I love to know about the person behind the book. As part of the blog tour with Random T Tours, for The Hunting Season by Tom Benjamin, I am delighted to share with you some interesting facts about the author!
TEN THINGS ABOUT ME by Tom Benjamin
- I’ve lived in Bologna for over a dozen years. We have an apartment in the city centre, ‘inside the walls’ as the Bolognese put it, even though the medieval walls were torn down in 1901 to accommodate the city’s expansion, creating quite a scandal even then.
- I never dreamed of living in Italy, it happened entirely by accident after my wife was offered work here. Before meeting her, I had only visited Italy once, and before moving to Italy did not know a word of Italian.
- My first job in Bologna was minding the door at a canteen for the poor and homeless. It was about as good as I could get – apart from English teaching – with my then-basic level of Italian. In fact, I took the job precisely because I was ‘in it for the long-term’. I was an immigrant and needed to learn the language, and to do that had to work with Italians.
- The toughest bit about working at the canteen was after we had let in the people with a ‘ticket’ at midday I would go down to count the spare places below. I would then have to step out into the crowd – usually of around a dozen or more, many of who would have been waiting since around six that morning – and choose who got to eat. There were never enough places for everyone, and there was no ‘first come, first serve’ rule. I just had to choose.
- I have always written fiction, but getting published was a long time coming – I think my biggest challenge was finding a subject. I never imagined myself publishing Italian-set mystery novels featuring an English detective, but then I never imagined myself living in Italy!
- Before I moved to Italy, I had quite a varied career, starting off as a reporter on local and national newspapers before becoming a press officer (or ‘spokesman’) for Scotland Yard in the Nineties. Do I draw inspiration from those days? Definitely – I certainly see the ‘Life On Mars’ style policing in my depiction of the Italian police, but then, I often remark that Italy is much like the 1970s with new technology.
- After the police, I spent about a decade working for international aid agencies and travelled extensively across the developing world and in zones of conflict. I guess you can see a little of this in my Bologna novels – a certain sympathy for the underdog. The truth can be found at the fringes. It is here you glimpse the genuine character of a society, just as you do when an individual is under pressure. I think this is the strength of modern crime fiction, and possibly why it has become especially popular today. Western society seems driven to eliminate risk, to plaster over the cracks. I think many of us feel a vague sense of unease. Crime fiction provides an outlet in which the worst of human nature can be explored. In a society that can often seem to be simmering with tension beneath its respectable veneer, crime fiction knows where the bodies are buried.
- After my time in oversees aid, I became a government adviser responsible for implementing the UK government’s public health programmes against the abuse of alcohol and drugs (FRANK). I actually led the development of the first anti-binge drinking campaigns and those targeting long-term harm. Our tactic was to scare the hell out of the public and, much to the alcohol industry’s chagrin, it worked – the years our campaigns ran, consumption dropped by the most since records began. And then when the financial crisis hit, the government withdrew its funding from public health campaigning and consumption rose again.
- I was also negotiated getting those alcohol unit labels on wine and beer and so on. I’m not sure how much difference they made, but at least they give you something to read when you’ve had too much to drink!
- If I had a single piece of advice to would-be writers, it would be… don’t ignore the market. Yes, there’s plenty else you should do, but publishers have mortgages to pay, too.