White Rock writer Juliet Sullivan has added a new string to her bow – children’s author.
Her latest book Benny and the Pets: Benny Starts a Band is a fun, uplifting story in rhyme, suitable for children aged three to six and up (not to mention cat lovers of all ages), charmingly illustrated with line-and-wash paintings by artist Sorcha Healey.
The book, available on amazon.ca, also celebrates another White Rock resident – the original Benny, also known as Sir Benedict Cumbercat, or Benny The Tuxedo Cat, Sullivan’s rescue-feline-turned-Instagram-sensation.
Sullivan has also artfully included four of Benny’s real-life Instagram ‘friends’ in the narrative – ‘Kevin The Tail-less Cat’, ‘Bella The British Shorthair’, ‘Aslan The Forest Cat’ and ‘Leo The Maine Coon’.
As adult readers of her earlier books – such as Best of British Cookery and The Gallstone-Friendly Diet – might expect, there are also glimmerings of Sullivan’s dry-yet-whimsical humour in the pop-culture references in Benny and the Pets, although she notes she took great pains to make her book appropriate for a children’s audience.
In the book, the musically-inclined Benny lives a lonely life on the street, dreaming of being in a band – one, perhaps, that might offer some cat competition to the all-dog band One Dalmatian.
His life changes when he is rescued by a kindly family – and starts to meet new friends. Always shy about his musical aspirations, Benny also begins to gain more confidence as a singer and songwriter – so much so that he’s ready to start his own band, Benny and the Pets (no apologies to Elton John).
But what happens when Benny enters the band in a prestigious contest – the grand battle of the bands known as PetFest?
The British-born Sullivan’s wildly varied resume includes being a journalist, a bar owner, a real estate agent, a dog walker and a professional gambler – and her life includes dividing her time between B.C. and managing a family quarried-stone business in the U.K.
But she found time – before departing for her annual Christmas tree business sales campaign in England (once she emerges from her two-week COVID-19 quarantine over there) – to discuss her new book with Peace Arch News.
“I absolutely loved writing this book,” she said. “I’ve always written poetry – I love writing rhymes, even though I find it a challenge.
“It took me a year and a half to write it. It was difficult to write, with the rhyming and wanting to make sure it was politically correct and appropriate for the age group. You have to feel sure of getting the tone right – I feel it’s more of a responsibility, writing a children’s book.
“I wanted it to be entertaining, and to have some sort of message in it, but I didn’t want to make it preachy, which I think some children’s books are.”
For Sullivan that element was met by having Benny have a dream to be a performer– and overcome obstacles to gain the confidence to get out on stage, she said.
The title suggests that this is only the first chapter of Benny’s adventures, and Sullivan readily agrees.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, laughing. “This is book one – I’ve got a whole series planned!”
For all of it she credits the input and inspiration of her family, including her husband Lee and son Liam.
But particular credit, she said, goes to her daughter Kerri, who currently lives in England – and Benny himself.
He’s been with the family for three years, latterly acquiring his own website, and an Instagram following of some 42,000, since social media-savvy Kerri set up his account a year and a half ago.
“When he was adopted (from the Surrey Animal Resource Centre) he was pretty beaten-up,” she said.
“He had a scratch on his nose; he was dirty. He’s grown into this large, handsome cat – that’s what love can do.”
His adoption set in motion a family conference to name him, Sullivan recalled.
“Benedict Cumbercat came up, which became Benny for short – which led to Benny and the Pets.
“My daughter claims that’s when she told me ‘you have to write a book about him’, she said, adding it was also Kerri’s idea to include the other Instagram cats in the project.
Also adding to the sense of family enterprise – albeit long-distance – Sullivan said, are the illustrations by Healey, who is Kerri’s fiance’s sister.
“She’s a graphic designer who also lives in England. I happened to mention the idea of the book a couple of years ago and she got involved – she’s put a lot of work into it.
“I didn’t want something too obvious for the illustrations – I wanted something a little bit original and she came up with just the right approach,” Sullivan added.
“I sent her pictures of Benny and all his Instagram friends – after I approached their owners and said, ‘can we put your cat in our book?’
“She hasn’t drawn them exactly or made them look idealized – but she’s injected a lot of personality into all the illustrations.”
To order Benny and the Pets: Benny Starts a Band visit https://amzn.to/32FxomT
For Benny’s own blog, visit www.tuxedobenny.com