Nepali Times
Magical mystery tour


Conflict advisor Simon Arthy has been living and working in countries in conflict or emerging from war for over 20 years. But when he's not at his day job he can be found performing magic tricks, singing with his Kathmandu band 'Load Shed'.... or writing and illustrating children's books. His debut book Jack and Betty & the Yak and Yeti is one for the holiday season.

Arthy's inspiration for this charmingly titled book is as practical as it is touching. The strain of working in the conflict sector has led him to focus on the positive aspects of each country he has lived in?- its culture, myths, identity and history. With three children, now aged eight, six and four, this was all the more desirable. He explains: "When you have children so much of life suddenly takes on a magical quality; the little things they do, the way they respond to the world, the way they love you and how you love them so unconditionally. Sure, there are hard times too. But the magic is there, it's new and it's infectious."

He found himself striving to make his children's life experiences magical, by portraying every outing and holiday as a wild adventure, learning magic and doing shows for them dressed in outlandish costumes, and making up new stories every night at bed-time.

"And with all the stories flowing, I inevitably thought, 'why not actually write a story, dedicated to the kids, so that they can have it on their shelves for the rest of their lives?'"

In spite of working full-time Arthy found the time to pen his debut, aided in no small measure Kathmandu's traffic jams. He even took on the task of illustration, though he'd initially planned to use an artist. "Three weeks in Kathmandu while my wife and family were in the UK gave me the time I needed," he recalls. "Painting for five hours every evening after work and 18 hours a day on the weekends. Eating cold baked beans and rice with lots of mayonnaise."

Jack and Betty & the Yak and Yeti is a fantastical tale, yet it's imbued with a real sense of place. When siblings Jack and Betty tell their magic map they want to go 'to the top of the world', they find themselves in the bustling streets of Kathmandu. From there it's off on the top of a bus and into the mountains to encounter the mighty yak, whose help they enlist to tackle Mt. Everest. As the title suggests they also meet up with the not-so-mythical yeti.

The level of detail and humour in the illustrations will delight children - and their parents - while early readers and older kids will enjoy the rich descriptions and revel in the sense of adventure and fun. The initial print run of 1000 copies by Kathmandu publishers Digiscan is extremely professional. It will be interesting to see whether Arthy's debut book is picked up by an international children's publisher and, if that is the case, how they will treat this 'product' and potential spin-offs like toys and cartoons.

In the first two weeks over 400 copies have been sold and the Arthy family is now giving 100 copies free to Nepali schools. "In the coming month we will explore how we can give the publishing rights in Nepali to one of the excellent foundations that exist in Kathmandu," says the author.

The new year will mean new projects for Arthy as he embarks on a follow-up book set in the Congo, and then perhaps one set in Yemen, again using the map of the world as a magic carpet of sorts for his child protagonists.

Simon Arthy's Jack and Betty & the Yak and Yeti is available at Pilgrim's and Sherpa Adventure Gear.

1. Salil Pradhan
Indeed commendable for Arthy to do that in Nepal. Shall read a copy to children as soon as I get my hands on one.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)