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Guest Author - Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz

I Am Bear is published on the 4th February, what made you both join forces and create this fantastic picture book for children?

SAV: I was sketching one day and came up with the Bear character. He was cheeky and had a look in eye that I loved. Weeks later, after he’d been stuck in my thoughts, I had a flash and a bunch of ideas

came to me and I thought they’d make a great book. I knew a rhyming book would be great so I

called my old friend, Ben, and he loved it. We set to work straight away and in another flash, he had

written the most perfect rhyme. The synergy and spontaneity was just amazing.

BEN: I had been working on an ill-fated children’s story based on a mixed race girl as I felt from reading hundreds of picture books for my children that there was a distinct lack of characters that looked like them. In the end it became a bit worthy and over-earnest and I was struggling with it for months. Next thing I know, as if he’d read my mind, Sav sent me these sketches and suggested I write him a rhyme about a cheeky bear. It was so refreshingly irreverent I had it done almost overnight.

How did the story of a rapping bear all start?

BEN: That was definitely Sav. I thought of the book as a simple, traditional children’s rhyme, but with the bear being kind of streetwise, Sav suggested the idea of a performance element, what with me being a rapper and all!

SAV: I believe that Bear, with his big personality and strong character, brought that to the table himself. He evolved very quickly and defined himself as this streetwise, edgy character and with Ben’s history as a rapper it seemed so natural to go in that direction. We never set out to create a certain type of book or character or story. We created something that we loved and had a lot of fun with in Bear and he exploited our strengths and talents to make himself unique.


Are there any future adventures planned for Bear or any other rapping animal?

BEN: Book 2 is a completed first draft. The first Bear song is released the same day as Book one!

SAV: Lots. Bear can’t sit still and has big plans. Book 2 is in the pipeline and he’s got a funny rhyme and animation online. You’ll be seeing a lot of him in the future.
 

Are you excited about touring UK nurseries, schools and festivals? What are you most looking forward to?

BEN I’m looking forward to singing along with a room full of toddlers. Could be hilarious.

SAV Yes, the energy you get from a group of excited children is second to none. I did some drawing at my daughter’s nursery last year, sketching some historical things about Turkey, and it was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had – I was buzzing for weeks. And I can’t wait to get an audience of children (and adults) rapping along to the book at the tops of their voices.

 

Ben...


You are a rapper, stand-comedian and actor, what has been your stand out moment in your career so far?

There was a moment where I was onstage, rapping, acting and being silly using words I’d written in a pivotal scene of a Ricky Gervais movie when I thought to myself, ‘this is me realising everything I’ve worked for’. It felt good and it encapsulated all the talents I’ve developed in one moment.


If you could be any rapping animal what would you be and why?

I’d be a tortoise because they live for ages. Over decades my rap style would develop and elevate. But my flow would always be laidback and slow so you’d catch every profound lyric.


If you could give one piece of advice to our young writers about writing what would that be?

Find the absolute truth and present it without fear of reprisal.

Sav...
 

In 2013 you storyboarded the amazing John Lewis Christmas advert Bear and The Hare. In your career so far which has been the most exciting project to work on?

That was definitely a highlight – not just because of the amazing advert but because the team creating it were so talented and so good to work with. In terms of sheer excitement, it has to be my first big job which was the Nike World Cup 2002 campaign directed by Terry Gilliam. I was really inexperienced and didn’t think much of my drawings (although they still get me a lot of work) but I had a ton of fun being involved in that enormous project and, most importantly, got to meet some of my favourite players.
 

Has it always been a dream to illustrate your very own book?

I didn’t realise it was until it happened. I always wanted to do graphic novels but picture books are such a beautiful and important medium. The idea of entertaining children with my ideas and illustrations and creating something that they may remember as adults and even introduce to their own children is definitely a dream come true.


What made you give Bear purple hair?

It was quite random really, I just didn’t want him to be brown and went for a bold and unusual colour.

 

I Am Bear is out now! To find out more please visit www.walker.co.uk