adventure books are very dear to me. Being a dad actually has nothing to do with these books – Jess and I hatched the story idea long before we took up parenting!