It’s been a good week in the Hall household, me and my husband both got our first dose of the vaccine! And we’ve seen a few friends and been for a couple of meals out, so it’s safe to say life is starting to return to normal, and it feels really nice.
This week I’ve been chatting with another fellow Brit, and a local boy at that – the myth-obsessed fantasy author Ben Lang.
Hi Ben! I’m so excited to chat to a fellow Notts-based author! Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I am from London, but my family moved around while I was growing up so I spent a few years living in Beijing and a couple in Singapore. I live with a hamster called Zarniwoop (after the Hitchhiker’s guide character), and a human called Megan (name origin unknown).
I traveled to Singapore a few years ago and absolutely adored it! I’m so jealous you got to live there for a while. When did you start writing and who inspired or encouraged you?
I started having ideas for stories very young. My parents strongly encouraged it, especially my mum who helped me write many of them. Alice Ivinya and I have been friends for years and showed one another a lot of our early stuff. I was inspired by her example of getting some of her wonderful stories published, and she gave me the first encouragement to get something to a state to show people.
Alice is such a wonderful supporter and mentor, you’re so lucky to have her as a friend. And your parents sound so encouraging! What are your favourite books?
My favourite genres are science fiction and fantasy. My favourite book at the moment is probably Hyperion (Dan Simmons), but I have a wide range of things I really like. Growing up The Hobbit was my favourite for years, along with some Narnia. The Tombs of Atuan is probably my favourite short story.
I love The Chronicles of Narnia, and I need to read The Hobbit one of these days! Tell us about your upcoming release.
My first published story will be The Bridge, a short story appearing in a collection called Enchanted Waters. The story opens with a chance encounter between an elephant-riding preacher and a lonely young woman. The “vibe” is vaguely South-east Asian, although I cheated a little with one character who would be more at home in Camelot. I didn’t realise until more than a year after the story was finished, but it has a lot of elements in common with the Monkey King adventure involving the Golden Rays monastery.
That sounds fascinating, I’d love to read more fantasy stories set in or inspired by South East Asia. Where do you tend to find inspiration for your stories?
Obviously other books can be a good inspiration. Strangely I find the stories people tell at a dinner-table can be a good seed. These are often based on something strange that someone thinks is noteworthy. They are real, and therefore usually quite devoid of tropes and standard structures, but they are polished a little by the speaker. Really good seeds.
That’s genius! Like people watching on a much closer scale. Would you consider yourself a plotter, pantser or plantser?
Had to look these up! Certainly a pantser. When I sat down to write The Bridge I knew nothing about what was going to happen except that I wanted an elephant and that my first line was “They met at the edge of the river”. I didn’t know who either of the “they” were until I got to the next line. This worked out well for The Bridge and I think the “making it up as you go” technique has the nice side effect of making it feel like a spoken story.
Winging it this way was a bit of a revelation as everything else I had tried previously was more planned, and a lot worse. I have tried the “know nothing” tactic a few more times and learned it doesn’t always work out as well, although its generally better than planning for me. Recent attempts have been a hybrid.
I find a hybrid to be the best way for me too, I do love to plot and plan but I also leave room for a bit of discovery writing along the way. What are you working on right now?
I have half a short-story about a tortoise which is looking for a second act. I also have one about some cowboys that kind of spirals into nowhere because winging it didn’t pan out – I would like to fix it at some point although maybe it belongs on the dead heap.
Never delete anything! You never know when a scene or snippet from an old trashed story will be the perfect addition to your new WIP. What one piece of advice would you give aspiring authors?
Try writing a short story with no plan.
I had been revising my fantasy novel for years and it was by that point built on foundations laid when I was a decade less able. It was overburdened with stuff, was never actually going to be finished and was certainly never going to tie together. Plus, whenever I sat down to work on it I knew where things had to go, but somehow characters would say and do things I hadn’t planned and I had to either abandon the plan or not use the new text.
Writing something short gives you more freedom from plans and a better chance of finishing it. Once you have one finished thing you can show people and that adds momentum to write another.
That’s great advice, free writing can be so good for creativity, and I’ve definitely found writing short stories to be a totally different challenge to novel writing.
Thank you so much for speaking to me today, Ben, it’s been so much fun! How can we find out more about you and your books?
Check out my Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ben-Lang/e/B08RXHZPSH?ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vu00_tkin_p1_i5
Ben’s story The Bridge will be included in Enchanted Waters alongside my short story Daughter of the Selkie King, coming out 16 July. Another one of Ben’s brilliant short stories, A Junk Out of Cinderbar, is going to members of the EW street team as a thank you for joining and agreeing to support our anthology with reviews and social media posts. Interested in joining?