D.E.: What compels you to write?
WJB: What a great question – and, you are absolutely right (!) It is like a compulsion, an addiction (if you will) that puts us through the nightmare of endless rejections and makes every small success feel like an Olympic Gold Medal.
I like my writing, and now I can hardly imagine the day where I won’t be sat in front of my bashed up old laptop (with the missing keys) tapping away furiously. But, I do like to have targets and objectives, or I just become some deranged lunatic without any focus or direction. Deadlines are all very well and good (and, I can be quite self-motivated at time – he said confidently before his halo choked him!), but something to achieve is even better as a motivator for me. Originally, the challenge was to get published whilst doing something that I enjoyed. Now that I’ve achieved that, I’m setting myself greater goals for the future.
D.E.: When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?
WJB: I suppose the reality of the writing situation only really hit me about a fortnight ago when my own works arrived in paperback from Amazon. I finally got around to buying my own books (!) Suddenly, there was something very tangible in front of me that I had created and achieved. And, it felt so good. All the people who like my work enough to put their hands in their pockets (or purses) and buy my books have given me an opportunity – and, I’ll be forever grateful to them for that!
D.E.: Do you prefer a particular genre?
WJB: I have no preference for a particular genre at the moment. The successful “First Admiral” (and subsequent titles) was my first real stab at ‘serious’ writing and just happened to be YA sci-fi. I am still exploring my writing and would like to branch out into other areas. “The Gettysburg Incident” took me into the realms of historical/political-type thrillers, plus – like probably many other writers – I have a screed of half-started/half-finished projects that I keep promising myself that I will pick up again and finish on that magical SOME DAY!
D.E.: Where do you get your motivation or inspiration from?
WJB: Inspiration comes from a whole range of sources and quite often I’m not sure where it has appeared from until much later in the writing process.
A story usually begins with just the germ of an idea – or even an image in my mind – which, I work on and then refine. What was it Edison said – 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration? A character is usually a combination of people that I know or have known and very often I’m unable to pinpoint who or where they have arisen from until after I have completed a piece of work. The successful “Private Gimble” character, I realised, came from a character in the Bernard Cornwell “Sharpe” series. I finally figured it out about three months after the short story was published – about a year after it was originally written (!)
D.E.: Tell us about your first publishing experience.
WJB: My first publishing experience was a very cheesy poem – about the local War Memorial - that was published in my School Magazine (Dumfries Academy) when I was about 16. My English Teacher – who really encouraged me with what was then called “Creative Writing” – informed after class that my poem had been selected for publication. No ifs, buts or maybe’s about it.
D.E.: How many books have you written?
WJB: At the moment, I have four on the shelves with a sequel to “Time Commander” pencilled in for release in the summer. “First Admiral” was initially written (and re-written several times) from 2006/07 onwards and finally published in February, 2012, but every time I go back over it I can always see improvements that I could be making. But, it’s way too late now. I suppose we never really get our first book absolutely right. “The Burning Sun”, “Time Commander” and “The Gettysburg Incident” were much easier to complete after the initial success of “First Admiral”. I suppose it is a confidence/self-belief thing for a lot of writers. How many potential literary careers have floundered and perished because someone felt that they (themselves) weren’t good enough?
Plus, I always seem to have an endless procession of unfinished titles.
D.E.: Are you self published or do you use a publisher?
WJB: I was lucky enough to find a publisher at the end of 2011 when Malachite Quills accepted “First Admiral”.
D.E.: Are your books also available in print or are they primarily in e-book format?
WJB: All of my books are available as both download or in print version. The short stories, I believe, are e-book format only.
D.E.: As a writer is there a particular obstacle you face?
WJB: Like everyone else, I suspect, it’s working out the balance between actual writing and marketing. It’s a tough one as I’m quite new to this writing thing and have no idea if my marketing efforts are having any effect.
I also have to be careful of the language that I use. Part of the William J. Benning ethos (some call it the ‘brand’) is no graphic sexual content or bad language, the latter of which can be tricky at times. A character lands in a situation and my own, personal, natural instinct would be to cut loose with the broad Anglo-Saxon (!) To my mind, bad language is simply lazy writing and dialogue and it detracts/distracts from the action in the novel.
And, I think that teenagers/young adults are far more intelligent and sophisticated than many give them credit for. I think that young people have moved on from the sniggering-behind-the-bicycle-sheds at “rude words” that went on in my younger days.
If people want eff-ing and jeff-ing then TV, Cinema and Games will provide it aplenty.
Just don’t look for it in a Benning book!!
D.E.: What is the most difficult for you to write about?
WJB: As previously mentioned, I’m still exploring my writing and, as yet, I really haven’t found any areas that give me “difficulty”. Then again, I haven’t really tackled any really controversial subjects.
D.E.: Do you self edit or do you hire an editor?
WJB: I am lucky in that I have had excellent editors provided for me by Malachite Quills.
WJB: The idea for Billy Caudwell (“First Admiral”) came from a comic book of the 1940’s/50’s about a young schoolboy (of about 7 or 8) who commanded an ‘Army’ of radio-controlled models. He then used his toys to foil bank robbers, exact revenge on bullies and make his local community a better place to live in. The idea of the “Boy General/Admiral” then developed into an idealistic teenager who commanded huge alien fleets in outer space whilst still trying to remain an anonymous schoolboy on Earth. Billy’s character is built up from the teenage sons of some of my friends and guys I knew at school (back in the days when the dinosaurs roamed the planet!)
WJB: “The Gettysburg Incident” arose from my school days. In my final year of Secondary School our history topic was the American Civil War, and, I thoroughly enjoyed it. However a great deal of romantic mythology has arisen about the Civil War – the gallant/dashing Confederates, the stolid courageous Yankees – and, I thought what would happen if there had been a war crime and prisoners had been deliberately murdered? If the U.S Government at the time had covered the atrocity up, how might that impact on the present day? I like historical fiction and also speculative fiction. The “What If’s” of life can be fascinating.
D.E.: What are you working on now and what's next?
WJB: At the moment I’m working on another “First Admiral” title; the fifth in that series, which I hope Malachite Quills will take for release in the Fall/Autumn. Next year, publisher-willing, I’ll tackle the Earth-Invasion books; which might be three titles (I’m not quite sure yet). I’m also working on a YA adventure series set during World War One. I have several ancestors/relatives buried in War Graves in Europe/Middle East and I wanted to use the series to commemorate and remember some of them with the 1914-18 Centenary next year.
D.E.: Do you have any tips or tricks to help keep your ideas in order or at least from being forgotten?
WJB: I actually have an astonishingly (for me) well structured filing system on my computer. Under a file on my desktop, I keep all my ideas on individual MS Word pages. Some pages are little more than random scattered thoughts whilst others are often well-structured ideas that just need a bit of work.
D.E.: Do you prefer pen or paper for drafts or do you stay strictly on a computer?
WJB: Actual drafts of either short stories or novels are invariably kept on the computer. However, in the cases where I have a chapter heading outline the details are scribbled on paper with my spidery scrawl; what my late mother would have described as “a hens’ march through a midden”(!) Unfortunately, I have the handwriting of a doctor (!)
D.E.: Do you have a favourite place to write or do you write anywhere and everywhere?
WJB: Do you mean my very expensive, luxury ‘writing facility’? i.e. my kitchen table with the rickety chair, on my battered old laptop (with the keys missing) surrounded by the unpaid bills, draft chapters, unfinished projects and old newspapers? Yep – it’s a pretty glamorous world that I live in these days (!)
In days of Yore, I used to write anywhere and everywhere, hotel rooms, trains, kitchen tables, in railway station Buffets. And, I suppose, I still have that particular skill; I just become so focussed on what I’m writing about that the surroundings don’t really impinge on my consciousness.
D.E.: How do your stories unfold? Are they plotted first and then filled out or do they simply unravel as you go?
WJB: It tends to be a combination of both. I usually try to structure out a series of chapter headings and write things up from there. However, there are times when the chapter list isn’t fully formed and I just have to start writing and fill in the gaps as the story unfolds and the ideas refine in my head. If I can get a prologue and an epilogue, the rest tends to sort itself out in its own good time.
D.E.: Let's hear some "Shout Outs".
WJB: Gee, now you’ve really put me on the spot!! Who to mention?? First of all, a big, big, shout out to all the fans, the folks that support me in my endeavours and the people who buy my books out there (without who all the effort would be utterly pointless). To my Editors (past and present) Tara and Ivan; who struggle valiantly to keep me on the straight-and-narrow and the Quality Control people at Malachite Quills who let me get away with nothing whatsoever!!! To Brian and James at Malachite Quills who field all of my crazy ideas, suggestions and notions with the skill of international diplomats. Then, all the guys (and gals) on Facebook etc who seem to ‘like’ my postings and who encourage me through the days when things don’t feel so good.
D.E.: Where can readers find you and your work?
WJB: To quote the old advertising cliché – available at all good retail outlets! They tend to be most popular on Amazon and B&N.