Today’s guest at Booktastik is a debut Australian author who has come up with an original story that is both entertaining and engrossing. Here title, The Goddess Strikes Back, is told from the point of view of a cat, and contains elements of myth, time travel, and local Australian culture, woven together with humour. I can’t wait to find out more about Mary Benton, so let’s do that right now.
Welcome, Mary. Thanks so much for joining us. My first question may not be original, but I’m curious as to where you came up with the idea for your novel, especially as it’s your first. You’ve just jumped in with something fresh and fun. How did it come about?
Hello, Dionne. It’s good to talk with you. I got the idea for the novel from a cartoon in a newspaper. In the cartoon, the Prime Minister was explaining something to three large cats who were sitting there looking up at him. I saw them as senators. My main character gets educated, becomes a criminal lawyer, then a senator. Along the way, she has many adventures. She is a cat, but a woman as well. She has links with Bastet, the Cat Goddess of Ancient Egypt, and regularly visits her friend Queen Hatshepsut of the Eighteenth Dynasty. They knew each other in a former life.
Have you always wanted to be an author, and if so, what prompted you to finally write a book and publish?
Yes, I have always wanted to be an author, but found it hard to get published in the traditional way. I had good feedback from several people, including John Clarke, one of Australia’s top satirists, so I decided to persevere with this book.
Wow, that’s pretty impressive. John Clarke knows his stuff.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Iris Murdoch, John le Carre, Kingsley Amis, Tom Sharpe, Clive James, Colin Wilson, Jostein Gaarder, Paul Auster, Sebastian Faulks, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Stella Rimington.
How long did it take you to write The Goddess Strikes Back?
From start to finish, it took a few years.
What was the most difficult part of publishing for you?
I decided to self-publish, and this takes a lot of work, involving several people – an editor, proof reader, cover designer, people who do file conversion and distribution, marketing, etc. I now understand how much work traditional publishers do.
Do you have cats? And did you model any of the character’s personalities on any cat you have known?
No, I don’t have cats myself, as I live in an apartment. It would be too difficult. But I enjoy other people’s cats. They are so interesting to observe. I love them. My main character does have cat-like characteristics which transfer to the parts she plays in the human world. She is a double personality. This makes the character funny and interesting.
What genre/s would your book fit into?
The book is a political satire in the comic mode. Genres would include satire, comedy, humour.
Can you tell us a bit more about The Goddess Strikes Back?
The book is a satire and covers a lot of territory. Some of the targets it satirises include: politicians, police, lawyers, newspapers, spy scandals, telephone tapping, extradition proceedings, conspiracies, channellers, time travel, past life recall. While satirising these things, it uses them as an integral part of the story.
The book is fiction but it contains a subtle blend of minute bits from “real events” in history, mythology, and literature, as well as completely imaginary material.
It sounds like a hilarious and engaging read :).
The book has a basis in history and mythology. Have they been subjects you’ve always been interested in, or did the book awaken that interest in you?
I have always been interested in Ancient Rome. I didn’t know much about Ancient Egypt, but discovered that cats were sacred animals in that culture and they had a Cat Goddess, Bastet. This led me to research Ancient Egypt. So the two major strands underpinning the plot are Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt.
I also did a lot of research into the cat in history, art, and literature. This is a rich field.
Have you travelled to any of the places in the book, other than Australia?
No, I haven’t been to Egypt or Rome.
Are you working on anything at the moment, and if so, can you tell us about it?
I have some uncompleted things in a filing cabinet, but am not working on anything at the moment.
What has been the most enjoyable part of writing and publishing?
You learn a lot when you write a book, and the publishing route I took was a big learning curve. Difficult at times, but I enjoy learning new things.
What is the overarching theme in the book?
What I have learned over and over again is that politics never changes. From Ancient Rome to the present the same issues emerge. This perennial theme gives the book currency.
On the subject of currency, the book contains a spy scandal revealing the influence of the KGB in Australia. Although there is a satirical treatment of this the recent inquiries in America about the possible influence of Russia (unthinkable not long ago) give a piquancy to this theme in the book.
Thank you for your time, Dionne.
Totally agree about politics never changing, which is a shame, as it would be nice to have politicians who are honest and don’t do the circumlocution thing lol.
Mary, it’s been a pleasure. I hope you do get some of those ideas out of your filing cabinet and into a new book, as it’s clear you have some amusing and wonderful ideas. And, readers, thanks for joining us for another author interview. Have a wonderful day, and happy reading!
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