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An interview with Ben Sawyer

Two posts today, second will be craft related as normal but for my first I wanted to do something a little different. Ben Sawyer was kind enough to interview me about my debut novel on his blog and we had such a fascinating talk I couldn't help but want to reciprocate!

His novel, the Familiar is available through the link. If you want an atmospheric read that chills your spine then get this book!

So, without further ado, here is the interview!

Welcome Ben, I'm going to get straight into the questions.

1. If you could write in any other genre, which would it be and why?
1 – I have a few stories on the go, one a Sci-Fi, one a very dark comedy and the other, once again, Horror. It’s a really difficult question. I enjoy writing horror and comedy, they seem to go hand in hand. I have a story in my head about a political family in a fictional country which I’ve kicked about for years but find the idea of writing it down really intimidating! I suppose political drama, the intrigue and double talk is fascinating.
2. What made you choose the names of your characters, especially Mr Pig (without giving any spoilers away of course)
2- The names of the characters were people that I went to school with or worked with, it just seemed to add to the realism, especially as the story was set in the town where I grew up. As for Mr. Pig, I toyed with a few ideas but it had to be something that a four year old child would come up with.
3 -Speaking of Mr Pig, he is an integral part of your story. Did you have an imaginary friend as a child, or is there anyone's imaginary friend that inspired you?
3 – I didn’t have an imaginary friend but a friend but when we were little, whenever something went missing in the home, my parents would blame ‘Alice’.  Years later they told me that Alice was a Poltergeist that they’d had in their old home. By all accounts it would steel dummies which they would find weeks later on top of the wardrobe all neatly lined up together and completely free of dust. Or tiny foot prints planted dead centre of a newly concreted driveway. They dubbed her Alice after a strange phone call in the early hours when a voice said ‘Alice has to come home now’. The activity stopped immediately.  It always stayed with me. Do you know what it is, little girl ghosts! They terrify me!
4. Fictionalised history is very 'in' at the moment. If you could fictionalise any criminal/event, which would you choose and why?
4 - I’m a huge fan of The Beatles and the one story that always fascinated me was the “Paul is Dead” rumour. Paul McCartney was killed in 1967 and to cover up his death, the bad recruited a lookalike so that they could shoot the “SGT Pepper” cover. Sharp eared fans started hearing hidden messages in the songs “I Buried Paul” at the end of Strawberry Fields for example, the cover of Abbey Road was cited as another clue. It’s a fantastic conspiracy  theory and I always wanted to write a fictionalised account of that. I surprised that no-one has, plus “Turn me on, dead man” would make a great title!
Wow that Alice ghost is a short story in itself! I love your choice for the fictionalised story too, although perhaps nobody has written it because of fear of being sued.
5. Are you afraid one day you will run out of stories to tell?
No, never. I was cleaning my teeth on Sunday when from no-where I heard myself say, “Brandenburg Devils”. From that I started wondering where I might have heard it. By 9 in the evening I had gone from reading about a monument in Germany, German folklore to reading about a “Neck”, an old English term for a water spirit that drowned mischievous children.  Inspiration seems to come at the oddest of times. I came into work yesterday I wrote the first synopsis of “The Brandenburg Devils”.
6. Conversely, are you afraid you have too many stories and not enough time to tell them all?
Yeah, I was even worried that I would never get The Familiar finished. I’m starting to fill up a note pad now with ideas but I’m trying to be a bit ruthless with them. I think a writer should never think that they have enough time, it makes you more selective about your current work.
7. What is your writing routine? Do you set aside specific time, or have certain rituals before you start?
I don’t really have a routine. I wrote “The Familiar” in my dinner break at work. We have a two year old son, so writing at home is out if the question unless I want his input all over the keyboards! They only thing I will say that I do is that I  try and find pieces of music to fit the mood of the work. “The Familiar” was written to “Tubular Bells” side 2 or early English folk music.
8. What do you personally find is the hardest part of writing?
The beginning. Always. I worry so much that the opening will be drab and won’t draw people in. I worry so much that I’ve written chapter 2 first and then gone backwards!
Sounds similar to me, I wrote a lot of my book during breaks at work!
9. Do you ever get frustrated when a really good piece of writing suddenly comes to you, only to flit back out of your mind when life gets in the way and you've lost it forever?
There is probably a book to be filled with these moments! Yes, all the time and its really frustrating. This is why ‘The Pad’ is so important. I have one next to my bed because when I lay awake at night, that’s usually when the idea comes. I also keep one at work and one in the car. Priceless!
10. If you could get face to face advice from any writer in history, who would it be and why?
William Peter Blatty. He was a comedy writer who made an conscious decision to switch horror and penned The Exorcist. That can’t have been an easy choice. I’d just like to know what made him push The Exorcist when everyone wanted more Pink Panther films from him.         
11. Have you ever had writer's block and what is your tip to overcome it?
Yeah, I’ve sat and stared at a paragraph for days and wondered where to go from here. I finally realised that if its not working, scrap it and try something else. If it doesn’t get the creativity flowing them there’s no point struggling with it. Look for another way through.
12. Writing is a very creative process. Are you creative in any other ways?
I suppose so, yeah. I went to college to become an animator, something that I’d been doing since I was 13. There was a lot of design involved in that and of course, script writing. The animation thing fell by the wayside, which was a shame but I kept on writing, producing my own comedy tapes in the 90’s called “Wired” and from there I did stand up (sort of, acoustic nights but people liked my stories better than the songs!). I can’t stand to see a blank sheet of paper, put it like that, I’ll doodle on it!
ok final set of questions (BONUS ROUND!!!)
13. Speaking of animation, would you consider that for your book? What would be your ideal medium to showcase your story?
No, I love the medium but it has to be suited to the subject matter, which is usually fantasy. Ralph Bakshi’s “Lord of the Rings” for example, was a really good attempt because the medium suited the source material. When I was writing the book I was thinking of “Dead Man’s Shoes” and “The Wicker man” that sort of thing. I was looking for realism. A single parent living on a council estate whose life is suddenly thrown into turmoil, extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.
14. Sum up the theme of your book in one word.
15. Would you ever collaborate with someone on a book?
I’m collaborating on a book at the moment, “The End of the World and Back”.  It’s with a guy from college that I used to write with before ‘Life’ got in the way and we both had to get jobs!
16. Who or what do you credit with getting you into writing, to the point of writing a novel?
My mother and father without a doubt. We had a caravan near Pickering and of course it only had gas so, NO TV!!!! They had a book called “65 Great Tales of the Supernatural” and they would  read us stories around the candle light. But they also encouraged us to read too, it didn’t matter what. My dad handed me “Jaws” when I was eight years old, “The Exorcist”, “Legion”, “The Hobbit” his motto was always that the film was never as good as the book. He was right too. Mam would always be telling me to write ideas down, write a book. They were like that with all of us.  My older brother has had some of his poetry published and my sister has a book of poetry published, their encouragement was definitely heeded.

17. Finally. Writers are all about imagination so ...if you could swap lives with anyone for a day (real or fictional) write the opening paragraph to their/your story
Well, to suit my ego its going to have to be James Bond. I was given the books to read by my Nana, I loved “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” so here we go…
His throat was dry. The air in the casino hung heavy with grey/blue smoke and mixed incongruously with scent of perfume. The perspiration made Bond’s shirt cling to his back but to lose his jacket now would surely hand the mental advantage to his competitor. The Greek was chewing on a Havana, his eyes never leaving Bonds.  The cards felt oily within in his grasp but finally Bond slid one from the pack and laid it down. The jack of clubs stared back from the table. A wry smile danced across the lips of the Greek, a huge plume of smoke covered the table followed by a sinister laugh. From his pack the Greek slipped a card and lay it slowly but purposefully on top the jack.
“Pick up two cards, Mr Bond”
There were  gasps around the table from faces unseen behind the vapoured lights. Bond kept his emotions in check. He was prepared to let the Greek enjoy his moment but finally he slid another from his hand, his eyes locked on the Greek whose laugh was suddenly engulfed by a cough. Bond had laid another two on top of the Greeks, he knew what it meant.
“Pick up four?” Bond couldn’t help but smile as the Greek pulled the four new cards from the deck and shuffled them into his hand. Finally he sighed and knocked twice on the table.
“I cannot go” he grumbled to Bond who placed an eight of hearts onto the green baize.
“Oh great, now I miss a turn!” The Greek angrily stubbed out his Havana, twisting it into a ashen mess in the bowl.
Bond’s glass was empty, he had drained four within the last hour and now as the game was closing, he dare not venture a fifth. The Greek had the advantage, he lay card upon card until finally he was left with only one. Bond had nothing to suit but he felt a tremor of excitement as the Greek laid the final card to claim victory.
“Better luck next time, Mr Bond” his laugh became bronchial as his hands reached for the pile of chips in the middle of the table.
“Yes, quite” said Bond, his hand slapping down hard on top of the Greeks.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“Strict rules of ‘Two’s and Eights’ old friend” Bond eyed him, waiting to see if he would crumble, “You didn’t say last card”
The Greek crumbled, his hand lifted from the pile of chips and his head slumped to the table. Rising from his chair, Bond signalled for that fifth drink before tossing a single chip toward to his opponent, “Just a token gesture” Bond told him before waltzing off toward the room filled with sexy women and bald head villains.
Taken from “Never say Never Again. Again” By Ian Phlegming  (apologies to all concerned)
Hope this is okay Emma and thanks for your time!
This is a great interview Ben and showcases just how imaginative you are! Thank you so much for doing this.


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