The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
Our guest: CL BENNETT is the Hampshire, UK-based author and illustrator of the award-winning Bugglepuff book series.
1. What is your earliest memory of children’s literature?
Mountains of bookshelves in every room of our home were my earliest recollection of children’s literature. On top of tables piled up, small to large boxed volumes, next to my bed and even in the garden shed – books were everywhere. My family and I were surrounded by very traditional English classics, from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll to Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne to The Famous Five by Enid Blyton and this fed my endless excitement to fall into an imaginary world of adventures and become one of a multitude of delightful characters as each page was turned!
2. With which children’s literature character do you most identify?
This is a tricky one because there are so many I’d choose. One of my favourites would have to be Mary Poppins. Everyone knows the Disney movie which is magical but how many people have actually read the original Mary Poppins books from 1934 by P.L.Travers. To be a magical flying nanny with a magicians carpet bag and jump in and out of sparkling worlds but with a great sense of positivity and morals. Poppins is what I try to aspire to myself when writing. I love the character and the sparkle in her step! I never had a nanny when I was young but if I had, I’d definitely choose Mary Poppins every time.
3. Who is your favorite children’s book author? Illustrator?
Beatrix Potter! Beatrix Potter! Beatrix Potter every time! Her writing style is timeless and magical for any age. She has crafted the most beautiful classics through her unique illustrations and enchanting tales. Everyone around the world knows of her famous Peter Rabbit adventures. Potter cleverly infers that children should listen to their mum’s advice.
In my award-winning children’s book series Bugglepuffs and the Magic Key there are lots of morals running through the book for children and adults. I wanted a bold, technicolour front cover in contrast to Beatrix Potter’s softer watercolour covers but similarly to Potter to have simple black and white illustrations alongside the written text. There is something very pleasing to the eye to not feel distracted from the story in books by using black and white linear images.
Beatrix Potter is a legend in children’s literature and as an illustrator and rightly so!
4. If you were throwing a KinderLit dinner party for five guests, who would you invite?
Throwing a dinner party – that would be a delight if I had the time but let me think about this. Hmm, anyone from time, space real or fictional?
GUEST #1: Enid Blyton – She wrote over 70 novels and many other short stories in her life. She possessed the most childlike imagination and had the ability to create tremendous characters from The Famous Five adventure series to Noddy for younger children and many more sparkling tales. Every adventure never overlapped onto the next and I would love to share a glass of wine with her and swap ideas.
GUEST #2: Lewis Carroll – How anyone thought up sending a child down a rabbit hole into a wonderland of curious adventures and dangers is unbelievable. I would love to talk to him about how his inspiration grew and imagination evolved. Was there one specific person in his life that he based the character of Alice on? Yes, I’d have a thousand questions for Mr. Carroll. He probably wouldn’t get dinner at all because I’d be so busy talking to him!
GUEST #3: C S Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia – One of the most iconic classic children’s book series. The world of Narnia is such an extraordinary place of adventure, valour, good against evil. To be transported from war torn London in WWII to an imaginary kingdom through a wardrobe would be a dream for any child. A place where animals talk, White Queen rules and all sorts of forest creatures come to assist the four children Lucy, Edmond, Susan and Peter. Sharing how he created that world of wonders would be a dinner party delight.
GUEST #4: Agatha Christie – Not an author of children’s books although she did write many short stories and poetry but more well known for her 82 detective stories of fiction and suspense. I would love to be able cook dinner for Agatha Christie for the inspiration her home at Greenways, on the river Dart in Devon, UK, gives me for fuelling my Bugglepuff adventures and new story ideas. Her library is a writer’s paradise, gardens and grounds leading down to her old boathouse and views of the Dart are breath taking. I have had many visits to her home and sat happily in her gardens with pen and paper writing my Bugglepuff and the Magic Key series. So she would be a very special dinner guest to have.
GUEST #5: I’m going to have to go against the rules of the question because I would have to invite some children. Their imagination gives me so much passion to write and it’s their opinions and enthusiasm for my Bugglepuff book series that enables me to write. I’d be wrong not to invite some children to share in the classical children’s literature dream dinner. I think Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll, C S Lewis and Agatha Christie would enjoy sharing a dinner with me and some sparkling kids.
5. Which quality do you think is most important in good children’s literature?
One quality, that’s not very fair because I think you have to have a monopoly of qualities to be a children’s author. In a word probably ‘vision’! To think outside your pen and paper, computer, typewriter or whatever you would normally use to write your story. You have to have the vision to forget about everything else around you when you write. Not that your own memories aren’t useful in giving inspiration but it’s vision you need to inspire the readers own imagination, and one of the most important elements in my view to writing a book for children.
6. If your own work has a defining characteristic, what is it?
To create a ‘technicolour hurricane’ of imagination in children which will grip their love and interest in both the fresh and original characters your portraying and the storyline but also in their own love for reading. I hope that the children and adults reading my Bugglepuff books enjoy being transported into the world of the hilarious yet haphazard Bugglepuff’s and will enjoy the laughter, suspense and wonder at what’s going to happen next?
7. If you were to die and come back as a character from children’s literature, who would you like it to be?
Definitely Lucy, from the Chronicles of Narnia. To be the youngest child of four and then go to play hid and seek when you’re away from home and be the first to find the magical world of Narnia would be a glorious adventure. I love the idea of hiding in a wardrobe that turns out to take you into a winter wonderland of snow and talking fawns and other creatures. How many of us have hidden in Grandma’s wardrobe when we were little in the hope of going on an adventure into Narnia? I know I did!
8. If you could go back and redo one thing in your own work, what would it be?
I don’t think you should go back. You can’t change the past, you can only change the present and the future but if there was one thing I guess it would have been spending more time writing children’s books in the past. I found my love for writing children’s adventure books only at the age 36 but sometimes you have to just live, experience drama, laugh at yourself a lot and your day to day haphazard life to become a children’s writer. Particularly, a crazy, excitable children’s author like me.
9. What is the greatest piece of advice you were ever given?
From my Uncle Ed, ‘KEEP KICKING’. Whatever your dreams, ambitions or passions are in life just keep kicking.
This is a super quote: “Some are destined to succeed, some are determined to succeed.” – H.H. Swami Tejomayananda.
So my advice is keep kicking everyone. Oh and keep smiling too that always helps your morale when writing late into the night!
10. Describe your work process.
Since the Bugglepuff series is based on my family and extraordinary pets I’ve been lucky to have first-hand inspirations. I know how every character in the book will react to a dangerous quest they are put in or a temptation they may have because I know my four children’s personalities so well. I can happily write with them tumbling through the room often with a parrot sitting at my writing desk or a chicken broody by the fire. This is my snug room where I write and feel inspired in. I am happy to write early or late at night and find a fire going on winter nights very good to sit by and scribble my endless imagination for Bugglepuffs and the Magic Key series.