The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Benedict Jacka

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Benedict Jacka


Summary: Here at Bookbag we've been particularly impressed by Benedict Jacka's urban fantasy novels featuring Alex Verus. We had a few questions to ask him when he popped in to see us.
Date: 28 February 2013
Interviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson

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Here at Bookbag we've been particularly impressed by Benedict Jacka's urban fantasy novels featuring Alex Verus. We had a few questions to ask him when he popped in to see us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Benedict Jacka: Honestly, I have no idea. I've never really figured out how to write for specific groups, so I just try to make my books as good as I can and hope other people agree!

  • BB: It's well documented that one of your influences is US fantasy author Jim Butcher and it's easy to understand why. However, you're also quoted as being influenced by Agatha Christie. What have you gleaned from her work?

BJ: She's really, really good at designing and structuring a story. If you look at an Agatha Christie novel, it's amazingly short for the number of characters, the amount of clues, and all the stuff that happens in it. She covers everything very economically and always in just the right way – each scene is usually exactly the right length. The writing quality's pretty impressive, too.

  • BB: I'm sure that many will be inspired by your work. For aspiring fantasy writers reading this, name one thing would you suggest they do and one thing that they should avoid.

BJ: Accept that the first book you write is going to be crap, and probably the next few books too. Writing's a skill like any other and the only way you learn how to do it well is by spending a lot of time doing it badly. Don't spend your time talking about what you're going to do – the only way you get better is to practise, so get on with it.

  • BB: Taken is the third in the acclaimed Alex Verus series (telling you something you know already!). How (if at all) do you think that Alex and your writing style have changed since Fated?

BJ: Probably the biggest thing that's changed over the course of the series has been that it's become more character-focused. In the first two books I tended to focus more on the plot and the action scenes. As the series has lengthened and the characters have picked up more of a history and distinct personality, I've found that the stories revolve more around them instead.

  • BB: Where did the idea for Alex originate?

BJ: The very first books I wrote in the mage-world setting were young adult novels with teenage protagonists who controlled elemental powers – fire, ice, wind, that sort of thing. One of the problems I found, though, was that it made it hard to write satisfying conflicts – when it was just strength against strength then it was difficult to come up with resolutions to battles that didn't feel arbitrary. I found that the outcomes I liked the most were the ones where the participants used some piece of information to their advantage rather than just brute-forcing everything. Then when I was starting an adult book and needed a new protagonist, I had the idea of someone whose supernatural abilities only provided information. Alex's character kind of snowballed from there.

  • BB: Your books are very filmic so, if any of the Verus novels were made into a film, who would play Alex and who would you like to play Luna?

BJ: I often see this question around and I always wish I had a clever answer. The truth is that I never really make the association between the actors and actresses I see on-screen and the characters in my head. Anyway, I have trouble believing my books would ever get made into films!

  • BB: Being a female, I'm going to take the plunge and ask about Alex's love-life. The Alex/Luna will-the-won't-they question was pretty much answered when Alex apprenticed Luna and so the poor bloke leads a romantically barren life. (I won't count his fling in Cursed as I'm sure, for emotional reasons, it pains him to remember it too.) Are there any plans to introduce a serious love interest (i.e. lasting more than one book) in the future?

BJ: I actually have two possible characters in mind, but I haven't decided which (if either) of them would work. My current plan is to let the characters develop and see whether they develop a relationship naturally or not. That way it's a surprise for me too.

  • BB: Your website includes explanations of fantasy concepts and protocols to the extent that it's a small fantaversity course in itself. Where does the information come from?

BJ: I make it all up! I've always enjoyed the nuts-and-bolts aspect of world-building and creating a consistent universe. Most of the details I come up with never get directly referenced in the books, but I do think it makes a difference to have a clear idea what is and isn't possible in your setting.

  • BB: Which question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview but they never have and what's the reply?

BJ: I always wish I'd get asked about the Elsewhere setting in my books. I find it really interesting but readers rarely pick up on it. Different perspectives I guess.

  • BB: What's next for Benedict Jacka?

BJ: Alex Verus #5! Number #4 in the series, Chosen, is almost completely done from my point of view, so the fifth book is the one one I'm spending all my time on at the moment. After that I'm hoping to move on to #6 and #7 and so on . . . while the series is going to end eventually, for the moment it's what I want to do, so as long as publishers and readers keep buying the books I'm going to keep writing them. :)

  • BB: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Benedict. Meanwhile all the best with the much anticipated Alex Verus #4.

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