Thursday, 25 May 2017

We've moved!

Thanks for visiting the site. I'm pleased to say we've moved to a new domain.

Visit www.pjbenney.com for updates, news and all things Lawnmowers, Inc.!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Business Plan: a Déjà Moo prequel!

Business Plan

Judith Sharma, twenty-three-year-old possessor of an MFA in Art History, an unparalleled aptitude for project management, and unusually small feet, needed a job. Which is to say, she had a job; of course she had a job, because idleness bred poor habits and slovenliness, and she thrived on targets. No, what she needed was a better job. Judith had been waiting tables for six months, since she graduated, and her suggestions to streamline the greeting and seating process had not, as yet, been met with much more than polite derision. Insofar as such a thing could be polite. Was it too much to ask that the sections of the Bloody Bonnet, Whitechapel’s first – and unsurprisingly, only – Jack the Ripper-themed restaurant, be split and allocated clockwise, rather than a hotchpotch left-to-right? Said sections needn’t have been colour-coded or thematically named, even if her laminated, twelve-page proposal in her stylish A4 binder did strongly favour such an approach. The Nichols wing (claret) was right by the windows, which meant it should be filled first, because nobody wanted to eat at an empty restaurant. The Chapman (malachite) and Stride (lemon chiffon) sections were found respectively beside the fire-escape and the bathrooms, meaning anybody desiring easy accessibility wouldn’t need to skirt past the kitchen and the bar to get comfortable. The upstairs Eddowes gallery (mauveine) was a large balcony that could easily have doubled as a function area if so desired and booked, as Judith suggested, a mandatory three weeks in advance. As for the Kelly booths (blueberry) – well, no happy couple ever chose the Bloody Bonnet for date night. Judith had petitioned for these to be redecorated a few months ago; new curtains, a fresh coat of paint. She’d even volunteered to choose accentuating hues on her own time. Request denied. As always.
‘This goes well beyond the extent of your duties,’ her manager, Eleanor, said, as Judith scrubbed stains from the ketchup bottles and refilled them. ‘We can’t afford to give you a pay rise.’
‘I was just offering up some ideas.’ Trying to stave away the monotony, more like.
Eleanor flicked through Judith’s laminated planner, but slapped it shut. ‘Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll worry about division of labour. You practise stacking plates on your arms – and smile more. If the others could nail punctuality like you have, we’d be a perfect team.’
Eleanor was mid-forties, unmarried, and as Judith understood it, a part-time cabaret performer at a local club. She wore a black suit and bowtie, a white shirt with a high collar, and faux-blood stains down her hands and face. Her black hair was coiffed high and short, beneath a stiff top-hat that screamed prop department. Powder afforded her cheeks a sun-starved porphyria. Although the murky décor of the Bloody Bonnet might suggest otherwise, Eleanor, beneath the accoutrements, was almost certainly a warm-hearted human.
‘I’m not asking for a pay rise,’ Judith said, mentally adding the word yet. ‘I’m not even looking for extra shifts. I just want to do something.’
‘I like your eagerness, Jude, but there’s just no need. The Bonnet’s doing a rip-roaring trade.’ A hearty arm-swing accompanied this tired gag. ‘Why change what ain’t broken?’
Judith didn’t need to be told. They were, for lack of a better word, rammed. Nightly. The only other staff they had on hand besides the kitchen staff were Jean, a sommelier with a perpetual cold, and Gemma and Aaron, a couple younger than her, who worked tables every night since they’d moved in together. Prematurely, Judith thought to herself, but that was none of her business. Judith had recently thrown herself into a flatshare with a couple of fellow neat-freaks who mostly kept to their own rooms and argued over the dishes: specifically, drip-drying versus towelling.
‘Here.’ Eleanor slid the project planner over the table, beside the ketchup bottles. ‘I liked the colours, mind. Nice shade of purple, that.’
Mauveine. ‘They’d look even better when printed. I chose them to complement the wine list. Jean told me which bottles were the most frequently purchased–’
‘Drop it, Jude. I’m not interested. Now, tonight.’ She held up two equally tasteless costumes, and grinned. ‘Tart or Ripper?’
Judith sighed and slipped her binder onto a chair. ‘Ripper. You know I always pick Ripper.’ While she changed in the back room, she and wondered if she should layer the pepper-shakers. There had to be some pink corns in the storeroom. Like blood on cobble, she thought. Back in the restaurant, clad in her collar and cuffs, Judith watched Eleanor retreat up the staircase, through the would-be Eddowes gallery and into her office. Gemma and Aaron chose this moment to turn up, giggling and arm-linked. Waited ‘til it was safe, no doubt. They swung in through the double doors, which shrieked electronically on command, and their amusement dropped away when Judith glared at them.
‘Guys, come on. I’ve had to do all the tables myself.’
‘Sorry,’ Aaron mumbled.
‘Just got to change,’ Gemma added, and they skirted around Judith and towards the staff area. ‘Please don’t say anything.’ Judith would make no promises. She shrugged, and pulled a spray-bottle from her apron. In the kitchen, someone flicked on a radio and stationed it near the serving hatch. Sugar-sweet pop blared out, but Judith was in no mood to sing.
They opened at midday. Thursday lunchtimes were generously lethargic. Thursdays were never Monday enough for absolute apathy, nor Friday enough to merit celebration. Judith revelled in relative peace. Three tables apiece; even Aaron could handle that much. What Eleanor seemed to overlook was that it was always Judith who propped him up come Saturday night. Aaron was friendly, but had no memory. Judith imagined each table like a corkboard, pinning dishes to faces. Steak for the bald chap. The lady in the thin glasses wanted thin chips. The father and daughter wanted nothing but milkshakes. Maybe she could work in a casino, she thought idly. Or play one, counting cards. But where was the fun in that? There’d be no one to tell her what a good job she’d done. Judith didn’t crave acclaim, or even recognition. Merely appreciation. She spent most of the evening wondering how many people merely wished for the same.
‘I say – someone’s done an awful job on this rib-eye. Excuse me?’
Judith made sure to roll her eyes before she turned around. Get it out of the system. Eleanor had told her about that before. It was nearly eleven. Dark outside. The kitchen was winding down. You couldn’t blame the cook for being tired.
She turned. ‘Can I help you, sir?’
Gangly plank of a man, eating alone in the would-be Chapman section. No older than she was, but spottier, and he had a big chin, too. Looked like he’d dressed himself with good intentions that morning, and descended towards shabbiness as the day drew on. Silver-grey suit. Tie loosened. Messy hair. Trouser-legs muddied. Red eyes.
‘Indeed. I asked for medium-rare. This slab of carbon’s nigh-on indistinguishable from the coals on your hearth.’ He gestured to the crackling centrepiece. ‘Any chance you could whip up another?’
Judith did what she always did when customers asked her to whip up another ten minutes before the kitchen closed. She smiled, and she said, ‘One moment, sir.’
She burst into the steaming, gleaming kitchen, stepped out of sight of the window and the hatch, and poured herself half a glass of wine at the sink.
‘Long night?’ called the chef, over the ovens.
‘Ermpf,’ said Judith, into her glass.
A moment passed, and Judith adjusted the hairpins under her hat, then headed back into the restaurant.
‘I’m afraid that’s the last one, sir. Delivery’s tomorrow. You could always come back.’ She rather enjoyed the sight of the young man’s face when it fell. ‘If you like it bloody, you could always slather it in ketchup. Some people would argue it’s much the same.’
‘Some people are just plain wrong.’
‘I concur, sir.’
They both smiled, and he held his hands up apologetically. ‘I’m sorry. Ignore me. It’s fine. I’ll make do. Been a long day, is all. Say, is this your binder?’
He held it up, and grinned. It was.
‘Thought so.’
Judith gaped. ‘How did you–’
‘It was on the other seat, and it’s got a floorplan of the restaurant on page five. You know, four pages is much too long for a CV.’ He scooped his messy hair off his forehead and laughed as he flipped through its laminated pages. She bristled, but kept quiet. About time her work received some enthusiasm. Then he looked up at her, eyeing her Ripper costume. ‘Why do I get the feeling you don’t plan to be an evil vampire-doctor forever?’
Judith thrust a hand over the table and beckoned her binder’s return. ‘They never concluded whether or not the Ripper was a doctor.’
‘Wasn’t it obvious?’
‘Sweeping assumptions, both of them.’ She pointed. ‘That binder could belong to the manager.’
‘And should.’ The young man pushed his plate to one side, lay the binder down on the table and tapped the front page. ‘Says her you have an MFA in Art History, Ms. Judith Sharma? I need someone organised and energetic, with a wit to top my own.’
Judith frowned and leant on the back of the vacant chair. ‘You’re hiring?’
He shrugged coyly.
Hiring a babysitter by the looks of him, she thought. But then again… the cattle-cufflinks on his shirt suggested farmer, or cattle-trader. Mud on his trousers – family estate, or public park? Spoke the Queen’s English, but not afraid to get his hands – or his boots – dirty. Odd one, certainly.
‘I assure you I’ve a brilliant business plan,’ he said.
‘Do I take that to mean no actual business?’
‘Well, more of an idea, than a plan.’
‘Do you have a business partner?’
‘I have two members of staff. One of them is me.’
‘The other?’
‘She’s a cow.’
‘Insults don’t inspire loyalty,’ she teased, but he seemed to think she was serious.
‘No, I mean she’s an animal.’
‘No need to get personal.’ Now she was toying with him.
He stammered. ‘N-no, I mean she’s livestock and lives on a farmyard! Four legs and a tail. Moos a lot. Likes bales of hay for dinner. I only bought her last week. Farmer’s market. She’s a charming breed. Holstein. That’s like Friesian, only American. Uppity temperament, but I think she’s starting to like me. I saved her life, see.’ He tapped his chest with his palm. ‘They were going to slaughter her. I’m going to employ her. Sorry, am I going on?’
Judith smirked. ‘You have a pet calf, and you ordered the steak?’
He grimaced in the direction of his plate. ‘I see your point. Might need to make some changes, if my work should take off.’ Then he smiled a smile she did not care for. ‘What time do you finish? Can I buy you a drink?’
Judith’s smirk fell away. As disarming as he was ridiculous, and hardly the first customer to try this shit with her. ‘I’m gay.’
‘I’m still hiring.’
A pause. She recalculated. ‘You’re serious?’
‘Yep.’ Perhaps the smile wasn’t supposed to look so… puppy-dog. Perhaps that was just how he looked.
‘What’s your name?’
The young man rose, and offered her his hand. ‘Wesley. Daniel Wesley.’
She shook. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘Here’s what happens next.’ He pointed upstairs, where Eleanor surveyed them both from the should-be Eddowes Gallery, a plastic cleaver in her hand. ‘Go and tell your manager you’re clocking off ten minutes early because you work hard and you’ve damned well earnt it. Change out of that ridiculous nightmare-magician outfit, or whatever it is, and meet me in the pub down the road. Bring your binder – and some sensible shoes, if you have them. Have you ever gotten drunk in an interview before?’
Judith assured him she had not, and certainly never would.

Thanks for reading!
Liked this? Find out what happens next with
Déjà Moo: A Lawnmowers, Inc. Novel

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Picking the funny one.

You've either asked this question, or you've been asked it: Where do you get your inspiration from?

In my case, it's both. I love asking this of people as much as I hate answering it myself. Writers, and indeed artists of all kinds, give such great answers. Some say their inspiration comes through dreams. Others say their ideas come to them in a sudden flash, or only at night, and they must keep a notepad by their bed for hasty scribbling. Another writer-friend carries his notebook everywhere he goes and fills the pages with countless ideas and witticisms. I know writers that are inspired by their favourite works of literature.

Whenever people ask me this question (and let's face it, it's not very often, because I don't know many people 😉) I usually say something along the lines of: I sit down and think really, really hard for several hours. Fact is I don't get any ideas unless I'm looking for them. I sit down in front of my computer with a cup of coffee and I stare at the screen and type until something works. It's gruelling, and boring, and I'm often unshaven and half-dressed.

This morning, though, something different happened. I am in the middle of re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the first time since it released. Harry's just finished his first trial, and it was a pretty gripping scene. The Griffindor common room is alight with celebration. Only I look away from my Kindle for a second and stare out of the window at nothing in particular.

Wouldn't it be good if I paired two of my characters up, I think as I stare out of the window at nothing in particular. (The neighbours probably think I'm a bit weird.) It would certainly cheer her up, and he'd have something to fight for. But then she can't do that thing at the end. If I take it out, well, it would make things easier. And the ending could be funny instead of sad. But dwelling on this character's future draws me inevitably back to her origins in the story, the point at which she enters the narrative. And I end up reworking her entire motivation, her arc, her emotional state. I was previously worried that the opening chapters were too grim, too bleak. No, for that matter, I'm still worried that the whole book is too bleak. This would certainly cheer up Chapter Two, I tell myself happily.

My Kindle screen dims and turns off. The Griffindor common room party temporarily dies down. And I'm still staring. What about the ending, though? That would affect Chapter Seventeen and Chapter Eighteen. I'll have to rework her father's role in the narrative, tweak his motivations a little. Wait, this also totally sheds new light on what happens in the first book. And that reveal - I'm going to have to tweak that too.

It's now been half an hour since I started staring out the window. I'm still shirtless and my coffee has gone cold. What about the ending, though? I'd previously settled on two endings and they contradicted one another. I can't have both. But the answer is obvious. I pick the funny one.

And then the entire structure of the third novel reveals itself to me like a map unfurling.

I should put a shirt on soon.

What was I saying? Oh, yeah. Staring blankly into space for ages without moving is how I get my inspiration. If I'm staring at you, I'm probably not really staring at you, I'm pairing off my characters and generally trying to keep them from dying. At least for a few more chapters.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Milestones!

I was chatting with another writer on Twitter when they said they fail more often than not. It got me wondering, what constitutes a creative failure?

Leaving a project unfinished? Writing something that's imperfect? Writing something somebody doesn't like?

Thankfully NOT one of mine.

The fact is, most people don't even bother to try. So your short story was only 1000 words long? That's 1000 words more creative work than most people have ever attempted. The story isn't as good as it could be? Good - you've already identified where you can improve! And for everyone that may or may not like what you've written? Who cares. Screw them. Seriously.

Do what you love for yourself first, and everyone else second.

I need to find out who this guy is.

Today I've had what I consider a small success. The fourth draft of Bovine Intervention has hit 25,000 words. I'm aiming for the book to be about 100-125k in total, so that's perhaps only 20-25% of the final product. And the fourth draft isn't even going to be the final one...

But hey, I love crossing those big-number finish lines, no matter how marginal they appear. I'm still having doubts about the tone and direction of this book (second-book syndrome?) but I don't even care. Because I'm doing okay, I trust my own judgement, and I will celebrate my trivial successes. And maybe, like, three other people will celebrate with me.

Have a nice weekend, everyone!

Monday, 27 March 2017

Recent Reads!

As the dog needs a bone, as the bird needs to sing, as the cat needs to knock things off the table and stare at you as if it was your fault all along, does the writer need to read. My reading is at best, slow, like how I sip my coffee, and at worst, infrequent, like my exposure to fresh air and sunlight. So when I do read, I like to make sure I'm reading quality material. Here are just a few of the books and series I've been reading this year.

Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde
No, not that one. What kind of website do you think this is?! No. This is a darkly-comic dystopia about a far-future society in which people are classed according to their perception of colours. Purples are the upper classes, Reds and Blues fairly common, while the miserable Greys are downtrodden and scorned. It sounds oppressive, but this book was incredibly funny. Everything is described via the Munsell colour system and the book is packed with colourful puns - my favourite being the National Colour employee Matthew Gloss. Its silliness is as detailed as to be weirdly believable, and the story takes some incredible and moving turns as well. Eagerly awaiting the next one.


Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
I loved the first book back in uni, and I enjoyed the Dirk Gently novels too, but I've never read any further in this particular series. Please don't hurt me! I started back at the beginning a few months ago and am now about halfway through Life, The Universe and Everything. It's not something to overthink, I find the details sketchy and the plot almost non-existent. Its strengths lie in Adams' incredible ideas. Highly readable.


The Muse - Jessie Burton
As I said on Twitter, this historical novel about a mysterious painting deserves every billboard ad it got. Stunning tale that jumps between two periods in 20th century history, with a few painful connections. Really moving.


The Burning Page - Genevieve Cogman
Third in Cogman's series about librarian/spy/assassins who jump between parallel worlds. I love the concept and am looking forward to the next one, but book three was a bit of a disappointment because I felt like the author was holding back too much info about the world and its characters. My patience is far from boundless...


Harry Potter - J. K. Rowling
Needs no introduction. I'm re-reading them for the first time since they came out when I was still in school. I'm seeing new depths and allusions I never noticed as a young reader and I'm astounded at the clarity and economy of Rowling's narration. A lot of detail in very few words. Currently about to start Goblet.


Craft Sequence - Max Gladstone
I've got no idea what this is but I love the covers, the titles and the sample I read. Any fans about? I can't wait to get stuck into this series!


An insight into the contents of my eyeballs right now. If you're a writer and not a regular reader, start today. Really. You'll notice an improvement in your work with every book you read.