Q&A With Matthew Bennet Young
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Q&A With Matthew Bennet Young
Mickey Mikkelson, who is the publicist for New York Times Bestselling author Tosca Lee, has connected me with many authors these past few days. One of these many authors is Matthew Bennett Young. Matthew Bennett Young writes and produces picture books. Below is a more in depth bio about Matthew.
Matthew has been writing stories since his childhood in England. His picture books can be recognized by a “naïve” style, written as much from a child’s view of the world as possible, but in a way that is also intended to appeal to adults. He tries to write to disrupt associations and challenge assumptions that are commonly made around us. Matthew was appointed a Writer in Schools by the Ministry of Culture and Communications in Quebec and through this program delivers literary workshops for children throughout Quebec.
He has taught at school, college and university level in Sweden and Canada and has been invited to give readings and teach workshops at schools, museums and literary festivals in New York, Berlin, London and Gothenburg. Matthew currently writes and teaches in Montreal.
He enjoys growing food, cooking, doing yoga and walking on the chalky downs of North Dorset when he can.
Q: I’m so glad you write and produce picture books for children. It’s sad that today’s children are glued to their electronics. What made you want to write and produce picture books for children?
A: I write and produce picture books and I call them that because they are not necessarily for children. My slogan is ‘for kids aged between 6 & 99yrs old!” I am interested in stimulating a dialogue between adults and children about their experience and I hope that adults find the books stimulating too. I would like to think my books make the readers want to talk and discuss and reflect on their own experience. Some of my books are not even ‘stories’ rather than concepts that I chose to present in a certain way to elicit a joy of thinking about ‘everyday’ experiences and/or life issues in a different way. We all have customs of thought and to engage with other perspectives is vital for the mental health of everyone I think. I love art and literature so picture books are the perfect medium for me.
Q: I think it’s great that you’ve been writing stories since you were a child. Some authors who I did Q&A’s with either say they wrote since they were a child, others said they didn’t realize their gift and calling till later in life, others say they didn’t know when. What was your very first story you wrote, as a child if you can remember?
A: The first story I remember drafting was called “Billy Bones and his bag of tricks”. You can see I was big on alliteration in those days! I think I didn’t realize that you should revise and edit and build stories at that point. I didn’t know how much work goes into the development phase so I didn’t pursue that story but it was enough of a fillip in a way, to keep on and try other ideas.
Q: Would you ever write for young adults and adults in the future?
A: Possibly yes. But I do love the process of producing picture books and I have so many I want to do. I’m enchanted by the whole experience. From idea/concept to writing the text to deciding how and who might illustrate it. I have illustrated two books myself (Snowman and Spaceball). Watching it take shape and come alive is fascinating. And then you give it to someone who has never seen it before and it gives them pleasure. It’s very rewarding.
Q: You have traveled quite a lot which is something I want to do once I’m financially independent from my blog. What’s it like teaching abroad, especially in Sweden and Canada? Where in England did you live growing up?
A: My first book Maybe Colours was published while I was still living in Sweden. It was picked up by a schoolteacher and the principal of her school asked me if I could visit and talk to the children about the book as part of their programme on emotional intelligence. The programme had been in progress for several years throughout schools in Southern Sweden. I loved the work and began designing other workshops for children and that’s how it started. In Sweden their second language is English and culturally there are strong connections so they are competent in English from a young age. Eventually we translated Maybe Colours into Swedish and French and I designed a workshop on the sound of language and how it may enhance the text in different ways (to encourage the children to embrace the power of translation and think about language sound).
In Quebec I have been teaching in English schools as part of the Culture a L’Ecole and ArtistsInspire programmes. It is very enjoyable and vital work I think. Children should have artists invited as often as possible. It’s difficult for teachers to inspire children on a daily basis. For me the connection between artistic culture/methods and education is vital for the health and well being of children growing up.
So I’m lucky I’ve been able to teach in English and the children have been very receptive wherever I’ve been.
I grew up in North Dorset in South West England. It’s a very sleepy place. I still go to bed early!
Q: Where is your favorite place to travel to? Is there a place you haven’t been yet that you would love to see?
A: I can see you are preoccupied with traveling! I think there are a thousand places I’d like to go. I love going to Mexico. The culture and climate suit me very well. I would like to live there for a while if possible. I’d also love to go to South America. I haven’t been there yet. Don’t want to go anywhere cold anymore!
Q: If you’re writing a new book now, can you reveal any details?
A: Yes I’m just about to finish a new picture book illustrated by Stella Avolio and this one is more conceptual, rather than being a story. But it takes this very popular question that children ask each other frequently and there’s a little unconventional (abstract?) twist to the whole thing. It’s not a sequel to Maybe Colours which is more of a simple poetic work rather it uses colour as a theme to think about the power of personality and combining your strengths/qualities with others. About what you can possibly achieve with others. Should be published in a couple of months.