Where Honesty Never Ends.
Greetings! No Labels here!
For the second author spotlight, I sit down with entrepreneur and author, Robin Bennett.
1. I see you are the owner of multiple businesses (all related to communications and publishing). Do you feel is it advantageous they are all somewhat connected, and how are you able to manage these different entities and still have time to write?
Robin: For the last 5 or 6 years I have developed a routine, which I think is essential: I devote an hour or two to each business a day, which takes up most of the morning, leaving me the afternoons to write, walk the dog and drink cups of tea.
On the entrepreneurial side, starting a company from scratch is quite personal, you have to put a lot of yourself into it to really make it work. However, if you have done that well and the business is on a stable footing, whilst few businesses actually run themselves, they do take up much less time!
My degree was in modern languages, which a strong slant on literature, so I was keen to utilise those skills. I have had businesses in other areas – notably insurance, cigars and dog kennels but I must be getting old as I am more comfortable these days in translation and publishing.
2. Why did you decide to establish your own publishing company? How did you come up with the name Monster Books for your publishing company?
Robin: I started Monster Books because I found when I’d been published by a larger publisher I had not enjoyed the experience one tiny bit: they changed the title of my book, gave it a cover I hated and I found myself making editorial changes I did not really agree with to keep them happy. It was also obvious that the smaller royalty I got using a publisher who took around 20-30% would make it hard to make a living with a family unless I achieved sales over 20,000 copies.
Actually it was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made naming a company. I came up with the name pretty much on the spot then, as I always do, I tried the name out on a few people and got an immediate positive response. What sealed the deal was the MD at Midas PR (UK’s leading publishing PR company) telling me he was surprised it had not been taken.
3. How have your experiences and past occupations shaped you as a writer?
Robin: Whilst at university, I used to take on quite a few manual jobs (gardening, farming, construction, even graveyard work). Standing in a field all day gives one a lot of thinking time.
4. What elements do you believe are involved in “captivating the child in every adult”?
Robin: It’s part nostalgia. For example, I went to boarding school from the age of 8 and I remember picking up a copy of The Hobbit left outside the library at the end of one term (I had forgotten to tell my grandparents when to pick me up and the school was empty apart from me and a skeleton staff). I sometimes think that I only write in an effort to recapture that feeling of utter glee I had when Bilbo meets Gollum.
It’s also part appealing to those things that we all retain from childhood – a sense of fun and curiosity for the exotic and above all a desire to escape. After all, humankind can shoulder very little reality.
Robin: Yes, research is not my forte! I had to be very careful to make sure I got the timelines of the actual events of Mons spot on (what happened when, where and why). I have someone who works for me who writes historical novels and she was an inspiration when it came to explaining how important it is for some readers to make sure you have the basic facts correct. Angel was an interesting challenge because I then had a fictional character of Ben in the modern world to blend in to the historical events 100 years previously. Both storylines (of a frightened soldier in 1914 and frightened boy in 2014) had to work with each other and not clash. I was pleased with the result as I think it is quite balanced. It is the purest magic realism book I have written.
6. What was your inspiration behind the Small Vampire Series?
Robin: My wife and I were at a wedding in Romania and we spent a few days visiting Brasov and the parts of northern Romania that inspired the vampire legend. Bearing in mind this was before Meyer had released True Blood series and the whole Vampire thing took off, it struck me that Vampire books had been neglected of late. However, I was keen not to write the standard blood-sucking, gothic horror-cum-romance storyline so, after breakfast one morning, I came up with the notion of blending the Vampire mythology with English magic and folklore. Vampires had always existed apart in my mind from other areas of fantasy, so I thought it would be fun to bring them into a different fold and have them interacting with fairies and goblins.
7. Tell us more about your latest book(s).
Robin: These days I tend to have 3-4 on the go so (in case I fall down a well and neither them or me sees the light of day again) I will list them here for posterity. Do please excuse me, at times I am powerless to resist bullet points:
• One in final stages of production just prior to publication. It is called The Hairy Hand, and in first draft was long listed for the Times Children’s Book prize. It is about a boy who inherits something strange and magical from a relative – aimed at a younger 9-12 years market.
• One first draft I am editing as slowly as possible. It is the third volume of Small Vampires – Raptor the Avenger that I finished just before Christmas and I am savouring the process, as that is it with Small Vampires after I’m done.
• One about a quarter finished which is my take on Oliver Twist (but set at sea with pirates and 19th century mini submarines – for older young adult cross over;
• And finally a business/entrepreneurs almanac I have been asked to write for next year – Bennett’s Business Almanac – I love predictions and almanacs in general and I am hoping that this will become a regular thing. First plan has been done but it needs beefing up.
8. Are there any similarities in blueprint between writing books for businesses and writing books for children?
Robin: Everyone likes a good narrative. Find something or somebody people care about and write about it honesty and sympathetically. Jokes are optional but a little humour in anything, I find, goes a long way.
9. What are the biggest rewards as well as biggest challenges in writing a children’s book?
Robin: Great big piles of cash in the bank. Ha ha! Only joking: the sight of their happy faces! Actually that’s not strictly true either (but would be very nice) – for one hardly ever gets to see a ‘true’ reaction shot from a reader.
My predominant type of writing (fantasy and magic realism) it is absolutely critical that you can come up with characters people care about and world creation that is both credible (believable) and incredible (sparks the imagination). Get that right and you’re a long way there and the reward is when people write to me about that world as if it exists.
10. Throughout life you have worn (and are still wearing) many hats (businessman, mentor, author, independent publisher). Which role(s) do you find the most rewarding and why?
Robin: At the moment I am very much enjoying writing books for the young adult market because I can see a definite learning curve. I think I am about 2 books off my best. Like everything, it has to be a bit of a challenge to be interesting. I’d like to try my hand at writing for TV and film next, perhaps for an adult market.
11. What advice do you have for an aspiring author as well as a person who is interested in entrepreneurship?
Robin: Both starting a company and writing a book are creative processes, as much to do with self-belief as skill. By that I mean if you want it to work, it will.
12. If your life could be made into an animated children’s movie, what would it be called? Include its overall storyline and what the character(s) would be like. (You can be as detailed as you would like with your response).
Robin: It’s early days, but Brad Pitt has asked to do the voice over and Will.i.am has drafted the score. Between us, I think Brad’s career is ready for a musical. On ice, perhaps, with complicated dance routines and juggling elephants.
Working title, my family motto: Life’s a banquet.
So, there you go – you heard it here first!
Robin, if your interview were a banquet, then I am indeed full of delightful vittles! Thank you so much for this interview.
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