Benji Davies, Book Reviews, Childrens Book Illustration, Q&A, Simon & Schuster

The Storm Whale in Winter, PLUS Q&A with Benji Davies

The Storm Whale in Winter was published 22nd September 2016 by Simon & Schuster. Written and illustrated by Benji Davies, this is a wonderful follow up to The Storm Whale.

Said the Mudwaffler… ‘Noi is back. The Storm Whale is back. It’s winter, but this book is sure to warm your cockles.’

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The Story

OK folks, I’m going to geek out a bit here and say, firstly, what an enormous fan of Benji Davies I am. His illustrations are magical. They will, I’m sure, be studied by generations to come who too are sucked in along for the journey each one delivers. His words are songs to sing you to sleep. They’re your favourite grandparent, reading to you, sat on their knee, by a flickering fireside. And to top it off, he’s a bloomin’ lovely chap! Handsome too. OK, I’ve got a problem, I know…

So, anyway, now that I’ve got the mushy stuff out of the way, let’s get down to waffling on about this beautiful follow up to The Storm Whale. Get a cup of tea, turn off your phone and come on an adventure that’ll leave you all hugged out and longing for more of Noi and his nautical friend…

Last Summer Noi rescued a little whale washed up on a beach. Now, as winter draws in, Noi longs to see his friend again…

Noi has been waiting since that summer’s day to see his friend again. Often spotting shapes in the distance that look from afar like the little whale, but it’s always something else…

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As winter hits, and the sea begins to fill with ice, Noi’s dad sets off on one last trip in his fishing boat. But, when he doesn’t return home that night, Noi begins to worry.

Noi watches at the window – accompanied by one of his six cats – and he waits and waits, until at last he sees something out at sea. Thinking it must be his dad, Noi grabs his coat and wellies and dashes down to the shore.

But the sea is frozen over and Noi’s row boat doesn’t get far, so he leaves the boat and carefully steps out onto the ice to look for his dad. The further he goes, the harder it snows and soon, Noi is lost…

He sees a grey shape in the snow ahead… (check out this awesome illustration!)

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…it’s his dad’s boat alright, but there’s no sign of his dad on board. It’s empty. And Noi is alone. Listening to the sea swirling beneath him, he begins to feel afraid.

And it’s then, when we’re sat on the edge of our seat, that his friend returns with a BUMP!

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I’ll leave it there for you to discover how this wonderful winter’s tale ends…

The Artwork

I’ve already given a pretty good indication of my thoughts on Benji Davies’ illustrations, but there’s room for a little more, right? Here’s the opening spread from The Storm Whale in Winter…

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It takes us right back to the familiar coastal setting of Noi’s house as featured in The Storm Whale, and right away, I’m looking for Noi’s six cats (it took me ages to spot the final one). The snow falling lightly in the sky and the icicles hanging from the roofs tell us it’s cold, but it’s still so warming to look at and study the details – the footprints in the snow, the lights in the distant house, and Noi’s dad fixing his fishing net. It’s as though you’re looking out of your very own window at the neighboring houses. It’s like a favorite woolly jumper. It’s already got you, on page one.

For me, it’s these simple looking, but completely brilliant touches that make Benji Davies’ illustration style stand out in a crowd. In the past couple of years there has been an explosion of illustrators emerging with a similar style, but there is only one original. Benji Davies’ use of colour and limited line detail makes each illustration a stand-alone piece. So much so that I think many of the pages in The Storm Whale in Winter could have been left entirely without text.

Picture books are so, so good nowadays. We’re living in a time when books are being substituted more and more for a digital version, paper for a computer screen, but I believe picture books are stronger than ever. They’re made with a heart and they stay with you.  And this is one of those books.

The Mudwaffler is up in the crow’s nest, high in his tree, on the look-out for the storm whale and Noi, and hoping to get a sneak peek at their next adventure…

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Now, it’s WAFFLE time!

We are joined by  Benji Davies for a Q&A…

 

What inspired you to make The Storm Whale in Winter?

After winning Oscar’s Book prize for The Storm Whale in 2015, I started thinking about how I would love to see the story made into animation. It seemed like a good time to pursue something while there was some buzz around the book because of the prize.

While talking to various animation producers I started to think about ways that I might pitch the book as a film and possibly how to adapt it for a ‘Christmas’ audience, designing it to fit more appealingly into a traditional broadcast model. The benchmark of this is of course Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, a childhood staple.

But it would be really crass to force fit snow into the existing book, it just wasn’t something I was prepared to do. It wasn’t essential of course, just an idea that was thrown around, but there was something about winter coming to Noi’s world that became more and more appealing to me.

I’d never considered making a sequel to the first book but ideas soon began to surface – snow covered seascapes, whales breaking the pack ice, lanterns shining through blizzards.

Before long these ideas began stringing themselves together in my head and I realised that I had the idea for another book.

My path to writing The Storm Whale In Winter had begun.

 

What are you currently working on (any sneak peek news!?)?

I’m currently working on my next picture book but I can’t show you anything !

I’m focussing more of my time on writing than illustrating, which is a bit of a shift. Having been primarily an illustrator for the past 6 years or so and an animation director for around 5 years before that. It’s a new way of doing things for me and I’m looking forward to devoting more mental space to the writing process.

 

What is your favourite thing to draw?

People who aren’t looking.

 

Who or what are your influences?

Much like The Snowman, a lot of my influences are rooted in my childhood, the things I watched on TV, films and of course books. Cartoons like The Real Ghostbusters, Count Duckula and Bravestar were my TV favourites. I loved Disney features, but my favourite animated film was Watership Down – it had such emotional power, I was transfixed by it. I think that’s the streak of melancholy at the core of my work. That film was always such a punch to the gut, but it never scared me, it just pulled me in.

I discovered the book much later but loved it as much as the film.

Comic strips too – Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield and newspaper cartoonists; my favourite was Giles. He had such a talent for making believable, familiar scenes.

So I had a visual diet of both American and British cartoons and animation. They led me to pursue animation at uni and I think it’s very evident in my picture book work now, the interest in setting scenes and creating characters and movement, telling story through image.

 

Do you have any advice for illustrators and writers who are just starting out?

I would say keep at it. If you love what you do, keep going, keep crafting and working on it. One day your talent will be the one that shines through.

 

and three for fun…

What are three words that best describe you?

Cautious

Silly

Loyal

 

What is your favourite colour?

I always say I don’t have favourites but if I had to pick a colour it would be a blue-green, like the sea.

 

If you could share a cuppa with anyone (alive or dead), anywhere, who would it be and where would you go?

Oh crikey – well as he’s not long left us this year I have to say David Bowie. I might even have picked him if he was still alive. One of the first albums I owned was a cassette of ChangesBowie.

I visited Naoshima Island in Japan last year. Amazing, magical place. There was a small coffee shop there where we had to rush our coffee before we caught a bus in the rain. That would be the perfect place to meet the man.

HUGE thanks to Benji Davies for featuring on the Mudwaffler!
Be sure to check out…

Benji’s website: www.benjidavies.com

or find him on Twitter: @Benji_Davies

Swamp Hugs! Till the next time…

The Mudwaffler

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