Last month I was fortunate enough to catch up with Robin Bennett, author of the aptly named Small Vampires Series, published by Monster Books. Not my usual cup of tea for a vampel I was intrigued by the unique premise of the series and the wonderful mash up of traditional fairy tale, vampiric legend, and Arthurian myth. But you don’t want to hear me waffle on about it, let’s get it straight from the source…
Welcome, Robin, and thank you for joining us to answer a few questions. It’s great to have you, could you start by telling us a little about yourself, your background, and how you started writing?
Aged 21, I was all set to become a cavalry officer and aged 21 and a half (after a last minute change of heart), I found myself working as an assistant grave digger in South London wondering where it had all gone wrong.
I went on and founded London Tutors, aged 23, and since then have gone on to start and run over a dozen businesses in a variety of areas from cigars, to dog-sitting, to translation.
My first book was actually about the swashbuckling world of entrepreneurship, but going to conferences to tell everyone how amazing you are gets surprisingly boring after a while and, in my spare time, I started writing Small Vampires.
I actually find the process of writing a novel very similar to that of creating a company. Both need a strong sense of identity (and a clear basic premise), a good backstory helps and you need to have a very good idea of who you are aiming your efforts at.
Talk us through the Small Vampire Series – where did the inspiration for that come from?
We were at a friend’s wedding in Romania, staying in Brasov – a town in Transylvania: we’d been eaten alive by mosquitoes the day before and I found myself writing the first premise the next morning over breakfast …
‘A Small Vampire is actually about the size of a dragonfly. They travel widely, and you’ve almost certainly seen several and indeed been bitten by one or two right in your own back garden. You most probably thought that it was a mosquito, or a horsefly, and then forgot about the bite because it didn’t itch or go red. But if you looked very carefully, you would have seen not one tiny pinprick bite mark, but TWO.’
It’s a YA series, is it written exclusively for young adults, or is it something the adult market will love too?
It started life as a YA novel but at least half of the mail I get has been from adults. As with Game of Thrones, I think there is a geopolitical level as the series goes on that might not appeal so much to younger readers but that older readers will appreciate. However, after the age of about 11 or 12, I do not really make too much of a distinction. There are writers like Tolkein and Wyndham, who I first read at 12 or 13, and yet I will still find a quiet corner of the house and re-read with great pleasure.
I think a good story works at any age … but you won’t get anywhere unless your characters are strong enough to drive the plot, not the other way around.
There’s a strong Arthurian theme to the series, how exactly did you set upon the notion of linking a grail quest with the vampire mythos?
Blood, in a word: it’s one of the many preoccupations that Grail and Vampire stories have in common (honour, hubris, magic are others). I’m surprised that no-one made the connection before.
I liked the idea of Vampires not being natural inhabiters of Britain but finding themselves there by circumstance, in amongst the world of Humans, almost as tourists. I like the way the main protagonists, Picus, Mousch and Raptor see the similarities in their myth and religion.
I think they also enjoy the irony that they are so similar yet vilified by humans. As Picus says in the opening chapter:
The biggest mistake we Vampires and others in the Hidden Kingdom ever made was to hide away – for what you Humans cannot see, you fear and what you fear, you would make monsters of.
What other beasties can we expect to find in the series?
Vampires seem to inhabit a slightly isolated mythology and so I wanted to bring them into the world of British and Irish Folklore. So, we’ve got: Faies (fairies) trolls, shape changers and some of the more obscure ones like Pigsies and Grigs.
Thanks so much for joining us. Before you go, can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
Thank you for having me.
I’m currently finishing the final draft of a story for younger readers (9 to 12) called the ‘Hairy Hand’: about a boy who inherits a casket with a gruesome off cut of a magical creature inside and I’m about a third of the way through a sort of adaptation of Oliver Twist (with magic) for adults called ‘The Book of Meddling’. It’s less odd than it sounds.
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