We interviewed our very own Robin Bennett (a.k.a the knight on the home page) for an insight into his journey to the present and his plans for Monster Books in the future. Here’s what he had to say:
How did you start out in the children’s book industry?
Tortuously: I tried to start up a children’s publisher in about 1992 (Tiger Books) and failed miserably. For about 6 months I was inundated with manuscripts (some people even sent reading fees in the form of cash in the envelopes). Eventually, I had enough and I decided not to go ahead because nothing I had been sent passed muster.
It wasn’t until I became an author myself I realised you very rarely, if ever, get the finished article with a book – or a writer, for that matter, (even if you’ve just paid a writer for a finished article). In 1992 I naively thought that people would be sending me wonderful, well-written tales that would delight me into spending money on them. In 2017 I’m older and not necessarily any wiser but experience has shown that it takes a few years careful nurturing to take a talent and turn that into a tale.
With Monster Books in 2018, I want to give that another go.
If someone asked you what you do for a living, how would you describe yourself?
For a living: I put ideas into people’s heads.
Description of me: Failed idler. That deserves some explanation: I naturally look for the quiet life but I need very little sleep and so I have a constant battle with myself to take things easy on the one hand and stave off boredom on the other. You do wonder where it will all end.
Did you primarily want to be a writer or a publisher?
Assuming they weren’t complementary (they could be), then a writer. I need to write – it’s absurd, this constant desire for self-expression is like a second libido. If I didn’t write, steam would come out of my ears.
Tell us about the international influences on your publishing company? How does it cross over with your translation business?
Good question. Children’s publishers and writers have got more professional, outstandingly well-mentored and well-versed in what it takes to write a great book and gain traction on social media etc.
However, publishing tends to follow cycles and chase trends. UK and US publishers will rarely look abroad for influences. If you walk about a lot of book fairs, you get the impression they are in their own loop of dystopian one year, then vampires, then zombies, witches, pirates (with some zombie witches thrown in), then back to dystopian.
I think that one of the best ways to break that is to bet against the trends and look abroad at work which is not translated, but deserves an audience.
We see that your relaunch involves some video and animation productions – why have you decided to go into cross-media?
You seem to have fingers in every pie – translator, writer, publisher, dad, living in France and your office in England – describe for us your average day?
Get up, take life as it comes, wine, bed.
How much of an influence are your children on your writing?
Hugely. I know I shouldn’t but if I write something and they don’t like it, it gets binned. They’re probably responsible for the wanton destruction of several achingly beautiful masterpieces. This isn’t the worst thing they have done.
What were you like as a child? Does this in any way shape what you are trying to do now?
Very badly behaved. With the hyperactivity and the constant talking I know I was a pain in the neck: my granny, who was by all accounts a saint, famously smacked in on holiday once in West Bay – it was a bit like getting a furious wedgie of the Dalai Lama. Furthermore, I never read anything until I was nearly 12 and was stranded in France with no TV.
I had this horribly vivid imagination, though, which makes me terrified of the dark even to this day. The kid in the film Sixth Sense chimed, not because I actually saw ghosts but what was in my head was all real enough to me to be just as frightening (or exhilarating, depending on what ideas were bouncing about that day).
Reading made me calm – and bearable, even to myself – now my imagination had an inner outlet. Writing is an extension or perhaps even an amplification of this sense of sense and serenity.
If I had read earlier it would have been wonderful. I’d like to publish books for kids like me who think they have better things to do. Actually that’s a good strapline: Monster Books: For kids who think they’ve got better things to do
Your style as a publisher seems to draw on a lot of freelance talent – tell us about the pros and cons of this approach?
When starting up a new venture, I’ve always favoured picking talent beyond mine and that often means only getting people part time because the best people often do so many other things.
There is a point, though, when a company needs an esprit de corps and the trick is gauging when that is and when to take people full time, even if it costs more and means booking a table for a Christmas party in August.
Where do you see Monster Books in five years’ time?
Drunk in a ditch or living respectably in an affluent part of Kent (figuratively).
We will be bold and contrarian because that has always worked for me in anything I have done. So, it will either stumble about flaying wildly or achieve its goal of becoming a respected publisher that punches above its weight (the Kent option).