Today Benjamin Dean joins Ian Eagleton in The Reading Realm to talk about his debut book Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow!
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your new book Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow?
Trying to do the summary without giving away spoilers is always like trying to eat toast in bed without getting crumbs everywhere, but I’ll give it a good go! Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow follows 12-year-old Archie Albright and his quest to find out what secret his parents are hiding from him. All he knows is that they seem to hate each other right now, but they’re determined to keep him in the dark. With the help of his best friends, Bell and Seb, Archie goes on a journey to figure out what’s going on and, when he does finally get to the truth, what he can do to make things better. Cue outlandish ideas, a disastrous but colourful adventure, and a rainbow army of characters as backup. But that’s all I can tell you!
Archie is a great character and tells the story in a friendly, warm and engaging manner. Did it take you long to find his voice?
It really did but, annoyingly, it was actually there the whole time and I just didn’t realise! I’d been drafting End of the Rainbow for quite a while – maybe a year or so – and it just wasn’t going anywhere. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was sulking in a coffee shop (when we could still actually go in them) and, in a grumpy keyboard smash, I just started typing the opening line: “Okay, so you’re in a bookshop reading this…” I wasn’t really being serious at first, but I was so frustrated with myself that I just kept almost sarcastically typing and then when I read it over it just kind of…clicked? That first chapter was the easiest thing I’d written during the whole process until that point, so I just kept going with it and voila, Archie and his voice was born!
The story moves along at a great pace as Archie and his friends plot and scheme to find out what is going on with Archie’s dad. How did you ensure this page-turning quality? What did you have to edit out of the story?
It definitely wasn’t always like that. I think I had a draft of about 20,000-30,000 words and I remember reading it back and just being bored. Nothing was happening! So, I scrapped pretty much all of that, started again and introduced the big adventure in the second half of the book. That gave the characters something to work towards and I was so excited about where the story was taking me (I’m not much of a planner, so I knew where they were headed, but I didn’t really know what would happen when they got there – that surprised me as much as it might surprise you!) In terms of what got cut, there wasn’t really anything that got edited out of the first draft – some bits just needed fleshing out or switching slightly to keep the pace and excitement. Without giving away too many spoilers, I did use blackmail as a plot device in a really early draft before we went out on submission…it wasn’t my finest hour. I ended up taking that out completely, but the tentacles of that spread into 15 chapters of the book, so you can imagine how fun it was fixing that mess!
What does a typical day look like for you when you’re writing?
For me, I’m not really one for chaining myself to a desk and forcing myself to write for hours on end. I just can’t do it! I wish I could but it’s not my style at all. I have a full-time job as a celebrity reporter too, so it’s just not realistic. I tend to write in short bursts, about 1000 words at a time over an hour or two at most. I might do this twice a day on a weekend if I’m really in the zone, but that’s my general style. I don’t have a desk, so I just sit at the dining table with more coffee mugs and chocolate wrappers than I’m willing to admit and try to get it done.
How do you think your career as a journalist helped you to write this book? Did it hinder the writing of it in anyway?
I wouldn’t say it hindered it at all – if anything, being a celebrity reporter actually helped. The style and tone of work that I do in my day job is very similar to the style that I used to create Archie’s voice, in that it’s really casual and chatty. The only hinderance it has is after working 9-5 writing for work, the last thing you want to do is then close those tabs, open up a new document and start writing all over again. It can be quite mentally draining, but I make it work. I love what I do, so that definitely helps. People definitely have it much harder than me and have a lot more to juggle while trying to write on the side, so I’m very lucky and fortunate in that respect.
The front cover by Sandhya Prabhat is gorgeous! Can you remember how you felt when you saw it for the first time?
Of course! The first feeling was, obviously, pure joy. Sandhya did the most incredible job with the artwork and I honestly feel like the luckiest author alive to have her illustrate my book. As soon as I saw Archie for the first time, I nearly cried. The words you’ve written that have lived inside your head for so long just have this whole new vibrancy to them when you see the artwork. But I was also so relieved that it all turned out even better than I could’ve hoped for. I’m a writer and I can’t even draw a stickman, so I knew I wasn’t going to be any help in offering suggestions for the cover. That made me really anxious in the build-up because I knew if I didn’t like it, I probably wouldn’t be able to explain why I didn’t and what I wanted to change. But, in hindsight, that was silly – if you take one look at Sandhya’s Instagram page, you’ll understand why I knew I was in safe hands.
I wondered if you had any plans for a sequel or even any ideas about what Archie and Dad might be up to now?
Hmm, I don’t have concrete plans for a sequel, but there are definitely some ideas milling around. My second book that I’m writing now isn’t a follow up, but it’s definitely centred around similar themes and will be just as colourful as End of the Rainbow. I’ve definitely thought about what the central characters might be up to, and I’ve got story ideas for all of them, but I can’t even be all mysterious about it because there’s definitely nothing set in stone yet. What I can tell you for sure is that a character from End of the Rainbow will be making an appearance in my second book, but I’m not going to tell you who just yet…
What other LGBT+ YA books have you read and enjoyed recently?
One of my absolute favourites that I read not too long ago was They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. I’m obsessed with Adam and his work, and that book really caught my attention as soon as I saw it in the bookshop. The concept of straight up telling the reader, “Look, both of these characters are going to die just FYI” is so…I don’t know, rebellious? Like, it goes against all traditional storytelling and Adam’s just there like, “NOPE, SORRY, I SAID WHAT I SAID!” I also recently read a proof copy of Sarah Hagger-Holt’s Proud of Me, which I adored.
Finally, can you describe Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow in three words?
Is it cheating to use somebody else’s words? I saw someone call it “a rainbow hug” recently and that’s exactly what I wanted it to be. I think we could all do with a rainbow hug right now.