Joining me today is author Scott Mariani, author of the successful Ben Hope series and the Vampire Federation series. Born in Scotland he saw the light and moved to West Wales, croeso I Gymru! An ardent nature lover and advocate of conservation, he supports charities such as The Woodland Trust and The World Wildlife Fund.
Why do you write? What do you see as the main purpose of your writing?
I write, principally, because doing this job enables me to not have to live in a town or city, put on a suit and tie and hack through traffic to and from an office every day, a way of life I’d do pretty much anything to avoid! I write because it allows me to be ‘me’ in a way that no other occupation can. And also, I guess, because I have stories inside me that need to come out. But that’s not a creative or artistic whimsy on my part – I firmly view what I write as a product, and the main purpose of creating it is to support myself, my home and my immediate circle. It’s just what I do.
If there was no such thing as literature, how would your life differ?
Then I’d be writing screenplays… which is something I’d like to be doing.
What kind of relationship do you have with your protagonists? Do you eat, breathe and sleep Ben Hope wondering what mess you can get him into next?
I think it’s pretty unavoidable, when you spend months and months totally, intensely immersed in the lives of your characters, that the process starts seeping into your pores and taking over your life. It’s one of the occupational hazards of writing – there is no factory whistle to set you free at the end of a day’s work. You’re on duty 24/7. I very often find myself dwelling on Ben and his variable fortunes over dinner, all through the evening and into the night when thoughts of plots and subplots and twists and all kinds of maddening details can start to invade my dreams. I sometimes wonder whether this is partly why writers have traditionally been more prone to depression and suicide than most normal folks – maybe carrying a headful of characters and storylines around with you all the time is enough to drive you completely around the bend! These days I’m careful to take more time out for myself, to unwind and detach my mind from it all. Ironically, that’s often when the best ideas strike me, and I find myself getting drawn right back in again…
Ben Hope has been the main protagonist of your novels for several years now, The Sacred Sword being his seventh outing. How much would you say the character has developed over the years? Do you see him any differently now than when the series began?
Yes, Ben’s been part of my life for a while now. Even though I can’t quite visualise him in the same clear way that I can see some of the lesser characters who’ve appeared in the books, I feel I know him very, very well – to the extent that he feels like a real person to me. Like any real, living person, he’s constantly developing and evolving. In the first books he was a little wilder and ragged-edged, and despite all the good things he did to help those in need, he was deeply unhappy with life. Now he’s a little older and some things have changed for him, that rawness has healed to a degree. He’s less of a loner, and has gradually amassed a circle of people around him that he cares about. He’s not drinking quite so much and is less crazy. Where in the earlier books he wouldn’t hesitate before wading in, guns blazing, against insane odds, now he’ll maybe hesitate for about half a second… he’s still very much Ben Hope.
What’s the hardest part of writing a Ben Hope book?
Although it’s a process I’m becoming pretty familiar with, none of the elements that go together to write a Ben Hope book are easily achieved. Every book (with the exception of the prequel Passenger 13) has a historical backdrop or mystery that I spend a lot of time figuring out. It has to be interesting in its own right and also relate believably to the modern day. Bad guys have to have cause to care about it, and Ben Hope himself has to have a reason for getting involved with it. This is the real engine room of the book. The process of figuring it all out then generates roles for secondary characters to play. Gradually, a structure arises that more or less dictates its own form and pace. Once all those basic elements are in place, there comes the task of weaving it all together into a 100,000-plus word-long chunk of prose and dialogue that must keep thousands of fans engaged and satisfied by delivering all they expect from a Ben Hope story, plus a little more. It’s a hard process, from start to finish. Not that I’m complaining. Just doing my job, ma’am…
Are the names of the characters in your novels important and how do they come to you?
They’re very important, and I spend a lot of time mulling over them before they’re right for the character. It’s an intuitive thing, there’s no logic to it – you just know when you’ve hit the mark. It can take a while, and in the course of writing a book the names of secondary characters can change several times. I have to be consistent about that, or it can lead to confusion. I’ll sometimes find myself wondering ‘Eh? Who’s Harry? Who’s Dave?’
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I have absolutely no objective view of myself whatsoever, so it would be hard to say. How about something like: ‘A saintly, heroic genius who was tragically misunderstood and undervalued during his lifetime’?
If you could send one person to a remote desert Island with no internet access, mobile phones or email who would it be and why?
That would be me. Sounds like Paradise! When can I go? Although in fact I pretty much already live that way, happily out of touch with most of the world. Out here in the wilds of west Wales you often can’t get a mobile signal, which suits me fine as I don’t happen to own one of these vile contraptions that the planet seems to have become hopelessly addicted to. One of the best times I’ve ever had – I can’t remember which Ben Hope book I was writing at the time – was getting completely cut off by heavy snow and ice for nearly three weeks one winter, with no phone or email as the lines had gone down. It was great, just chopping wood, lighting fires, walking across snowy fields with the dogs, relaxing and cooking. I don’t have TV either – the parrot chewed through the aerial wire about ten years ago and I never bothered fixing it.
Who would you send along six months later to keep that person company yet deprive the rest of us!!
No, that’s fine, I wouldn’t wish to deprive the rest of the world of anyone, and would be perfectly content to keep the desert island all to myself, thanks!
What do you wish you’d known when you started writing?
That I was about to get tangled up with the worst literary agent and the worst publisher imaginable, whose combined efforts would very nearly reduce my writing career to ashes before it had even properly begun. It was a terrible time, and I’d basically given up when, out of the blue, I was offered my first proper publishing deal and the Ben Hope series was rescued from oblivion. I still look back on that bad time and wish there had been a way of knowing how to avoid taking those potentially ruinous steps. There’s a lack of proper education for aspiring authors, and that’s partly because most of the people who teach it have never done it.
What’s your favourite word?
Gobshite. I have no precise understanding of what it means, but it’s just a wonderful word.
Which fictional character would you most like to meet in real life and why?
Obi-wan Kenobi, so I could learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi.
What makes you keep picking up and reading books?
I have to say that I very seldom read fiction now, and when I do it’s most likely going to be one of the well-thumbed ‘old faithfuls’ that I know I can rely on. These days when I pick up a book I haven’t read before, it’s usually a non-fiction work that I’m using for research purposes, or appeals to a personal interest such as astronomy.
How much research do you put into your books or is it a case of winging it?! The reason I ask this is during The Sacred Sword you take us to Masada, an ancient fortification in Southern Israel overlooking The Dead Sea – incidentally one of my favourite scenes in the book – did you get a chance to visit the ruins?
If I can, I like to see a place for myself to scout the location and get a feel for it before it gets into a book. I had the opportunity of visiting Masada some years back. It was a historic setting I’d wanted to see ever since watching the Peter O’Toole / Peter Strauss movie in my childhood. It’s predictably touristy now, but nonetheless an awe-inspiring place whose sense of power and history is probably impossible to capture fully in words.
How has being a published author changed your life?
You can never be sure that simply getting published is going to change your life, as this is such a tough and unforgiving business to get into and so many authors fall by the wayside. I’ve been extremely fortunate, though, that by a combination of hard work, good luck and timing, my Ben Hope books have been popular with lots of readers across the world. It’s allowed me to create a secure lifestyle that suits my needs, and given me an occupation that allows me to channel a lot of my personal interests into my work. The relative success of the books has also enabled me to indulge certain lifelong interests, such as collecting historic arms. I’m not into flashy cars or any of that kind of stuff…
Going back to your childhood, what was the greatest thing you learned while at school?
Not to listen to anything the teachers told me. To paraphrase Woody Allen: ‘Don’t listen to them, just look at them. That’s how you’ll learn about the world.’ This infinite wisdom has stood me in very good stead, especially in the book publishing business.
What’s your favourite fruit?!!
Royalty cheques, the fruit of all the hard work! Sadly, not one that grows on trees.
If you could invite three people to a murder/mystery dinner party who would you invite and who would end up being the victim at the end of the night?!
Probably all three. But as for their identities… now, that would be telling!
Thanks for joining me today Scott. If you’d like to learn more about Scott or the Ben Hope series then why not drop in on the author’s website take a look at his collection of books at Amazon or take a look and see what I thought about The Sacred Sword – Ben Hope 7 back in June this year.