author interivew, illustrator interview, Kidlit Spotlight

[Kidlit Spotlight] Ben & Joe Farmer [Author/Illustrator Interview]

Today, we have something very exciting for you. Last month, we talked with a man who wrote and illustrated his book by himself. Today, we are talking with two brothers from England who wrote and illustrated their book together. Tomorrow we will be reviewing their adorable book, Mard, but for now, let’s see what goes on behind the scenes with these incredibly talented brothers.

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Thank you both for being with us today! We are so excited to hear all about your experiences writing this book 🙂 Shall we?

Q1 – What was your favorite part of writing and illustrating this book as brothers?
Joe: I think that because the idea began as a present for an old friend of ours it became a nostalgic process. At first we sat down and just talked about stories from going up with Max which would fit well into the story. From there we looked over all of our favorite books from when we were kids for inspiration. It’s rare to have such opportunities, so for me those nostalgic trips were my favourite part.
Ben: And to add to that, it was just a really enjoyable, easy process. We were both working from this imaginative space we’d shared for years, and mixing that with memories of storybooks we both shared, so shaping those into our own book came quite naturally.

Q2 – Was there an inspiration behind Mard?
Absolutely, there’s quite a backstory to the whole thing really. We wrote Mard based on our old friend, Max (who is also a character in the book in his own right), as a surprise for his 21st birthday. The whole book is made up of old jokes and memories we have from growing up together. We’d been joking about Mard as this kind of clumsy polar bear alter-ego of Max since we were all kids, ever since Joe’s (at the time) terrible handwriting meant that the name ‘Mard’ came up on the scoreboard at a French bowling alley in place of Max’s own. That, combined with the way Max was bowling – wildly flinging the heaviest balls down the lane – was how the idea of Mard was born. Max has really blonde hair, and there’s something about him that makes him look a bit like a polar bear, so the character of Mard came quite naturally out of that. A few years later, on holiday in France, we even came across a polar bear statue in this park in Dijon that looked just like we’d imagined Mard to be. It was amazing to find this physical embodiment of something that had just been in our collective imaginations; we all saw the statue and simultaneously recognized it as Mard. We had this really strange morning of Max ‘discovering’ Mard, and even did a slightly weird photoshoot of Max and Mard together (including a couple of Max cuddling Mard). When Joe first suggested that we turn Mard into a children’s book, those photographs were the starting point of it all. we loosely built the story around the experience of Max finding Mard.

Q3 – For the illustrator of the two of you, do you create on paper first or is it all digital? Or perhaps 50-50?
Ben: I did all the illustrations on paper, and then scanned them in for the final edits. We wanted to keep the hand-drawn feel for Mard, so the illustrations weren’t really changed that much once I got them digitized. For a few of the more complex pages I layered them up and edited the illustrations in Photoshop, but they largely stayed the same from my drawing / painting of them.

Q4 – Let’s talk about writing now. Have you guys always wanted to write? If no, do you remember when you first found that authorly spark (or it found you)?
Joe: Personally, I’ve never really considered writing fiction . I’ve always loved to read and grown up in an environment that celebrates creativity, but it was not a route I had given any serious thought to. I always did well at creative writing tasks at school but never pushed beyond that. When I sat down with Ben to write Mard it was the first creative piece I had done in over five years. I loved the process of writing. I found immense satisfaction in communicating all of the stories and ideas which we had been talking about through the form of children’s literature. In terms of authorly spark, I’d really have to say that the first day of writing Mard was that moment.
Ben: Similarly to Joe, I’d not really done any creative writing before Mard. I’d just finished my English degree at the time we began it, so had been doing plenty of academic writing. It was fun to turn that to something a bit different, plus as I illustrated it as well, I really enjoyed turning the drawings and the writing into one coherent thing. I find creative processes really satisfying – particularly seeing Mard throughout from a first idea, all the way to a physical book.

Q5 – What made you choose KidLit?
It wasn’t so much an active choice as it was that KidLit emerged naturally as the best form for the story that we wanted to tell. The book was born out of years of jokes about the character of the polar bear; the silly Mard moments existed before it was conceived of as a book. Everything from the gentle clumsiness of the character to his repeated catchphrase just seemed to be a great fit for a picture book. At the point of first discussing the book, we both felt that a children’s book would be the best way to do it.

Q6 – If you were going to give new authors / illustrators ONE piece of advice about self-publishing, what would it be?
Ben: I would say if you’ve considered writing or illustrating at any time, then my advice would be to just jump right in! The great benefit of self-publishing is that you have the freedom to create at your own pace; you’ve got complete creative control (and the time to make plenty of mistakes along the way). Plus, it doesn’t really need to cost you anything. The self-publishing process allows you to learn so much. We published through Createspace, and they have some really clear, helpful guidelines. Before we started Mard I didn’t really have any experience doing layout for books, doing cover design, creating print formats (any of it!) so I really enjoyed taking the time to teach myself about all these different aspects. And, of course, by the time you get to the end you’ve learnt so much that you want to do it all better, all over again.

Q7 – Did you create this book at the same time? Or did you illustrate first, write second or vice versa?
We wrote the story first and then used that to decide on the illustrations. Joe and I sat down together over a weekend in the summer, planned the bits of the story we wanted to include, and just told it to each other, over and over, to make it work and sound like a children’s story. We wanted it to feel like the stories we remembered being read to us when we were little (books like Let’s Go Home Little Bear), so we thought it was important to start by telling the story out-loud. We didn’t write it down until we could pretty much recite the whole thing off by heart. After that, we put the text into a storyboard, and used that to plan out the illustrations.

Q8 – What was the most challenging aspect of working together as brothers? Or, just as a duo?
There really weren’t many challenges working as brothers in the process; we get on really well so it was pretty easy to communicate our ideas and turn them into something coherent. I suppose the biggest challenge was finding a good chunk of time when we were both in the same place and could sit down to write the book. It took months from coming up with the idea to write, to actually sitting down and starting it.

Q9 – When not creating KidLit, what is your go-to genre for reading?
Ben: I guess my go-to genre would be literary fiction, for want of a better term. But yeah, I like reading anything that leaves you thinking, or that makes you go: Cor, I wish I could write like that, at the turn of every page. If it’s a book that does both, then even better. I like books that generally make you excited by what language can do.
Joe: As a history student, a lot of my time is spent reading for my course. When I find the time to read outside of this I try and make my way through my list of recommendations from Ben! I wouldn’t say there’s a specific genre that I go for. Really, I like anything that uses language create something vivid; a place or a character that you can really get lost in.

Q10 – If you could meet any ONE author or illustrator throughout history, who would it be and why?
Amazingly, given how much we both love to read, that’s not something either of us have ever really thought about before! I guess coming off of making Mard, it would be really cool to meet Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth who wrote and illustrated Let’s Go Home Little Bear. As we mentioned above, the book was a big inspiration for us in writing and illustrating Mard, and probably the most memorable picture book from our childhood. Let’s Go Home has these really delicate illustrations, and the language is really warm and gentle – it’s gone by the name ‘Plodder’ since we were kids!

thank you

Ben and Joe – thank you! It was so fun getting inside your heads and talking about how you created this book. We can’t wait to share Lady Quinn and Mister Chu’s review of Mard tomorrow 🙂

Until then . . .

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