An Interview with Peter Benson

Born in 1956, Peter Benson was educated in Ramsgate, Canterbury and Exeter. His first novel, The Levels, won the Guardian Fiction Prize. This was followed by A Lesser Dependency, winner of the Encore award and The Other Occupant, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Award. He has also published short stories, screenplays and poetry, some adapted for TV, radio and many translated into other languages.

Peter wondering about his ristretto
Peter by a Canadian lake
Peter in a Cornish rectory


10 Questions

1) What led you into writing?

I wasn’t led into it – it led me. Paul Theroux said ‘You can’t want to be a writer. You have to be one.’ I’m not arguing.

2) What was your earliest career aspiration?

I wanted to be a merchant seaman, travel to the Far East, jump ship in Shanghai, travel through China and discover a new species of bear.

3) Can you describe your latest book Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke and its inspiration in thirty words?

Two lads find a greenhouse full of dope plants. They steal the plants. Bent policemen and Buddhist psychopaths chase the lads through the Somerset. The seed of the novel was sown in the 1970s, in a village in Somerset. It took thirty five years to germinate.

4) Do you have any plans for your next book?

I’m currently writing a novel about a 98 year old English aristocrat who’s waiting in his crumbling house for the police to arrive and arrest him for sticking a Toledo stiletto in the eye of a radio producer who said the wrong thing to his daughter.

5) What has been the most exciting moment in your career?

Too many careers and too many moments, but every time I change my phone number and email address is exciting. So lots of exciting moments.

6) What are you reading right now?

The Spooky Art (Some Thoughts on Writing) by Norman Mailer. ‘At your desk,’ he writes, ‘it is best if you do not come to like yourself too much.’ Easy.

7) If you could have dinner with any three people, past or present, who would they be?

Caravaggio, Mary Magdalene and Sarah Palin. The first for the drink, the second for the gossip, the third for the humiliation.

8) Which period in history would you most like to have lived through?

Paris in the 1920s.

9) If your house was on fire, which three books would you save from the flames?

Animal, edited by David Burnie, Montaigne’s Essays, Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan.

10) What do you do to relax?

I walk from my place to a café on the corner of the street, sit at a table, drink a bottle of red wine, smoke cigarettes and watch people go by.

Find out more about Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke (out now)

Find out more about The South in Winter (out in Spring 2017)