P. J. Benney
J. Benney grew up in Essex, England and still resides there today. Luckily he managed to ignore the lure of spray tans and reality TV and instead became interested in art and literature. He attended the University of Roehampton in London and graduated in 2013 with a BA in Creative Writing. Since graduating he has worked in marketing, and as an indie publisher, quality assurance for a design studio, and is currently working in medical recruitment screening locum doctors for work within the NHS. Almost as strong as his love for creating worlds and characters that his readers delve into and get lost in, is his love for coffee. Any coffee. No seriously. As long as there’s coffee around the man is a happy chappie. Luckily in between his busy schedule of work, writing and keeping himself caffeinated, he was able to squeeze me in for a quick interview.
1. What are you working on right now?
I’m currently in the process of finishing the eighth and final draft of my comic-fantasy novel Déjà Moo. It’s a project I’ve been working on ever since my first year of university in 2010, and I went onto develop the novel for my final project before graduation in 2013. I won Roehampton’s novel writing prize for the opening chapter, so somebody must have liked it! Another three years on and I’m almost finished.
2. Can you tell us a little something about it?
Déjà Moo is a comic-fantasy heavily inspired by some of my favourite writers – Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman to name but a few. Set in an alternate, present-day London, Déjà Moo follows a reclusive witch named Cynthia Panettiere and a celebrity cattle trader named Daniel Wesley. After Daniel’s prize-winning mascot Lily disappears during a live TV broadcast on the day of his retirement, he crosses paths with Cynthia, also planning to shut down her own business after her warlock boyfriend Errol vanishes. The two realise that Lily and Errol’s disappearances may be connected to a larger conspiracy against both Daniel and the secretive magi population of London. Cynthia and Daniel’s investigations are continually dogged by journalists desperate to broadcast the scoop on Daniel’s company, while Cynthia is desperate to keep the witching world out of the press. Not so easy, when they find out that the city’s top reporter has more than a few tricks up her own sleeves. It’s really about the battle between publicity and privacy.
3. Tell us, why do you write? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
In terms of Déjà Moo, that actually started out as a joke. We were tasked in one of my first creative writing classes to write something set in London, and I didn’t like the brief so I ran with the most absurd, ridiculous idea I could come up with to protest and irritate my tutor – what if Hyde Park was maintained not by gardeners or lawnmowers, but by grazing cattle? As it turns out my tutor had a sense of humour and gave me a decent mark, so I continued to write other stories set in this same world, and tie them together.
Generally speaking, though, I have no idea where my ideas come from. Many of the themes in my novel sort of appeared without me planning or even noticing them until several drafts later – I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with me. I don’t believe in “inspiration” as some kind of lightning bolt that strikes you. I think that people that want to have good ideas must work hard for them. Sometimes you might be walking down the street, and a billboard, or an overheard conversation, or a memorable passer-by might form the crux of a good story in your head. But it’s nothing if you don’t put in the time and hard work to develop that idea. It’s like a job – you’ve got to show up at your desk and put in the hours.
4. When I write, I require Jaffa cakes (and lots of them), do you have a writing must-have?
Coffee. Black coffee. White coffee. Coffee with soy milk. Sweet coffee. Coffee with cream. Mocha, latte, cappuccino, coffee ice cream, coffee chocolate. Even those little coffee beans covered in chocolate. It’s all good. I also must write with music. Some of my favourite singer-songwriters are David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, Regina Spektor, Nick Cave and Kate Bush.
5. What is your favourite book?
The first one that comes to mind is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It was astounding, vivid, and moving. People write off time-travel and romance as fluff, but the book takes difficult subjects – genetic illnesses, miscarriage, childhood and parenthood – and makes them more easily digestible through the lens of fantasy/science fiction. I still get emotional remembering the character of Ben, living with HIV, always asking his time-travelling friend Henry if he’s still alive in the future.
6. Which author’s career, alive or passed on, do you admire most, and why?
Emily Bronte. She wrote one book before her death – Wuthering Heights – and it remains, in my opinion, one of the most powerful works in the English language. She was a visionary. Charlotte was more prolific and reserved, Anne more overlooked and understated, but Emily wrote with the most unbridled passion of the three sisters. And those rumours that Emily had written a second manuscript, so shocking and outrageous, that Charlotte threw it into the fire? That’s a story in itself! She shares her birthday with Kate Bush, who was inspired to write the famous song, and I share my birthday with both of them. Maybe I’ll have to write something inspired by them too.
7. Tell us something about yourself…an annoying habit or party trick perhaps? Can you speak a foreign language or have a hobby?
I experience synaesthesia, not so much a condition but a harmless brain phenomenon where the sensory areas of the brain have their wires crossed, so to speak. I hear colours and taste words. For example listening to the music of Amy Winehouse elicits a kind of green soundscape in my mind’s eye, while Nick Cave’s music is brown, black, sepia. The colour teal makes me ill because it brings to mind the smell of burnt plastic. Very rarely have I tasted things like cherries and mint while reading books. It also helps me to structure my writing because my brain sort of automatically colour-codes scenes, characters, locations. I’ve read that lots of artists and musicians have it – Stevie Wonder can purportedly see in colour.
8. Do you have a blog, website or social networking account people can go to if they wish to learn more about you or your work?
I’m on Twitter @pjbenney – that’s my favourite distraction. I always try to share useful links and tips as well as progress updates. Love chatting to other readers and writers too. Use the hashtag #dejamoo to find the best bits!
If people want to know more they should head over to www.dejamoo.co.uk where I’ve already posted a few announcements and teasers for my upcoming book, including an article about working with the designer who did my book cover. Some time next week I’m hoping to interview my editor for a bit as well!
9. What are your writing plans for 2016?
My first priority is completing and publishing Déjà Moo on Amazon for Kindle. The eBook is going to be priced at around £2 and will be available by the end of September. What’s more, I’m planning to serialise the book for free online at the same time. So if you’re not sure you want to buy, a new chapter will be released at www.dejamoo.co.uk every week. You can either wait for weekly installments or buy the complete book straight away! Second will be cracking on with the third draft of my sequel, entitled Bovine Intervention, that picks up a few months after the events of Déjà Moo. Lastly I’ve got a novella about parallel universes I’m toying with that ties into Déjà Moo. I might release that towards the end of the year if I can wrap it up nicely. I’m not short of ideas!
10. And now, for the most important question of all: Jaffa cakes – love them or hate them?
Love them. I like to bite the cake bit off, then eat the jelly separately.
To keep up with P. J. Benney and his work please follow the links below:
It was a real honour to interview this author; he’s not only talented but has such a unique imagination that allows him to create some fun and interesting ideas, worlds and characters. Thanks P. J. Benney 🙂