Janet & Geoff Benge
As a writing team we have written many books together (more than 300) over the years, but the greatest joy for us comes when we get to tell great stories of things people have accomplished in their lives. And whenever we write these stories we are guided by three simple principles; we want to Entertain, Inform, and Inspire our readers.
We started our writing journey together over thirty years ago, sharing a single manual typewriter between us—and a lot of faith. Even so, we never imagining our two series of books would reach so many people around the world. Our mission is to illuminate the lives of amazing people, past and present to Entertain, Inform and above all Inspire our readers.
I have loved books for as long as I can remember. One of my favorite childhood memories is of my dad and I going to the Public Library in my hometown of Hamilton, New Zealand, on Friday nights to check out new books. I also loved it when my teachers read books aloud to my class throughout elementary and middle school. Despite my love of books, I struggled with reading and spelling. Later I learned I was dyslexic, which explained a lot of my childhood frustrations.
After high school I attended Hamilton Training College and became an elementary school teacher specializing in reading. After Geoff and I married we set out on a life-adventure together. We joined YWAM, an interdenominational missionary organization in 1983 and what a wild ride that was—we lived on an Indian Reservation in the United States, a village on a South Pacific island in the Kingdom of Tonga, a slum in Manila, Philippines, and a hospital/mercy ship in Hawaii.
Along the way I taught school, cleaned toilets, worked in a ship’s laundry (my favorite—I loved operating the huge machines), and performed in a drama troupe before finding my calling as a writer.
I was born and raised in New Zealand and hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and philosophy from Waikato University.
I never set out to be a writer. I like to say, “Writing found me!” And from the time it found me I have never looked back. I’ve spent the past 33 years earning a living as a writer. Most of the time Janet and I work as a team, and for the first twelve years of our writing career we worked as a ghostwriters, before switching to writing the Christian Heroes: Then & Now and Heroes of History series of books.
Janet and I were privileged to learn the craft of writing from another husband and wife writing team, John and Elizabeth Sherrill, authors of The Cross and the Switchblade, The Hiding Place, God Smuggler, and many other classic Christian books. Of course, it also helped that we had an aptitude for writing.
More than anything else, when I write, I love to tell a really good story in a way that keeps readers wanting to turn the pages as they read. That’s why the Christian Heroes and Heroes of History series have been so much fun for me to write. And while I like to see the books in print and people reading them, forme, I derive the most enjoyment from the actual process of writing each book.
We began writing 35 years ago. We started writing a newsletter and promotional material for Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in the Philippines. We did that for a year, after which we began writing books and have been writing books ever since.
We both discovered we had natural writing ability while serving as missionaries and put that ability to work writing for YWAM in the Philippines, as mentioned in the question above. Writing engaging books is a more specialized skill, and we were blessed to learn this skill from John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The Sherrills wrote The Cross and the Switchblade, The Hiding Place, God Smuggler, and many other classic Christian books. They were wonderful teachers who broke down for us the necessary steps involved in shaping and telling a compelling story in book form. Like every other craft, once you know the basics you continue to hone and develop those by repeatedly using them. That has been our experience. We’ve learned a lot about how to write books simply by doing it over and over and challenging ourselves to do it better the next time.
Currently (as of late 2019) we have written 49 books in the Christian Heroes: Then & Now series, and are currently finishing off the fiftieth book, on Albert Schweitzer, right now. This book will be published during the first half of 2020.
To date we have written 79 books in the Heroes of History series.
We began writing the first book (Hudson Taylor) in the Christian Heroes series in June 1997. We wrote the first book in the Heroes of History Series (George Washington Carver) in 2000.
It took a bit of figuring out how to do this, but we have a tight system now. The writing process we follow goes like this: Janet does the initial research for the book, this involves reading other biographies about the person, their autobiography, dairies and journals (if any), and online material, basically anything we can get our hands on about them. Following her reading, Janet writes the first draft of the manuscript. However, in many places she just jots down notes and references in the text. When she has finished a draft of a chapter, Janet hands it on to Geoff, who begins editing her work. When he comes to those places where Janet has left notes and references, Geoff reads all of this material and writes the scene or the passage that needs to be added to the chapter. Once he completes the chapter, Geoff goes through it again editing some more and polishing the language. Once the manuscript is complete we both go through it one more time to pick up any errors, typos, bad grammar and syntax and the like. At that stage the manuscript is complete and is sent off to our publisher.
Sometimes we find a person we think would be interesting to write about in the course of our research and suggest that person to our publisher, and sometimes our publisher tells us of a person they think would be interesting for the series. Eventually, we agree upon who the next person to write about for the series will be and we go to work.
This is not an easy question to answer, we like so many of the stories we have written in this series. As a result, it’s hard to boil it down to one book, and in fact Geoff can’t. Here goes:
Geoff: In the Christian Heroes series it’s a dead heat for me between John Williams and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Those who’ve read the book on John Williams know he is probably the most important missionary to the Pacific Islands. Coming from New Zealand, I was always aware of his tireless effort spreading the Gospel throughout the islands. Years ago, when we visited Janet’s parents, living on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands at the time, we saw the church John Williams established there. I’ve also visited many of the islands and seen firsthand the results of his work. For these reasons John William’s story remains one of my favorites. Meanwhile, the book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the most challenging book I’ve worked on in the Christian Heroes series. I had to understand the events of World Wars I & II and the period between them from the German perspective and then unfold those events through the eyes of a German boy who becomes a man through this time and is convinced he must confront the wickedness surrounding him. It is both a sad and inspiring book and I’m proud of the work Janet and I did in bringing his story to life for a new audience.
Janet: If you ask me at different times, you’ll get different answers! Right now, my favorite Christian Heroes book is William Booth, Soup, Soap and Salvation. I have always loved Victorian English history, and William Booth had a significant impact on England at that time. I love the way he saw a problem in society and instead of complaining about it, set to work to solve it. I also love the way his wife Catherine and his daughters were fully involved in the work with him. When I was young, I read a lot of Charles Dickens’ books, (I still have the book reports to prove it), and I loved “spending time” back there. One of the things I love most about writing all of the books is that I get to research and imagine other times and other places.
As with the Christian Heroes series, this is not an easy question to answer, but here goes:
Geoff: My favorite book in the Heroes of History series is Ernest Shackleton: Going South. I had been aware of Ernest Shackleton’s remarkable story since I was a boy and jumped at the opportunity to write it for the series. He wasn’t the most successful Antarctic explore of the early twentieth century, but without a doubt he is the greatest leader to set foot on the southern continent. During the disastrous Endurance expedition, Shackleton singlehandedly led all his men to safety across dangerous sea ice to the barren safely of Elephant Island. Then with five others he sailed across the vicious Southern Ocean in a converted lifeboat to South Georgia Island where he organized a rescue ship to retrieve his crew from Elephant Island. Shackleton gave his men true leadership in some of the most extreme conditions on earth.
Janet: I love the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She had a difficult life, and she did not start writing until later. It was a total surprise to her and her family that she became a famous writer. I enjoyed writing this book because her life was so “ordinary” to her—crops being harvested and eaten, floods, snow drifts, Indians passing through, but time has made this ordinary story of an ordinary girl in the late 1800s extraordinary. It reminds me how important it is to document everyday life, because thousands of everyday experiences can add up to an interesting story. Like Laura, in the future, the simple things you and I do will seem very exotic and interesting to someone else.