Fantasy has always been a part of our collective imagination. Whether it be stories from ancient cultures trying to understand the world around them or within the tomes of contemporary fiction, it is undeniably a genre that has dominated the world of literature. We’re all familiar with the likes of Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series, which are wonderful stories of good versus evil. However, there are other stories out there which focus on the more chilling and at times horrifying elements of this genre. Ben Galley is one such author. He has been writing for the past decade and runs his own consultancy, Shelf Help, to help fellow writers when it comes to self-publishing and marketing.
Your first book, The Written, was released in 2010. When you wrote it, did you have intention of writing for a living or did you write it and think “let’s see where this goes”? I was fully entranced by the idea that this book could be my gateway into being a professional author. Although it wasn’t an immediate success, and it took a host of subsequent books, in truth, The Written was a stepping over the threshold of a new life.
You are particularly drawn to the fantasy genre, and not just in your writing: you’ve said on social media that you always play a dark elf on Elder Scrolls. Even as a youth, you quote JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis as being two of your biggest inspirations. What is about this genre that draws you the most? Simply put, it’s the vast, unending number of possibilities that fantasy offers to create something new and different. We have the excuse to build entire worlds from scratch, to craft kingdoms and histories, and truly let our imaginations run wild. All the while, we use our strange, fantastical worlds to tell human stories.
Your debut series Emaneska was inspired by Nordic mythology, and in the acknowledgments of Chasing Graves, you thank your friends ‘who endured numerous hours of me yammering on about ghosts and death and Egyptian mythology’. Why use these cultures as a template for your stories? Mythology is fascinating to me because it is rooted in a time where our belief systems were inherently fantastical. We believed in dragons, minotaurs, and gods. As such, mythology offers a rich vein of ideas that can aid the worldbuilding process, and, at the same time, provide a familiar handhold for the reader to connect with.
Do you have any myths from these cultures that particularly fascinate you? I find a lot of mythology to be allegorical. These stories and ideas were passed down through song, poem, and pen and ink for generations upon generations. There’s a reason these stories have survived and formed deep foundations in our modern cultures, and that’s because they teach us about the human condition. About ourselves. One of my favourite aspects of mythology is the connection of words in the Norse myths, via the branches of the Yggdrasil tree. In my mind, it’s almost an ancient understating of alternate dimensions, or the connection between solar systems and galaxies. Hardcore fascinating.
You wrote on your website that, by the age of 13, you wrote three books about anthropomorphized monkeys. You also said they would ‘forever go unpublished due to reasons of hideous spelling and grammar’, but would you really not want to revisit these books and give them another go? I tested this theory about two weeks ago, as it happens. I was optimistic about the level of editing required, but I can grimly confirm that they are atrocious when it comes to structure, spelling, and grammar. They were good ideas, but they would need a complete overhaul, which I sadly lack the time for.
Throughout the Chasing Graves books, you make fourth wall breaking references to your trade: in Grim Solace ‘when has a writer helped anyone?’ and ‘you couldn’t get me to pen a sonnet if you hung me over a well full of crocodiles’. Any particular reason why? For the sake of comedy or something else? Glad you noticed them! I made a few in the Scarlet Star Trilogy. It’s a comedic nod to the craft, to be honest. I’m fond of the idea that the characters have no idea they’re attached to my puppet strings, and therefore the reader can be in on the joke that the character is accidentally making. I also like the concept that my characters have no use for books, or would despise me for making them go through the events in my books.
While we’re on the topic of Chasing Graves, let’s talk about the protagonist Caltro Basalt. You said in a tweet that you always play as a thief in your RPG playthroughs. Is that where the inspiration of Caltro being a locksmith came from? Yes indeed. I’ve been fascinated with thievery (in characters, I swear) for a long time, ever since I played Thief: The Dark Age, and Thief II. Though sneaking and thievery immediately appear underhanded and criminal, they can be heroic traits when you consider who you’re stealing from. The concept of a thief being as powerful and as dangerous as a knight or mage, just in a different way, is also a fun one to toy with. That’s why I wrote the lockpicking scenes in Chasing Graves like sword duels. Being a thief also instantly puts the character in the grey part of the spectrum, which is where I wanted Caltro to be. A criminal, but one with a sense of honour.
Your book Bloodrush is a bit different from what you usually write, mixing in western with fantasy. Why did you decide to deviate more to this genre? I felt the weird western genre was – and still is to an extent – was a little underserved, and it’s a genre I’ve always had a fascination with. Who couldn’t be intrigued by mixing six-shooters with magic and monsters. I also wanted to explore something completely different from the frozen, Nordic world of Emaneska, and the deserts of Wyoming were perfect for that!
You have also organized a website to help writers who also want to self-publish back in 2011. What made you want to share your knowledge of this field? Mainly because it was so lacking when I first self-published. I couldn’t find the information that was right for my personal journey, so I found my own DIY way through to market. Once I had a method, I called it the Shelf Help method and got to work sharing it with others. I focus on affordability and professionalism, and that’s what I teach to fellow authors.
Without giving away too many of your trade secrets, from your experience, what are some common mistakes that self-published authors find themselves in and how would you resolve them? I would say scrimping on necessary and professional steps such as editing and cover design. Even though many authors make the effort and pay the money to get their book polished to traditional standards, I still see many writers so eager to get to publish that they jump or skip steps.
You’ve described applying your experiences as working as an independent music artist to working as an independent writer. In what ways are the two industries similar and in what ways are they different? Both industries underwent an internet revolution that provided the independent artist with the ability to go direct to consumer, without the need for a bid record label. It democratised the industry and provided the surge of independent content we know and love today. At the same time, it allows for diversification and exploration of niche genres. And it becomes, more so at the very least, a meritocracy. We’ve seen the same thing happen in both industries. Where they differ is that in music, the live aspect is a huge revenue stream, and harder for an author to accomplish.
You also say in the about section of your website that you apparently own a section of the moon! Care to tell us more about that? Ha! That was a whimsical purchase back in the day, where it was all the rage to own an acre of the moon. I’m going to turn it into a moon cheese shop when I get up there.
Have you tried to publish any works through a publisher? If so/not, why? It’s something I’m exploring through my agent at the moment. Self-publishing has worked very well for me, but I respect the fantasy publishers a great deal and it would be good to work with them in the future on a project or two. We’ll see what the future brings.
Bit of an unusual question, but you used to live in the UK and have since emigrated to British Columbia. Would you say the move has affected your writing in any way at all? It has, and for the better. I have more time to write out here, more inspiration sitting right on my doorstep, what with seeing eagles and otters downtown, and there are mountains outside my window! Financially, the exchange and tax rates and all that boring business stuff is more beneficial, too. I’m truly enjoying my time here and hope to achieve citizenship soon.
Have you got any advice for any aspiring writers out there? You’re writing in the best time, and in a strong and powerful industry. Don’t read your 1-star reviews, make writing your focus, way and above marketing, and just keep at it. Once you get there, it’s 1000% worth all the hard work. This is the best job in the world. Trust me.
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