Extreme Authoring AKA Interview with Ben Hennessy
Steph and I metaphorically sat down and interviewed indie author Ben Hennessy and discussed his epic adventure while writing his debut novel, Queen of the World, which was released on July 1st.
1. Can you give us the general story of the experience you went through when writing your novel.
A: It’s a pretty weird one. Basically I quit my well-paid career position with a large online game developer in Ireland, deciding instead to travel around Southeast Asia. A sensible life choice, clearly. I had two objectives; experience the culture and beauty of these new lands, and write my first full novel. I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam in October 2010, shacked up in a tiny little apartment and then started working for an international backpacker hostel. During the day I would write, explore the city and risk personal injury on a moped – Hanoi’s traffic system is mental – and by night I’d work as the manager of a hospitality bar, meeting travellers from all over the world. It was good fun, but the sudden change in my lifestyle wasn’t really conducive to writing what I knew would be quite a large manuscript.
Five months later, I left Hanoi to start my journey south-east towards Bangkok. My travelling partner and I bought a couple of Suzuki GN125’s, and rode along the eastern coast of Vietnam. During the many hostel and hotel stops I’d try and get another thousand words into the story when I wasn’t exhausted or fixing one of the bloody bikes, which had a tendency to break down every few hundred kilometres. Added to this was the fact that Vietnam is so breathtaking, I’d have an urge to take little wanders around the various towns and villages just to explore. I would recommend a similar trip to anyone with a few months to spare, and it’s not massively expensive either. Maybe not when attempting a novel, though.
Anyway, after one final breakdown in Hue, we took public transport the rest of the way. I fired live guns for the first time in Cambodia, celebrated the Songkran festival in Thailand and met loads of amazing people at all the places in-between, usually encouraged by several shots of the local rice wine. Every so often, I’d force myself to write a little more of my gradually swelling manuscript. I was reluctant to end my journey, but waiting for me was a remote little holiday cabin in Norway where I’d spend rest of the summer. The change of pace and the opportunity to really knuckle down and get the novel finished was great, and after six more weeks I finally had my first draft completed eight months after starting it.
2. How do you think this experience changed how you shaped your novel?
A: At first the story came in pieces as a result of so many distractions. I wouldn’t commit to writing unless I was confident of completing a section, so each time I sat down I’d already had a few days to dwell on the next scene and the characters within it. This helped to motivate me into putting words onto the page, but it also allowed me to really consider what I was going to say, and how the scene affected the rest of the story. I was halfway through when I finally arrived in Norway and was able to write every morning. There I discovered that I had all these little threads and plots hanging loose and separate, ready to be tied together.
3. What was the most unconventional moment you had trying to write your novel?
A: Hmm… Unconventional pretty much sums up the majority of the journey, and there was so much going on that such anecdotes would be best shared over a cold beer. I can give you my most inconvenient, though. It was in a hostel in Hue, in a shared dorm of sixteen beds. I was sick with fever, one of those 24 hour things which just wipe you out. My travelling buddy had gone out for a couple of drinks with some friends we’d met, and I was holed up in my bunk with scarves draped around the bed to give me a little privacy. I was forcing myself to put a few words down, fumbling through a scene, when two other backpackers returned to the room, steaming drunk and rather amorous. As is more common than you’d think in shared dorms, they ended up sneaking into their bed and getting pretty frisky. ‘Cuddling’ doesn’t really cover it; I’m confident that the Queen’s English term would be ‘Fucking’. The bunks weren’t especially stable either.
So there I am, sweating buckets with a raging temperature, trying to concentrate on a pleasant scene where one of my main characters, Kanderil, is in a tavern reliving old times with his former drill instructor. All accompanied with muffled grunting and the rhythmic squeaking from the cheap aluminium bed frame next to mine. As you can probably guess, that particular part needed a fair bit of redrafting at a later date.
4. What advice would you give to people struggling to write their book?
A: Just get on with it. Which sounds like the most patronizing and unhelpful tip – if it were that easy, everyone would do it, right? – but that’s really all there is. I never made a serious attempt at writing a book before Queen of the World. I’d written short stories and poetry for years, but this was my first full-length manuscript. Every time I considered writing a novel I’d have a voice in my head which sounded exactly like Alan Rickman, helpfully whispering such gems as ‘Well you don’t have the experience. You’ve never been published. What if you put in all that effort and the end result sucks? What story could you possibly have to tell that’s worth committing to?’ I had the tale of Sarene and the Four pottering around in my head for a few years before I typed a single word.
What it came down to was just making the leap. I was travelling, working up to fifty hours a week and facing an uncertain future when I eventually returned to Europe. Still, I got those first few pages down, sat back and considered what I’d already accomplished. It’s strange trying to explain how damned good it feels to have a couple of thousand words down and right there, looking back from your word processor of choice. It says ‘At last. You’ve started. You did it. Now keep going!’
5. What was the most intense part of your journey?
A: In Paris, on the final stop before finally arriving home. I’d completed a walking tour of the city barefoot, courtesy of ruined shoes from a huge water fight in Thailand hours before leaving the country. As a result I was tired, sore and mentally preparing for my final cramped trip in a plane. As we were getting out of a taxi to grab a coach to the airport, my rucksack was stolen. It had all my electrical gear inside, including my laptop with the manuscript on it. I had a backup on a flash drive, but I’d been lax in keeping it up to date. The total loss was about twenty-four thousand words. That really got to me, considering how I’d managed to avoid any such mishaps for seven months, through dozens of hostels, hotels and guesthouses, only to be waylaid by a thieving bastard less than twelve hours from home. Also the rucksack had my travelling stuffed monkey, Monty, who’d been with me for several years going to festivals and new countries. So if anyone sees him lounging around Paris, throw me an email!
I’m a huge fan of all things fantasy, swords and sorcery. Especially heroic fantasy, by the likes of David Gemmell, Weiss and Hickman, David and Leigh Eddings etc. In fact any story where a central character overcomes the odds attracts me, which is probably why I like comic books so much as well. But one thing that I found in the majority of these stories was that the central character always had something special about them. Maybe they possess supernatural abilities, or they’re secretly the heir to the throne; something like that. They end up going from naive young street urchin to a character of Batman-like aptitude in the space of a single novel.
Sarene, the protagonist of Queen of the World, is just a sweet young girl who grew up in a rural village in the nation of Tamir. She’s not strikingly attractive, she’s not proficient with any weapons and she doesn’t have any magical powers. Instead, it seems like all the other characters in the novel have the skills and the talents. That kind of role reversal interests me more as a reader, so I decided to see if it was feasible for the weakest individual in a heroic fantasy story to be the main focus without making them a magician’s apprentice or a trainee assassin or something.
There is a twist for her during the tale, of course, but hopefully it’ll be a surprising one which hasn’t been seen before. I know a lot of new authors say that, but hey, I’m sticking to my guns here. -grins-
7. What’s your writing process like?
Terrible, haha. I’m a dreadfully unorganised person. My sleeping pattern shifts from week to week, and I get distracted easily by games, Twitter and YouTube. If procrastination were a sport I’d probably be quite successful.
When I’m committed to a project, though, I try and get into a routine. It may not be at the same time every day, but it does follow a set list of necessities. First thing is a coffee, which cannot be avoided. A cigarette is next, which probably should be avoided but I’m also useless at quitting. Then it’s music – heavy rock usually; Coheed & Cambria, Deftones, Glassjaw, that kinda thing – followed by firing up the word processor and getting on with the day’s work. Once those initial hundred words or so are down, I can usually write for a few hours straight. I tend to aim for at least two thousand words a day, and will push for four if the ideas are flowing and things are going well. Also I try and get as much right in the first draft as possible; complete rewrites absolutely murder my enthusiasm, and I prefer making extensive redrafts of what I already have rather than entirely new attempts.
8. Can you tell us a little about the cover artwork?
The cover is being done by Jeremy Hanna – @JeremyHannaNZ – who is an astoundingly great artist. The stuff on his portfolio blows me away, and it’s a very unique style. I’d better give a bit of a shout to Rushton, one of Inspired Quill’s interns, for finding Jeremy’s work and suggesting we contact him!
As for the image itself, we have Sarene taking a solitary walk through a forest. There’s a fair bit of travelling in Queen of the World, and for reasons which will become clear in the book, there is a necessity for her to keep a low profile. The cover provides both a snapshot of her journey and a metaphor for how she feels.
9. What are you working on now?
Right now I’m cracking on with the sequel to Queen of the World, which is going to be a four-part series. Aside from that I’ve got another story I’m toying with, which brings fantasy into the modern world. Originally it was going to be a YA novel, but if I write it it’ll be based on my hometown and the kinds of people I grew up with. As teenagers my buddies and I swore a lot, drank cheap cider and generally did things we weren’t supposed to. That kind of reality could make for an interesting story if mixed up with elves, goblins and magical lands. Not sure if that is compatible with the ‘young’ part of a YA audience, but we’ll see!
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://cuddlebuggery.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Ben-Hennessey.jpg [/author_image] [author_info]Ben Hennessy is an exciting new author from Essex, England. Brought up on a literary diet including the likes of Stephen King, David Gemmell, Terry Pratchett and David Eddings, he looks to take all these elements and create a unique style of fiction which blends heroic fantasy and a subtle sense of wry humour. Having spent the last decade working various jobs in locations such as Ireland, New Zealand and Vietnam, he is now hoping to forge a new career as a full-time writer.
His debut novel, Queen of the World, is scheduled for release Summer, 2012. Due to be published by Inspired Quill, it tells the story of a young girl who finds herself at the centre of a whirlwind of political ambition, deadly creatures and men who are as Gods.
When he is not poking his keyboard, Ben enjoys travelling the world, finding new music and crashing parties.