Interviews In The Machine : Benedict Jones
At Machine Mean for the next two weeks, we will be conducting a discussion of the book, Dark Frontiers, volume one. This book is a pair of novellas, brought to you by authors, Benedict Jones and Anthony Watson. Both are Westerns put through a heavily horror-influenced filter.
This week, we will be focusing on the first of the two stories, titled Mulligan’s Idol. Today, we will be shining a spotlight on author Benedict Jones and tomorrow we will offer up our review of the book itself. Next week, the focus will shift over to Anthony Watson.
My introduction to Benedict Jones came in the form of his novella, Slaughter Beach. I think he has a great style and a knack for visual description and narrative pacing. Take a load off and check it out as a great artist breaks down his own craft!
MACHINE MEAN : First of all, thank you for taking time to answer some questions for us. Why don’t we start with a little about you and what led you to this craft of writing?
Benedict Jones : Well, I’m Benedict J Jones and I’m a thirty seven year old writer from south east London. I’ve been getting published for about a decade now and mainly write in the genres f horror, crime and the western.
I think it was creating worlds that drew me into writing. That was something I had always done since I was small – creating stories and the worlds in which they occur. I’d always been a voracious reader and I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember, although I didn’t really get serious about them till a bit more recently.
MM : Who are some of your main influences?
B: My influences are quite broad and seem to change and expand constantly.
For my horror stuff I’d have to cite Barker, King, Lovecraft, and Poe as well as authors like Adam Nevill who is producing some amazing stuff, Gary McMahon, Mike Mignola, and a tonne of others.
Crime; Chester Himes, Phillip Kerr, George Pelecanos, Donald Ray Pollack, Frank Bill, Ray Banks and Ken Bruen.
In regards to westerns I’m a big fan of Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard.
As well as that I read a lot of history books, plays and non-genre stuff.
MM : This is not your only foray into Westerns. Tell us a little about your other works.
B : I’ve been working on various horror-westerns, and a few “straight” ones, for the last few years. I had some early ones published on The Western Online and by The Big Adios (before it closed). Dark Minds Press collected ten of the horror westerns in my collection “Ride the Dark Country”.
I have a couple of recurring characters who appear in some of the westerns. There’s “Tomahawk Val”, a mountain man/trapper in the “Jeremiah Johnson” vein, who has appeared in a few shorts (“King of the Hill” and “A Merry Christmas in Hell”), and Gatlin aka The Exile who is an ex-Confederate soldier wandering around in Mexico and getting involved in strangeness (“The Arroyo of the Worm” and “The Brides of El Somberon”). I like the idea of these characters being on a kind of occult odyssey through the old west.
The collection itself was a nice canvas for some of the stuff that was already published as well as a raft of newer, unpublished, stories. There’s giant worms and mad monks, demons, cursed meteorites, the Wendigo, wolf-men, secret cults, blazing six-guns and sturdy pioneers.
MM : Personally, I think that horror and westerns make for great companions. There’s great potential for stories about isolation and of the unknown. Why do you think we don’t see more of it?
B : I’d agree with that very much. There is quite a bit out there both in book and film but the problem is finding the good stuff! I think one of the problems with it is genre labelling – whether people want to call it weird-westerns, steampunk, horror or western can mean that it can be difficult to find exactly what it is you like. For a long time I tended to categorise mine as “weird-westerns” but I’ve dropped that now and just describe them as horror stories set in the Old West.
I think that the genres merge really well – like you said, the isolation is there already and it isn’t a huge leap to add horror to that, whether of the supernatural or more natural variety.
MM : Tell us about Charlie Bars.
B : Charlie Bars is three time ex-con from south east London who has ended up working as a private investigator. The stories run through an absolute range being on the whole hardboiled neo-noir but several of them have occult undertones. He’s a violent man but does operate to his own “code” in terms of right and wrong. There’s rarely a happy or even neat ending to the stories.
Charlie first appeared in a short story called “Real Estate” in, the now defunct, Out of the Gutter magazine. From there I wrote a novella which ended up being called “Skewered” and formed the foundation for a collection released by Crime Wave press (“Skewered and Other London Cruelties”) and that was followed up by the novels “Pennies for Charon” and “The Devil’s Brew” along with a further handful of short stories.
He’s a character that allows me to explore a lot of different things and while the stories do tend to be crime I can slip in a smattering of “otherness” when the fancy takes me.
MM : Turning to Dark Frontiers, what can you tell us about Mulligan’s Idol? How did this story come about?
B : “Mulligan’s Idol” is set in the New Mexico Badlands at the outbreak of the American civil war. It is the story of a washed-up surveyor named Pedro Mulligan who is coerced by a gang of mercenaries to take them to a section of desert he surveyed a decade earlier. They are looking for the town of “Worship” and an ancient treasure they believe lies there.
Strangely, it started with the end… A whole portion of the end sequence, along with Mulligan, came to me fully formed one day while I was sitting at work. I scribbled down some notes and over the months after added to it until I had a vague story that I was happy with. Oddly, for me anyway, a lot of the characters in it had direct comparisons from the screen; Mulligan was always meant to be Mitchum, Baron is John Saxon, Frog – Dennis Hopper… It’s one of the few stories that I have written that has been like that, seeing the characters as actors rather than just how they appear in my head.
MM : How do you go about preparing a story set in a historical time period? Is there anything you try to do or avoid in creating a story and characters that feel authentic but are also accessible for a modern audience?
B : Well, I always want it to be as accurate as I can make it (even if there are demonic cults and creatures of the night…). I think research is key, really knowing the era that you are writing about and being able to slip in little details. I’ve always thought that the author should know a lot about the “world” they are writing in but that the reader doesn’t need to know all that. The small details you can add help to build the world and you don’t need big “info-dumps” to explain it to the reader.
Language can be hard – especially the dialogue – as you want to catch the way people spoke at the time but I think too much can be off putting. I’ve recently been playing with doing some Elizabethan horror and it’s really interesting to try and work out how to present the language. I read Anthony Burgess’s “A Dead Man in Deptford” and that is written very much in the language of the time, I loved it but not sure I could replicate it and then just after that I read Bernard Cornwell’s “Of Fools and Mortals” which employs dialogue of the time but the rest written in a more “modern” style. It’s really interesting to compare and contrast the different styles in which we can bring the worlds of the past to life.
MM : Do you see yourself returning to this story?
B : I’ll certainly be writing stories in the same milieu but whether the idol or any of the characters will return I couldn’t say for certain. You never know I may bring the idol into the modern world!
MM : What does the future bring for Benedict Jones?
B : 2018 will hopefully see the publication of the third Charlie Bars novel as well as a WW2-horror novella that I’m really excited about (but can’t say much more on that at present).
As well as that, Anthony Watson and I are hoping to get “Dark Frontiers volume 2” finished and there’s a bigger project that we are working on – historical horror again but I won’t say more than that at the moment.
I also have a few short stories already slated for publication with a few different publishers.
Lots of things on the go but I’d rather be busy than have nothing happening!