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

Imbalance – by Jonathan Benton

jkbA recent article in the paper highlighted yet another heart-breaking example of the imbalance that exists in this far from perfect world. An undercover cop wrote about how she used to visit addicts’ houses and witness parents taking drugs while their kids played in the same room. Images of sorrow and neglect.


I believe in a future where technological advances and evolution (or God’s rule if that’s the way it’s going to be – I simply don’t know) have shed this pointless want to hoard, replacing it with a belief that Earth is a village. It’s the simple big-picture truth anyway. Balance would govern this future. The insecure few might say I am plugging one political system over another – I’m not. Blaming politics is a cop-out anyway – an addict doesn’t get better by pointing the finger at others. We must take ownership for our society, our humanity.


But the distant future does not help the neglected child sitting in a corner, right now, clutching a teddy, watching their mum or dad numbing themselves with drugs.


I will give to the needy.

I will go out of my way to help others.

I will be more aware, and I will always listen.


I do these things anyway, but not enough. It’ll never be enough until every child is freed from the shackles of abuse and neglect.



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

Things we do to amuse ourselves

book-revealI use dialogue from movies in everyday situations – the people I am talking to usually have no idea. They just think I’m odd. I sometimes need to adapt the quote to suit the conversation. Here’s a list of my favourites; ones that I re-use because they make me smile. Star Wars features strongly. It is my favourite movie.


If someone tells me to hurry up:

I say, ‘I’m going to hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by’.  – Top Gun


If someone points out a particularly magnificent moon:

I say, ‘That’s no moon, it’s a space station’. – Star Wars


If someone keeps interrupting me when I’m in a hurry:

I say, ‘There’s no time to discuss this as a committee’. – Star Wars


If someone asks me what I’ve done with my life:

I say, ‘I have the death sentence on twelve systems’. – Star Wars


If I mention someone’s name, and somebody else asks ‘Who?’:

I say, ‘Who? Who? What are you, an owl?’. – Heat


If somebody (including myself) makes a bad decision:

I say, ‘He chose … poorly’. – Indiana Jones


AND finally, no list of movie quotes would be complete without Arnie …


If I’m feeling stressed:

I say to myself, ‘Relax, you’ll live longer’. Total Recall

USA – Thanking you – Jonathan K Benton

jkbI like America. It brought me Star Wars and Forest Gump. I want to hire a 1958 red and white Plymouth Fury, call it Christine, and drive Route 66 staying at dilapidated motels with flickering neon lights owned by cross-dressing men called Norman – as long as Norman behaves. I like Tom Cruise. He got fired from his ad agency taking nought but a goldfish. Raymond E Feist, George R.R. Martin, David Eddings and Janny Wurts. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and Huckleberry Finn.  I want to get lost – on purpose – in the Louisiana swamps and stumble across a little town called Bon Temps full of pale-faced nocturnals.


Muhammad Ali – you are the king. Don King – I am not sure what you are. Babe Ruth – I knew your name before I knew the game you played. I was five years old, and I was born 50 years after you retired, and if I dropped your name into a sporting conversation, everybody nodded sagely. That is greatness. Carl Lewis and Pete Sampras. Jesse Owens and Michael Phelps.


Bill Gates, who adds value to this world with his technology, and then uses the proceeds of his success to save lives. Wilbur and Orville Wright – flight. Thomas Edison – light. World War 2 – you sent your sons to defend the world against tyranny. Bubble gum – thanking you.


I’m tired of seeing negative articles about the U.S.

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

Writing when you haven’t got anything to write about – Jonathan Benton

minaea-desktop4-previewWinston Churchill is responsible for one of my favourite quotes: ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going’. Never, ever give up. The same is true with writing. Sometimes I sit staring at the computer and words refuse to flow – not even a drip. But words beget words. Write anything. Drips become trickles, trickles streams, which then become rivers.


Now that I’ve started quoting, I might as well have some fun, and build each paragraph around one. Oscar Wilde said: ‘I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again’.  Not much was happening for Oscar that morning … Or perhaps it was. Writing is all about rhythm. That comma could have made all the difference. Try reading Dr Seuss – the guy had rhythm. William Shakespeare did too. Good prose is often referred to as lyrical. At the very least, Oscar was trying to make things happen.


‘Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level’. I love Star Wars – every word, and each frame. But a garbage masher? Wouldn’t that be better suited to Sesame Street, not a Death Star? Writers have ‘off’ days, but if the end result is something as brilliant as Star Wars, even garbage mashers have a place.