The Marlowe
Author Benji Davies discusses The Storm Whale

Author Benji Davies discusses The Storm Whale

The Marlowe's production of heart-warming family show The Storm Whale, which is based on the books by award-winning illustrator and writer Benji Davies, begins its run in The Studio this month. Originally commissioned by The Marlowe, York Theatre Royal, Little Angel Theatre and Engine House, The Storm Whale tells the story of Noi, who lives with his dad and six cats by the sea. We spoke to author Benji Davies about seeing his books adapted for the stage, and the Whitstable oystermen's huts that became the inspiration for his main character's home in the books.

Black and white headshot of Benji Davies

What was the inspiration behind The Storm Whale books?
The original story was something I wrote for a short animated film I made over twenty years ago. I had been studying some fairytales and seeing how they could be adapted to tell new stories for animation. One of these fairytales was called The Fisherman And His Wife. It bears no real relation to the story of The Storm Whale but some of the drawings I made around that time, based around a fisherman on the beach talking to a a large fish in the sea, led to the idea of a beached whale being a central part of a story in that setting.

What has it been like seeing your books adapted for the stage?
It’s a huge honour and privilege to see my work adapted for the stage. To see the love and attention that it is given by the cast and crew in recreating the story and its world in a theatre is truly magical. Matt Aston had already successfully directed an adaptation of one of my other picture books, Grandad’s Island, so when he set about adapting The Storm Whale books I knew they were in very safe hands.

The books have a seaside setting. Is it true this is based on Whitstable, and can you tell us more about that?
It is true! When I visited Whitstable in 2009 I was rather taken with the oystermen’s huts along the beachfront. I wanted to capture them with pen and paper which led to some sketches that provided me with new inspiration to turn the film I had made several years before into a picture book. I already had the basis of the characters and the story but the oystermen’s huts became a new home for the main character, Noi, and his dad and their six cats. Everything unfolded from there. If you’re keen-eyed and you know Whitstable you may already recognise the inspiration for Noi’s house there… if not, you should pop over one weekend and take a stroll along the beach to see if you can find it! If you take a picture on social media and tag me on Instagram, I will let you know if you got it right.

Are the cats in the play named after Kent towns, and what lead to that decision?
Matt wanted to bring some humour into the play. I already had some names in my head that I’d never used in the story, but Matt thought it would be a fun to name them after towns in Kent for the show, and as a nod to the place that had ignited my journey to make The Storm Whale into a picture book – Whitstable. I particularly like the idea of a cat called Sandwich!

How did it feel when The Storm Whale won both the Oscar’s Book Prize and Dutch Picture Book Of The Year 2017?
Both awards were highly unexpected. I’d never won an award for my work before Oscar’s Book Prize. I think all authors and illustrators secretly hope that one day our work will be recognised in this way, so it was very exciting. The Dutch Picture Book Of The Year is a great honour and huge recognition in Holland. I visited for a week and went to schools, bookshops and libraries to talk about the book, even accompanying Princess Laurentien on national television where she gave a Dutch reading of De Kleine Walvis (The Little Whale, its Dutch title) while I drew for school children. The book made it to the number one spot on their bestsellers book chart while I was visiting – it was all very humbling.

The Storm Whale will be in The Marlowe Studio from Friday 9 to Saturday 31 December. Tickets are available here.