M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in the economic, social and military history of Napoleonic Europe, educated at Boston University and St Andrews. Mr. Bennetts is a keen cross-country and dressage rider, as well as an accomplished pianist, who regularly performs music of the era, as both a soloist and accompanist. In addition to writing, riding and performing music, M.M. Bennetts is also a long-standing book critic for The Christian Science Monitor.
Mr. Bennetts is currently at work promoting his newest book, Of Honest Fame. He resides in England with his spouse. Readers can learn more about him, as well as his work, by visiting his website at www.mmbennetts.com.
Please tell us a bit about your book: Of Honest Fame — characters, plot, etc.
It’s a spy thriller set against a backdrop of Napoleonic Europe during the disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812, and it opens as a French assassin has been picking off several of the British agents in the Foreign Office’s network. This sets up a manhunt for the leak who’s betraying them, for the assassin and his operator.
There are three main characters: Thomas Jesuadon, a disgraced gentleman and a gambler who runs his own network of watchers and spies in London; Captain George Shuster, who is on secondment to the Foreign Office from the Peninsula; and a boy named Boy Tirrell, who spends his time out gathering information, anywhere from Paris to Berlin to Vienna.
Jesuadon’s muscle is in the form of an ex-farrier called Barnet. There’s also the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, and a Scotsman called Dunphail who doesn’t want anything to do with any of them, but unfortunately was a witness to a rather important event.
If you could meet, in person, any of your characters, who would it be and why?
I imagine I would enjoy meeting Georgie Shuster, because I admire his cunning, his self-containment and intellect and his utter devotion to duty, but I also enjoy his wry sense of humor which, despite all he’s been through in Spain and France, he hasn’t lost.
If you could fictionalize yourself and put yourself in any situation, how would it play out? Could you give us a scene/scenario of such an occurrence?
I would have piano lessons from Herr Beethoven in Vienna in the early 19th century — preferably after 1815. Although this would undoubtedly end up with him beating my hands with a switch and throwing books and things because I’ve never practiced enough.
Do you have any particular habits that you do while writing? Places you write the best, foods, drinks, etc that help set your “writing mood”?
I make many pots of tea, pour out a cup, drink half of it and then forget it’s there and have a while later to start again. When I’m stuck, though, I generally take the dog for a long walk down by the river and the old mill, usually with the iPod turned up, or go take a dressage lesson, which is so mentally demanding and requires such complete focus that it clears the mind of everything, and the result is that I can see where I’ve gone wrong and why. And that breaks the deadlock.
What are you reading right now?
Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807-1814 by Dominic Lieven.
Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books?
Favorite authors: Shakespeare, John Donne, H.D., Gerard Manley Hopkins, Charles Dickens, Tom Stoppard, Leo Tolstoy, P.G. Wodehouse, Dick Francis, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dorothy Dunnett, Patrick O’Brian, Adam Zamoyski, Tom Pocock, Norman Davies, Gregor Dallas…
If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I would have to say Sir Tom Stoppard, because he manages to be fantastically, hilariously funny while at the same time playing — not just using — but literally playing with the language so that it shimmers of its own accord. He also manages with such wit to raise the most serious of questions about art, science, politics, physics, so you’re laughing even while you’re reeling with the truth of what he’s saying. And his versatility is second to none: he writes screenplays such as Shakespeare in Love or Empire of the Sun and also plays like his trilogy, The Coast of Utopia. Of course, I am totally in awe of him, so if I could just sit in a corner, cowering and hidden behind a newspaper, while he talks to someone else, that would be brilliant.
Okay, here are a few “get to know you better” questions:
Please share with us a favorite memory.
My eldest brother is significantly older than I am, and on Christmas Eve, I’d be sent off to bed early. But when I was little, every year after he’d returned from the Midnight service, he would come and wake me to tell me that Father Christmas had been. And then holding me close, he’d carry me into the darkened living room, and so I had, always, that first glimpse of the tree and all the presents beneath it from the great height and comfort of his arms.
Please describe a perfect meal — including menu and those present.
There’s a tiny restaurant in Paris, a café down a side street near the hotel where we always stay, that does a divine Confit de Poulet au Citron. And quite frankly, I could eat a bucket of that Citron sauce. So, ideal meal: Confit de Poulet au Citron followed by freshly made Glace Vanille with the Beloved and the girls, who would be jabbering in their own mixture of French and English and laughing a great deal.
What are some of your favorite ways to relax?
Reading, playing the piano — Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin — or best in the world, out riding.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Where I live already. The countryside in every direction is just beautiful, the land, the skies, the seasons. I love it and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
If you could only read books by one author, who would it be? *I know, this is an inconceivable thought, lol.
This has to be the toughest question yet, but I think the answer must be P.G. Wodehouse. He was a genius with the language — it always appears effortless, it flows like a rippling stream, and he just makes me laugh so hard. And his books go on being funny, no matter how many times you’ve read them.
Share with us a few of your dreams. Also whether they have been fulfilled or are still a work in progress.
I’d love to hear Juan Diego Florez sing The Barber of Seville at the Royal Opera House. And I would love to ride the battlefields of the Peninsula — though not, I think, in high summer. I’ve also always wanted to ride across Scotland and from the South of England all the way to the north of Scotland. But as I have children, and will undoubtedly be paying for their education for some time yet to come, these will remain dreams.
What are some of your guilty pleasures?
I can’t think of any. This is horrible. I should very much like to impress everyone with the idea that I’m something other than a rather boring parent and author. The best I can do though is that I’m a notorious procrastinator — I shouldn’t do it, I shouldn’t ratchet up the pressure on myself in this way, but I always, always do.
If you could leave the world with one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be tolerant; be generous with your kindness; learn to accept criticism graciously; courtesy is always right.