The Beast and The Bethany by Cardiff-born writer Jack Meggitt-Phillips is published on 1 October 2020. This dastardly inventive and hilarious novel channels Dahl and Lemony Snicket in a tale about the Beast in the attic who’s hungry for, well, anything. It’s an absolute delight – brilliantly written so that it can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages (including adults!). Kit (aged 7) thought it was the “best book I’ve ever read”, and it was similarly devoured (gettit?) by 13-year-old Hobbit-loving Noah. The film rights have been snapped up so we’re at the start of something huge. It’s only proper that we should invite Jack to answer a few questions…
The Beast and The Bethany is the first book in a trilogy that was highly-sought after by publishers and has been snapped up by a film company too. These are exciting times for you…
It’s all delightfully bonkers, and I’m still trying to find a way of telling people I’m a children’s author without blushing purple and combusting into a flurry of awkwardness.
I’m very grateful for the chance that I’ve been given, and if there’s a chance that my books can give children the same feeling I experienced when reading The Bad Beginning for the first time, then I shall be brimming with ever greater quantities of delight.
The story has drawn comparisons to Roald Dahl, Despicable Me, Little Shop of Horrors, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Lemony Snicket. Which of these comparisons is the most accurate/helpful?
It’s a fabulous list of comparisons, isn’t it? May have to frame this question for my wall.
The plot probably shares most in common with Dorian Gray. It’s about a 511-year-old called Ebenezer Tweezer who keeps a beast he keeps in his attic. He feeds the beast all manner of things (hedgehogs, chandeliers, the occasional pet cat), and in return the beast vomits out presents, as well as potions which keep him young and beautiful.
One day, the beast announces that it wants to eat a child, and so Ebenezer brings a rebellious prankster into the house – one who will be a lot trickier to get into the beast’s belly than any cat or chandelier. Enter Bethany . . .
The story seems delightfully bizarre featuring parrots who sing like Elvis and a blob who lives in the attic. What’s the most bonkers detail that you included?
There’s an exceptionally silly scene in Buckingham Palace involving a stand-off between Bethany, and the Queen’s chief under-butler, Perkins. Fully expecting to receive a firmly written letter of complaint from Her Majesty about it.
Were there any details considered too farout by your editor?
Unfortunately, my agent and editors have been terribly bad influences on my penchant for silliness There are now twice as many Elvis parrots, twelve more squashed muffin sandwiches, and a whole gaggle of villainous household appliances because of them.
Are you looking forward to seeing your creations come to life on film?
This was another moment when I squealed ungainly with delight. The beast and I couldn’t hope for better partners in Heyday Films and Warner Bros., in our quest to delight and terrify as many children as possible.
Do you have more of an affinity to The Beast or Bethany?
Both are far too ill-mannered for my tastes, and frankly I don’t think either of them would care to spend any time in my company unless they could chomp my head off, or pull some ghastly prank on me.
I have far more in common with Ebenezer Tweezer, and his obsession with velvet waistcoats and eccentric teas. He has better hair than me, and somewhat looser morals, but aside from that I think we’d get on very well.
Have you already completed the trilogy? What can you tell us about the other 2 books?
The series is essentially going to be about two misguided people trying, and miserably failing to become do-gooders. All whilst saving themselves and their friends from the beast’s dastardly, bone-crunching villainy.
I’m currently in edits for book 2. After that, the beast, the Bethany, Ebenezer and I are going to have a long, serious think about what we can try and get away with for the next book.
You are a scriptwriter and podcast presenter – how did you get into writing for children?
I had been working on another book for a few months, which just sort of collapsed at the seams. The characters weren’t behaving themselves, the plot was pettily refusing to come together, and my interest in the thing was wilting faster than a dying daffodil.
I started The Beast and the Bethany, because I wanted to have some fun writing again, and because the idea had been scratching away in the back of my brain for a while. I’ve now buried that other book in the back garden.
What are you reading at the moment?
For years I’ve been struggling with a worrying habit for Victorian literature, and it only seems to be worsening. Currently I can be found wearing a cloak, carrying a candle, and cackling menacingly at The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins.
Where and when do you write?
I write exclusively in my dressing gown, which can make my attempts to write on train journeys a little awkward.
My most productive times are before I’ve had breakfast, and before I go to bed. I’m like a needy puppy – I need the reward of a pain au chocolat or bedtime in order to get me writing.
What are your favourite books for children?
The books I’ve enjoy most are the ones that feel like they’re too mischievous or macabre to be written for children. Books like those belonging to Mr Snicket and Mr Dahl deserve all the praise and plaudits that are heaped upon them, and I would also put in a very warm word for a book called ‘The Day My Bum Went Psycho’ by Andy Griffiths.
Can you tell us about your Welsh connections and inspirations?
Well, one of the biggest influences on my writing has to be the modern series of Doctor Who, and frankly anything written by Russell T Davies – what a legend.
My running/ out-of-breath stroll route in Wales also takes me past the Mrs Pratchett’s Sweetshop plaque – the one featured in Roald Dahl’s Boy, so that always cheers me up. It also gives me an urge for sweets, which immediately undoes any of the good work done by my attempt at exercise.
We’ve heard that you’re fond of tea. Any thoughts on Welsh tea?
Several. Enough to bore even the most patient and indulgent of listeners to tears.
However, I shall spare your readers the agony by confining my recommendation to any of the loose-leaf delights from Waterloo Tea Gardens. The Orange Blossom green tea is a personal favourite.
Can you tell us something about your next book/idea/future plans?
I’ve always loved horror stories with a supernatural tinge, and especially those that can make you jump between laughter and screams. So currently having a bash at one of those.