Janet McAllister on the arts
Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Nanny Piggins and the allure of chocolate cake

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The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt
The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt

Sunday 9am. In bed, anxiously checking the laptop. I've woken up for the Storylines Festival fearing there's nothing left to say about 30-year-old Hairy Maclary. I wonder, imagining squeaky balloon artists and toddlers, if today will be as queasy as that Sunday three weeks ago when I took my hangover to Leviathan - a shaky, blurry festival documentary about hacking up fish on a bobbing, rolling boat.

Then I see Nanny Piggins on the Storylines list. This is a household name, in our household at least. It belongs to a flying pig, a cross between Mary Poppins and Miss Piggy. She encourages her charges to eat chocolate cake for all meals and excuses them from school due to "athlete's frying pan hand". She's irresistible.

Two bedrooms away lies Nanny Piggins' greatest fan. The snorer beside me gets out of bed to tell the child all her Christmases have come at once (Nanny Piggins' Guide to Conquering Christmas, out in November). "We should leave her to sleep a bit," I suggest. "She had a late night."

"She'll be reading, not sleeping," he says. I remain dubious.

She's reading. The news that she's to meet Nanny's creator, R.A. Spratt, shoots her into the air like she's in Nanny Piggins and the Accidental Blast-Off. The snorer dobs me in: "Janet thought we should let you sleep." Cue: youthful withering look.

It's 10:30am. Storylines is already happily busy, thanks to the strategic placement of Joy Cowley as opening act. Two girls wear Piggins-inspired sandwich boards: "Keep calm and eat cake." Great Storylines advice, I think.

Rachel Spratt turns up at her reading session clutching a yellow polka-dot carry-all and a home-made cardboard-tube rocket, which she threatens to fire at misbehaving parents. Her energy is immediately likeable. She instigates a chocolate scramble: "If you don't like what you get, fight with your neighbour!"

It's no surprise Spratt was once a martial artist (like Nanny) and a stand-up comic (she now gets more performance time with school kids than she did with the punters). It's no surprise that at home in Sydney she rides a dragster electric bike with a banana seat and monkey bar handles, in a rainbow helmet and hi-vis vest. It's a little surprising that she last toured New Zealand at age 4, accompanying bell-ringers.

A TV writer, Spratt writes books to forget about TV rules (no toilet-roll puppets in Australia, no disrespecting of parents in Germany). Later, over an iced coffee (cue: youthful jealous stare), she tells me she has produced two children and eight Piggins books in less than six years. She reckons if you have two weekly writing sessions of two hours each - and do your plotting while rocking the children to sleep - you'll have a 50,000-word book at the end of six months. I remain dubious.

It's clear: R.A. is the new J.K. Alongside a humourless boy on a broomstick, the canon now has a pig in a comedy cannon. The child, starstruck, got her book signed: "Chocolate is a dairy food."


- NZ Herald

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