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Behind the Book: Dexter Lost his Boo-Woo

last updated 15 July 2024

Interview by Rachel Moffat

I had the wonderful opportunity to accompany Ben Mantle and Shane Hegarty, the brilliant duo behind Dexter lost his Boo-Woo (Hachette), to Bath for a day of window painting, storytelling and general silliness.


The day began at Mr B’s Emporium, which if you haven’t visited, I highly recommend you do; it’s a beautiful bookshop with the loveliest staff. Ben began in the front window of the shop, and with his paint at the ready, he set to work on the window while I asked him to tell me all about how Dexter came to be, and what the illustrative process was like.

Shane and Ben first worked together back in 2019, having worked on Boot an early middle grade series about a robot called (you guessed it) Boot! Over the years, they’ve come together for book events in both London and Dublin.


Ben: It’s been lovely catching up after not seeing each other for an amount of time.

Rachel: So, you tell me it was Hachette that put the two of you back together for this project. Did either of you get a say in this? Or did it happen quite naturally?

I think it was Emma Layfield (formerly of Hachette) who knew that we’d worked together on fiction, and essentially thought - let’s get them together for Picture Books. But I’ll be honest with you - my role is usually further down the line with these things.

How long ago was this? When you first heard about Dexter?

Laughter… a good few years ago. Shane and I are working on two picture books together and I’d already done the artwork for our second book before Dexter came out.


So tell me about the beginning, what was the first stage? Did you get the manuscript, or was it just a conversation?

I just got the word document. There weren’t any illustration notes. Sometimes you get given illustration notes but I didn’t.

Do you like free reign? Or do you prefer a bit of guidance?

It depends on the book. If a publisher knows what they want, if they’ve got an idea of what they’re making then I’d prefer they tell me from the start. But I actually really like the free range ‘Give us what you think’ approach, because I tend to change my style to fit the book - that’s the way my brain works, I don’t really like repeating myself. If I knew what I was going to do when going into a project, I wouldn’t like it. I enjoy figuring it out as I go, which is both good and really bad (if it doesn’t go to plan).


So what were your first thoughts when you read the text?

I really enjoyed it because it’s exactly what I like in a book; it’s funny but it’s also got a bit of a fear factor. I really like a creepy book. It is exactly the kind of book I wanted to illustrate and loved. I always start with character. So actually the first thing I did was, Boo-Woo designs which ranged from a Hippo like character, a crocodile, weird little furry ball monster things…

Oh wow! So it was all your artistic choice, you didn’t have any direction of what the team wanted Boo-Woo to look like?

Well, in the text it describes him as having big horns, being smelly and having horrible feet, which gives some physical description. But really he could have been a four legged animal, two legged (which he is now), he could have been much more animal like rather than monsterey.

Did Shane give much input on Shapes, Colour, or anything else visual?

No it was totally ‘Do your thing’. Actually, it’s rare that an author sees it that early on. I actually really don’t mind feedback, it’s part of the joy of the job that it’s such a collaborative effort. You have a team of designers and editors, so I never think of it as my book, even if I’ve written and illustrated it. It’s a team project.

How long did it take you?

There was about a month of work on the roughs, on the pencil sketches, a lot of my roughs these days are digital. Then there’s re-changing them around and doing the colour roughs, getting the palette worked out. From start to finish, the book probably took me about four months.

You’re doing a great job with this window! How did you get so good at this?

When I did my first window, I had a friend who gave me some advice on preparing stencils for the text, because of course you have to paint it in reverse so that it’s the right way round from the front.

Have you ever had any window painting mis-haps?

I once used a Posca Pen, I had drawn out all of the outlines, and then when I went to paint the colour behind it, I completely wiped out the detail. I had to wipe the whole painting and start again. Lesson learned - never use Posca Pens for window painting!


After the window painting was done, we had a quick lunch break before Shane re-joined us at Mr B’s for a storytime session. The duo read three times with increasingly silly voices as the audience kept asking for more. Would you believe that the most popular part of the book was not Dexter, not the Boo-Woo but the Helicopters?!

Ben also led the group in drawing their very own Boo-Woo (of course, featuring the beloved helicopter), even Shane took a crack at it!

Dexter lost his Boo-Woo is available now in both Hardback and Paperback. Get your copy here.

To work with Ben, get in contact with his agent Susan Penny here.

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