Returning to the keyboard – Book 2 of my young adult fantasy series

dragonI’m on holiday, which means writing. I’ve given myself four weeks to finish the first draft of the next book in the Minaea Chronicles. I’m loving returning to Minaea. I’m also enjoying the change of scenery on Earth for Part 2 – Australia this time. The landscapes in my adopted country are magnificent. I have travelled widely here and I’m constantly inspired. I’ve camped at the top of Cape York, and woken up to find a crocodile track etched into the sand ten metres from my tent. I’ve sailed up the coast of NSW past sparkling white dunes that seem to stretch on forever. Australia – where there’s something for everyone. Including my characters.

I’m introducing some new characters in Part 2. I’m also developing the existing protagonists. Luthien – how does someone overcome waking from a seven-year coma? Will Robert’s memory return for good? Is Jakal really dead?

Part 2 is much more menacing than A Wicked Kind of Dark  . But I feel it’s important to mix darkness with humour, like The Empire Strikes Back. Definitely the darkest movie in the original Star Wars trilogy, Han Solo still managed to make audiences laugh. ‘Never tell me the odds,’ Han said in response to C3PO stating the statistical probability of surviving an asteroid field. I once used Han’s words when someone told me how difficult it was to get published.

Postscript: I watched Silver Linings Playbook last night. Nothing like a well-made rom-com to help you feel better after a rough day.

A Wicked Kind of Dark – Cover Reveal

A Wicked Kind of Dark - frontHere it is: the cover of my young adult fantasy novel A Wicked Kind of Dark.

Due to certain laws (and fair enough too), I’m not allowed to include Eminem’s Lose Yourself alongside this reveal, but feel free to play it. I’ve got the CD on repeat as I’m writing these words. Lose Yourself is one of my ‘go to’ songs …

Thank you Odyssey Books

Creating a Dark Lord – by Jonathan Benton

minaea-desktop2-previewThroughout the book The Lord of the Rings, Sauron rarely (if ever, from memory) speaks a word. We don’t know what he looks like, nor are we given direct access to his thoughts. His presence, however, permeates through every page of the novel. The eye of Sauron is more metaphor than plain description.


Voldemort is given physical form in the Harry Potter books. He’s much more of a character in this sense. Because of this, he doesn’t seem as powerful as Sauron.  This is understandable given that Sauron is a maia, one of the immortal spirits that entered the universe at its inception. Voldemort hates muggles; he believes in blood purity. His twisted ways are much creepier (several of our own history’s ugliest inhabitants held a similar belief about blood purity) than Sauron’s distant dark-lord malevolence. We feel more vulnerable to Voldemort’s kind of evil.


I needed to take these two styles of dark lord into consideration when creating my own antagonist. Young adult fantasy is strewn with Voldemort-like characters – Cassandra Clare’s Valentine is also motivated by purity of blood. Today most readers like to get up close and personal with the bad guys. You can’t do this with Sauron.


Racism couldn’t drive my dark lord’s evil ambitions – blood purity has been done before – but I decided that he needed concrete qualities contained in a physical form. But I love the abstract, because it doesn’t build fences around the imagination. So how does an author combine these two classes of dark lord without sacrificing their individual strengths; how does one mix the old with the new, high fantasy with contemporary young-adult fantasy?


Introducing the dark pillar fae Jakal.


A Wicked Kind of Dark – August 2013.

Fresh Thinking – A Wicked Kind of Dark – Jonathan K Benton

Jonathan small file‘Toot Fraakyl’ is an ancient greeting used by Allaria, a beautiful (and she knows it) little fae that lights up A Wicked Kind of Dark. If Allaria greets somebody this way, particularly if she’s met them before, the phrase reminds her to set aside prejudices, and start anew. This is especially important when dealing with stereotypes. Not all dwarfs are loud, nor pixies mischievous. Goblins are rarely rude.


So don’t be deceived by Allaria’s small size and big personality. She has the wisdom of the ages behind her.


Fresh thinking, or looking at stuff from different angles, is a useful tool in our own lives. The bar wouldn’t be set quite so high if Dick Fosbury hadn’t thought outside the box.

A thousand smiles

Jonathan Benton

Trailers – Jonathan K Benton

04I spent a couple of hours a few weeks ago dressed in an ankle-length, hooded black cloak walking up and down a dark Brisbane alley. If I ended the blog here, people might call the police, so allow me to elaborate. Dave Silay, a good friend and photographer (check out his awesome Facebook page which you can access through the partners section of my website), joined me to take a series of photos. These gritty urban images will form the backbone of a trailer.


I have written a storyboard for the trailer, but I don’t possess the technical skills needed to produce the finished article. My talented publisher will help.


Here are four ingredients that I believe are required to make a great trailer.



Whether the trailer is filmed, or a series of images, it needs to make sense. Random scenes and images in a short space of time won’t leave a lasting impression. A trailer isn’t an art exhibition – although most exhibitions still possess themes.


The first and last five seconds:

Be sure to grab viewers in the first five seconds – otherwise they will move on. Be equally sure to leave people wanting to read the book.



If the trailer looks like its advertising a coffee-table book about gardens, then readers who love young adult fantasy will not want to read the book.



I think this is the hardest one to achieve. It’s also the most important. The trailer has to stand out from the pile. Dare to be different.


Yours truly


Writing: Emotional Economics

Jonathan small fileOther than the many great books I’ve read, I wanted to explore why I write, and I soon found that a lot of the clichés were true. It’s emotional economics: needs versus wants. If I didn’t write, regardless of publication, I wouldn’t be complete. I’d be half a person. If I were Tom Cruise, and writing was Renee Zellweger, I’d be saying ‘You complete me’.


This does not mean writers place the craft above their loved ones. Far from it: people inspire books. It does mean that authors would be running on empty without the act of writing. The craft fuels us.


It’s okay to dream about that six-figure publishing deal, and it’s fine to imagine someone else enjoying your work, but even without these thoughts, authors would pick up the pen, turn on the typewriter, switch on the computer.


Time to delve deeper. Writing is cathartic.  It can also be relaxing, but often exhausting. Part of me writes because I want to understand the crazy world in which we live. Dropping characters into situations, then exploring their reactions, helps me to better understand humanity. I passionately believe in love – the unlimited emotion. It can carry us through the inevitable hard times. That’s why it’s so important to work on loving yourself first. Then you’ll always have a safe room. I view love as magical. If it’s science, then science is magical. Love propels me through the first draft, it encourages me to rewrite the second, and forces me to polish the third and fourth, until I get it right.


One of my favourite quotes comes from Karl Marx (quoting Marx does not necessarily make me a socialist).


‘Life is struggle’.


Marx’s quote is true of writing too. And struggle isn’t a bad thing. If it’s not worth struggling for, then it’s not worth much.


Jonathan K Benton

Top Ten Reasons I Write: It’s all about the books!

minaea-desktop4-preview1)       The Lord of the Rings:

The Lord of the Rings was always going to be on this list. However, why number one? The writing is not as rich as Something Wicked this Way Comes, and not as clever (in a literary sense) as Dickens’s or Heller’s featured works. But for me, reading The Lord of the Rings was an out of body experience. Tolkien’s masterpiece transported me to Middle-earth and kept me there for all of its 1000 + pages. Part of me remains there still. That’s what a great book should do.


2)      A Tale of Two Cities:

If this list was about beginnings and endings, then A Tale of Two Cities would be No. 1. The middle is fantastic too. Dickens uses knitting needles to build dramatic tension. How clever is that!


3)      It:

It was raining in New Zealand when I first entered the fictional town of Derry, Maine. The weather wasn’t much better in Derry. I knew something awful was about to happen: Enter Pennywise. For those who suffer coulrophobia (fear of clowns, although I couldn’t find the word in my edition of the Macquarie Dictionary), don’t read It. Like Peter Pan, It eulogises how important it is not to lose touch with your inner child. It is a terrifying book; terrifyingly good too.


4)      Magician:

Fantasy is my ‘go to’ genre. Feist’s magnum opus towers above most other high fantasy novels. Faster paced than The Lord of the Rings, and almost as epic, Magician showed me the muscle that powerful magic can bring to a novel.


5)      Catch 22:

Life is chaos. Novels take a slice of this chaos and try to make some sense of it. Catch 22 makes sense of it all. That is why the book reads crazily. Crazy brilliant I say.


6)      The Hunger Games:

Every few years, I read a novel that takes my breath away. The Hunger Games is one of those novels. Suzanne Collins’s first book in The Hunger Games Trilogy is destined to become a classic.


7)      The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:

Crossover genres sometimes never reach their intended audiences because too much is sacrificed in the mix. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time mixes genres perfectly: in fact, I believe Mark Haddon’s book wouldn’t work quite so well without crossing over. A literary children’s novel. Brilliant.


8)      The Magical Faraway Tree:

I have climbed the Faraway Tree many times. I have used the slippery slip repeatedly and revisited all the lands at the top of this most excellent tree.  I cannot pinpoint what inspired my love of fantasy – was it the classic fairytales I used to read by torchlight under my doona, or was it Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. Either way, Jo, Dick, Fanny and Bessie played major roles in funnelling me towards fantasy.


9)      Amazon Adventure:

Willard Price’s ‘Adventure Series’ took me all over the world – and I didn’t need to leave New Zealand.


10)   Something Wicked This Way Comes:

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. Like Shakespeare, Bradbury writes beautiful prose: rich and layered; full of wonderful images, his characters cleverly drawn. ‘There be good books, and there be bad’. Bradbury writes the good ones.

By Jonathan Benton

A Wicked Kind of Dark – Fairytales are not all petticoats and pixies

book-revealAlways where light shines brightest, the darkness is most pitch. It is in these extremes, real and imagined, that our greatest stories unfold, and heroes stand tallest.


We see it in Wuthering Heights, when Heathcliff recognises in Hareton echoes of his great love Catherine. The bitterness and anger that has dominated Heathcliff’s character, darkening everything in the novel, drains from his soul leaving him with nothing more to cling to. He dies.


We see it in The Lord of the Rings, when Sauron’s spirit rises, vast and terrible, into the sky only to be blown away in the winds, destroyed by two brave little hobbits.


We see it in A Memory of Light, as Rand al’Thor contests Shai’tan, and the very fabric of existence is ripped apart.


A Wicked Kind of Dark is plotted around a series of undulating climaxes, each more intense than the previous one. The trick is to ensure that the final climax eclipses its predecessors, leaving the reader breathless … You be the judge …


A Wicked Kind of Dark – Published by Odyssey Books, August 2013

Practicing Prose – Jonathan Benton

fae-comboI’d like to write a fantasy novel inspired by music – I have an idea but it requires some developing. The challenge is translating something as abstract as music into words. There’s no point writing a novel about music without being able to hear music in the prose.


I love Beethoven. Some consider his Ninth Symphony the greatest piece of music ever written. The legendary composer introduced voices to the final movement of the Ninth because he’d taken the instruments as far as they could go in the first three movements. He needed something more. The soaring choral finale inspires even the most uninspired.


Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 provided me with a slightly more realistic test. The Emperor already has a story – I just needed to write my interpretation of the music. The following paragraph is that interpretation. The characters are simply ciphers used to hone my technique. Brad (POV) is a young man searching for something deeper in life. By chance he meets a brilliant, similarly-aged concert pianist called Michael. Michael invites Brad to the Sydney Opera House … This paragraph is an exercise in writing and isn’t likely to appear in the novel. Please forgive any looseness.


The grand piano shimmered black under the Concert Hall lights. Michael stepped on stage and moved towards the piano. He looked like a cat stalking a warm spot of sunlight. His black pants were pressed, his equally black shoes, polished. A silky blue shirt danced over his lean torso. He sat at the piano and flexed his long, slender fingers. Magic fingers.

The conductor nodded at Michael.

The hall quietened; a vacuum of anticipation.

Like a wizard with a wand, the conductor cut the air with his baton, and the orchestra roared three mighty chords. Between each chord, Michael’s fingers rippled over the piano keys, impossibly fast, a hummingbird’s wings, and Brad was sucked into the story of The Emperor.

The piano dominated the composition like Napoleon dominated Europe. Trumpets marched inside the music and horns blared triumphantly. Gradually the fanfare faded and the piano took control. A gentle, weeping melody became a thundering waterfall of notes. Brad’s heart pounded like a kettle drum. Music forced its way into his pores. He was alive!

The first movement ended. It was time to search one’s soul in the second movement. The battle was over. Lives had been lost. Victory had come at a cost. A drum beat quietly, in memory of the battle, and drew the audience into the coda. A final victorious flurry of notes ended the story of The Emperor.

Copyright @ Jonathan K Benton 2013

On writing A Wicked Kind of Dark – Jonathan K Benton

fae-comboA Wicked Kind of Dark began with an idea – a ‘what if’. For me it was a powerful ‘what if’ that needed to be developed. Like all good ‘what ifs’, it wouldn’t let me go, and a story grew around it. Characters blossomed inside the text. Like roses, these characters had thorns. I loved them but they could hurt me.


Then the story finished and I said goodbye … for a while. The first draft is like an overgrown Bonsai tree. Patient pruning was required. I picked up my pen, and like a pair of Bonsai scissors, I cut out obsolete words and weak prose. I pared back scenes and beautified descriptions, polishing the story around the ‘what if’.


Novels are fuelled by ‘what ifs’, powerful ideas with the potential to grow into beautiful stories.


My ‘what if’ … You’ll need to read the story to discover what beats at the heart of A Wicked Kind of Dark.