Writer and artist James Norbury began illustrating the adventures of Big Panda and Tiny Dragon, inspired by Buddhist philosophy and spirituality, to share the ideas that have helped him through his most difficult times, and he hopes they can help you too.
James has always been deep and spiritual and having counted him as a good friend for such a long time I know he’s many other things too. I have to look back through the mists of time all the way to my first year at university where we lived on the same floor of a small block of student flats. We ended up sharing houses together for the four years I spent in Swansea and since then most years we’ve often met up, and when I started publishing my own books, he was on hand to produce the awesome covers and helping me along in so many ways.
Back when he first told me he’d secured representation for Big Panda and Tiny Dragon, I rather cheekily asked if I could interview him for my blog, and now a week after he’s appeared on primetime TV and with only a week to go before the wonderful book is released by an imprint of Penguin, I sat in my living room on a zoom call with James wishing I’d thought of some questions to ask.
After a quick catch up for me to settle down, we both agreed how surreal the whole situation was, what with the interview on ITV news and becoming the number one bestselling book on Amazon UK. Despite all that had happened already, he was next to be interviewed for Channel Four, Sky News and Irish Radio. Way to put me at ease!
Then we dived into it, like we were down the pub after a long trek across the countryside.
GJ: What was inspiration for the style of book?
JN: To try and take old spiritual wisdoms, which are very useful for people because they’re based on very powerful ideas and try to put them into a more digestible package. The texts the ideas come from can be quite long-winded, or awkward to read, and some people may not even know they exist. So, I took the ideas and tried to make them more palatable.
GJ: Was the concept always going to be a book, or did the social media side come first?
JN: No. It was never intended to be a book. It was just an idea I had for years. I was going to start a live group of people to discuss these ideas with, perhaps meeting up once a week to talk about these things, perhaps with some meditation, but I didn’t really have the confidence to lead a group like this. And of course, COVID came along. I instead decided to do it in a form I was more familiar with, which was drawing pictures.
GJ: I see first-hand how phenomenal the response has been, and still is, on Instagram every time you post one of the pictures.
JN: It’s crazy and wonderful at the same time. It really seems to have genuinely helped people, and I didn’t expect it to help that much, certainly not on that scale. People tell me all the time how much it helps them.
GJ: And of course, when Kristin Bell shared one of the drawings, albeit without crediting you, that was a mad moment.
JN: Yeah. That image had millions and millions of shares.
GJ: And that time when I was talking online in a group chat with authors in my genre about you and suddenly one of them who lives in the US took a picture of their wall and there was one of your drawings.
JN: Yeah. Crazy. One of my friends at the Samaritans, we were talking on WhatsApp and her profile picture was one of my drawings.
GJ: She didn’t know it was you?
JN: She didn’t know I’d drawn it. I said to her, did you know I drew that? She was like, what? No that’s off the internet. And that kind of thing happens more than you think. I think the success is because it’s so instantly understandable and then shareable.
GJ: How has your life changed since the publicity began? Is there an unexpected way your life has changed since the hype of the book has taken off?
JN: The only change is being on the TV. I still live in the same house and do the same hobbies, and essentially do the same work, which is quite surprising. Everything is pretty much identical.
GJ: I wonder if that will still be the case once the book comes out.
JN: Yes, that might be the case. Perhaps I’ll move house to get a bigger workspace. We’ll have to see, but there’s not much else I need.
GJ: So has this been the best interview you’ve had so far out all of the TV news stations?
JN: Yes. Yes. This isn’t the least prepared interview I’ve had.
After we both recovered from the laughter, I thought of another question.
GJ: What’s the most common question you’ve been asked in all the interviews so far?
JN: Why did I start the book? Why did I start drawing the pictures? And probably why a panda and a dragon?
GJ: Do you think those are the questions you’re going to be asked forever and have to grin and pretend it’s a great question?
JN: I guess so, but let’s hope they’ve seen the previous interviews and want to be original.
GJ: So are they going to make a movie?
JN: No one’s told me, if they are!
GJ: Are you bursting with ideas for more work of this type?
JN: No. I’ve never been bursting with ideas for Panda and Dragon pictures to be honest. I always find it quite difficult to come up with the ideas. That’s why I only produce a picture a week. It’s not difficult, but I have to wait for the idea to come to me, a lightbulb moment when I realise something would make an interesting picture. And that just doesn’t happen very often.
Big Panda and Tiny Dragon is available from today in all good bookshops.
If you want to know more you can check out his website https://www.jamesnorbury.com, or if you just google his name, you’ll see he’s everywhere!