An Interview With… Ben Davis

Welcome to my stop on the Make Me Awesome Blog Tour! I’m delighted to be hosting An Interview With Ben Davis. I say host, as it’s an After School Book Club Blog Takeover. As soon as they saw the Press Release and the book, they begged me to let them ask the questions they wanted answers to. How could I refuse?

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Can you summarise Make Me Awesome in three words?
Awesome. Awesome. Good.

Miss Cleveland has lots of great books on her bookshelf – why should children choose Make Me Awesome?
If you enjoy funny books that also make you think AND have cool illustrations, Make Me Awesome will be right up your alley.

What was your inspiration for Make Me Awesome?
It’s an idea I’d had kicking around for a while. In fact, one of the earliest drafts of my first Joe Cowley book was about a kid living by a 1950s life advice manual. After that got shelved, I forgot about it for a while, until I kind of rediscovered it while browsing Facebook. I saw that someone had shared an inspirational quote from this American ‘life guru’ type. I can’t remember what the quote was, just that it was a bit rubbish. For some reason I looked into this life guru a bit more and found out that he was worth millions. That was the initial inspiration for Chuck. Of course I twisted the character and made him more obviously nasty, but he very much has a basis in reality. I really liked the idea of an ordinary, slightly dorky British kid trying to live by super-positive self help cliches and getting into all kinds of embarrassing scrapes.

Mental Health and child poverty are hard hitting issues. What inspired you to write a children’s book about them?
I’ve always tried to write about difficult subjects, but with a light touch. Make Me Awesome is no different. I like to write about things that affect the lives of readers, and sadly these issues seem to be becoming more common.

As a dad who sometimes struggles with mental health stuff, I understand that tension between wanting to be a superhero for your child and at the same time feeling completely unable to do so, and this forms the emotional heart of the book.

Writing comedy about subjects like these is a tricky balancing act and I must give all the props in the world to my editor Kathy Webb and the whole team at OUP who helped me discover the real focus of Make Me Awesome and turn it from a completely daft story into a completely daft story with something to say!

Who is your favourite character in Make Me Awesome?
That’s a toughie. I like Freddie’s sheer determination in the face of impossible odds/logic, but I had loads of fun writing the Chuck bits. In terms on minor characters, I have a soft spot for the ghost hunting couple, the Turkletons.

If you had to follow one piece of Chuck’s advice, which would it be, and why?
Chuck’s advice is mostly really bad, but occasionally, he does come through with something useful. Here’s one example: “When you’re faced with a big problem, remember that YOU are bigger than IT. Unless the problem is an escaped rhino. That’s definitely bigger than you.”

Most of your books are for older children. Why did you decide to write for a younger audience?
My publisher suggested it in the first instance, but now I actually prefer it. I think you can have more fun. I mean, you have to lose the swears, but that’s a small price to pay.

Make Me Awesome puts the School Library at the centre of the story. How important were libraries to you when you were growing up?
Hugely important, as they still are! I remember going to the library every weekend and taking out books. And this was on top of the books I already had from the school library. I tried everything – books about plucky football teams, aliens, chocolate covered ants. Everything you could ever imagine was there. I don’t think I’d have become a writer without those trips to the library reinforcing my love of stories.

Did you have a favourite book or author as a child?
Like everyone, I loved Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith. One of the problems with reading so widely and prolifically as a kid is I now can’t remember many of the titles or authors!

The very first book I remember reading and loving is Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd. In fact, I bought a copy for my two year old a few months ago. The nostalgia was strong with that one.

Who inspired you to read when you were a child?
My parents always encouraged me because they knew I loved it. I also remember a few teachers being really cool about recommending me books that were perhaps a little advanced for my age because they thought I’d be up for the challenge.

Which children’s book character would you most like to spend the day with and what would you do together?
When I was a kid I was really into a series by Sheila K. McCullagh called Buccaneers. It was about this kid who travelled through some kind of portal and went on loads of adventures with pirates. I so wanted to hang out with him because come on, pirates are super fun.

Now I’m older, I’d like to meet the family from Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce and give them a hug and tell them everything’s going to be alright. That book got me right in the ‘feels’ as the kids say.

And finally, what advice would you give to aspiring young authors?
In the spirit of Chuck Willard himself, I’m going to give you FIVE AWESOME TIPS to get you started.
1. Write your thing.
2. Don’t worry about trends, or what you think publishers might want. Just write the kind of story you would want to read.
3. Write your thing.
4. Read widely.
5. Write. Your. Thing.

Thank you Ben, that was awesome, in fact it was more than awesome – it was MAWESOME!

Huge thanks to My After School Book Club for asking awesome questions, and to Ben Davis for his mawesome answers.

About the author…

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Ben Davis studied English at University, which was quite easy because he was already fluent in that. As well as writing books, Ben Davis has had a variety of jobs, including joke writer, library assistant, and postman. Writing books has proven the most fun.

About the book…

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Hey you! Yes, you! Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and thought Wow! My life is really rubbish? I can tell from looking at you that you probably have. But I’m here to tell you that all that is about to change. Why not climb aboard the Make Me Awesome programme and buy a one way ticket to Awesometown, calling at Successville, Dollarsdale, and Camp You’re the Greatest! My name is Chuck Willard and I CAN make you AWESOME, just like me! (Well, maybe not that awesome, I’m one of a kind)

When Freddie Smallhouse signs up to the Make Me Awesome programme, he’s ready to turn himself from zero to hero, all with the help of his idol, Chuck Willard. Freddie embarks on various schemes to make himself awesome safe in the knowledge that Chuck is always there, at the end of an email, to give him lots of personal advice …isn’t he?

A new laugh-out-loud story, from the brilliantly funny author of the Joe Cowley series and My Embarrassing Dad’s Gone Viral.

Make Me Awesome is available now from your local independent bookshop, buy it, read it and be as awesome as Ben Davis. You can read an extract here.

To read my review along, with a review from After School Book Club just click Make Me Awesome.

Huge thanks to Hannah and Kirsty at Oxford University Press for inviting me to take part in the Make Me Awesome Blog Tour – it’s been awesome! Do make sure you check out the other stops on the tour.

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