Interview with A K Benedict
Hi Alexandra, thanks so much for the opportunity of an interview. After being given the best introduction by Guy Adams, I am determined to craft a badge or name plate saying – DJ –cake wielder.
Alexandra: I look forward to seeing you wield a cake in my direction!
Torchwood: Victorian Age takes us back to a time before Captain Jack Harkness had his own team, and was the boss of the Torchwood Hub in Cardiff. As of yet, I’ve still not listened to the audio, but I’ve read a few reviews of the episode, so, with questions poised, I have to ask – in the first episode of the second series of Torchwood, is this the start of a full series of Victorian Torchwood, and are we into a new story arc, away from the Committee?
Alexandra: That is all rather Top Secret, I’m afraid. So Top Secret that I’ve absolutely no idea! I can’t wait to find out.
When we chatted earlier this year (can’t believe that was in February), you mentioned that James (I’m assuming Goss) gave you the brief – Captain Jack and Queen Victoria, I’ve probably already asked this question to another, but memory plays tricks on me – I blame the retcon!
When I did a screenwriting course, we were given a postcard and a news headline (from a magazine), and had to go away and create a synopsis in 10 minutes. In your brief from James, does the same kind of thing apply – not so much the postcard and headline, but do you have a ‘brief’ time to come up with a synopsis?
Alexandra: It was indeed the splendid James Goss that gave me the brief. And what a brief to get! He asked for Captain Jack and Queen Victoria in a fast-paced adventure and the rest was up to me. I had a month or so to come up with ideas and a treatment breaking down the story. There is a much shorter turn-around-time for commissioned script writing than novel writing and that’s part of the fun!
Is the Victorian age an era that appeals to you?
Alexandra: The mid-to-late nineteenth century has an enormous appeal for me. It was a time of great cultural change and is also near enough to ours in time to be within touching distance yet entirely different. I love the literature, science, philosophy, economics, technology, decor. . . I’m particularly intrigued at the moment by Victorian attitudes towards death and mourning, spiritualism and the occult, photography, and the women’s movement.
This is your first outing as a Torchwood writer, how does it feel and would you be up for writing more Torchwood stories set in the Victorian era? Would you use the Queen again, or would you take on the responsibility of inventing a whole Victorian Torchwood team?
Alexandra: How does it feel? It feels BRILLIANT! I loved every second of writing The Victorian Age. I would LOVE to write for Queen Victoria and Victorian Torchwood again. I’ve already invented Dr Josephine and would love to add to the Torchwood team, if I’m lucky enough to be asked.
Rowena Cooper plays the role of Queen Victoria. Did you have an idea in your head of who you wanted playing the character when you were writing the script?
Alexandra: I love Pauline Collins’ Victoria in Tooth and Claw and heard an older version of her in my head while writing. James told me that a brilliant actor was going to play Victoria, and he was spot on. Rowena Cooper is magnificent and absolutely perfect as the Queen.
How did you arrive at the special nature of the villain? Given the fact that Victoria was an active participant in Tooth and Claw, were you conscious of pressure to do something notably different involving the Queen?
Alexandra: I imagined Queen Victoria romping about London, wondered what kind of creature would trouble her on several different levels and then the creature entered, snarling. It was rather fun to write, particularly when crossing Hyde Park.
I tried not to dwell on the pressure of writing for such loved characters already and concentrated instead on honouring them as much as I could.
I'm curious. Why do you keep a severed head of a ventriloquist's dummy in your room? (see website).
Alexandra: I love ventriloquist's dummies and found the head of one in a junk shop many years ago. I have been trying to find him a body ever since. When I do, I'll send him back out into the wild!
Were you a fan of Torchwood before you wrote the audio drama?
Alexandra: I’ve been a fan of Torchwood since the first episode was aired, and of Captain Jack since his first appearance in Doctor Who. It’s hard to believe it’s ten years ago already. I love Torchwood, no matter whether the episode is creepy, satirical, fun or ridiculous.
When did your passion for writing begin, and was it always in this genre or did your stories range from horror to other genres?
Alexandra: My first stories, from when I was four, were about monsters, dreams, ghosts, haunted houses, aliens and forests. I didn’t think of them as being in a particular genre, at the time, in fact I tend not to think of genre at all now, which is why my stories still cross crime, literary fiction, horror, fantasy, science fiction. . . they’re all stories, and sometimes stories are best told through the tropes of one perceived genre, sometimes another, other times the genres have a party in my head and get up to all kinds of haunted menage-a-trois/quatre/cinq.
Can you tell us more about Jonathan Dark, and will it be a long running series of novels?
Alexandra: Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts is a crime–fantasy thriller set in modern day London and features mudlarks, corruption and ghosts. Archaeologist Maria King is being stalked by a killer and Jonathan Dark, my conflicted detective, has seven days to save her.
I’ll hopefully be switching between two long-running series: the Jonathan Dark series and The Beauty of Murder series. The Beauty of Murder series follows time-travelling philosopher-detective, Stephen Killigan, and serial killer, Jackamore Grass, throughout history. It’s set in Cambridge, in the 17th century and present day. Its sequel, The Cabinet of Shadows (my current work-in-progress), is set in the late Victorian period and present day.
How long have you been a published writer, and where can we find your books to purchase?
Alexandra: The Beauty of Murder, my first published novel, came out in 2013, although I’d had short stories and poetry published in journals and anthologies for a few years before. My books are available from Waterstones and independent bookshops as well as online at Wordery, Hive and Amazon.
As a newcomer to the Whoniverse, how were you ‘headhunted’ as a writer for the new series?
Alexandra: Headhunted, I like that! James Goss was casting his magic net for Torchwood writers and the marvellous, moniker-bestowing Guy Adams recommended me. James Goss then read The Beauty of Murder, and got in touch.
As a writer, who inspires you? Can you remember the first novel you ever read that gave you the aspirations to become a writer?
Alexandra: Doctor Who was the first thing that made me want to be a writer. I was a fan from age three and wanted to write it, along with books, poems and stories. The first book that made me want to be a novelist was probably by Roald Dahl. I started reading him at five or so, so probably Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or George’s Marvellous Medicine. Dickens then cemented that desire. I go back to him again and again. As a writer I’m inspired by almost everything I read but I particularly love Dickens, Angela Carter, M R James, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Patrick Ness, Phillip Pullman, A L Kennedy, John Connolly, Kelly Link. . .
Was Captain Jack Harkness an easy or difficult character to write for?
Alexandra: Oh so wonderfully easy and glorious. He has such a distinctive voice and perception of the universe that it’s easy to hear his voice in my head.
When you’re given a brief, are there certain things that you cannot cross with the characters of the show? Obviously, killing off the already established characters would be a complete no-no I’d imagine! But seriously, are there strict boundaries for how far you can push a character in audio dramas?
Alexandra: It’s quite a responsibility! The idea is to enhance an existing universe, not disrupt it in any way (unless specifically asked!). Continuity has to be a factor but there is still such scope for character exploration and fresh perspectives. The tone, parameters and boundaries are there but that provides opportunities as well.
What are your plans now, what projects are you currently working on, that you can share with us?
Alexandra: I’m working on The Cabinet of Shadows, another novel, short stories, scripts and poems. There are always at least five things in progress at any one time.
When I was researching, I found another person with the same name, but she wrote romantic novels.
Alexandra: Ah yes, that’s why I changed my writing name to A K Benedict. My first few published poems and stories came out under Alexandra Benedict but then a couple of people got in touch, wondering why I had changed my style to something much darker. I then realised that there was another Alexandra Benedict. I think there’s another poet called Alexandra Benedict as well. Splendidly confusing: a doppelganger story in the making.
There’s little mention of you personally online; are you a private person when it comes to giving out information online?
Alexandra: I think it’s more because very few people know who I am so do not ask or want to know! I am rather private, though, and rarely talk publically about very personal things. I’m sure it all filters out through my fiction somehow.
If fans want to find you, to follow on social networking sites, or check out your website (if you have a website) where might they find you?
Alexandra: My website is www.akbenedict.com. I’m on Twitter as @ak_benedict and can be found as A. K. Benedict on Facebook and Instagram
Thank you again for a wonderful opportunity, and I hope I’ve not overwhelmed you with the amount of questions.
Alexandra: Thank you so much for asking me! It’s an honour.
Cover photos courtesy of Alexandra Benedict