An interview with Ben Galley
What are your three all-time favorite novels?
Man, only three? That’s tough, but let’s go for it. In no particular order: American Gods, The Book Thief and Lord of the Rings, the book that kickstarted my entire writing passion.
Roughly six years ago you finished your first series. What was that feeling like, and how do you feel your writing has grown since then?
In short, I was elated. The Emaneska Series was my first foray into the book market, and it marked a huge turning point for me professionally. It showed that publishing successfully was not only possible, but worthwhile. From a creative point of view, it was the culmination of four years of constant work building a world and its inhabitants from scratch. By the last chapter of the last book, I had created somewhat of a family, a home. While I was overjoyed to have guided them through the darkness and trials of the plot, I was disheartened to leave them behind.
Emaneska taught me a lot of lessons about writing: from flow and worldbuilding, to character development and language. It even taught me dedication and time management. These lessons were invaluable, and since Emaneska, I’ve poured that knowledge into three more worlds. I find once you’ve built one, you can’t help but keep building. There’s a fiery passion in me now that refuses to stop writing.
Among your new works, the Chasing Graves trilogy plays on Egyptian mythological ideas. How did you research that and what made you interested in that mythology, it isn't very common in fantasy?
Sadly, I think you’re right. While Norse and other European mythologies are employed frequently, African, Asian and American mythologies don’t see nearly as much of the limelight. To me, they’re a wealth of new ideas. I’d always been obsessed with Egyptian mythos since I was a child, so I had a bank of knowledge to call upon, but it was also a great excuse to delve deep into Wikipedia and Google. I also visited several museums with Egyptian exhibits to narrow down on the finer details. My approach is to absorb as many ideas and facts as I can, and then cherrypick the ones I can feature, overlay, or twist in my world. For Chasing Graves, it was the Ancient Egyptian obsession with the afterlife and the mastery of death.
Who are some current authors who inspire you?
I find myself constantly inspired by the fantasy community. I think we’re fortunate to have such a vibrant genre, with plenty of traditional and self-published authors churning out book after brilliant book. I’m inspired by their work ethic, their writing, and their attitudes online. To name but a few: Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, Neil Gaiman, Naomi Novik, Philip Pullman, Michael J. Sullivan, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Josiah Bancroft, Philip Reeve, Phil Tucker, David Estes, Teresa Frohock, Dyrk Ashton, and Michael R. Fletcher.
Which comes first for you, character, plot, or setting?
This is difficult to answer, as for each series or novel, the genesis of its inspiration has been different. For Emaneska, character came first. It was the idea of a mage with a spellbook tattooed on his back, imbuing him with hefty powers. Think a magical John McClane in a medieval Norse world. For the Scarlet Star Trilogy, I was inspired by the setting of an alternate, weird-west world infused with myth and magic. For The Heart of Stone, character led once more, with a 400 year-old stone war-golem. And lastly, Chasing Graves was plot-driven, wanting to tell a first-person POV account of surviving a highly cutthroat society in search of justice and freedom. Whatever I start with, I still deem each aspect - character, plot, and setting - equally important, and so I focus on each as much as possible, in whichever order I need to.
Which of your characters has been the most difficult for you to "get right" and why?
That would have to be Caltro Basalt from the new Chasing Graves Trilogy. As the first first-person POV I’ve ever written and published, it was a new experience for me. That was challenging enough, but after fleshing out his initial character, Caltro proved himself as much more complex. This changed the perils he faced, and the driving factors behind his actions and choices. In turn, this altered the plot framework I’d already planned out, forcing a lot more discovery writing or “pantsing” than I usually do. Sometimes Caltro had his way, sometimes I had mine, but I think we got there in the end.
You also run Shelf Help - what is it like not only being a self-published author but helping other self-published authors?
It’s frankly an honour. One of my passions is helping people where I can, and lending my knowledge to fellow authors is a pleasure, and why I’ve been running Shelf Help since 2012. Whether it’s guiding somebody through the process of publishing their first book, or working with a veteran writer wanting to spice up their marketing, I enjoy giving back what I can to the community. It also adds variety to my workday, as I get to work with people from every genre and from all over the globe.
What non-authors in your life have influenced your writing, and in what ways?
I’m a huge cinephile and find a lot of my ideas or inspirations come from films or TV. As such, my influences come from works by directors such as Spielberg, Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and Guillermo del Toro. I’m also inspired by a lot of public or historical figures, in regards to determination, perseverance, and innovation. Nikola Tesla, Dan Ariely, and Elon Musk, for example.
What are you currently working on and how does it differ from what you've written previously?
Currently, I’m working on the sequel series to my debut Emaneska series - The Scalussen Chronicles - so I’m back in my first world and back with characters that feel like old friends. While the setting is somewhat similar, the stakes have been pushed even higher, and I’m trying to tell a wilder story than I told in the first series. I hope I’m also bringing an improved level of prose to Scalussen, seeing as it’s been six years and and seven books later!
Are there any books being released in the second half of 2019 that you're particularly excited to read?
I’m very keen to throw Dark Age by Pierce Brown into Mount TBR, along with the Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang, and hopefully Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch and Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss.
How can folks learn more about you or your work?
You can find me at www.bengalley.com, or on the usual social channels - Twitter and YouTube @BenGalley, and Facebook and Instagram @BenGalleyAuthor. I’m also on Amazon at: www.amazon.com/Ben-Galley/e/B0067LPVAU