Interview: fantasy and myth-obsessed author Ben Lang

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?

Click here to join the Enchanted Waters street team!

Lyndsey

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Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Welcome back to my blog, readers and writers!

Before we get to today’s review, I have some exciting news! I’m over halfway through draft two of my WIP The Fair Queen, and thought now would be a good time to share another excerpt (you may have read the first draft of my prologue when I shared it a few months ago).

So, now I’m sharing the first three chapters of The Fair Queen with you all! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, email me, tweet me, or leave a comment on here.

All you have to do to get your chapters is sign up with your email address and you’ll receive a link to download them, and if you’re already subscribed there’ll be a link in every email so you can download and read them at your leisure!

Head over to my Books page to sign up by email and get your chapters!

Right, on with the review!

 

The Raven Boys

5 stars

Let me start by saying that I am years behind, the final book in this series was published in 2016, and The Raven Cycle has been on my TBR for ages, but until I read The Scorpio Races recently and remembered how much I loved Maggie Stiefvater, it had languished at the bottom of the list. (I am ashamed. Too many books, too little time.)

Most of the book bloggers and readers I follow online absolutely adore this series, although some weren’t happy with the ending (I’ve only read the first book so far, so I can’t spoil that for you!). I heard that Maggie is writing a companion series about Ronan, so I’ll be looking forward to that when I finish. I’m going to try and avoid spoilers as much as possible – I’m desperate for some fan art, but Tumblr is a minefield!

Synopsis

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater is set in Henrietta, Virginia, a small town on a ley line, where psychics are real and magic exists. Gansey is searching for a dead Welsh king, and Blue is trying to avoid kissing any boys because her psychic mother and aunts have warned her that kissing her true love will result in his death.

“Impossibly, Blue realised that this other Blue was crying because she loved Gansey. And that the reason Gansey touched her like that, his fingers so careful with her, was because he knew that her kiss could kill him.”

Unlike her mother, Blue doesn’t have the Sight, but on St Mark’s day, she sees a spirit. The spirits that walk the corpse road on St Mark’s day are the people of the town that will die in the next twelve months. Mostly the sick and elderly. But this spirit is a young man, and for Blue to have seen him must mean that he is either her true love, or she is going to kill him. Or both.

The eponymous Raven Boys consist of:

  • Richard Gansey III, or just “Gansey” – a tortured soul in a Trust fund kid’s body.

“Gansey was just a guy with a lot of stuff and a hole inside him that chewed away more of his heart every year.”

  • Ronan Lynch – an angry, dark-humoured ruffian who drinks, swears and offends people. A lot.

“Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves.”

  • Adam Parrish – a sweet, intelligent boy who works three jobs to pay for school and wants to make his own way in life.

“The most important thing to Adam Parrish, though, had always been free will, the ability to be his own master.
This was the important thing.
It had always been the important thing.
This was what it was to be Adam.”

  • Noah – a vague, gentle kid with a warm heart and cold hands.

“Noah appeared beside Blue. He looked joyful and adoring, like a Labrador retriever. Noah had decided almost immediately that he would do anything for Blue, a fact that would’ve needled Adam if it had been anyone other than Noah.”

All but Adam live together in an apartment building owned by Gansey, Monmouth Manufacturing. Adam lives in a double wide trailer with his parents, to his embarrassment, and works several jobs to pay for the half of his school fees that aren’t covered by a scholarship.

The emblem of Aglionby Academy, where the boys go to school, is a raven. Hence the name.

“Aglionby Academy was the number one reason Blue had developed her two rules: One, stay away from boys because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards.”

The atmosphere of the book is heavy and intense, like a hot summer. For those few weeks in the story, it feels like everything Blue and the Raven Boys do is life-or-death, and it just might be. Stiefvater is brilliant at creating suspense and a sense of urgency, it’s slow-building, picking up speed with each surprise revelation along the way.

The plot, whilst gripping, is almost secondary to the relationships between the characters. I’ve seen the group described as “co-dependent” and that couldn’t be more accurate, I can’t think of another group of teens in a YA novel that need each other quite as much as these do.

“Gansey could’ve had any and all of the friends that he wanted. Instead he had chosen the three of them, three guys who should’ve, for three different reasons, been friendless.”

There are a lot of components to The Raven Boys, but Stiefvater commands them all effortlessly, and it never feels like a single element doesn’t quite fit. Combining Blue’s world of eccentric women, mysterious psychic abilities and strong principles with Gansey’s world of privilege, money and the all-consuming search for Owen Glendower, the lost Welsh king, takes real artistry, and Stiefvater makes it look easy.

I’m giving The Raven Boys 5 stars, it is definitely one of my new favourite books – probably not quite surpassing The Scorpio Races, if only because it’s the first in a series rather than a standalone and so I won’t be satisfied until I’ve read the entire series!

I would liken it to Beautiful Creatures, thematically, which I sadly didn’t finish, but this is definitely the better book!

Have you read The Raven Cycle? Which other books would you liken it to? If not, I can’t recommend it enough, stick it on your TBR or bump it up to the top, and let me know what you think of it!

Lyndsey

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I am a member of the Book Depository affiliate program, so if you click through and buy any of the books mentioned in this blog I might make a little commission, but I am not paid to review books and all reviews are my own opinions!

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Currently reading:

Audiobook

And I Darken by Kiersten White

I’m only about 50 pages into this but I’m enjoying it so far, it’s different to my usual YA reads because Lada starts off as a young girl and grows up throughout the book, so she’s only about 13 right now and already she’s a badass. It’s fascinating learning more about Romania and the Ottomans, and it’s a really interesting adaptation of the Vlad the Impaler/Dracula story.

Paperback

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

I finally finished my beta reading, so I’m going to dive back into this one because it’s been sitting on my bedside table for weeks now, untouched. I’ve heard there are dragons, so I’ll be picking this back up sharpish!

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater review Lyndsey's Book Blog

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I am a big Stiefvater fan, having read The Wolves of Mercy Falls series and Books of Faerie (Lament and Ballad – still waiting for that third book, Maggie!) years ago. The Scorpio Races had been on my list for so long, but to be brutally honest I wasn’t sure about the premise. Flesh-eating water horses? A standalone?? No sequels???

How wrong I was. This novel is perfection! Yes, I am gutted that there won’t be a second or third instalment, but the story tied up so neatly at the end that I can’t even complain.

TL;DR Every November flesh-eating water horses crawl out of the sea onto the island of Thisby, and riders race them on the beach to win money. The boy who wins every year wants to buy his horse off the stables he works for. A girl who’s parents were both killed by the horses needs to win enough money to save the house she and her brothers live in. Throw in magic, rituals, an island with its own personality and a supporting cast of vividly drawn characters, and you’ve got The Scorpio Races.

scorpio-races

5 stars

This book has one of the best opening lines in all of literature (according to me):

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

If that doesn’t suck you into the story and make you want to read it, nothing will. But I’ll go on anyway…

Stiefvater (pronounced steve-otter, the things you learn listening to audiobooks) based the book on the myth of the Capaill Uisce (pronounced ca-pull ish-ka – again, audiobooks), which is a legendary Celtic water horse that lives in the sea and eats human flesh.

At the end of the audiobook, Maggie read her Author’s Notes, and explained some of the inspiration for the story. She got the idea to write about water horses when she was younger, but she was never happy with the story she created or how the myth fit into it. In the end, she realised she could pick and choose which bits of the myth she wanted and which bits to discard. So, her version of the Capaill is different to every other.

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Back to the story, then. The action takes place on an island just off the mainland called Thisby. We’re never told the name of the mainland, but the audiobook is narrated by two Brits, so I like to imagine it’s England, and Thisby is maybe the Isle of Wight? The aesthetics of the island fit for me, and the Isle of Wight is a major sailing mecca, so the idea of Thisby as a big racing community (albeit, on horses instead of yachts) makes sense to me.

The island is almost a character within itself, the residents regularly refer to Thisby as though it is a living thing rather than a piece of land. Especially, when the riders each had to make a blood sacrifice to mark their participation in the races, I felt that the island was more than just the place where the characters lived, it had a power over them.

“Tell me what to wish for. Tell me what to ask the sea for.”
“To be happy. Happiness.”
“I don’t think such a thing is had on Thisby. And if it is, I don’t know how you would keep it.”

One of the major themes in the book is the choice between staying on Thisby and leaving for the mainland – this is the root of one of the main conflicts of the story. For many, the island has a grip on them that they don’t understand, for others, the island is oppressive and they need to get away.

The mystical elements in the book were really interesting – the horses themselves and the magic they seemed to possess, convincing humans to walk into the sea and be dragged under or eaten. The luring power of the sea to both the horses and the men – Sean is constantly referred to as having one foot on the land and one foot in the sea. The festival where the woman in the horse head mask gave Sean a seashell to wish upon. There were lots of references to superstitions, rituals and beliefs held by the people of Thisby.

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My favourite thing about the book, though, was the characters. Sean is a stoic, reserved nineteen-year-old, whose father was a rider before him, and has won the Scorpio Races four times in the last six years. He has a way with the horses, both normal and Capaill Uisce, and his Uisce mount, Corr, is the fastest and most loyal horse on the island. Kate, or Puck as everyone calls her, is a strong-willed, resilient girl, living with her two brothers since the death of both of their parents at the hands of the Capaill Uisce. She decides to take part in the Scorpio Races, despite her brothers’ protests, in order to win enough money to make sure they don’t lose the house they grew up in.

Both Sean and Puck had such strong motivations and reasons for winning that I found it impossible to decide who I was rooting for to win.

I loved the incredibly slow-burning romance between them, it was far more believable than many YA romances, especially with two such independent, stubborn and hard-headed characters. They were a perfect fit!

“I think every now and then about Sean’s thumb pressed against my wrist and daydream about him touching me again. But mostly I think about the way he looks at me – with respect – and I think that’s probably worth more than anything.”

I gave The Scorpio Races 5 stars, it’s my new favourite by Maggie Stiefvater, but I have heard nothing but good things about The Raven Cycle, which is next on my list now!

The one question I have left over is whether the book has any further links to A Midsummer Night’s Dream than the names of Thisby and Puck? I Googled it, but haven’t found a definitive answer. I’m just curious because the names of some of my characters (Auberon, Xander and Baz Demitree) are inspired by the play too (Oberon, Lysander and Demetrius).

If you read and enjoyed any of Stiefvater’s other books and haven’t picked this one up yet, do it now! It’s the best audiobook I have listened to in months, if not ever. The performances were excellent, with Steve West reading for Sean and Fiona Hardingham for Puck.

Have you read The Scorpio Races? Did you love it? Tell me in the comments, I must know! And, how perfect is this image? She reminds me so much of Puck 🙂

Lyndsey

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I am a member of the Book Depository affiliate program, so if you click through and buy any of the books mentioned in this blog I might make a little commission, but I am not paid to review books and all reviews are my own opinions!

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