Interview with Ben Blake

How do you approach cover design?
I have a friend, Mark Watts, who's a graphic artist. He and I have a chat about the book and come up with an idea, which Mark then creates.

The only time I've decided on my own was for Blood and Gold, which most people seem to think is the worst of the covers so far. So I'll take a hint and stick to the writing from now on, and let Mark do the covers.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
"IT" (Stephen King) - the best evocation of childhood I've ever read.
"The Awakeners" (Sheri S Tepper) - a brilliant critique of zealotry, told in a thrilling Fantasy tale.
"The Lions of al-Rassan" (Guy Gavriel Kay) - friendship between supposed enemies, in the midst of war.
"Against a Dark Background" (Iain M Banks) - an SF carnival of hopes in a disintegrating world.
"The Silence of the Lambs" (Thomas Harris) - just a fabulous thriller.

Sorry there's no Tolkien here. Don't hold it against me.
What do you read for pleasure?
Anything. I have books on SF&F, thrillers and horror. I have some on alternate history, scientific inquiry, philosophy, climate change, religion, authorship, and of course a stack of dictionaries and thesauri. I've also got a lot on history and myth, as reference books for my own writing.

If it's made of paper I'll probably try to read it. But I don't usually stick with a novel unless it catches my attention: I don't see the point. There are so many books; why would I waste time finishing one I don't like?
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I don't have a specific Reader, I just use my PC.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Getting good reviews from people on Amazon's recommended list helps. So does getting out there on social media, which I'm sure I'm not very good at in fact. But I seem to spend as much time on Facebook, Google+, Book Blogs et al as I do on writing, these days. It's important to keep yourself visible.
Describe your desk
Er, this is embarrassing. I work at a normal PC desk, but the clutter has spread across the top of my filing cabinet on one side and onto the shelves on the other. There are notes, piles of books, files filled with character descriptions and maps and the like, USB sticks, business cards, and I think there may be a hitherto undiscovered civilisation in there somewhere too.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was raised in Somerset, England, in a tiny village miles from the nearest shop. My school friends all lived miles away too, which probably helped push me towards books. There's only so much fun you can have playing frisbee on your own.

I didn't enjoy my childhood much, in many ways. That might be why I write Fantasy - if reading is an escape into another world, then Fantasy is the same thing with bells on.
When did you first start writing?
I can't remember, I've always written. I know I first finished a novel when I was 10. It was rubbish - some old toot set in ancient Greece - but still it was finished, and that's no small feat for a child.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The Gate of Angels is the concluding part of a series called Songs of Sorrow. The characters from the first book (Blood and Gold) are in the fight now, and events pile up on top of one another very fast as the invading armies close in.

The underlying theme is friendship, and the things we do for the people we love.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
If an indie author is one who publishes his own work online, then I suppose what motivated me was that my books hadn't found a conventional publisher. These are tough times for the publishing industry, money is tight and sales lower than usual, so not many new writers are being taken on. We're lucky to have the internet to give us another road to follow.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Thus far, Smashwords has been useful mostly by providing the sample download system, which lets people read a bit of my books and decide if they want to pay to read more.

I like that. It means we authors stand and fall according to how well we snag the readers' attention, and isn't that the bottom line?
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Probably it's discovering the characters. There are times when I reach a point in the book and think "But he just wouldn't do that", which means I have to go back and rewrite. But it's good, it means the character has taken on a personality of his own, beyond what I expected (or wanted) him to have. When that happens, I think I've got myself a good character, and not just a cardboard prop-up.
What do your fans mean to you?
It's a special feeling when a fan writes to me, or posts a review of my work. Every time it's like a little prod to my memory, and I think "Oh yeah, I really am an author". I can't overstate it, the thrill is tremendous.
What are you working on next?
Currently I'm revising and editing volume one of a series called Chained Dragon, about a world in which scientific or technological advance is stifled by an ancient group of mages called the Conclave Arcana. When a civilisation grows too strong they smash it, as they have done for thousands of years.

Now the Kingdom of Kanesh is powerful, and the few people who know history realise it's on the brink of being crushed too. But there's a resistance group, the Chained Dragon, which is determined to prevent it.
Who are your favorite authors?
Well, you only need look at my list of favourite books to know most of them. But the list would include Stephen King, Sheri S Tepper, Guy Gavriel Kay, Iain M Banks, Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle, and a mention too for JK Rowling. I know the Potter books are for kids, but the wizards' world is brilliantly realised, and there's a lot to be learned from looking at how Rowling did it.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
What, I need inspiration to get up? Hunger gets me up. Always enjoy my breakfast.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I cycle, play some pool, watch a film now and then... the usual sort of thing.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Recommendation, or else by sampling them in the writers' groups on Google+ and other places. But I still prefer print books to be honest.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
First novel, yes. A tale of a wronged prince in ancient Greece, written when I was 10. It was utter rubbish.
What is your writing process?
My process is simple - get an idea, flesh it out, start writing.

That's really it. I'm sure a lot of people will talk about preparation and habit, but the best habit of all is to write. Just sit down and write. You can't learn your craft by plotting a story, or drawing a map, or producing reams of detail on every character. You learn the craft by writing. That's all.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
No, I don't remember. Strange question. I was reading kid's books when I was 3, how can I possibly remember which one was first?

Don't have a clue.
Where do you get your ideas?
I'm asked this a fair bit, and it irritates me because the answer is simply that I get ideas by thinking about stuff. Einstein once said that he made his breakthroughs not by being a genius, but just by thinking hard. It isn't complicated.

This doesn't seem to satisfy people. I'm not sure why. Maybe people think an author must have a window in his subconscious, through which ideas pour in a stream: I don't know. But to go back to Einstein, he said he sometimes had ideas when doing the things he enjoyed; he called this "soft thinking", when you let your hindbrain do the work while you think about something else. That happens for me too. I can have a flash of inspiration in the middle of the night, or in the cinema - but always about something I've fretted my head over for some times before.

In other words, I thought hard, and when an answer popped into my head it came from that.
Published 2013-09-14.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Black Lord of Eagles
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 105,130. Language: British English. Published: April 10, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
The Ashir have always been alone, but now strangers have come. The Thrain mean to conquer, and with their strange metals and riding beasts, there is little the Ashir can do. Except they have Kai, servant of the Teacher God, marked from birth by a snake around his eye. As long as Kai lives, the Ashir have hope.
Troy: The Ancient Dead
Series: TROY. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 71,810. Language: English. Published: December 17, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Historical, Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
Troy still stands, and the Greek army threatens to revolt. But Odysseus has a plan, centred on the south gate of Troy – the Horse Gate. In Greece itself revolt has already torn the nations apart. The kings will return to more war – if they return at all. For the gods are fickle, and the Greensea and its islands are full of perils even Odysseus must face.
Troy: Heirs of Immortality
Series: TROY. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 76,870. Language: Commonwealth English. Published: February 14, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Fantasy » Historical
A vast Greek fleet has gathered at Aulis, ready for the assault on Troy. But a prophecy says the first man ashore will die, and unease spreads among the soldiers. Across the sea Troy prepares to defend herself. Palisades have been built overlooking the beach, and allies have promised help. Better still, Mursili the Hittite is making iron blades, each one stronger than any weapon in all Greece.
Troy: A Brand of Fire
Series: TROY, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 78,190. Language: English. Published: June 10, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
Greece is a land of unruly kings and warriors, always hungry for glory. In the days after the last heroes, they are even hungrier for practical things - land, and most of all wealth. Troy has plenty of both. One brand and the whole Aegean could catch fire. The world is about to learn that the age of heroes is not over after all.
The Gate of Angels
Series: Songs of Sorrow, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 86,490. Language: British English. Published: January 21, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
The war for Sarténe has begun. In the city of Mayence the people prepare defences and wait for the All-Church army to come. Everything depends on Calesh Saissan and his friends, but an assassin has slipped into the city and is waiting for his chance, even before the army approaches. In the mountains, the Lady of the Hidden House teaches her lore to Farajalla, her chosen heir. Because the ancien
Blood and Gold
Series: Songs of Sorrow, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 101,400. Language: English. Published: August 5, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
Sarténe is a land of culture and beauty. It is also about to be invaded, its people accused of heresy and awful crimes. Defending it are four friends, famous for their exploits in war in the desert far away. Behind them stands the Hidden House, and the ancient powers it is said to command. But against them comes a vast army, larger than any they can raise, and the cruel general who leads it.
The Risen King
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 139,570. Language: British English. Published: March 24, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Fantasy » Historical
An elite warrior band, the brethren, has slept an enchanted sleep for 600 years. Woken by their former enemies, they find the world has changed, and they have no place in it except whatever they can make.