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Benji's Blog!

Welcome to our blog! This is where we like to keep everyone up to date with the latest news, tips on how to have lots of fun with the kids, and share little tricks for creating more time to spend together. Come in and enjoy, we'd love to hear any of your comments as well so don't be shy!!

Monday, 3 February 2014

My Story, My Journey in My Words

My Story In My Own Words
Published Irish independent Nov 2014
Benji Bennett

As I ponder on the publication of a 7th book, the 5th to be nominated for the Irish Book Awards I find myself in a fortunate position to have been blessed with life’s most precious gift, family love. Being blessed with 4 wonderful children Adam, Harry, Robbie and Molly I am also incredibly lucky to be married to Jackie, a most extraordinary woman who has helped me to realize that, love laughter and fun in the family, is the most powerful, dependable, and enduring force that protects the Human spirit from obliteration when faced with adversity, fear, pain and loss.

However, acquiring this feeling of gratitude and contentment has been hard fought and seemed an impossible dream 6 years ago. It was then that our world imploded on itself when Adam, our 4 year old beautiful golden-haired, brown eyed, giddy giggler was lost to us within hours of taking ill with an undiagnosed brain tumor.  As dawn approached on, a balmy August morning, tranquility and peace transcended the intensive care unit where Adam lay still for so many hours and Jackie and I lay beside Adam cherishing what we knew to be out final moments with him. Just as Adam had arrived into the world with a ray of morning sunshine kissing his newborn head so too had he left us at dawn in loving silence surrounded by adoring parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. In a puff he was gone to his cloud.

Shock, disbelief and denial were followed by desperate attempts to wake myself up from a relentless and enduring nightmare from which there was no escape. Squirming, clutching my stomach in a feeble attempt to ease my gut wrenching pain I begged for relief as I sat broken, in all regard, on the couch in my sisters house. Life was over, there was no air, the simple act of drawing a breath became, panicked, claustrophobic and at times seemed pointless.

Then out of nowhere came a moment, a simple moment of hope, where I took a breath and realized it happened all by itself. This simple act of being able to take a breath without consideration or being accompanied by an entire respiratory system spasm you would usually associate with a child recovering from the trauma of losing their favorite toy was a welcome relief from an incessant battering of my mind, body, spirit and soul. As each day, week and month went by these moments became more frequent and endured for longer. Like a tide covering the sand on the shore, so to, did these unexplained moments of relief cover my pain even if only for a brief moment.

As time progressed this new tide of tranquility, to which I had become so dependent, seemed to come and go without fuss like small waves lapping gently upon the shore on a humid summer’s morning. This would become a new friend who would gently come to ease my pain and peacefully tend to my deep wounds that were showing signs of beginning to heal.
With Jackie’s strength, love and outlook on life and the responsibility to save the magic of Harrys childhood and his incredible strength I Know something had to be done to save what we had rebuild our lives in an attempt to create a life without Adam.

It is only now as I reflect on my journey that that I realize that there was a commanding driving force powering this emotional tide that gave me moments of peace. The epicenter of this force was of course Adam’s Message of love laughter and play in the family. But without the love, strength and support of my most courageous wife, Jackie, the prospect of a new life with a baby on the way and my responsibility, as a dad, to Harry, the bravest one who had lost his best friend I would never have had the will to get up in the morning, let alone embark on a crusade to immortalize Adam and deliver his message.

As my confidence began to grow so too did my passion and armed with a simple message to encourage parents to have more fun with their kids, create magical moments and constantly tell them they are loved my first book was conceived. Safely backed up on crumpled pieces of paper that were constantly stuffed in my pocket I shared my various drafts and updates with anyone who cared to listen. As I showed my scraps of paper concerned looking family and friends the reaction naturally enough was very positive. In fairness who was going to tell me that my book was a pile of dribble when they were confronted by a person who had a sorry excuse for a scruffy beard, wore his jumper inside out and back to front and looked like they were going to burst into tears if you simply asked them if they wanted a cup of tea. Yes a very positive reaction indeed.

Then came the idea of publishing the book myself and that’s when my family began to worry about my sanity. Mad as it would seem there was no plan expectations or rational to my project.

Guided by his simple message and philosophy every decision and action taken was driven by a burning ambition to write and publish a book in memory of Adam that would be filled with everything beautiful, innocent and fun about him in the hope that parents would share in his magic. The prospect of a parent snuggled up under the duvet and expressing their affection for their children would prove to be a wonderful legacy for Adam and something to get me concentrate on.

As Jackie discovered we were to have a another baby on the day we collected Adams Ashes we knew there’re was a very clear sign that he would take care of us and would guide us to do the right thing. T 

After a frustrating and fruitless search for an illustrator I happened to catch a glimpse of a colorful book in a shop window and written on the front were the words Illustrated by Cartoon Saloon. With a weakness of remembering things at the best of times I thought it an easy name to remember and got in touch with them that same afternoon. After preparing a very long brief a then unsuspecting Roxanne was appointed illustrator without knowing anything about Adam. As the brief hit her desk se immediately felt the magic and wonder of Adam and his message and became emotionally engaged with Adam and his message.

As the draft illustrations began to arrive in my emotions, as well as Jackie’s, began to get out of control. To see new images of Adam coming to life through the illustrations and having so much fun brought on powerful waves of emotions that were uncontrollable. In a strange way the tears were not as painful as the ones I had become accustomed but were instead wonderfully soothing, calming and sprinkled with sense of happiness. As the illustrations came in our need to get updates more frequently intensified and reached an addictive frenzy until Roxanne had completed them all.

Now all the production work done the next decision was how many books to print. This is the point where ignorance is bliss I hadn’t a clue so to keep my unit costs down I printed 10,000 copies. Considering only 350 copies sold in one week can potentially see your book hit number the quantity I printed just seemed to be, and I’ll put it mildly absolutely off the scale insane. I had no PR no Publisher and no one knew who I was. The commercial business case was even worse than Anglo’s. It seemed inevitable that every member of my family would have to buy 500 copies each and stuff them in the toilet under the stairs. In an odd way I never had any doubts that the book would sell as Adam was on side and after 3 key interviews on Ireland AM, Ryan Tubridy and the Irish independent word got out and people began to buy Before you Sleep and enjoyed the experience of reading it to their kids who loved being told they were loved in a book. Within 6 weeks I was back to the printer for the second print run and sales have kept growing ever since.
The following April 9 months after it first appeared Before you Sleep won book of the year at the Irish book awards in the company of mu family to astonishment and amazement. As my name was called my immediate thought was towards Adam and the excitement of winning was somewhat dampened as I was quickly ushered up to accept my award and make a speech. But all I wanted to do was crawl under the table and scream Adams name and tell him I did it all for him. Even though I received a standing ovation from a room of highly acclaimed writers and professionals I still feel a little bit cheated that I could not have had a longer moment under that table with Adam After all here picked me to be his dad on the day he was born to deliver his message.

Adam you’re a good boy and we all love you very much and thank you for the gift of your message and your stories.

This year marks Benji’s 5th nomination for the Irish book awards for his new book When you were Born which is also available in selected Dunnes Stores as well as bookshops nationwide. PS We Wo


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