‘We are constantly searching for a way to be happy, but we seldom look within ourselves’ – an interview with James Norbury, the author of Big Panda and Tiny Dragon
More about the book!
A guiding light in dark times, Big Panda and Tiny Dragon is the beautifully illustrated and mindful journey of two friends through the seasons. Author James Norbury chatted to Lauren McDiarmid about empowering ideas, his favourite response to the book and how he takes his tea.
What do Big Panda and Tiny Dragon represent?
Big Panda represents the warm and gentle wisdom I believe we all have inside. Tiny Dragon represents the more impulsive, easily hurt but fun, childlike part of ourselves. They essentially represent the two parts of my mind having a conversation with each other.
Could you tell us about your very first piece with Big Panda and Tiny Dragon?
Tiny Dragon was looking under a rock for something and Big Panda pointed out that perhaps the thing he is searching for is already inside him. I think it underpins a lot of spirituality, in that we are constantly searching for a way to be happy, but we seldom look within ourselves. Rather, we have the tendency to look to the outside world and hope that other people, objects or experiences will complete us.
What do you hope readers will take away from Big Panda & Tiny Dragon?
I hope they might come to see their difficulties with a little optimism and view their situation with new eyes. We cannot always change our situation, but we can change how we see it. If the book helps people do that, I’d be very happy.
With this book, and your art as a whole, you’re sharing some of your own lessons in spirituality. Was it straightforward enough to interpret these with painting? Is painting something you’ve always done?
I find drawing the pictures quite straightforward, as it’s something I’ve done since I was small, but creating the text is very difficult. It takes me a long time to come up the idea and then translate what can be a fairly abstract or complex idea into a simple two-line conversation.
You’re inspiring so many people with your work, but where do you find your own inspiration?
I read quite a lot of books on spirituality, which help, but really, most of the ideas come from my own experiences. If I’m feeling what we might call negative, I try to work out why and find the best way for me to help myself. When I come up with an answer (often based on old wisdoms), I think ‘Right, how can I make that into a picture?’
In what ways do you give to yourself?
I give myself plenty of time off, I am not a workaholic. I also try to be kind to myself and don’t beat myself up too much when I do things wrong. Likewise, I try not to be a perfectionist as that tends to be parlaying, so I allow myself to make mistakes without being self-critical.
Do you have a favourite mantra?
Not as such but I often find the idea of ‘maybe’ to be quite powerful. The idea is that when something happens to you, good or bad, you are not seeing the whole picture. Perhaps you inherit some money and buy a lovely car, then crash it and end up in hospital, or maybe you are sick and can’t go out to dinner, but everyone who did go ended up with food poisoning. These are daft examples, but the principal that you never know how a situation may turn out. It can keep you from going on an emotional roller coaster each time a situation arises.
Big Panda and Tiny Dragon are big tea drinkers; how do you take your tea?
Medium strength with soya milk. I also like jasmine green tea.
I saw that a copy of Big Panda and Tiny Dragon found its way to the Dalai Lama’s monastery in India. What’s the most memorable message of thanks that you’ve got from a fan, or best interaction with the book that you’ve observed?
I had a message the other day from a parent who told me her child, who has a serious mental health condition, was relaxed for the first time in ages after reading the book and was able to get to bed calm and happy. I get a lot of really wonderful messages but this one stuck out for me as I had never imaged the book could have such an effect.
Big Panda and Tiny Dragon is out now.
This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine from Penguin Random House South Africa.