Travis interviews fantasy author Benedict Patrick about fairy tales, storytelling through games, and The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon.
Travis: Hey everyone. Welcome to the Fantasy Inn, where we share our love for all things fantasy and discuss the broader speculative fiction industry. I’m your host, Travis Tippens. This week: why are fairy tales so compelling? Is Malazan really the best fantasy series? And what do DuckTales, Marvel Comics, and a dragon the size of the country have in common? If you haven’t guessed by now, today I had the honor of speaking with Benedict Patrick for our very first podcast interview. You might know him from his series of interconnected fairy tales called Yarnsworld. But yesterday marked the launch of his new series. The Fight of the Darkstar Dragon begins with a magical airship crash landing on an impossible world with an impossibly huge dragon. It’s a story of forging friendships, finding one’s way home, and of course, impossible adventure. Benedict was an absolute delight to talk to. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Hi, Benedict, and welcome to the Fantasy Inn. We’re so glad to have you.
Benedict: Thank you so much for inviting me in. I just wanted to say I’m very honored to be here and I have enjoyed what I’ve heard of the podcast so far. Really excited that there’s something like that out there for the community. So thank you for that as well.
Travis: Yeah, and we’re excited to have you on as our very first podcast interview.
Benedict: It’s a bit of a thrill for me, to be honest, as well.
Travis: Yeah, well, I guess let’s jump right into it, shall we? What is it that you find so compelling about fairy tales?
Benedict: Oh, that’s a good place to start. I like how mutable they are, I like how many different versions there are of fairy tales out there. A really good example of this, when I’m when I’m talking to people about this, is Little Red Riding Hood. I always start off by asking people: When you were told the story of Little Red Riding Hood as a child, what happened at the end of it, what happened to the wolf? So I’ll ask you that question, actually. What happened to the wolf in your childhood version of the tale?
Travis: I’m pretty sure that Little Red Riding Hood was either able to trick or maybe kill the wolf, depending on what age I was when I read the story for the first time.
Benedict: Even that experience highlights this. I distinctly remember in school being being told that and being very confused because we had a version from the teacher where the woodcutter came in and chopped the wolf’s head off and rescued granny from the cupboard. But in the version that I was told as a child by my mother–I think it was just because of the book that she picked up–the wolf ate the grandmother. I don’t know if in your version… Did the wolf eat the grandmother in Red Riding Hood?
Travis: I believe so, yes.
Benedict: Yes. And then what happened is that the woodcutter, instead of chopping the wolf’s head off, opened up the wolf’s stomach while it was sleeping, let Red Riding Hood and her grandmother sneak out. And then what they all did is they piled lots of stones inside the wolf’s guts, sewed him back up again, and when he woke up in the morning he didn’t realize what had happened. But he had such a belly ache and he ran down to the nearest stream to drink some water to help alleviate the situation. And because of all the weight in his stomach, he fell in and drowned. And I couldn’t understand as a child what was going on, why no one else had ever heard this version of the story. I can remember the look of distress on the teacher’s face as I was trying to describe this to the rest of the junior school.
But ever since then, I you know, I’ve been fascinated by that. Just the fact that these are what we think of as really well known tales, but because there’s a very large oral storytelling tradition attached to them and there’s so many different versions of them. That’s not even thinking about the often watered down children’s version that we get. And animated cartoons nowadays. And I also like the magic that’s attached to them as well. At the end of the day, fairy tales are often very unpredictable. You can’t always predict what’s going to happen because the rules the rules change. You can have mad situations popping up in fairy tales and people just seem to happily accept them. Even something as simple as animals talking. It’s not out of the question for characters to be walking down the forest lost and then a bird will tell them which way to go. Or, you know, a witch will curse somebody.
It’s almost like there’s an unwritten language in the fairy tales where we don’t need to know why somebody’s done this. We don’t need to know their deep motivation. If it’s a witch, you expect them to act badly. If it’s an animal, mostly they’ll help people. I just think there’s a lot going on, and that they definitely take on their own language for us. They have these rules that they follow. So definitely, I just find that fascinating.
Travis: Yeah, and a lot of fairy tales, don’t they have some sort of moral lesson or something baked in as well?
Benedict: Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Actually, a lot of the the moral versions of the tale have been adapted by people who have picked them up. I know that again, back to Red Riding Hood, actually, there are versions of Red Riding Hood where it basically ends as soon as she gets eaten by the wolf. And then that’s it. And then they say, “So then she gets eaten by the wolf, don’t talk to strangers, kids!” And that’s it.
So you’re right, you’re absolutely right. There are morals to them. And honestly, I stole a little bit of that as well when I started using them for my own writing. But sometimes, especially if you head back to the the earliest Brothers Grimm versions of the tales… And when I say earliest, obviously they’re not the earliest version of the stories. They can be the earliest written versions of the stories.
Travis: Right, right.
Benedict: Sometimes it is just basically a case of “and then the monsters caught them they were dead or cursed and that’s it, that’s the end.” Sometimes there’s no moral. Sometimes it’s just a “that’s the end of the story, now go to bed” situation.
Travis: Well, other than Red Riding Hood, are there any particular fairy tales that you’d like to share that maybe people aren’t familiar with?
Benedict: My favorite is always stone soup. I think that’s probably quite a well known one?
Travis: I’ve actually never heard of that before, unless I know it by a different name.
Benedict: You will know it when I tell you it because it’s been picked up by quite a few authors. I know Terry Pratchett has his own version of it as well. It’s one of these Eastern European folk tales where it’s just this one big forest–and a lot of tales take on this idea of a traveler moving through the forest coming to a new village for the first time–and then in this case, the traveler was weary, very hungry. But because it was autumn time and the village was obviously wary of strangers coming into their midst, he didn’t find a very welcome reception there. He was knocking on doors looking for somewhere to stay, looking for food, more than anything. He was hungry this time of year. It wasn’t easy for him to forage in the forest. But he didn’t give up when he realized that he wasn’t going to get the reception that he wanted.
So he stood in the middle of the village green and he called everyone’s attention. And he said to everyone, “This is one of the best villages I’ve ever seen. I’d like to to reward you all for what you’ve done here. I have here in my possession a very rare cooking stone.” And he pulls out a stone from his bag and holds it in front of himself. Everyone begins to gather around, wondering exactly what’s going on here. And he says “I’ve got this cooking stone. And what I will do with this cooking stone is I will cook it for you and it makes the most magnificent soup you’ve ever tasted in your entire life.” And of course that catches everyone’s attention and they all want to see what’s going on. One, because they can’t understand how you can ever make a soup out of a stone. And also, the idea of having the most wonderful soup they’ve ever tasted… Who’s going to turn that down?
So he says, “All I need is just a massive cooking pot. And if somebody could fetch us some water and light a fire for me, I will be able to cook the cooking stone and we can all eat from it tonight.” So, the village elders are curious to see what’s going to happen. They order people around, getting the biggest pot there is in the village. They set it up in the middle of the green, have a great fire cooking underneath, and the stranger borrows a nearby ladle and heats the water, puts the stone in, and gives it a stir. And by this point everyone in the village has heard what’s going on. They’re all gathered around and they’re all waiting to sample stone soup. They’ve never had it before.
So eventually, once the pot’s been able to simmer for a while, the stranger takes a sip from the ladle, tastes it, thinks for wee bit. And he says “This is amazing. I can’t believe this, it’s one of the best stone soups I’ve ever tasted. You know what would make it even better? If only somebody had some carrots… I don’t suppose anybody here has carrots we could add to this to make this even better?” And there’s an old lady in the back who’s got a store of carrots that she saved from harvest earlier in the year. And everyone else encourages her to bring them, chop them all up, and throw them into the pot. And the stranger takes another sip, and he says, “Oh that’s exactly what it needs. Fantastic! Do you know what would go really well with this? If we had some potatoes. If somebody could bring some potatoes that we could add to the stone soup, just to make it even better for everyone here in the village.”
And you can see where the situation is going here. The stranger continues to take sips, makes other suggestions for what to add to the pot, and the villagers open up their stores to him and bring them in very excited to hear what’s happening. Even the even the head of the village managers to supply a little salt from her cellar. And eventually the stranger takes one sip and stands up with a smug expression on his face and says, “This is it. This is the perfect stone soup. I’ve never tasted a stone soup like this before. Gather around everybody and taste what we’ve made.” And of course everybody lines up. He spoons out the stone soup to them all. He gets the biggest bowl for himself. And they’re all sitting there, enjoying their meal in the village, and he pockets the stone into his bag again.
And he spends the rest of the winter there in the village and it’s a weekly occurrence for him to make this stone soup for the people. The most welcoming village in the forest. And that’s the end of the story. The stone soup story.
Travis: Oh wow. You know, I really like the trickster element of that, which I think is a recurring element in a lot of fairy tales.
Benedict: Yes, yes, absolutely. I like that there’s no maliciousness in it, which is quite nice, too. You don’t always get that. But I do like the fact that yes, there’s just this nice situation at the end where everyone ends up being happy and it’s only him that has the realization that he’s got the better of them.
Travis: Well I guess, moving on from fairy tales to more about you: What exactly started you on the path to becoming a writer? How did you decide you wanted to be Benedict Patrick the author?
Benedict: It was a long and bumpy road. Reading came first. I’ve always had a deep passion for reading and as a child would often get accused of missing out on family holidays because my nose had always been in a book instead of actually looking at the surroundings as we were driving past. The beautiful beaches, the forests.
I think what drew me to storytelling first was when people started telling me that I had a talent for it. And I think that as a young man, that’s always something that’s good to catch your interest. I dipped in and out of writing throughout my teenage years. It seemed like hard work. It is hard work. I think I was obviously very astute, but I think that put me off.
I always liked the idea of being a writer, if that makes sense. It was one of these things I’ve always said to myself, like, “Someday I’ll be a writer. I’m not writing now because it’s a lot of work and I don’t have time, but someday this will happen.” And it was maybe just slightly shy of a decade ago when I did start to realize, this isn’t actually going to happen, is it? This little dream I’ve got that someday this will happen, you know, it’s not actually going to happen unless I make it happen.
Philip Pullman talks about forcing out 1000 words a day. And I think a lot of other writers do talk about, you know, you have to write! You have to write to be a writer! And it was just a slow realization that I was going to reach the stage where I was going to either have to put this away and just never never think about it again, or man up and actually put my heart and soul into it. I spent a lot of time throwing ideas around on the page.
I had a trip to New Zealand in my early 20s. And that was just a feverish experience of constantly reading on the bus. My mom wasn’t there to tell me off but she would have been horrified to see how many sights that I missed. But I was writing in the evenings, just throwing ideas down on books.
I know you had asked at one point if I had any trunk novels. I do. And I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before actually. In my wisdom, I didn’t go for trunk novels. I have a quartet of trunk novellas. I had this wonderful idea of four stories set throughout different periods in history, but they were all linked to tracking this unicorn’s journey from early human civilization all the way up to modern day. And I think just before I started writing They Mostly Come Out at Night, I was convinced this was it.
This was exactly what I was going to be known for! I actually painted a cover… I can’t believe I’m admitting this.
Travis: Oh, wow.
Benedict: I actually painted a cover because I thought, “Oh, I can do this. This will be fine.” I burnt that, by the way.
Travis: I was going to say, I don’t suppose you still have that to share?
Benedict: No. Again my ego warned me that if this does happen, if you do actually become a name that people are interested in, this is what’s going to pop up when you die. Someone’s going to find this and scan it. So in my arrogance I got rid of that so that would never happen.
But thank goodness, even before I even offered the stories to anyone else, I did take a step back and realize that this is not it. It was a nice idea. You know, this was good practice, but there’s no way anybody should ever read these stories. So that’s what brought me to the amalgamation of ideas that was going on in my head that eventually led to They Mostly Come Out at Night.
Travis: One thing in your Yarnsworld stories is that they’re set all over the world. And the main thing that unifies them so far at least is the Knacks magic system.
Travis: So was it around this time that idea started knocking around in your head? Or was that later?
Benedict: I’ve always liked the idea of a very low key magic system. I don’t like I don’t really like the phrase magic system, but it works just to explain it. I’m trying to find a passage that I know inspired that. It isn’t The Name of the Wind. I did almost fall off my chair a few years ago when I when I listened to the audio version of The Name of the Wind. Because I did read it when it came out, and I don’t know if you recall this actually, but there are characters in The Name of the Wind who have magical Knacks as well.
Travis: I don’t remember that, huh.
Benedict: I was nearly sick when I heard that again. But it’s totally different. Well, not totally different to be honest, but it is quite different to to what I do with it. I’ve convinced myself that one of the lines that inspired me for this was somewhere in the Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. I’ve convinced myself that there’s a passage somewhere about a shepherdess calling up a wind to move away a rain cloud from her when she was tending her flock. And this is an unnamed character, just on the Island of Gont that Ged comes from. But I just love the idea that there’s this place where a shepherd girl could have a little bit of magic that just suited her needs exactly. And that was it. That was all that she could do. And I just liked that idea.
And when I was writing Mostly, the Knacks in particular came around because of the character Lonan in that story. I wanted everyone else in the world to have something that he didn’t, because a lot of They Mostly Come Out at Night was fueled by this idea of finding yourself. And I wanted to have a character who was in this situation where it looked like it was a lot easier for everyone else to find themselves. Because they in some ways had a bit of guidance, but he didn’t. So that’s where that came from.
And a lot of the rest off the Yarnsworld stories take a leaf from a book and a lot of the main characters in particular tend to have a very special relationship with their Knacks. You know in Lonan’s case, he doesn’t have any. And Kaimana believes that she’s defined by hers. And Arturo in City of Swords, he was proud of his, he wants to live up to his what he feels is his Knack. So, I wanted something where it spoke to a lot of the main characters and their journeys they were going to take in the stories.
Travis: Now that we’ve actually started diving a little bit into your Yarnsworld stories, what was the final push that made you decide “You know what, I’m going to self publish these Yarnsworld stories that have been knocking around in my head for a while now.”
Benedict: I think I have mentioned this before. I’ve got a master’s degree in publishing. A lot of this informs my writing, as well. After finishing studying literature at the university I was fairly aimless, a wee bit like Lonan, and I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do with my life. And I ended up taking out a master’s degree in publishing. And that really killed the writing experience for me for a very long time.
Travis: Oh no.
Benedict: I had convinced myself, because of those studies, that the act of getting published was close to impossible. And also, I had convinced myself that it was a lot more linked to money than it was to art. Unfortunately, I had a terrible attitude that made me decide that maybe writing might not be what I was interested in pursuing. So it was actually the discovery of self publishing that kicked off part of the writing bug for me again. This idea of the power that gave me, you know, the control that gave me over my own work… it was almost inspiring in itself. So in some ways, it wasn’t me wanting to get They Mostly Come Out at Night and the Yarnsworld stories out in the world. It was discovering this control I could have again, it kicked off that writing bug that has been dipping in and out of my life up to that point.
I’ve never considered otherwise, so far. I just like the fact that it’s up to me, and even if the stories don’t grab people’s attention straight away, I can work at it and develop it. You know, without a big time issue or having to worry about a debut. So yes, that was certainly the idea. Just being able to control that was a big part of what convinced me that sitting down to write every night wasn’t going to be a waste of my time.
Travis: And one thing that I think is really interesting and fairly unique is that you’re almost writing a series of standalones. There’s kind of a broad entry point to your work. Everything you’ve written so far in Yarnsworld, correct me if I’m wrong, serves as a potential entry point for new readers. Right?
Benedict: Yeah, yeah. It’s a terrible idea, by the way. If any writers are listening to this, especially if you’re planning on publishing your work independently, it’s not a great idea. It’s not financially sound . But it’s definitely the stories I enjoy writing. So that’s why I do it.
And even though I’m starting to write stories that are in some ways continuations of journeys begun in previous books, I’m still trying to make sure that this, as you say, could be the first book that somebody picks up and they won’t have missed out from the previous works. I don’t think I’ll always do that. I know that the story that I’ve just published, The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon, is going to be a bit more serialized.
But yeah, probably because my thinking from traditional publishing is maybe more financially oriented, I think there’s this idea right now that standalones are not a great idea. I don’t think we get enough of them, sometimes, in the fantasy community in particular.
Travis: I agree, there’s so many ten-book series or more. It’s kind of daunting sometimes.
Benedict: Yes, as a reader, absolutely. To my shame, I have not touched any of Robert Jordan’s books yet. And I don’t know if I ever will because I just don’t think I could cope with the idea of having to stare at this bookcase full of all these massive tomes. How much of my life am I going to dedicate to getting through this?
Travis: So far I think I’ve dedicated about three years of my life to Wheel of Time and I’m exactly three books into the series. So it might take me a while.
Benedict: That’s okay, there’s TV show coming up. That’ll be fine.
Travis: That’s true. Well, so far you have three different settings in Yarnsworld. Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration for each one of those?
Benedict: They Mostly Come Out at Night and From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court tie back into this European great forest, you know, the Black Forest idea. As somebody living in Europe that’s where a lot of my original experience with fairy tales and folk tales began. I think there is something compelling about that sort of thing, about this idea of a dark place where stories lurk behind any corner. The Magpie King’s forest is very much this idea of a forest where stories are hiding amongst the trees. And then it gets a bit weird. Well, I don’t know if weird is the right word for it.
Travis: I’ve heard you describe it as Black Panther and The Village combined. That definitely sounds a little weird.
Benedict: When Mostly came together in my head, it was actually an amalgamation of different tales that I had going on. I think I mentioned this in the back of They Mostly Come Out at Night, I had this in my head at the time, I thought it was a wonderful story. I’m fairly certain I was going to call it A Tinker’s Tale. And I just liked the idea of having a young boy moving around this dark forest, having to avoid the wolves in the forest. Because of course Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs, wolves in the forest setting are often the antagonist. Meanwhile, I also had this idea of this regal story of warring nobility. And when I was in my panic over these trunk novellas that I mentioned earlier, when I realized that they weren’t going to cut it, I did eventually realize that these stories could be combined in a really interesting way.
So of course then I threw that out the window and moved on to that other setting that always pops up when you think about folk tales. And that’s tropical islands. Again that harkens back to the summer that I spent in New Zealand. In fact the story for Where the Waters Turn Black is actually the one that I had in my head for the longest. And that was spurred on by two things. Firstly, when I was writing Mostly at the time, I generally just thought that this was a one-off story and it was just going to sit on its own. And then this image came into my head of a young girl and in the water behind her just this massive looming shadow of this big beast. But actually the idea that once you get into the relationship between them this big monster wasn’t something to be afraid of, this was her best friend, that had been in my head ever since I visited New Zealand and spent a lot of time exploring the different cultures down there. It just seemed to fit.
And when I was writing They Mostly Come Out at Night was when Disney announced that they were making Moana. And I realized that if I didn’t write my story before Disney got theirs out into the world I would never be allowed to. So that was my goal, to make sure that mine got there first. I knew that she would never be taken seriously if she was brought into a world where Disney had told their Polynesian tale.
So that certainly led to the big twist that happened with the Yarnsworld stories, the fact that they’re spread out all over the place. And then I just embraced that. And I was thinking about this because I knew you were going to ask this question about were Those Brave Foolish Souls from the City of Swords came from. And it just, I think it just caught my interest. I’ve always liked this idea of the Zorro-style sword fighters. I’ve always been very intrigued by Central American, you know, luchador culture. I struggled to understand it for a very long time because it’s just so other to what I was used to experiencing. But the more I looked into it was eventually able to embrace this idea of these colorful personalities defining themselves by their bands and the gangs that the luchadors are in, that all combined together into the story that took shape in the City of Swords.
Travis: I think before you’ve mentioned in another interview, you’ve considered writing a proper epic fantasy trilogy somewhere in the Yarnsworld universe?
Benedict: Yeah, definitely I am. That one’s definitely on the cards. I’m not certain if it will be the next Yarnsworld book I write. At the moment, I’m working on returning to the Crescent Atolls. So the current book is called To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl. So that’s a follow up to Where the Waters Turn Black. I had considered returning to the City of Swords. I’ve got half a tale for that one. But actually, this Yarnsworld epic fantasy is vying for position at the moment. So I’m uncertain what I’m going to do in the Yarnsworld after this one. And it will be in a new setting, but I’m not really going to talk too much about that one, if that’s okay.
Travis: We don’t want to spoil too much, keep it secret! In general, other than the Knacks, a common theme in Yarnsworld is the power of stories. And that kind of unites all of them together. Why do you think we as humans find stories so meaningful?
Benedict: Oh, okay. I’ll just speak for the whole human race here.
Travis: Well why do you find stories so meaningful?
Benedict: I think there’s a lot for us to find in stories. And I think it’s different for different people. I think it’s different, depending on where your head is at the time. Obviously there’s just the basic entertainment idea. There’s this What If aspect, isn’t there? Or even finding out someone’s life story. A lot of the time we’re thinking “what if this happened to me?” I think there’s a lot of finding ourselves in stories as well. I think that’s why a lot of readers gravitate towards characters. A lot of the time when you talk to people about what they enjoyed about a story it’s the characters they often end up talking about. And I think a lot of that is finding yourself in characters. Which can be a little bit scary, when you consider some of the characters that you may end up reading.
Benedict: I think that’s true. I think if we’re really honest with ourselves… A lot of us like to think of ourselves as fantastic, human beings. I’m sure we all are, of course. You know, I think it would be madness to deny that there’s a capacity for us to behave or even think in ways that maybe we never actually would, but it’s quite interesting to explore that through the medium of watching another character do some awful things.
I think that’s why flawed characters work really well for us. I was thinking about this, and I kept going back to Senlin Ascends, Josiah Bancroft’s book. If you’ve read the story–and I know you have, Travis–but if people listening to this have read the story, Senlin is not a classic hero. Especially at the beginning of it. But I actually think that’s what makes them work. Because if we’re honest, I think Senlin is probably more like how a regular person would behave when put into the situation that he’s put into. His prejudices are very much there on his sleeve, you know, it’s very clear what his prejudices are and how that informs his awful decisions. But I actually think that’s quite realistic. And I think that’s one of the reasons why a lot of people do latch on to him in that story.
Travis: Well, and as readers, I know I definitely latched onto him when all he wants to do is to get home and find a good book to curl up by the fire with. Maybe drink a cup of tea. He doesn’t really want to be going on these grand adventures.
Benedict: Exactly. It’s Bilbo Baggins, as well.
Benedict: But that’s what would happen, isn’t it? That’s how real people cope with it. I think actually in Senlin’s case and in Bilbo’s case as well, they move away… Oh, slight spoiler warning, if you’ve not read The Hobbit or Josiah’s stories. But I think it’s quite interesting to see these regular people grow more into the hero mold. Certainly Senlin hasn’t quite got there yet. But he’s grown a lot. I think there’s a lot of wish fulfillment in that as well, because we’d like to think that eventually we’d be able to deal with these situations once we got over the initial shock. And I do also believe that how you engage the story is very much based not only on your personal interests, but also just where your head is at that time.
I remember reading Steven Erikson’s The Gardens of the Moon for the first time. I had been working in a bookstore, and my manager had said, “This is my favorite book, my favorite book ever, you must read this book.” And I picked it up and I read it and… I bounced off that book hard. I really struggled to make sense of what I had read, I did not enjoy it. It was not working for me at all. I just casually mentioned to him that “Yeah that was a story.” And that was it. But then a few years later, I had heard so much about it. So many other people encouraging me to have a go and I picked it up again. I thought, I don’t know why I’m doing this, this is not going to work. And it was the BEST STORY I’d ever read. And it was almost like whiplash that weekend because I tore through it, I couldn’t remember any of the stuff happening. I sat back afterwards, just before I ran out to grab them volume, and I was thinking “What? What has just happened?”
Travis: So you are a Malazan convert?
Benedict: Well, yes, I eventually bounced off the series again. When we switched settings and characters so many times… I think what happened is I had this massive fever storm of picking them all up and devouring them and when I get to that stage with stories, sometimes it can all blend in together. A lot of Terry Pratchett’s books I kind of struggled to separate them from each other for the same reason.
But eventually with Malazan I put it aside, and I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never actually gone back to it. I do want to because I really did enjoy it, up to the point where I didn’t. And I’m convinced that I will have that same fantastic experience when I want to pick it up again. But I’d like to read it again from the start, and much like the Wheel of Time, that is a big ask. Especially with my current life. Someday.
But prior to that, much like Senlin, I had it in my idea that if I like it, it’s good. And if I don’t like it then it’s bad and people who do like the bad stuff, they’re wrong. And eventually I realized that’s clearly incorrect, because I was wrong earlier. I didn’t enjoy it earlier and I do enjoy The Gardens of the Moon now. It’s me that’s informing a lot of that. It’s not the quality of the book. It’s also where my head is and am I the right person for this book? And am I right person now for this book? So I do think there’s many elements of that we struggle to deal with as well.
Travis: Yeah, I agree completely. Books are such personal things. It’s really hard to say what is objectively a great story and what is just a story that works for you. And like you said, I have tons of stories that are on my Someday Eventually I Will Get Around to Trying Them Again list. But I have no idea when that is. And I guess we should probably mention the story that, as of the time this releases, I think you will have just published the day before. The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon is your newest story. So can you talk a little bit about the origins of how that came about?
Benedict: The Kings of the Wyld. It’s all Nicholas Eames’s fault. Because I fell in love with his book, and I fell in love with how his book made me feel. I listened to Kings of the Wyld on audio, and I embarrassed myself many times in public. Which was not a new experience to me at all. But it was a new experience because of the fact that I was listening to his book in public. I actually almost crashed my car the when I first started listening to it.
Travis: Oh no…
Benedict: Yeah, well, I didn’t. So that’s good. But just the unexpected peals of laughter that came from me just from from reading his stories. I distinctly remember in the supermarket picking up frozen peas and just exploding and having to move away quickly so that people weren’t looking at this weirdo snickering away in the frozen food aisle. Just the sense of joy that I had afterwards, I wanted to create something that had this sense of fun that he managed to capture.
It’s not Kings of the Wyld, by the way, I wouldn’t want you to bounce hard off The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon. It’s definitely more that sense of fun that I was trying to capture.
I think at one point, I’d convinced myself that the Yarnsworld was somewhere I could tell any story in that setting. Eventually, I realized, you know what, I don’t think it’s going to work. I think people are going to expect the Yarnsworld stories to be a wee bit darker. And I don’t think I was at the stage where I was comfortable writing something with a big tonal shift. But also, this idea of creating this new mad world where characters can go on wild adventures that hopefully, as a reader, people won’t have experienced before, where I could really throw a lot of the rule book out the window.
And that’s definitely where The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon came from. I just wanted somewhere where I could do something wild and fun and go crazy. I’ve mentioned a few times talking about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original run on the Fantastic Four, in the comics. And actually, if you if you look at what happened in their run on that story, it formed so much of the Marvel universe that exists today. I mean, they’ll tell one little tale and say “Oh, yeah, by the way, here’s this hidden kingdom where this guy dressed up as a Black Panther is ruler. Yeah. And he’s great.” There’s so much depth in that one little throwaway story that it spun off into its own massive franchise. They’d say, “Yeah, this guy, he’s made of silver and he surfs through the cosmos. Okay, on to the next story.” It was just this pregnant sort of microcosm of fantastic ideas.
I don’t know if they were deliberately doing it at the time, but it felt like this rich universe building experience where there were all of these one-off stories that were forgettable–I mean that they did exist, but there’s just so much richness in there as well. And I wanted somewhere I could do that, where I could just throw out these mad ideas that hopefully would stick with people. But then move on to get to the next adventure.
And DuckTales! It seems mad to be talking about this when discussing fantasy novels. But when you think about DuckTales or any of those cartoons, the world building that went on to create what they’re able to do with something like that was fantastic. You could have a heist story one week, and then the next story could be traveling in time or flying up into space. I wanted something with that kind of versatility where I could have these characters that are a little bit larger than life, and you could make it fit into any kind of story, but the setting is so important for that. So I just wanted something in the Darkstar Dragon where it felt like anything could happen. So that was the kind of world I was trying to create there.
Travis: Well, the setting you accomplished in the Darkstar Dragon definitely stands out to me. And I think you used the word universe building? And that’s what it really feels like. Because now you’re not just building a single world, you’re sort of building a multiverse here.
Benedict: I should say thank you, that’s nice to hear that I’ve achieved. But I have zero plans to do spinoffs or anything like that at the moment. I just want to focus on the characters that we have there, on their journey. But I did want it to feel like that. I wanted it to feel like there’s a lot going on. I mean there is a lot going on in my head. But for the reader, I did want it to feel like it wasn’t just throwaway. So who knows? Who knows? Maybe in the future.
Travis: Yeah, well, you have the possibility there. You’ve planted the seeds. And I guess if you want to return or explore new stories, you have that option available.
Benedict: Yeah, yeah. We’ll see what happens. I’ll keep you posted.
Travis: So I definitely noticed in Darkstar that your side characters felt like some of your most vivid yet. So did you approach designing your characters any differently in these than you have in your previous stories?
Benedict: Hmm. How am I going to put this. Character is something that I work hard at. I think it’s because I have to. There’s certain elements to my writing that I feel come naturally to me. And I think character is something where I’m really trying to push myself. And so I certainly did go out of my way with these guys. And again, this idea of wanting it to feel like universe building, I wanted a lot of the side characters to feel like they could be the main characters of their own stories.
Again, I don’t have any particular plans to go down that route. But I wanted to feel like it could happen. So I certainly would say I put a lot of work in developing the five main characters that have popped up in the character art–or that will have popped up in the character art reveals by the time that this podcast goes out. Maybe not all of them will make it to the page. I’m saving a little bit for future books, but I certainly did spend a lot of time on them. And hopefully that comes across in the writing.
Travis: Right. And another thing I can’t not mention is, your covers are always beautiful but the Darkstar cover in particular is just incredible.
Benedict: Yes. I am absolutely gifted by working with Jenny from Seedlings Designs. She is fantastic, and she definitely elevated herself. I probably say this every time she produces a cover–I think all her work is fantastic. I’m in love with her Yarnsworld work. But I knew Jenny had been doing a lot of work on her illustration skills recently. And she’d been wanting to develop that side of her talents. And I’d found out about this and very cheekily said to her I want to be the first. Me, please!
So actually, the story has been ready for a wee bit longer. I normally don’t sit on a story that long. But I was sitting around waiting for Jenny to be comfortable to have a go at this. And it was definitely well worth the wait. I mean, I I think her work’s amazing anyway, but the Darkstar Dragon cover is absolutely beautiful. So yes, she’s amazing. And I hope I’m going to be able to continue to work with her and that nobody steals her away from me . She is in incredible demand at the moment, as she well deserves to be. So yes, I’m absolutely blessed to get to work with her.
Travis: Not only is your art from Jenny amazing, but you also find creative ways to take advantage of that art. I know last year, you had a cover reveal where you sent out little snippets of the cover to a bunch of different blogs. And then you had the final reveal at the end. And I think this year you’re planning on doing individual character portraits? Can you talk a little bit about how you creatively use art?
Benedict: So I think this is going to pop back to my my ego again, which has popped up a few times in this interview, which is a wee bit worrying. From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court came out last year, and as you might imagine, I get quite excited when a new book is supposed to be released. Of course that’s going to be the case for me, because I’ve been working for the best part of a year on these stories, but I wanted to try to share or encourage that kind of excitement in readers. I do like it when my favorite writers have new stories come out, and you know, I’ve got a lot of favorite writers! And they’re always bringing out stories. It’s a great experience when that happens, but I wanted to add a little bit more excitement to these stories for other people, just to have this teasing effect.
It’s not something that I’ve come up with by myself. Other people have done it. Again, actually, the comics industry in particular, has been very good at these slow teases and reveals to build up excitement. And with Jenny’s covers in particular, why would you not do that? I think that would be a wasted opportunity to not use the idea of a new cover from Seedlings Designs. You know, we’re going to get to see it… but not just yet! And it’s also a great way to get the community involved. The blogging community has been fantastically supportive of me in the few years that I’ve been out here. And I guess in some ways it’s also a little bit of a way to give back to that as well and to get everyone involved. I don’t know how successful it’s been. I enjoy it.
Again, I think this whole idea of ego stroking. It’s quite nice to, you know, have this to look forward to in the lead up to it. As we record this, actually, later on today, the first of the these character portraits of the Darkstar Dragon crew is going to be revealed. So it’s quite exciting for me. I don’t know how meaningful it will be to my readers at the moment. It’s just this idea of trying to capture that excitement and make it a bit more meaningful for people. But yes, why would you not? Why would you not do this? I’m surprised that we don’t see this more often. And hopefully, if it starts to have an impact, we will see more people doing this.
Travis: Yeah, it’s just one of those ideas where you think “Well, of course, this makes so much sense! This is what you should be doing.” But it doesn’t seem like a lot of people are doing that.
Benedict: I think it would help significantly if I could prove that it was also effective. So I’m working on that. Give me a decade or so and I will convert everyone.
Travis: So another thing that I really loved about The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon is the game of Eshak. I’m not sure if I’m saying that correctly.
Benedict: Well, I’m not sure either because it’s the first time I’ve heard it read out loud. So yes, let’s go for that. That is now canon!
Travis: Unique in-world fantasy games are kind of my kryptonite. I love it whenever they pop up in a series. And so I definitely took note of Eshak. So I guess, what inspired that? Do you have a love of games in books as well? Where are you going with that?
Benedict: I love games, I love board games. And I knew early on that Jetta, who is the big Eshak player in The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon, I knew that she was going to have an obsession. So I thought I’d give her my obsession. And so that’s where Eshak came. And then obviously, knowing the kind of setting that she was going to find herself in, I wanted to come up with something that would link into this sort of multi-dimensional setting. I mean, I love board games… board games and stories! I like the idea of them. My problem is I try to play them.
A lot of writers–this comes from films more actually–do get their work translated into board games, and it doesn’t always work. I think there’s a lot of artistry involved in making a good game in the first place. And I think the idea of trying to adapt a game that sounds good on paper into a game that actually plays well in real life is a very difficult challenge to put on a designer’s shoulders. I think the best examples of that are games that really are just spins on real-world existing games. Like Thud! I don’t know if you’ve played Thud from Discworld?
Travis: I have not.
Benedict: So I’ve got this gorgeous Thud set upstairs that’s hardly been used. But it is certainly based off of that Viking game, the name of which I have just forgotten, which is very embarrassing. But it plays beautifully. Because, you know, it was based on a rule set that’s already existed. So I think that’s what work best. Would Eshak work as a real game if we were able to travel dimensions? I don’t know. I certainly have rules for it but I don’t know how in depth… I’d really have to take a big spin into LitRPG I think to put that down on paper in the stories. I might try it .
Travis: Well there you go. You heard it here first! The next up is LitRPG.
Benedict: That’s right. There we go.
Travis: Well, I definitely knew that you were interested in board games. I think I’ve seen your Sunday Twitter threads about that. You have like a weekly board game night?
Benedict: Yeah, I have actually stopped tweeting them because I think it was very niche. I’m very lucky to have a local crew of miscreants who are happy enough to roll dice and scream at each other over a table most Sundays. So I’m definitely very lucky to have that. Because I know that having a wee group like that is quite rare. And I think most people who do enjoy games tend to collect games a lot, but not actually get a lot of opportunities to play them. It can be difficult to organize like-minded people.
Travis: I’m feeling called out right now. I’m staring at a stack of probably about 50 different board games, some of them are still wrapped.
Benedict: Oh nice. We have cupboards dedicated. We recently got a bit of work done in our home. And a lot of that revolved around making sure we have correct board game storage, which is not sufficient for our needs. But at least we now have somewhere to proudly display a few of them.
Travis: At what point did you discover different kinds of games? So role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.
Benedict: I came very late to Dungeons and Dragons. But it wasn’t my first role playing experience. I had a group of friends in high school. I don’t know if you recall the Fighting Fantasy novels?
Travis: I do not.
Benedict: They are a bit of a spin on the Choose Your own Adventure stories. The whole idea of if you want to go left turn to page two, if you want to go right turn to page three. The Fighting Fantasy stories had that but they also had fighting elements as well. So they had very basic rules for what to do when you faced monster. It was a dice rolling game. And if you succeeded, you got to continue; if you died, you lied and pretended that you did fight the monster and you’d continue anyway.
But they were all the rage, certainly in Britain when I was young. And they brought out their own advanced Fighting Fantasy role playing games. So my friends and I sporadically would play adventures in that. And we certainly had a lot of fun. A few of us had got a hold of some games workshop miniatures and because we were kids and we had loads of time, we could come up with these elaborate set pieces.
One of my favorite memories of that was a time when I spent a weekend gluing together cereal boxes into buildings for the end set piece of a particular adventure. I set up the buildings to represent the city that our heroes were running around in and they unleashed this massive golden golem on the city, so we had this huge show. You know, a couple of foot tall Power Ranger bad guy figure that was chasing after these games workshop sized miniatures throughout the city and it was stomping on the buildings and the citizens were were flying everywhere. It’s the kind of experience I don’t think you could get away with as an adult, but as a child it’s thrilling.
I think for me, Dungeons and Dragons, I got into it when they started getting into podcasting? I think I picked it up earlier than… Critical Role is obviously a big deal now for the D&D community. But for me, it was, I don’t know if you’re aware of Acquisitions Incorporated?
Travis: I’ve heard of them. I’m not all that familiar with them though.
Benedict: It’s a couple of web comic artists who got together to play D&D as a podcast. And I think before then I had convinced myself it was very complicated game I liked. My previous experiences were very low on rules. I thought that was the way to play. And I realized that there’s no reason that D&D couldn’t be like that. And they’ve got such a rich history, and especially the current edition of the game. I think they went the right way with that. They removed a lot of the rules, and they made it a lot more freeform. And I think that is one of the reasons why it is so popular at the moment. I’ve definitely embraced that and tried to play it as much as I can.
Travis: Yeah. So how how did this newfound love for role playing games—or maybe not all that newfound—spin into Crit Faced? Which is a wonderful name, by the way. I love Crit Faced.
Benedict: Yes, we are very proud of it. We do get called out on that a wee bit, because we don’t drink during the show. It’s got a lot to do with the time zones and the fact that for some of us, it might be the evenings, but for many of the Americans, it’s midday, if not earlier, so it wouldn’t be appropriate. Maybe for the final episode of the current campaign. I’ll talk to them about that.
Travis: There you go.
Benedict: It actually goes back to Fighting Fantasy again. It was the second ever Self Publishing Fantasy Blog Off. That’s where all of the people involved in Crit Faced met each other. David had actually been around for longer. He was one of the finalists in the first Spiffbo. But Phil, Tim, Josiah and I just popped up during that.
And you know, we’ve talked about this a lot. I think there was something very special about that second iteration of the competition. Because certainly for me, a lot of the strong relationships that I have now in the fantasy community came about in that swirl of madness that was that second competition. And I do think a lot of the emerging talent in the fantasy community seems to have spawned from that particular iteration. I mean, I think the competition is fantastic, and is a gift to both readers and any indie writers out there. Perhaps it was just because it was my first experience, but there was something special about that second year of the competition.
But Phil had just set up a new writing room. And we’d been chatting a little bit, just congratulating him, obviously, on his successes. I did notice on the shelves, some old dog eared copies of the Fighting Fantasy books. And we got talking about it and realized that he had a love of D&D as well. And we joked about maybe getting some authors together to play a game. And then, because I can sometimes be a very literal person, he eventually got in touch with a few other people and sprang the idea on them.
Some people like David had played before. Josiah and Tim had not, but they don’t live in a bubble. So they’d heard of it. And because they’re fantasy authors they were very interested in exploring it. And we just got together, started rolling some dice, and it was a lot of fun.
And we played a campaign that nobody will ever hear because we didn’t record most of it. I mean, at the time there was no intention. I know Tim did float the idea. She obviously was well ahead of the curve. She did float the idea of letting other people listen to it at the very beginning. We decided not to do that, just for comfort reasons, especially as we got to grips with each other. At the time we didn’t really know each other that well, we’d chatted a little bit on Twitter, but that it. But leap forward a few years and I definitely feel I could call these guys very close friends. And I look forward to hanging out with them every month. Hopefully other people enjoy coming along for the ride.
Travis: I can speak as one of those people, and I do enjoy coming along for the ride. I am not caught up but I have enjoyed what I’ve listened to so far.
Benedict: Well, you need you need to catch up. The next couple of weeks are going to be difficult weeks. I’ll say no more.
Travis: As a writer who is also a Game Master, what types of differences do you notice with that? And what’s the appeal of using a game structure to tell these stories?
Benedict: The lack of control? Yes, the total and utter lack of control over what these guys do is actually part of the appeal. And this is not unique to me. For anyone who’s not listening to Crit Faced, I am the Dungeon Master, and in Dungeons and Dragons that means that you are the one who introduces the setting, introduces the opponents or the other characters, and the other players, they control their characters and move through the world. And never, never in a game, never ever has there been a game of Dungeons and Dragons where the players do what you think they’re going to do. Which is ridiculously frustrating.
When I write my novels, I tend to plot them quite heavily beforehand, so I know exactly what’s going to happen. And I’ve given up doing that when we play now because it’s a waste of time. And so they will just go off and do their own thing. There’s a lot of reactive storytelling. I know Vin Diesel’s actually spoken about this before as well. He reckons part of his acting skills have come from this idea of just improvisation and thinking on your feet, and that’s been encouraged because of his role playing experiences. And honestly I can see that. I do think it definitely throws you out of your comfort zone when you’re playing.
And now, actually, we’ve started playing recently with another group of writers, started playing a game which we’re not recording or anything like that. It’s slightly bigger group. And it’s the same, it’s just madness. It’s absolutely madnesss. But I think there’s something beautiful about it as well. The fact that there’s this uncontrolled chaos that you can still take a hold of together. All of you–because it’s definitely a communal effort–push it together into a story that makes sense and is satisfying. It doesn’t always work. You have to have the right people for the job. I mean, playing with with writers is a gift because they just have a natural mindset of making stories work. But I do think it’s something that anyone can have a go at as long as there is this collaborative mindset behind it.
I’m sure a lot of people who have played role playing games before have had terrible experiences, and a lot of that is because of self sabotaging. Not yourself, perhaps. But you might end up playing with somebody who delights in throwing the story off its wheels basically. That’s just not a great experience. It’s always nice when everyone’s all on the same page and trying to make the story work and make the characters’ actions make sense and fit with the setting.
Travis: Right. Yeah, the fun comes from the collaboration.
Benedict: Absolutely. Oh, yes. Yeah. And definitely, the unpredictability comes from that as well. As a Dungeon Master, you have to try to roll with what your characters are saying. I think there are a few moments in Crit Faced that I cringe at because I pretty much just say to somebody “No, no, that can’t happen.” That’s not your job. Your job is to say, “Yes and…” or “Yes but…” You know, “Yes, you can fly but watch out for those blood sucking monsters up there.” You should never say, “Look, that’s a bad idea. Let’s try something else.”
Travis: Right. Well, that’s probably about all the time we have. Thank you again, Benedict, so much. This has been such a pleasure.
Benedict: Oh, thank you. This has been wonderful. I am not used to having somebody stick around for this length of time as I ramble on. I’d love to obviously be able to come back and have a chat again, maybe?
Travis: Absolutely. You’re welcome anytime.
Benedict: And best of luck as well, on the podcast. I gather you guys have a lot in the bank already from what I’ve picked up from what I’ve listened to so far. So I’m looking forward to hearing what comes next.
Travis: And that’s our interview! Benedict Patrick was a pleasure to talk to. You can find Benedict on Twitter and Instagram at @Benedictpatty. That’s Benedict P-A-D-D-Y. He’s on Facebook as Benedict Patrick Books and his website is benedictpatrick.com. If the Flight of the Darkstar Dragon sounds intriguing, I highly recommend you check it out. I just recently finished my own copy and it was a ton of fun. And if you’ve already read it, maybe consider leaving the book review. Every little bit helps.
You can find us over at thefantasy.com or on Twitter and Instagram @thefantasyinn. If you enjoyed this interview, maybe consider leaving us review too? And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss our future episodes. October is going to an exciting month. We’ve got some killer guests coming on that I think you’ll love. And on that note, who else should we interview? Shoot us a tweet, comment on the blog post, or include your suggestions inside that five star review. We’d love to hear from you. That’s all for this week. See you next time.