Let’s start with an introduction: Who is James Bennett?
That’s a big question. James Bennett is someone who finds it weird to refer to himself in the third person, but who is, predominantly, a Fantasy writer. Also an international playboy. I made that last bit up.
Your debut novel, Chasing Embers, is published by Orbit. It looks rather intriguing: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
Thank you. Chasing Embers relates the story of Ben Garston, who, to all intents and purposes, seems like your everyday Londoner, albeit a little rough around the edges. But Ben has a secret hiding under his skin. In fact, the world has a secret hiding under its skin. Imagine if all those medieval tales of fabulous beasts were actually real. Imagine if there were only a few of them left and living among us, endangered species, survivors in the modern world. The Ben Garston books take that idea as their central premise.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I had a much earlier idea for a story about a solider possessed by a demon. Then I was reading a book of medieval myths and wondering whether the people back then really believed the creatures described existed, whether they were more than just symbolic. The basic story leapt from there. My inspiration comes from all kinds of places. These days, I read a lot of history and mythology and think about shaking them up a little.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
Through fairy tales. Which later, I refused to give up.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It’s my dream job! I recommend it to anyone.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Writing is fun, but it’s also a discipline. I’m a morning writer and I tend to treat the hours before lunch as work. I aim for a 1,000 words a day, regardless. Eighty days and you have something approaching a novel. Of course, it isn’t as simple as that. Sometimes I struggle to hit that target, sometimes I exceed it, but that’s my baseline. And research never ends! Everything is research. When I put down one book, I pick up another. That’s been the case ever since I could read.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
Star Wars was a huge influence on me, not just the films, but the books and the comics. I started out writing by writing my own endings to Star Wars stories or what I’d acted out with my toys and figures. Then a teacher read our class The Hobbit when I was eight and I was doomed to a life of Fantasy. Dungeons and Dragons came later. I think learning to enact a story can help your creativity no end.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Another big question! (I like big questions). Well, I think it’s an interesting time to be involved in these genres, when things are slowly becoming more open and diverse, when progressiveness has become a real matter for debate. In some cases, such as the recent Hugos fiasco, it feels seismic, but of course, these shifts in outlook only echo what so many have fought to achieve in society. Overall, I guess I’m just happy to be a part of it, particularly as a minority myself. As a lifelong SF fan, it’s nothing short of an honour. I hope that fans of contemporary fantasy enjoy my work. I hope they have fun, as intended. It’s always up to the readers to decide.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been busy. I have some new short stories coming out from Fox Spirit Books. There’s a comedy, ‘We Meet Again’ in The Evil Genius Guide, a fantasy yarn, ‘Provoking Cerberus’ in the upcoming Mouse and the Minotaur anthology and a spooky crime tale, ‘Ghost Signals’ coming out in You Left Your Biscuit Behind. Novel-wise, I’ve made a start on the third Ben Garston novel, which will take up the rest of this year and, I imagine, a chunk of the next. I’m planning on a big book, in every sense.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. In terms of genre and style, it’s perfection.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I once met Tony Blair by accident. I had no choice but to shake his hand.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
The book launch at Forbidden Planet Megastore on the 10th September, for sure. My first panels at FantasyCon by the Sea. Meeting other writers and readers. Catching up with some old friends. And travelling. You can never do enough travelling, I find. It’s the most inspiring thing of all.