Peter's new release for middle grade readers, My Brother Ben, is a gently beautiful story that shines a light on the bond between brothers. It's one of my top picks for middle grade books published this year. Peter kindly agreed to answer some questions about My Brother Ben and his writing process for the book.
My Brother Ben
Published by: UQP, September 2021
Luke and his big brother Ben spend the summer on the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek. Quiet Luke sketches birds, while Ben leaps off the Jumping Tree. The boys couldn’t be more different but they share the same dream: winning a boat so they can explore the creek properly. Then Ben starts high school and the boys drift apart. When Luke catches Ben sneaking out at night, he knows his brother's up to something, but what?
A timeless story of birds and boats, and of brotherly love that is bigger than a wedge-tailed eagle, bigger than the sky.
I'd like to welcome Peter to Aussie Kids Books! Thank you for joining us!
The bond between Luke and Ben is so strong in this story. What inspired you to write a story which shines a light on the bond between brothers?
I have two brothers (and one sister) and I’ve wanted to write a story about that bond for a long time. In some ways, a brotherly relationship can appear simple - especially as kids - but there are often layers of complexity. Brothers make each other laugh like no-one else, they frustrate each other, they compete, pester and fight. But more than anything, they stick up for each other. I wanted to explore all the angles of these relationships.
I love how facts about birds are woven through the narrative. Tell us about the research you did about birds for this story. Have you always had a passion for birds yourself?
I’m not much of a researcher when it comes to writing my books. I have a general knowledge about birds (especially in my area) from being an amateur birdwatcher for years. I’ve always been fascinated by the behaviour of birds, how some of them are fiercely loyal, others aloof and apparently careless. There’s a lot to play with when searching for parallels in a narrative. The main fact-checking I did was to make sure the birds I included were probably familiar to the setting of the story, Cabbage Tree Creek on the northern edge of Brisbane. Also, I have a great birdwatching friend who answered a few last-minute questions for me.
My Brother Ben has a strong sense of place. The setting almost feels like an additional character in this story. I’d love to know more about your connection to Cabbage Tree Creek – and why you decided to use Cabbage Tree Creek as the setting for your story.
My mum grew up with ten siblings in a little house in Deagon, Brisbane. Their backyard rolled into Cabbage Tree Creek, and I loved hearing her stories of adventures in this creek: lots of crabbing and fishing, and mucking around in boats. It sounded like such a simple and idyllic childhood in many ways, and I wanted to capture that feeling in the story. She helped me with some of the descriptions - the smell of salt and mud, cutting her feet on mangrove shoots, getting bitten by sandflies.
I love asking writers about their writing process. What came first for you when writing My Brother Ben – the characters or the plot? Did you sit down and plan the book beforehand or just work out the plot as you went?
It was a big messy mix of it all, really. If anything, I had the feel of the book first, the warmth and the brotherly bond, and it all started with that feeling of being a little brother admiring a bigger brother. Then I started thinking about birds, and the creek, and the hardest part - what on earth is actually going to happen? I try not to plan too much but I found myself restarting so many times, I had to stop and jot a few plot points to give myself some direction. It’s like burrowing a tunnel, hitting a dead end, backing up, digging in another direction, hitting another wall, and so on. I love writing, and I especially loved writing this book, but I find it difficult most of the time.
I adored the voice of Luke – he is a delightful narrator. Did the voice of Luke come easily to you or was it challenging to come up with and maintain the voice of a young boy?
I can’t deny it’s probably just my voice being filtered as the young narrator. There are a lot of similarities between Luke and me.
Along with enjoyment of story, what do you hope young readers will take away with them from reading My Brother Ben?
I hope they might notice birds a bit more, or at least stop now and then to admire something small and beautiful. When I started going on bird walks, it felt like I was seeing the world for the first time. That’s a big theme in the story and I’d love for children to experience that too.
And just for fun – what is your soul bird?
I tend to think of myself as a slow-moving waterbird, like a white-faced heron, letting the world pass by. I do have a soft spot for some of the interesting doves that live near me - wompoo fruit-dove and the emerald dove.
Thanks so much Peter for your amazing insights into My Brother Ben! (Also glad to hear I'm not the only writer who doesn't plan too much before plunging in!) I loved hearing about your writing process and your inspiration for this book.
Author bio: Peter Carnavas writes and illustrates books for children. He has made many picture books, such as The Children Who Loved Books, Last Tree in the City and A Quiet Girl. His novel The Elephant won a Queensland Literary Award and was shortlisted in four other national awards. He has won an Australian Book Industry Award and a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and his books have been published widely across the world. Peter lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, with his wife, two daughters, a dog and a cat. www.petercarnavas.com
If you want to know more about My Brother Ben you can read my earlier review of the book here on my blog!
You can purchase your own copy of the book here: