So I recently read “Dodger” by James Benmore – review to follow – but first I tracked him down to find out some more about the novel as well as some other things and here is what he had to tell me.
How did it start for you, this road of bringing the Artful Dodger back to life?
The Artful Dodger is one of my favourite characters in all fiction and I’ve always been interested to know what his continuing adventures might be like. The scene in Oliver Twist in which Jack Dawkins is up in court for stealing a silver snuff box and proceeds to give the magistrate and the arresting officer nothing but lip is a great example of the comic exuberance that Dickens was such a master of. That said, I’ve often been disappointed that we never saw the irrepressible boy thief again after that. He’s packed off to Australia for six years and Dickens never even tells us what became of him. Soon after he leaves England the rest of his criminal community – Fagin, Nancy, Sikes, etc, are all destroyed in horrible ways and I wondered what it would be like for him to return home and discover that. I imagined that he would be furious with Oliver Twist for bringing about those events and this thought was the one that really inspired my novel. I don’t just want to tell his story but I also wanted to tell it from his point of view.
Do you have a favourite original character from “Dodger”?
That would definitely be Warrigal, the aborigine who returns with Dodger from his time in Australia and is fraudulently posing as his colonial valet. He’s the dark shadow to Jack throughout the book, following him silently throughout his journey and his motives are mysterious. I liked writing him because he’s the opposite of Jack in many ways. Jack never stops talking but Warrigal communicates largely through behaviour. Jack is a thief but Warrigal – he is told – is a killer. But Warrigal became more of a moral character as I continued to write him because he doesn’t lie and has a greater sense of honour than Jack does.
Are you a Dickens fan generally?
Hugely. There are few writers I admire more. It was a great honour for me last year when I was asked to be writer-in-residence at Gad’s Hill School in Rochester, Kent which was his former home. The best part of my first visit was when the Head of English took me into his old study – the one from all those illustrations – and I saw a copy of Dodger there on the shelves. I hope the ghost of Dickens isn’t too disgusted by my impertinence in writing it. I have visions of it being found lying on the floor on the office every morning after he’s tossed it across the room.
Can you tell us what’s next for Dodger and friends?
The sequel to the book is called Dodger of the Dials and is out in June. Its two years later and Jack is now running his small criminal gang from the Seven Dials vicinity in London and trying to approach the criminal life in a more professional way. He’s a burglar to order and he gets hired to steal particular items from particular properties. This, as you can imagine, gets him into all sorts of trouble.
Desert Island Book
If I was stuck on a desert island I would want a fat classic to keep me company. I’ve always been interested in Don Quixote by Cervantes but its so massive that its just sat on my book shelf gathering dust for years. Perhaps on a desert island I would finally get around to reading it.
Something you wish you were good at but are not
Poetry. I love reading it and hearing it but when it comes to writing it myself I get paralysed. I’m a very self-conscious poet and the only time I’ve ever really tried was as part of a writing course. I’m much more comfortable telling stories.
What would be your dream job not involving writing
I’d like a job that pays a lot of money for very little effort. If you hear of anything then do let me know.
No 1 item on your bucket list
I’ve always wanted a red metal bucket with the word FIRE on in white letters. The sort that clowns use when they are pretending to be firemen. Have I misunderstood the question?
Ha! Thanks James!
After five years in an Australian penal colony, the Artful Dodger returns to London in search of a hidden fortune. Unaware of the fate that befell Twist, Fagin and Sikes, Dodger revisits the criminal underworld of Dickensian London to seek out his old comrades, any of whom might possess the key to the treasure.
I had my eye on this one for a while before I actually read it – I’m not a huge Dickens fan (Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities being the two I loved) but one of his characters I always adored was The Artful Dodger. So I wavered between not wanting that character spoiled for me but also extremely intrigued to see what a new writer could do.
Well I loved it. Pretty much perfectly done I would say. Still capturing the ambience and feel of the times, giving Dodger new heart and voice then sending us on a rollicking adventure all around the streets of London and beyond, this was the most fun I’d had with a novel in a long long time.
A “treasure hunt” of a tale, this expands beautifully on Mr Dickens original mythology, giving extra heart to Fagin’s kitchen, a well imagined expansion of some well loved characters and introduces us to some new ones all of whom are extremely well drawn. Oh I did love Warrigal, and there is also a most terrifically villainous villain to boot. It is addictive, humerous, fascinating and most of all, fun to read.
Not that I presume to speak for long gone authors, but I’m fairly convinced Mr Dickens would approve. As a reader I certainly approve – another adventure awaits in “Dodger of the Dials” coming later this year and I will be the very first in line. No doubt about it.
You can follow James on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/jhenrybenmore
Purchase Information: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dodger-James-Benmore/dp/1780874677/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
Pre-Order Information: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dodger-Dials-James-Benmore-ebook/dp/B00HVBK14Q/ref=tmm_kin_title_0
Happy Reading Folks!