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Benjamin Dean on the inspiration behind his YA debut

Benjamin Dean on the inspiration behind his YA debut

I’m often asked for my inspiration behind writing my YA debut, The King is Dead, and I usually give a similar response – I’m curious, for better or worse, by the monarchy, both what is presented on its surface and what might lie beneath it. Imagining what really happens behind the palace gates, especially in the face of public scandal, intrigues me. Although I usually prefer to mind my own business, I guess you could just call me nosy.

Anyway, that answer isn’t a lie. I am intrigued by the royal institution, how it has changed over the years in order to survive and how its very survival is at the heart of its objectives. How, through no achievement other than birth, one person or family can be given so much power. But one of my biggest inspirations behind writing the story of a young prince turned king, secretly gay and now the first Black monarch to sit on the British throne, was…well, me.

Let me explain! I’m not a vain narcissist who can only think of themselves, I promise. But, once I began to explore the idea of setting a story behind the gates of Buckingham Palace, I knew straight away that I wanted – needed – to create a new royal family, one that more closely resembled me and the communities I’m from or identify with. One of the things I enjoy most about being an author is placing Black and queer characters into positions of power and authority, places where they might’ve been historically isolated from in the past. And when I started to think of a new king taking the throne, I imagined what it would be like for a Black and queer heir to suddenly find himself wearing the crown in the current day.

Welcome to the stage, King James III. 17 years old, a reluctant heir to the British throne, now the first Black king to wear the crown. He’s sensitive and introverted, always leads with his heart instead of his head, fiercely protective and loyal but scared of the duty and expectation that now weighs on his shoulders. He craves love above all else, a hand to hold so that he might find comfort and safety away from the whispers that threaten to reveal his secrets.

It was so important to me to write a character that is emotional and, in some ways, flawed, but also one who is growing in themselves and, crucially, learning how to stand in their power. I didn’t want to shy away from letting my characters make mistakes or be less than perfect, or to excuse them from the obstacles they might face in the real world as the first Black and queer king to sit on the British throne. But I also wanted readers to see this royal family experiencing happiness, to find strength rather than weakness in their most raw and vulnerable moments, to see them love and be loved in return. And I wanted, more than anything, for readers to find themselves in the pages of this story.

Writing characters who look and identify like me is an inspiration for my work and one I hold close to my heart. It always will be. So, long live this Black and queer royal family.

The King Is Dead was published by Simon & Schuster Children’s on 7 July 2022

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