If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know I always enjoy Robin Bennett’s books – check out my thoughts on my personal favourite, The Hairy Hand, here. Anyway, he’s got a new one out so as part of his virtual book tour, I invited him to join me for a chat about his creation process.
“Breaking the Rules in Children’s Books”
Monster Max started with just one hook: what if you could turn yourself into a monster just by burping (but turn back, by simply sneezing). This appealed to me because it meant my central character had the sort of power and control that you can only dream of aged 9. And the ability to bend statues or eat dustbins whole. It’s obviously got a lot of comic potential, too – because we all sometimes burp or sneeze by mistake and this was going to leave Max, quite frequently, with a lot of explaining to do.
I also decided to ignore one of the cardinal rules in children’s writing: I didn’t get rid of the parents. In fact Max’s parents are both fantastic – Max is given the space to fight his own battles with his arch nemesis, the genius inventor Peregrine, but they are supportive enough to give him the confidence he can – and they never take parenting – nor Max – too seriously.
And the rule breaking didn’t end there, I’m sorry to say. A famous editor once said that children’s books must obey all the laws of life – except one: i.e. you can only get away with one big lie. So clouds might have cities hidden in their soft folds but water must still be wet, little brothers annoying and tea should be at 4pm sharp.
And this is why I modelled Monster Max on books like Paddington, where almost everything is comforting and normal – and nice – except for the one huge anomaly that everyone politely ignores because they’re British. So, in Paddington, people are far more put out by his table manners than the fact he’s a talking bear, in Monster Max his parents tend to take his super power with a pinch of salt and spend more time nudging him to use his brains, be nice to his friends and brush his teeth. It’s this gentle, understated way of life and the well-being of his parents – his mother in particular – that Max realises he has to use his monster powers to safeguard.
And that was the clincher for me … because, at the end of the day, lots small boys want to save their mums. Hence his reformed monster motto – To Protect and Do Good Stuff
So, that’s Monster Max and the first book, the Bobble Hat of Forgetting. It’s a happy book, I hope and positive, which is always welcome – especially now. And I also hope there will be many more, each with their hurdles to overcome for Max and his friends … and jokes … lots more jokes.
Back to me. It reminds me of the boy AA Milne poem “Disbedience” (one of my absolute favourites) protecting his mother!
Weatherby George Dupree
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.”
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Aged 21 Robin was all set to become a cavalry officer; aged 21 and a half, he found himself working as an assistant gravedigger in south London wondering where it all went wrong. Robin has gone on to start and run over a dozen successful businesses from dog- sitting to cigars, tuition to translation. The list is quite exhausting. Robin is married with three young children. He spends his time between Pau in the Pyrenées and Henley-on- Thames.
Monster Max and the Bobble Hat of Forgetting is Robin’s first book with Firefly Press publishing in February 2021. He has also written other books for children, published with Monster Books.
Rampaging Rugby, first in the Stupendous Sports non-fiction series for 7-11-year-olds will publish August 2021.