Ben Faulks is an actor and writer, best known for his role as Mr Bloom in the CBeebies show Mr Bloom’s Nursery. He has been nominated for a BAFTA award for Children’s Television Presenter and has an impressive list of live shows as well as TV to his credit. Watch out for Muddy Puddles! is his first children’s book.
Ben Cort is the illustrator of Shark in the Dark and Aliens Love Underpants among many others. The latter has sold over 2 million copies worldwide. He has won numerous awards including the Stockport Children’s Book Award, the Sheffield Children’s Book Award and the Scottish Children’s Book Award.
They talked to Books for Keeps about their book.
Watch out for Muddy Puddles! is a perfect marriage of text and illustration. How collaborative was the process of working on the book?
Ben Faulks: I really enjoyed working in a different medium to TV. The majority of TV productions require a really big crew, even for a TV programme that lasts 12 – 15 minutes, the amount of man hours that goes into making it is enormous. One of the nice things about working on the book is that I come up with the ideas, I’ll talk it through with the publisher, develop them, feed on to Ben, and talk about them with him. It’s a much smaller team, and the scale of things is different – though there’s still lots of dialogue going on.
Ben Cort: I was sent the text and obviously liked it and I was pretty much left to get on and come up with my own ideas for how to illustrate the text. It’s not unusual that I don’t get to meet the author until after the book is finished. I had some suggestions, and it all became more surreal the longer we were working on it. Ben would see my roughs and come back with his comments on what I was suggesting. I prefer to work on surreal /fantasy subjects and liked the sound of this from the start – the idea of illustrating a giant rubber duck in a little puddle was very appealing!
How did you both come to be doing the work you do?
Ben Cort: I always wanted to do something in the arts, and looking back I can’t imagine what else I could have done. My dad was an artist too, in fact the first book I ever remember was a book that my mum and dad wrote in the 1960s – it was called Little Oleg – and I suppose I just got used to my dad always drawing and painting. I was always surrounded by art and I realised you could make a career as an artist, to me it didn’t seem a strange thing to want to do at all.
Ben Faulks: I never set out to work for pre-schoolers. When I left college (he trained at Bretton Hall School of Dance and Drama) I pitched theatre ideas and that got me into writing and performing for the stage and then I did more outdoor theatre and that gave me a family audience, because working in a public space you don’t choose your audience, they choose you. From there I pitched for the BBC, for pre-school shows, and that brought me into the 0 – 7 age range, and that’s certainly taken up the lion’s share of time for the last few years, although I’ve still been doing theatre and other bits and bobs. I love working for the family audience though – children and their parents, that shared experience but it’s great to have the new challenge that children’s publishing offers.
Did you draw on your own childhood memories when working on the book? What was the inspiration
Ben Faulks: For me, the idea came about while I was walking my kids to school. We walk along a rutted lane, so when it rains it’s full of puddles, which we have to avoid, because arriving at school soggy is never a good start!
So as we navigated round the puddles, I used to try to find a game or some sort of reason as to why I might be trying to keep them dry. There was one massive puddle in particular that I labelled the monster puddle so that we could kind of skirt round the edges a bit, and that got me thinking about other puddles, that there might be a monster in one that might grab your ankles, and if so what else there might be, it just went on from there.
Ben Cort: I’ve got a powerpoint presentation that I give at festivals and at the beginning I show children stuff I was drawing at roughly their age – 5 or 6 – and I’m amazed by how similar the pictures I drew when I was a little kid are to what I’m doing now! I’ve got a picture I did of an octopus being fed by someone in a zoo for example, that I did when I was little, and then 40 odd years later I’m doing the Octopus Garden for Ringo Starr. I’ve got monsters I drew as a kid that are not a million miles away from what I’m doing now; basically, a lot of the stuff I found interesting as a child I’m still painting or drawing now. I was also really attracted to comics as a child, the American comic artist Jack Kirby was a massive influence on me. I just loved the bright vibrant immediacy of books and comics when I was a child, and I feel like that’s what I’m still doing now.
Do you have a favourite image or scene in the book?
Ben Cort: I really like the one where the little boy is looking into the puddle and in it there are little mermen and a football. It’s like this little magical world you could imagine being in a puddle as a child. The Ant and Bee books were favourites of mine as a child and that’s what I used to love about them, there was a little fantasy world you could get lost in. I like that picture because it reminds me of how I felt as a child.
Ben Faulks: That’s my favourite spread as well! It’s all about promise and potential, you’re looking at something and you can’t see inside it but it could be holding a wealth of possibilities and that for me sums up a child’s mind set – they look at the world and it’s full of potential but also mystery – you don’t know what goes on behind those closed windows or you don’t know how people get inside televisions. Kids assume when I turn up for an event as Mr Bloom that I’ve climbed out of the back of the TV – they take things on a very literal level but they’re also alive to what might be living beneath the surface. That image reflects that childish perception of the world. Also that there’s a puddle, a child is going to be drawn to it, I don’t know a child who can resist a puddle – though I’m glad I’ve never jumped into a puddle with crocodiles!
Watch out for Muddy Puddles! is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 978-1-4088-6719 8, £11.99 hbk.