About the Book:
Before Getting Rid of Gil and Josh is both a love story and a comedy-thriller, rather than any stark account of homicide. It is set in 1954, before it was legal for two men sexually to love one another and follows the attempt of an MP’s twin to blackmail him. The MP and his partner decide they have to scare off this sibling but when their tactics unexpectedly result in death, they have to resort to desperate measures to avoid suspicion falling in the right place.
About a Boat Trip, a Hold Up, a Strip Show and You can be seen as a latter-day Brief Encounter, occurring some forty years later, in 1986. It concerns Stella McCabe, an attractive middle-aged woman who is thinking of leaving her husband and becoming the sort of person she would like herself to be – independent and far less conventional. Her world is diverted when she meets a man of half her age who turns out to be a Chippendale-type stripper – and, ridiculously, starts to fall in love with him. Is Vince the catalyst she needs or can a selfish husband undergo a change of heart?
Both books are lively, entertaining, and transport the reader to a world of light-hearted fiction, and once begun, will grip its reader until the final pages have been turned.
Praise for Stephen Benatar’s previous works:
‘A masterpiece…matchlessly clever…wholly unique’ – John Carey, Literary Critic
‘Benatar writes with wit and humour about subjects most writers do not tackle – ageing, age, the frequent nastiness of family life.’ – Doris Lessing
‘With this marvellous book, poetry and character return to the English novel.’ – The Times Literary Supplement
1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?
Nothing much to tell. A strictly average man who wants to make sense of his existence, impose a little order on it and show that he was here. Who likes to be able to hold in his hand the fruits of all his work, or see them on a bookshelf – tangible, condensed. A sense of purpose, a feeling of control, a striving after meaning. There is nothing so satisfying as (oh, cliché, cliché!) playing God, creating your own small world, loving the characters who inhabit it; they become extremely real to you and will always be your friends (and, hopefully, other people’s).
2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?
No, absolutely not. Any time. On buses, trains, on benches that punctuate your walk, or simply in some spot where it’s quite easy to stand and not get too much in anybody’s way. Often, of course, in the middle of the night – although that’s something one does one’s best, for obvious reasons, not to encourage in oneself. Often, one has to be disciplined about taking time off, meeting friends, going on outings with the family, etc. That CAN be hard, really hard.
3: Where do your ideas come from?
God alone knows. I find the getting of good ideas by far the most difficult part of novel writing. Some people are amazingly prolific but only three times has anybody else’s idea turned out to be something I myself could develop. Certainly the more you strain for an idea; the less likely you are to find one. Perhaps an odd few words you read in a book … perhaps some incredibly banal thought … For instance, one morning I was taking the dog for her walk when I happened to think wouldn’t it be great if we could live our life over again with full recollection of the mistakes we had made the first time. Hardly very original; hardly very profound; but out of that stale reflection arose the piece of work I would want more than any other to be remembered for, ‘The Return of Ethan Hart’. And then – this had never happened to me before – no sooner had I started writing (in a state of some excitement) than ANOTHER idea occurred to me which really grabbed my interest, and I thought Oh hell, which should I now concentrate on. And how ANNOYING that this should happen, what bloody timing! But then I saw that the two ideas could actually fit together, and – hey presto – as I’ve just said, the book I’d most want to be remembered for …
4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?
I think you should always know, roughly, how a story’s going to end, and these days I might say a none-too-detailed synopsis was a pretty good idea – because in the past I’ve written a first chapter I thought was really spot-on, and even the first five or six chapters, and then found I had nowhere to go. This in fact happened with my first published novel, ‘The Man on the Bridge’. My wife couldn’t think, any more than I could, where the story ought to go and suggested I should just regard it as a very valuable exercise and go on to something else. I totally agreed with her, but that night, sleepless, I felt I was in mourning – what I’ve said, about one’s characters becoming friends – and felt I couldn’t just abandon John and Oliver and all the rest of them…and out of that anguish and desperation, thank heaven, suddenly emerged the way forward… such a vast and indescribable relief!
But my having said all of which, the TLS said about my second published novel, ‘Wish Her Safe at Home’, “it’s very clear that Rachel took over from her creator and sent him in a direction he hadn’t at all intended.” Very percipient and absolutely true. So where exactly does that leave us? At the beginning I hadn’t known at all where that novel was going to end.
5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?
I hope, no genre at all. I hate to repeat myself and I try to make each novel as different as possibly can be to all the others, except in terms of style (economy and simplicity are always mega-important to me). I wrote ‘Letters for a Spy’ simply because I had never before written a spy story, ‘Before Getting Rid of Gil and Josh’ because I’d never once dealt with murder, and have even been contemplating a western – although I’m not sure if that will ever take off. However, I suppose there are certain things that do crop up more than once in my work – an element of romantic love, the possibility of redemption. But I’d still say my books don’t belong to any genre. Except that ‘On Chasing Brad Through Purgatory’ – so far published only in the States, not yet over here (although I’m hoping that it will be next year) – joins ‘The Man on the Bridge’ and ‘Before Getting Rid of Gil and Josh’ in having gay protagonists; but certainly none of these three is in any way about homosexual issues and – these days being gay myself – I must be permitted from time to time to have non-sexually-straight protagonists without my being labeled as ‘a gay writer’. Three out of twelve isn’t a big percentage.
6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?
No idea. I love the cinema and – I imagine because of this – people say all my books are very cinematic; but I never play games of that sort. Fifty or sixty years ago I might have played them, in the days when there still existed a Star System, but there are very few modern actors whom I know or recognize or would go to see any particular movie that I was told they were in. I consider myself very fortunate to have become a moviegoer during the heyday of Hollywood, or of Pinewood or Denham etc.
7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
No, I don’t read much – I think that perhaps when you’re writing you shouldn’t read at all; it’s so very easy to pick up mannerisms and odd turns of speech without your being aware of it. My favourite authors: Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Michael Connelly.
8: What book/s are you reading at present?
A book called ‘Actress’ by Yvonne Mitchell.
9: What is your favourite book and why?
Following on from Question 7, possibly ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is the book I’ve read more than any other, then ‘Frederica’, then ‘Arabella’. As a genre (!) I maybe read American thrillers more than anything else, but so often they are disappointing and I don’t finish them.
10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?
If they need advice, then I’d tell them to forget the whole idea. They’re obviously not writers. I started when I was a boy, simply because I wanted to, simply because I HAD to. Tell them to read a lot? Why? Probably discouraging? Tell them to keep their eyes open, to notice things, particularly about people? If they don’t do this anyway, well I’d repeat my first sentence – and you know I don’t like repeating myself! I suppose I could say it’s going to be an uphill journey – I myself wrote a dozen novels between the ages of nineteen and forty-four – therefore, if you want it enough, be determined you’ll NEVER give up. Just say to yourself that you’re improving all the time, learning and mastering your trade. And if you don’t love doing it, if you begin to think you might be wasting your time, that you could be spending it more profitably …
Indeed, a very suitable cue for me to finish!
11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?
Not on any social media at the moment.
About the Author:
Stephen Benatar was born in 1937, to Jewish parents, in Baker Street, London.
Although he started writing when he was only eight, ‘The Man on the Bridge’ wasn’t published until he was forty-four – and even then, if it hadn’t been for the kindness and concern of Pamela Hansford Johnson, the novelist wife of C.P. Snow, this might never have happened.
Since then, however, there have been eight novels – one published by a borough council, the first and only time a council has produced a work of fiction. There have also been two plays and two children’s books. In 1983 he was awarded a £7000 bursary by the Arts Council; and Boston University in Massachusetts is now the repository for all his papers and manuscripts.
He was married for twenty-nine years to Eileen, with whom he had two sons and two daughters – has taught English at the University of Bordeaux, lived in Crete and Southern California, been a school teacher, an umbrella salesman, hotel porter, employee of the Forestry Commission – and at long last, in his retirement, has become a full-time writer.
Having finally moved back to the town of his birth, he now lives in West London, with his partner, Greg.