Today we travel to West Midlands in the UK to chat with Lee Benson about how shyness, being a gallery owner, painting in watercolours, Casablanca, playing the piano, Coventry City, a newly plastered ceiling, gardening, mentoring teens, and orang-utans come together as part of Lee’s current and past life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in Halesowen West Midlands UK. I have a weekly radio show on Black Country xtra Called listen with lee. It’s available in the Black Country radio app.
How many published books do you have?
I have published 30 books so far. My first children’s book came out in 2000 followed by a second in 2002 then a good while later some more and in 2016 I had my first novel published. Now there are 11 children books, three novels for adults and a ghostly novella, plus several discographies of famous bands in conjunction with Andrew Sparke. I am most proud of my seven poetic collections which really are my take on the world with help from my hero Spike Milligan.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
Interesting question, I’m known for being loud and able to speak in front of many crowds. But in reality, given my large over six foot frame, I am quite a shy person. In my novels you do not know the name of the gallery owner and in my latest book a musician says to me in a pub in Plymouth “I didn’t quite catch your name”, I replied “I didn’t give it”.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
I don’t have an ideal place, occasionally I will sit using my iPhone notes app, be it on the bus, sitting in a park or sitting on a couch, I concentrate on editing in front of a computer as I have to enlarge the words and meticulously go through it all as am somewhat dyslexic. My computer is in my music room, so if I get distracted, I will go to the piano and play away then return to write feeling refreshed. Not always. An odd drop of whiskey or a glass of wine helps.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
‘Now you’re the artist deal with it’ actually is more or less true with a lot of imagination thrown in for good measure. I always wanted to be an artist since a young age, but being a first born, that somehow wasn’t the done thing, however having worked in the art world for over thirty years with the last fourteen owning my own gallery, I decided to take a leap and paint in watercolours. My rules of looking after staff was maintained throughout, but in the book I break the rules. Told you imagination is good fun.
What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?
This has to be Casablanca, I know every word and every scene, it never fails to make me want to see it again. In one of my children stories I added a scene where Humphrey Bogart in African Queen mode looks up at the sky and sees an egg flying by, just the way my mind works!!
Can you play a musical instrument?
I do play the piano, having been taught from age 7 but to be honest, I really didn’t enjoy all the scales and developed my own sort of blues style to amuse myself and then one day I showed my tutor who was astounded as he had no idea how to play like that.
Then at fifteen I had jazz syncopation lessons by a chap who used to have an affair with some woman next door whilst I was practicing, I must put that in a book one day. Then from the tender age of 18 I left home and played piano around Europe and the Middle East to pay for food etc. that was fun.
At the age of 24, I joined a group with moderate commercial success, however my real claim to fame was as a co writer for the song for Coventry City back in the eighties and played it live on Blue Peter gaining a real Blue Peter badge from the one and only Biddy Baxter herself (She was the producer of the show). Coventry went on to win the FA cup against Spurs and as far as I know they still play the song when they score a goal. Shame I don’t receive any royalties!! I came out of musical retirement in my sixties and started playing again. Terrifying!
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
Wow. How long have you got? I love my garden and spend lots of time in it, my wife sews the seeds in the potting shed, and I do the rest, I love getting my hands into the soil. It’s a real grounding, and as its a large garden, we have had several covid safe meet ups in it and everyone loves the garden, which is so satisfying.
A romantic touch, when we were viewing the property I said to my fiancé, we could get married in this garden, something the owners heard, and that was the reason we were able to purchase as six others wanted the house. Nice eh!
I also am the creative director of a children’s charity and help mentor teens in the big world of ours using artistic methods to enable them to feel better about themselves. We also worked with special needs adults and dementia sufferers and just completed project called Remember me.
Have you ever had any “Do It Yourself” disasters?
Many years ago, when I was renovating a lovely victorian house, I accidentally banged a nail right through a heating pipe. The flow was stemmed by me holding my finger on the hole for an hour. I managed to gain my younger daughters attention and told her to ring my plumber friend on the mobile. All instructions completed and he turned up an hour later to stop the flow. And then once I hit my head on the rafters and fell through the newly plastered ceiling. Not only that, but I then took my leg out the hole unbalanced and fell through another part, what an expensive re plastering. What a twit!
What is the most enjoyable aspect you’ve found through writing?
I feel like I vanish into a different world and write from within the story. It actually can be exhausting. For example, in one chapter, I drive to Scotland, set up an exhibition, plenty of partying hard, then work a four day show and eventually drive home after packing it all away. I was mentally and physically exhausted afterwards and all I did was sit and write the chapter.
With my poetry, I sometimes don’t realise I’ve written it down so when I read it out later I am quite astonished with the result, recently my poetry has been uploaded and performed on the authorpeida podcasts and the chap seems to love my style, I am truly humbled.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What do you do to prepare yourself?
Actually I go very quiet. This stems from way back when I was in a band, before a gig I would just sit in a corner and avoid everyone till walking on stage, The same goes to reading and performing, be it in a restaurant, an after dinner speech or just performing in a group performance. Don’t eat chocolate before talking and do not drink alcohol beforehand, it does not help. Those moments of calm before performing ground you, it clears the air, then hey presto off you go, and the next minute it’s all over.
Badly explain your hobby.
I sit down on my fold up chair. I look at the view for quite a while, then I squeeze tubes of colour and smear them with a wet brush over the paper. Voila.
Monkeys or penguins.
I love orang-utans. Not exactly monkeys and am writing a children’s tale about the human destruction of borneo with sunbeams and orang-utans suffering. As the saying goes, Save planet earth.
What are you currently working on?
A story about living beside a person with bi polar. My brother was severely bipolar and the book will be called ‘I didn’t shoot Bob Dylan? Did I ?’ There are tragic and incredibly funny incidents in something which a lot of us do not know enough about.
Tell us about your most recent book.
Now you’re the artist deal with it completes the trilogy from gallery owner to artist, with lots of wine crazy folk and everything you don’t expect to happen in the art world. The cover represents a model who on entering the loo in the study finds a rat. Actually a gerbil and screams from the top of the seat.
It was wonderful to have you on MTA and to learn more about you, Lee! Wishing you all the best, with much success! – Camilla
Where to purchase the book:
Lee’s website: https://andrewsparke.com/lee-benson/
Lee’s Amazon page
Connect with Lee:
Facebook: lee’s books
linked in and twitter: @leebenson55
Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf2JQYq0B2M0o8LWQfkyrnA
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