Interview with Ben Starling

A couple of months ago I read and reviewed a brilliant short story by Ben Starling called Something in the Air which you can check out here if you’ve not already done so. Today, Ben has been kind enough to answer some questions and let us know about his latest novel, Something in the Water.

BEN white_headshotWelcome, Ben. Could you tell us a bit about yourself? I notice you’re an animal lover. Which animals have had the biggest impact on your life?
I was brought up mainly with dogs and one dog in particular—a beautiful blue-gray Great Dane that had a life-changing impact upon me. It’s extraordinary how powerful the bond between a favorite animal companion and a person can be. I still dream of her sometimes and am sure she is watching over me…offering support, guidance. I’m sure all my best bits of plot and dialog are sent to me from her! That’s why I set my short story Something in the Air in an animal sanctuary. I would love to have another Great Dane one day, thought I’d name her Dooby Scoo.

When did you start writing?
I’ve been editing other people’s work for quite a while: business plans, magazine articles, non-fiction, and an occasional screenplay. But I have only dabbled in fiction previously with a novella I created, and also illustrated, for my children.

Do you think writing ability is something you’re born with, or is it a craft that has to be learned?
Everyone is born with at least one story inside them—and that story is the life we live!

Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration”. We can all write from the moment we learn to hold a pencil, but to engage the reader, there’s a great need to study and work at the craft—a craft that is highly complex and fluid. So a person born with a powerful imagination balanced by a logical, analytical mind is very lucky. But that’s just the one per cent. The writer needs patience too, and a lot of time at the keyboard…a lot of perspiration.

How do you deal with writer’s block?
I don’t think I’d be very good at writing to a deadline because time is the best cure for writer’s block—time, and a change of scenery, which allows the unconscious mind to go to work on the problem.

There was an essay-writing exam technique I remember from school: Read all the questions slowly, then start answering the first. By the time you get to the second question, the answer will be in your head.

So for dealing with blocks in writing, I go for walks, sometimes in the park, or along a canal near my home. Or I head for a busy part of town and make sure my mind is occupied. When I get back, the block has gone.

SITW handMoving on to your novel, Something in the Water. Do you have any favorite scenes in the novel?
In fact I have several—and they are very different, each performing an important function as three intertwined plots unfold. But what I am most proud of, and which came as a pleasant surprise, was that not one of my women beta-readers suggested the main love scene, written from a woman’s point of view, would be a contender for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award! (There really is one in the UK.)

Is there a villain in the novel? If so, how would you describe him or her?
There are several, and though the villains are ostensibly working together, each has a different agenda. This presented me with a fascinating opportunity to explore the dynamic of their twisted relationships. As for characterization, each villain has varying degrees of “darkness” within them. All I’ll say is that when writing about evil characters, sometimes less is more…

The novel is set in the South Pacific. Can you give me one interesting fact – relevant to the book – about this setting?
In fact, my novel is set in a fictitious South Pacific island chain that is near, but not in, Solomon Islands. As for an interesting fact—although Solomon Islands are unique and very beautiful—no paradise is perfect, and it’s imperfection and conflict that make stories fascinating. One fact that inspired a small subplot within my novel is that in Solomon Islands, they still hunt dolphins for the aquarium trade and kill them for food.

Now for a quirky question. If you were a fish, what fish would you be?
I think I’d choose to be a whale shark. A huge, majestic, plankton-feeder with no predators (except humans) that’s free to glide through the world’s oceans. What a spectacular view that would be!

And finally – What can we look forward to next from you?
Something in the Water will be supported by a series of short stories that reveal the backstories of the major characters in this world.

The first in the series, Something in the Air, is available now free at my website as well as free on Kobo (also available at Amazon) and the second short story in the series, Something on the Fly, will be released in the Spring!

Something in the Water is available on Amazon

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The Martian: A Review

I’d been seeing trailers for the film for a while and happened to notice it was based on an Indie book. When my bookclub peeps suggested we read it I was all for giving it a chance.

MartianIf you’re offended by strong language then I want to start by saying this book isn’t for you. The F word features on the first page and it and several other words like it are used throughout the book, but to be honest, I think if I was stuck, alone on Mars, and already aware I’m likely to starve to death because no one knows to come rescue me I’d not be too picky about my language either.

That’s pretty much where this book starts. Guy, on Mars, pretty sure he’s going to die but trying not to anyway. There’s a lot of science as our hero is a botanist and an engineer, but for the most part it’s well explained even if I did find myself skim reading a few bits so I could actually find out if he survived.

Martian-Matt-DamonIt had me unsure whether he was going to live pretty much throughout the book, which is pretty good going for this sort of book. Usually the writer makes it too obvious one way or another. And for a book that’s mostly held up by one character it’s a great one character and I love the idea that Matt Damon played him in the film. I think that’s likely to have been perfect casting.

The downside of the book for me was the other characters. They really were just there to support the main character and in a lot of cases were the same sort of person. They all joked in the same way (regardless of gender) and although the writer evidently tried to give them some differences they were almost identical people with different names. It was probably a good thing all the other characters had very small parts.

All in all I really enjoyed the book, even if I was a little disappointed by the secondary cast. I couldn’t put it down and loved the main character.

Celebrating 5 Years Published

I guess today is a bit like a birthday. It’s With Proud Humility’s fifth birthday for sure, but it’s also the birthday of my author hat. Five years has flown by in a haze of words, characters, action, adventure, struggle and happy endings, and I’m definitely not complaining. It’s been a wild ride.

For those who like numbers (I admit, I love them), I now have 25 seperate publications to my three pen names. 14 of these are under my actual name, Jess Mountifield (made up of 13 unique stories), 5 are under Amelia Price (4 of which are unique), and there are 6 under a pen name I keep secret. Of these two are historical adventure novels. Three are novels in the Sherdan series with one short story. There are 6 novellas, two in my fantasy world, one stand-alone Sci-fi and the remaining three are Mycroft Holmes stories. The rest are all short stories in anthologies, my fantasy world, or under the third pen name. All in all it comes to well over 600,000 words, with another 400,000 or so written and on its way in one stage or another.

The books between them have been downloaded, printed and bought a total of over 18,500 times. A little shy of half of these are copies of Sherdan’s Prophecy, making it by far my most widely read book, although The Hundred Year Wait has been catching up lately. Chains of Freedom and Wandering to belong are the other two major players with all four books in the four figures.

More importantly than all these stats I’ve made some amazing new friends in some of the readers who reached out to me and have some great fan mail. Hearing from fans has been hands down the best part of the last five years, even though I love the journeys I’ve been on with my characters.

Story wise, I’ve declared an independent country in a chunk of Bristol, and defended it and the people in it with everything I’ve got, I’ve adventured through the Caribbean and even in the waters off New Zealand, I’ve saved a tribe of Maori people, foiled a terrorist plot to destroy London, rescued a village from goblins (with a little help from a dragon), fought through unknown space to get needed supplies to a planet in desperation and brought the right people together to birth the woman who will, once she’s of age, unite an entire fantasy world in less than a decade.

I’ve cried, laughed, felt my heart pound in my chest, flinched, barely been able to look, slogged and fallen in love alongside every single one of my characters as they’ve gone through their stories. When they were in pain I often felt it too. I grieved for their loved ones as they did. I cheered encouragement when they were in their darkest moments and I knew that dawn was coming. There were even times when I couldn’t stop writing and go to bed because I simply couldn’t leave them in the situation they were in.

The last five years have been a rollercoaster, but I wouldn’t have skipped one second of it, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next five.

Mad Tinker’s Daughter: A Review

I happened to find this book free some time and thought it looked awesome, so I nabbed it.

Mad Tinker's DaughterFor starters, that cover, just brilliat. Secondly a steampunk story, so genre for the win. Thirdly, what an awesome title.

The book wasn’t totally perfect. I’ll be honest I was a little confused and there were a few mistakes here and there, but generally it was a pretty decent book. After I’d realised that most of the main characters had to personalities in two different dimensions/worlds and therefore had two names and two jobs etc, I got a lot less confused and into the book.

There were plenty of awesome steampunk style gadgets, although my favourite thing, I must admit, was a table, but it was a big circular table that seated oodles of people (I think it was 50, it might have been more) and everyone sat around the outside of the circle. The very middle of the circle was a stairwell down to the kitchens with space around it for servants to bring up meals and serve them. The inside part of the table spun around so dishes could move past people. It’s like epic Chinese style buffet tables crossed with steampunk. What’s not to love!

I thought the pacing was good in this story, not too fast that I was confused (apart from the two or more dimensions thing at the beginning) and not too slow that I was bored. The characterisation was decent, although not epic. I still don’t love any of the characters particularly, but several are interesting enough.

I’ll keep reading but as much for the genre and gadgets as the plot itself.

New release and New pre-order

The Invisible Amateur is out this Friday! If you haven’t pre-ordered the ebook yet you can do so here and make sure that you get yourself a copy as soon as it’s midnight! Only two and a half days to go.

TheFemaleCharmMediumThe fourth book in the Mycroft Holmes Adventures series is also now available to pre-order here and will be released on February 13th next year. Less than three months away!

Here’s a blurb:

Politics is Mycroft’s focus for the moment, but it calls him to Scotland, somewhere very much outside of London. When Sherlock refuses to help and instead enlists Amelia, Mycroft has to decide if his personal amateur is up to the task.

Despite all the scrapes and bruises, Amelia is still willing to learn from the Holmes brothers, but these latest lessons are on a whole new level. Does she have the skills she needs to survive? And is she really prepared for being in the Holmes world?

I’ve also almost finished the first drafts of 5 and 6 in the series and can confirm both will be out next year. Hopefully around early May and mid July respectively.

Ghostwalker: A Review

I picked up this ebook by Ben Cassidy because it was free and looked amazingly interesting. My bookclub had also read one of his shorts before and totally loved it, and I wrote a short fantasy piece for an anthology raising money for him when he was diagnosed with cancer last year.

GhostwalkerThis book was no less awesome. I was grabbed by the charaters and immersed into the story from the first page to the last page. Ben has a brilliant way of describing things and his action scenes flowed well and were easy to follow. And action there was plenty of.

The bad-guys felt a teensy bit black and white but they were still villians you could love to hate and I was very much rooting for the Ghostwalker to show them who was awesome (he was totally awesome). Some of the scenes were a bit damsel in distress from the other main character but she soon bucked up and tried to help as well.

I still have quite a few questions, especially about what exactly a ghostwalker is and what happened to this one, but I still felt like I had a few answers during this book so I’m not complaining.

I loved this book so much I put the next one on my to-read list right away.

NaNoWriMo 2015: Update 2

Just a little over half way through NaNoWriMo now and as of first thing this morning I’m at 48,609 words. If I was doing a normal NaNo count I’d be finishing today. Since I’m aiming for 69,000 that leaves me with 20,381 words to go. Not too bad although I’ve been slower the last week or so. It’s definitely not a level of writing I find sustainable.

I finished Mycroft 5 and have tentatively called it The Knight Who Started a War but I think that’s going to haev to change. As much as I like it it needs to be shorter I think.

As is normal I’ve learnt some intersting things. Not least all the symptoms of hypothermia. But the most unexpected – It seems protégé is the maculine form and for a female student you would call them a protégée. Had no idea about that until two days ago.

The hope is to finish Mycroft 6 by the end of this week or the beginning of next (I might actually take the weekend off). Then finish off a few other bits and pieces to get me towards the 69k I’m aiming for. Either way there’s still a fair amount to be written so I best get back to it.

Stardust: A Review

When I watched the film of this book I must admit I had no idea there was a book, but a few months later someone informed me there was. I finally got around to reading it.

StardustI was actually very pleasantly surprised how like the film this book is. There were a few subtle differences. It almost seemed like the film had more content in some places and a little less in others.

The ending was quite different and I prefered the book ending more. It was a little sad in places. Neil Gaiman also has a very special way of looking at things and I found myself highlighting quite a few different sentences for the cute way they phrased something.

It struck me as just one of those stories. The characters were only remarkable in that one of them was a star and they sort of ended up being rulers of something, but it was told in such a matter of fact, these things happen all the time, kind of way that it feels unremarkable and I think that’s one of Gaiman’s great abilities as a storyteller, he makes the fantastic sound like the everyday happenings, almost making you believe you too could meet a star or be swept away on a flying ship.

Two fantasy and sci-fi boxsets: Legends & Legacy

The first of two great multi-author boxsets is out today for only 99p/99c. Legends is a collection of Sci-fi and fantasy stories and has my very own Sherdan’s Prophecy among the 13 awesome books included.

Legends-SherdansprophecyThis is a total steal for that many fantastic books so grab a copy here.

Legacy promoAlso out in only two days time (and available to pre-order here) is the sister boxset with another of my ebooks in. This boxset has Wandering to Belong and is one of 10 great stories. Several of which feature dragons! What more could you want?

Interlude-Brandon: A Review

This is the third book in the Game series by Terry Schott. I reviewed the first one here and the second here.

Interlude-brandonI wasn’t sure that I’d enjoy a sort of mid series prequel, but I was so glad I was wrong. I think this is the best book of the series so far.

Without giving away spoilers there were a few nice surprises in this book and some great info about Brandon himself and how he got to where he is. I found myself confused at a few points by the events, but it’s probably because I’ve read so many books in between the books in this series that I’d slightly forgotten who everyone was.

It’s fairly fast paced again, and still has plenty of interesting action in it, although most of it is focused around games and virtual reality stuff.

I have to say though that the editing and formating leaves a lot to be desired. The last sentence of Chapter 55 just doesn’t finish and there’s two chapter 56’s, one of which is only a couple of paragraphs long and makes little sense in the context of the rest.

If all the mistakes were corrected this would be one of the best series I’ve ever read.