Interviews

‘Being an Author Isn’t for the Faint of Heart’

says English author Benjamin Cross, who believes that no matter how good one’s writing or story is, not everybody is going to like it

SPECIAL TO THE JUGGERNAUT

Author Benjamin Cross was very young when he first started writing. In a super exclusive interaction with The Literary Juggernaut, the Englishman, who grew up at Solihull in south-east Birmingham, the second largest city in England, says that the earliest thing he can recall writing is a hand-written fictional diary of the mischief of a cousin, which  was basically a regurgitation of stories that other people had told him. ‘But with me and my cousin given the starring roles!’ he exclaims with a guffaw.

Author Benjamin Cross

Mysteries Galore

Talking about his first full-length published work of fiction entitled ‘Colony’, the author, who is currently residing in Carmarthenshire, South West Wales, the United Kingdom, says the story follows Callum Ross, a professor of archaeology from the University of Aberdeen. Explains Mr Cross, ‘Callum finds himself undertaking a survey on Harmsworth, a remote Arctic island only recently discovered. It’s not long before he discovers an ancient ice mummy, a prehistoric corpse preserved by the freezing temperatures. It’s the discovery of a lifetime, but it’s also a disturbing find. Why? Because whoever it is has suffered a horrific and mysterious death…’

Elaborating further, the author, who has passed postgraduate M Phil in Landscape Archaeology from the University of Oxford with a distinction, states that Callum is eager to solve the mystery though there are others who have very different ideas. ‘And he and the rest of the survey team end up stranded on the island. But they are not alone. There is something else living in this ancient place, trapped amongst the ice floes, a thousand miles from anything resembling civilisation,’ he shares with us, in a tone that’s fascinatingly mysterious, adding, ‘the story follows Callum as he desperately fights to survive the elements and the machinations of certain others trapped with him as well as an ancient and terrifying primal threat.’

Nonetheless, the author stresses that prior to writing this book, he was lucky enough to have had his first work of fiction, a short story entitled ‘The Changing Room’, published in the prestigious Mays Anthology. ‘I followed-up with the publication of a second short story – ‘Enclosure’ – the following year, and I was appointed Associate Editor the year after,’ he shares with us.

‘I Don’t See Writing as a Pure Form of Art’

When asked whether he plans his stories and characters well in advance or flies by the seat of pants, Mr Cross, who feels the local community of Carmarthenshire is great, lets us know that as far as Colony is concerned, he did plot out the story. ‘But for me this seemed to sap all of the joy out of the writing itself! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not somebody who sees writing as a pure form of art, self-expressive at the expense of all else. The process is a creative one. But, as with most things, there are also rules and realities that guide it for the better and that need to be balanced against the art,’ he explains.

He goes on to say that he, nevertheless, does strongly believe that one can tell when a writer is actually enjoying the process of writing or just being a commercial autopilot. ‘And I know which of those I prefer to read. So, when I eventually got cracking with Colony, I was one of those authors that starts with a broad outline in mind; I knew how it would begin, who the characters would be, what major events would take place, and how it would end. But the rest was very much TBC,’ he lets on. 


Inspired by Stephen King

Stressing that he likes a lot of different authors in a lot of different genres, the author says that his top favourites would be James Rollins, Michael Crichton, Stephen King, Salman Rushdie, Thomas Hardy, and J K Rowling. He tells us that all these authors just have such fertile imaginations and that within the confines of their various genres, the stories that each of them has created are unbelievably rich, and the worlds that they explore are expertly woven into the pages of their respective books. He, however, affirms that Stephen King perhaps stands out for him in terms of his characterisation. ‘His characters practically leap off the page, and there are very few that I don’t connect with and either love or hate as King intends. All of these authors, and numerous others, have inspired me to want to tell great stories without side-lining the characters, as well as to compose great characters without losing the narrative thread,’ he explains.   

Also, we learn over the course of our interaction with Mr Cross that notwithstanding writing or doing something else entirely, he is almost always more productive first thing in the morning. ‘There is something about being up and at it before the sun has hit the sky and making the most of the early morning peace and quiet that really works for me,’ he states, adding, ‘As the day wears on, I tend to lose a lot of energy because the pressures of my job and other commitments inevitably set in and sap my drive. Also, I naturally tend to write in cycles, so I’ll go at it with a vengeance for a few months, and then slow down for a month or so, to rest up and get back on top of all the other stuff I’ve been putting off to make room for writing!’

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‘Becoming an Author Became My Subconscious Ambition’

Well, considering that he has got a full-time job, was becoming an author a conscious decision of his? Says Mr Cross, who prizes each and every day that he awakens to, so much so that he feels pathetic if there’s nothing productive done on a given day, ‘Yes and no. I’ve always loved writing, and I’ve been writing fiction since I first picked up a pen. The thought that I could actually be an author though, and that other people would actually enjoy reading what I write, is a much more recent development. I suppose the change for me came when I’d written the first half of Colony. At that point, for the first time, I started to believe that I could actually finish a book, and becoming an author became, if not a conscious decision, then at least a subconscious ambition.’

But how does he juggle writing and other essential tasks? ‘With great difficulty!’ concedes Mr Cross with a laugh. Stating that Colony was written while he was working full time as a field archaeologist, Mr Cross says that although it is a fascinating job, it is highly demanding. ‘Not just physically, but in terms of lifestyle too. The excavations take place in intensive bursts, involving long hours, a lot of travel and regular re-location to other parts of the country. There is no rhythm, and the all-important work-life balance just isn’t going to happen. Yes, these are some of the worst possible conditions under which to try and write a novel,’ he explains, adding that these days, he can also add two little boys and a dog into the equation. ‘So in truth, I have to fight for every second of writing time I get,’ he declares. His other hobbies and interests include reading, playing basketball and researching the history of my house, which, we learn, stretches back to the 1700s at least.

‘Publishing Is a Tough, Tough World’

On being asked if he has got plans to become a full-fledged, Mr Cross answers in the affirmative and says that he is already working on a novel that has been written, its date of launch to be scheduled next year. ‘It contains plenty more archaeology, thrills and spills, but for now my lips are otherwise sealed. As well as marketing for Colony, I’m currently halfway through my third novel too and am working hard to get it finished. I should also report a possible return to Harmsworth Island for a Colony sequel at some point soon… but let’s just see what happens there,’ he tells us. He, nevertheless, points out that while he would love to write full-time, he has always been a realist. ‘And publishing is a tough, tough world. So, for the time being at least, I’m keeping my feet planted squarely on the ground,’ he states.

And does he have anything to tell budding authors? States Mr Cross, who often ends up doing official work even on his days off, ‘Being an author isn’t for the faint of heart. No matter how good your writing or your story, not everybody is going to like it. Fact. The best thing that you can do is to accept this early on and try to move on from it and use it.’ 

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‘Study Sincere Rejections Carefully’

The author, who can speak a bit of Spanish and Welsh besides swearing in Punjabi, thanks to his Indian friends at school, also stresses that while accepting the reality might be hard, if one does accept, then it will take the sting off the inevitable rejections and negative reviews that all authors get. ‘With rejections, try to be level-headed when they land. First consider whether they are sincere or just a form rejection with little thought or substance behind them. If they are sincere, then study them carefully, take on board the comments and try to learn,’ he explains, adding, ‘This is especially important if those rejections go into specific detail about what did and didn’t work. Try and see this as honest advice from top people within the industry, which, in any other scenario, you would probably be paying good money for.’

Notwithstanding Mr Cross points out that publishers and agents aren’t always going to be right about everything though they are likely to have a valuable insight into what a successful novel looks like. ‘So, while their rejection may hurt, at least be prepared to listen to their free advice. Turn the negative of rejection into a positive action that can help you develop as an author, and don’t give up,’ he pronounces.

‘Deriving Pleasure From the Pain of Others Beyond My Comprehension’

As the conversation draws to a close, we ask the supremely articulative author if there is something that he would want to  change, and he tells us that he would want to wipe cruelty to animals off the face of the earth given half the chance. ‘The extent to which our species has come to exploit the natural world disgusts me; it’s epitomised by practices like shark-finning, where those involved are so callous that they can’t even be bothered to kill the sharks before hacking off their fins and dumping them back in the water, or the barbaric dog meat festivals in south east Asia, where the dogs are purposefully tormented and butchered alive,’ he says, going on to assert right off the bat that what he finds more abhorrent are blood sports. ‘Exploitation, callousness and neglect are one thing, but actually deriving pleasure from the pain of other living things is just beyond my comprehension. Barbaric practices like bear baiting, bullfighting and fox hunting shame us all and have no place in modern society. If I had the power, I would eradicate those practices wholesale,’ he tells us in a tone that is both serious and thoughtful. 

Be that as it may, the author, thanking The Literary Juggernaut for putting forth some thought-provoking questions, goes on to asseverate that reviews are a real shot in the arm for a writer’s career. ‘If anybody reading does pick up a copy of Colony (or any other book), and if it brings you enjoyment, then please do leave the author a review on GoodReads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble or anywhere else you can. Reviews don’t have to be or take long, yet I can’t overstate the difference that they can make for authors, and particularly new authors like me. They can make the difference between a new book being discovered and enjoyed by others or fading quickly out of sight and mind. You can make that difference,’ he explains, signing off with a marvellous smile. 

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PS: Colony is published in paperback and as an e-book on January 28, 2021. It is available to pre-order now from all good bookstores and you can find additional info, links, reviews, interviews and other details on the official website: benjamin-cross.com/

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