Creative siblings Lisa, Stephen and Anita Mangan. Photo: Marie Mangan

Erris connection remains strong for talented Mangan siblings

Actor Stephen Mangan (53) has written his first book, a children’s story called Escape The Rooms, illustrated by his sister Anita Mangan. It is an action-packed, laugh-out-loud adventure with an important theme at its heart.

Stephen, Anita and their younger sibling Lisa all live in London but have strong connections with Erris. Their father James was from Doohoma and their mother Mary from Tullaghanduff, Geesala. Several aunts, uncles and cousins still live in the area, in Belmullet, and all three siblings and their families are regular visitors.

They lost their mother Mary when she was just 45. She had colon cancer. They lost their father James to brain cancer 14 years later, when he was 63.

Anita (51) has designed and illustrated over 60 books, and was very excited to have the chance to work with her brother. Likewise, Stephen jumped at the chance of a family collaboration.

Stephen said: “We’re a very close family. Laughter was very much part of our childhood. Dad was a big joker and mum always laughed at all of his jokes, even if she’d heard them before.”

Stephen dedicates Escape The Rooms to their parents. The two main characters, Jack and Cally, discover that they have been thrown together as both have both suffered a bereavement. They find themselves in a labyrinth of rooms, in a weird and wonderful world, where they have to solve puzzles and work together to find their way back.

Explained Stephen: “I'm a firm believer that comedy is the best vehicle for exploring all the profound human experiences that we go through. I wanted to write something funny and surprising and as exciting and scary as I could, whilst having this underlying theme of friendship and childhood loss.”

Stephen, Anita and Lisa Mangan with their father James on a trip to the Inishkea islands, off the Erris coastline, in the early 1990s.

Lisa Mangan (50), the youngest of the three siblings, a media trainer and copywriter, wasn’t involved in the book but she inspired the concept that launches character Jack into his adventure. During a bungee jump when she was in her 20s, the organisers shouted ‘wait’ just has she was leaning forward to go, hinting that there was something wrong with her harness. Thankfully there wasn’t; they were just teasing her.

Stephen has always found this story amusing and weaves it into the book. In Jack’s case, his bungee doesn’t stop, he plummets through the Earth and ends up he ends up in the rooms with a mysterious girl called Cally.

'Like magic'

Working on the book together was an extension of Stephen and Anita’s close relationship. Stephen said: “I have always admired Anita’s creative talent. I literally cannot draw a straight line with a ruler! I was completely in awe of her ability to draw what was in my head. When she sent me her illustrations I didn’t have to change a thing, she just got it. It was like magic!”

Anita added: “Stephen, Lisa and I share a silly sense of humour. His descriptions of characters jumped off the page and I didn’t have any trouble interpreting them. That’s the benefit of working with your sibling – you just get each other’s humour. There was no need to explain himself!”

Anita continued: “It was a joy to work with Stephen. It has been a long time coming. Our work worlds have never collided before now, but hopefully this is just the beginning of more projects together.”

Lisa said: “Having spent our childhood making up plays for the babysitter, it is great that Stephen and Anita are making up stories for children everywhere now – and their babysitters! I am very proud of them both and love that they are working together.”

Illustrations of the three siblings appear in the book. One of the rooms that Jack and Cally have to escape from is full of people smiling with big teeth. Known for their toothy smiles, Anita thought it would be funny to include illustrations of her, Stephen and Lisa in this room.

All of the characters are larger than life. Jack and Cally face animals dressed in clothes, talking dogs, a tiny man with eyebrows for hair stuck on by spit, poisonous spiders and ferocious lions, amongst other creatures.

Escape The Rooms was number one in Amazon’s children’s best-sellers list on the day of publication and number seven out of all books.

Stephen said: “I feel quite overwhelmed really. Writing a book is such a personal thing. As a child I read voraciously. I’d even have a book on my lap at the family dinner table. I wanted to create the kind of book that I loved to read.

“I have three young sons who have all read it several times now. My youngest is called Jack, so the other two are now expecting me to write books where they are the main character!”

Escape The Rooms is published by Scholastic and is out now.