Today we see our mid-month Headliner, Ben Galley. Like with every festival, you have those big stages, and Ben is the first to take a step onto this one. I’ve known Ben for about a year, and he is the epitome of everything I love about Indie authors. He’s talented, funny, kind, and always more than willing to share his experience and insight.
So, without further ado, Ben Galley.
How did you get into writing Sci-Fi/Fantasy?
I can thank my parents for that one. As big fantasy readers in their own right, they couldn’t help but force-feed me books as a kid. I inhaled them all. Lord of The Rings, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Illustrated Man, The Iliad and the Odyssey – these were my childhood adventures. Naturally, all this reading led me straight to writing, and before long I was penning my own stories. Unsurprisingly, they were stories filled with the stuff I knew best – with dragons and swords and magic. I’ve never deviated from that path since.
Which is the first aspect of a story you usually plan? The plot, the setting, or the characters?
Normally the first thing that comes into my mind is a hook – a single uninvited flash of an idea. This could be anything, but normally it relates to a character – normally a trait, or an action. For The Emaneska Series, it was the concept of a mage with a spellbook tattooed onto his back. That was the moment of genesis for me.
Once I have the initial concept, I begin planning by asking myself questions about the character. Why would he do this? What does it do to him? What sort of man is he? Piece by piece, the character grows and grows until plot begins to blossom around him. Other characters fall into place, each with their own plots. Slowly but surely the story emerges and the world is built around it. When I’ve finished I go over it again and again, letting each element blend and grow some more. It’s important to push on the walls of your imagination when you’re planning, and push hard.
If you had to say that your stories were Sci-Fi/Fantasy crossed with something, what would it be?
I always liken The Emaneska Series to “Lord of The Rings meets Sin City”, but if I had to stick to genres, I’d like to say it was “classic epic fantasy crossed with dark modern fantasy, with a little mystery and thriller thrown in for good measure”. I chose this sort of mash-up because I wanted to pay homage to authors like Tolkien, but at the same time bring this sort of fantasy into the 21st century. I wanted a plot full of twists and turns, of bloody action and moral ambiguity. And yet, I wanted to keep the good old fantasy elements front and centre, with my own twists. As a reviewer on Amazon so eloquently described my mix – “Sex, drugs, and dragons.”
What, or who, would you say is your greatest influence in your writing?
My greatest influence in recent years has been the inimitable Neil Gaiman. During my time at university, both reading and writing unfortunately found themselves on the back-burner. It was only once I’d graduated, when a friend recommended a book called American Gods to me, that my passion resurfaced. I read it in two days flat, and by the next day, I was writing again. Furiously so. Gaiman proves how strange and experimental fantasy can be, and the depth of his characters is flawless every time. Both of these aspects inspired me then, and still inspire me today.
How did you come up with the idea for the book you’ve listed here?
The idea for The Written came, as all good ideas do, from out of the blue. I’d already had the idea of mixing up classic fantasy and dark fantasy, but so far I hadn’t come up with a single concept that was good enough. Then, when I least expected it, inspiration struck. I remember staring idly at the TV, watching the pilot episode of BBC’s Merlin, when it struck me. What if a spellbook could be tattooed instead of written down? That sudden notion kicked off a whole landslide of ideas, and so I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the first two words that came to my head: The Written and Emaneska. I spent the whole night and the next few weeks writing all my ideas down. By the following month, I had a book to write.
What was your proudest moment in the creation of this book?
That would be the day I saw The Written on the shelf in a major bookshop. As a self-published author, I don’t have the weight and the renown of a traditional publishing house, so getting my debut book into a bookshop was a bit of a challenge. However, after a lot of marketing, a lot of befriending booksellers, and a lot of hard work, I finally convinced a store to take a chance on my book. Walking in to the bookshop the following week and finding my creation sandwiched between Gaiman and Gemmell was one of the best moments of my author career, and I think it always will be.
Have there been any points that had you doubting yourself? How did you get past them?
Many! I often have doubts about my direction, or my plot, or a paragraph. It’s natural to doubt yourself – more often than not it just means you care. But instead of letting my doubt stop me, I make it work for me instead. What I do is hear my doubts out and approach them rationally. I think them through and weigh up all the facts so I can make a decision on whether to to carry on as is, or to up my game. Even if I decide my doubt is irrational, I usually end up putting my mind at ease by improving something anyway. That way any doubts are transformed into something positive, rather than negative.
What is your favourite aspect of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres?
The possibilities. They’re simply endless. I like to think I’ve got a big imagination, one that can trade blows with the best of them, but there’s nothing I find more thrilling than picking up a new book, flipping it open, and thinking “Why the hell did I never think of that?” That’s what I love about this genre – that despite all the so-called tropes and clichés, we’re still expanding and exploring, seeking stranger heights all the time. That’s probably why we’ve now got so many subcategories and splinter genres!
What is the element you like the least about the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres?
That’s a hard question, as there’s not much I don’t like. If I had to choose one element it would be the books that feel like they’ve been written along to a recipe. I can’t help but imagine their authors ticking things off a list, believing that if they include enough fantasy elements, they’ll somehow produce a fantasy book. In the meantime, they forget all about the setting, the world, the cause, and the depth… everything that can make fantasy great. It’s a shame, but it happens.
Discounting ‘because I’d have made a lot of money’ (if that is the case,) which Sci-Fi or Fantasy book/tv series/film do you wish you’d written, and why?
Another hard question! It would have to be Inception. That film was painfully original, to the point where it changed my understanding of the definition of “an original concept”. It really proved just how clever and intricate a story can be and its execution was flawless. I almost threw out every single book idea I’d ever written down because of that film. Fortunately, I didn’t. But Inception will forever be lodged in my mind as a bar to aim for.
Now, as one of our headliners, I have a few extra questions for Mr. Galley that are specific to his writing and The Emanska series. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.
At only 26, you already have an entire fantasy series on sale, how old were you when you began writing the Emaneska series and how do you think your writing has changed since you began?
I began writing the Emaneska Series in early 2009 when I was 21. That’s a little scary when I think about it, as it seems like only yesterday that I typed the very first letter onto the first page. But scariness aside, I’m proud to have achieved so much in a short time, and so young. I guess it comes down to starting early, when I was barely a teenager.
Over the last few years, I know my style has got darker, more detailed, and more fluid. I know I’ve become bolder and more experimental. But in regards to overall improvement, I just have to trust in myself. When you practising a language or an instrument, it’s easy to see the improvement week by week. But writing a book is different. Visible improvement is like a ninja – such an intangible, elusive thing, like the very skill of writing itself. Suddenly somebody will make a remark such as: “Even better than your last book!” and you know that nail has been hit on the head. That’s why I write and read, every day, in the hope of keeping my skills sharp.
It used to be that a young author was considered to be anyone under 40. With self-publishing, how do you think the view of young authors has changed, and where do the benefits of this lie?
It’s a great misconception that talent comes with age. It may come with time and practise, sure, but it is not dependent on age. Unfortunately, this is a very well-entrenched misconception, and it stands in the way of many young creatives like myself.
I’m a little older now, but when I first started out my age seemed to be rather jarring for some people. During a signing, I once heard a person mumble: “He doesn’t even look old enough to buy alcohol, never mind write a book!”
But now, thanks to sites like Wattpad and YouTube and Myspace, countless young creatives are bypassing traditional channels and going DIY – publishing books, making music, doing stand-up, and proving to all that talent is not dependent on age. Whereas before they might have been stifled or ignored, now they can take control of their own destinies. I think that’s utterly brilliant, and it’s one of the reasons I’m such a zealot about self-publishing.
Looking at fantasy series, you have great examples of novels being turned into different mediums, such as film and television. If you were going to pick a medium for the Emaneska series to be transposed into, which would it be?
It would have to be film. It’s such an obvious choice for me. Whether I did it by design or by subconscious accident, I seem to have written The Emaneska Series from the perspective of a director standing on the set of an epic blockbuster. That’s just how my imagination works. I think all the explosions, chase scenes, fight scenes, magic, vast sweeping landscapes, and giant cities would go down pretty well on the big screen. And let’s not forget about the dragons.
The first book of your series – The Written, is currently being made into a graphic novel, how does this compare to writing novels?
It’s been a really fun, if not extremely challenging, experience. It’s been one of many stages too, and not the ones I’m usually used to when publishing a book. First, there was finding an artist. That was a job in itself, as I needed to find somebody I could a) work with and b) that was good enough for the job. After several months of searching high and low, I finally found a brilliant artist – Mike Shipley. From then on out it was full steam ahead. We raised almost £6,000 with a Kickstarter project, which was just enough to fund the project, and for the last year we’ve been working solid, truncating the 462-page The Written into a 120-page graphic novel. Not an easy task, I can tell you, but we’re almost there! Very exciting indeed.
Fantasy works such as yours are perfect for ‘spin offs’ so to speak, or prologues, etc. Are you considering doing more on the series?
I am indeed, and although the details are top secret at the moment, I can reveal that The Emaneska Series wasn’t the end of the road for main character Farden, or for the world itself. I will be doing another series at some point in the future, a trilogy called the Scalussen Chronicles. I have begun to plan it, but it’s a long way off yet. I will also be doing a short story prequel to The Written, called The Iron Keys. Excerpts of that should hopefully be appearing on my website very soon.
Last but not least, as a best-selling fantasy author, what would be your first piece of advice to other fantasy and sci-fi authors.
I believe that the success of any book rests, as it always has done, on the story it tells. That’s why my No.1 piece of advice would be to spend time and effort making your story the very best it can be. Whatever tale you tell, it needs to move people, to elicit shock, surprise, fear, anger, joy, or the whole lot. It needs to make people talk, above all. That’s the mark of a best-seller!
At 26, Ben Galley is a young self-published author from sunny England. He is the author of the epic and gritty fantasy series – The Emaneska Series. He has published four books to date, and doesn’t intend to stop any time soon. Ben is incredibly zealous about inspiring other authors and writers. He runs the popular advice site Shelf Help, where he offers advice about writing, publishing, and marketing. Ben is also the proud co-founder and director of eBook store Libiro, a store exclusive to indie authors. If you want to know more, Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley) or at his website – www.bengalley.com.
His name is Farden.
They whisper that he’s dangerous.
Dangerous is only the half of it.
Something has gone missing from the libraries of Arfell. Something very old, and something very powerful. Five scholars are now dead, a country is once again on the brink of war, and the magick council is running out of time and options.
Entangled in a web of lies and politics and dragged halfway across icy Emaneska and back, Farden must unearth a secret even he doesn’t want to know, a secret that will shake the foundations of his world. Dragons, drugs, magick, death, and the deepest of betrayals await.