STARBURST: What can you tell us about Raising Fire?
James Bennett: Raising Fire takes place roughly 9 months after the events of Chasing Embers. Those events have shaken the Remnant world to its foundations and some are looking to take advantage of the fact. Of course, that’s bad news for Ben Garston, who isn’t in the best shape, emotionally speaking. He lost the love of his life. He starts to get a sneaky suspicion that he’s being played. And there’s a major power struggle at work, the results of which may well have disastrous consequences for all concerned.
How does it compare to Chasing Embers?
If Chasing Embers was the sparking fuse, then Raising Fire is the explosion. This one goes straight to the heart of the matter: The Long Sleep. Raising Fire seeks to explore that – while blowing everything up for kicks. Ben is still hopping around the globe. I’m still drawing on world mythology and history. I focused on China this time around. A couple of years ago, I went travelling across the country and the place has always fascinated me. I read a ton of books and spoke to people there about how our cultures relate. I came up with a story about mirrors and reflections.
We get to meet Ben’s eastern counterpart. It’s a darker story. A more complex story. It’s a slicker story too, I think. At heart, it’s about the corrosive nature of lies – those we tell and those we desperately want to believe – and the devastating power of the truth.
Is Red Ben based on anyone you know? Where do the characters come from?
The red hair and cynicism arose from a close friend of mine, who is quite the character! The physique is pretty much wish fulfilment, in terms of eye candy. In dragon form, Ben is a Larry Elmore painting come to life, a happy memory of my teens. In his veins runs the blood of Indiana Jones, that kind of hapless, just-about-survives action hero. The other characters step out of a hundred myths, all seen through a lens of what they might be like now if they really existed. You can have a lot of fun with that.
How would you pitch it to an elderly relative?
It’s dragons, but with sex and swearing. Shall we see what’s on telly, Gran?
Is it easy to write violence?
Not always. It depends which character it’s happening to and why. I do worry about what you can get away with sometimes. I try to avoid gratuitous violence. Fictional violence should serve a purpose, but part of being a writer is you want to make readers feel something. Sometimes, you don’t want them to feel particularly comfortable. In this book, the threat to humans looms much larger. It’s more immediate, visceral and people get hurt. That wasn’t easy. But then again, I didn’t want to write a story where these fabulous beasts impact on the ‘real world’ and everyone walks away brushing themselves off, you know? When I’m writing, it usually comes down to whether I’ve run out of coffee or not, to be honest. Ben gets a rough time, I know, but Ben is a Promethean character. And I’m the eagle, pecking at his liver.
Why is fantasy so huge now?
Fantasy has come into its own, hasn’t it? As a lifelong fan, I reckon that the quality - or rather the impression of the quality - has vastly improved in the mainstream. Shows like The Lord of the Rings, True Blood and Game of Thrones have shown a wider audience what fantasy can do and the diversity angle has pushed things forward too, making the genre more accessible, more relatable. It’d be hard for anyone to mount a reasonable argument that downplays the impact of myth on our collective consciousness these days. Perhaps we’re moving away from the idea of escapism. We live in dark times. People want hope. They want to see the big epic myth cycles reinvented for our times. I know I do, anyway.
After you've stopped torturing Ben, what other books do you have planned?
I know. I’m mean. But that’s a good question. I’m currently working on the third instalment and I guess things depend on whether readers want more of Ben Garston after that. It certainly feels like the end of this particular arc, but I don’t feel exhausted by him or his world yet. I think he wants me to go away and give him a break though. Beyond dragons, I have a fledgeling idea for another series, perhaps set in a secondary world. There’s a standalone historical/horror thriller I’d love to write too. I literally have a file packed with ideas, so you never know. Chasing Embers started life as a satirical short story, for instance.
Is there a particular franchise that you'd like to write for?
Batman. If I ever get to write a Batman comic, I’ll die a happy man. I’d write a Robin origin story like no other.
Is the fantasy/sci-fi/horror literature world as accepting as it thinks it is?
Yes and no. On the one hand, I’ve personally felt accepted by these genres pretty much from day one. There are a lot of great people around. On the other hand, I don’t think we’re quite there yet in a wider sense. In recent years, the genre has faced and, for the most part, accepted the fact that it has a diversity problem. I’m proud to write in an era that’s seen some minority voices win the big prizes in the book world. The criticism of that has been so vile, it’s become a bad joke, albeit one that we should always challenge. But we can’t solve the problem by proxy. Personally, I’d like to see more minorities and marginalised people get to represent themselves across these genres. I think change is slow, but we’re moving in the right direction. I hope.
Chasing Embers by James Bennett is out now. It’s a fun, fiery tale of adventure and modern-day mythology that will appeal to fans of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher. The follow-up Raising Fire is out on August 24th, 2017.