Writer Wednesday: Ben Yallop

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On Wednesdays on social media, people use the hashtag #WriterWednesday to chat about all things author, book and writing, including authors promoting their own work. As we love to support self-published authors, we thought we’d join in and we will be featuring a UK self-published author every Wednesday on the website. This week, we met Ben Yallop to find out more about him…

Please tell us about yourself; when did you first become interested in writing?
Writing has long been an important part of my career. I work for a small civil service department, independent from Government, which supports the judiciary and reports to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. Over the last nine years or so I’ve provided extensive written advice to senior judges from all over the world on the operation of their and our justice systems. The judges naturally expect really high quality written work and I sometimes have to emulate the style of an individual judge, adopting their tone and linguistic mannerisms, in order to prepare written material which they can use to persuade others about ways in which the justice system can be developed. This has given me a real interest in precise grammar, tone and finding the mot juste to produce clear, succinct and ultimately persuasive written work. I remember one particular Lord Chief Justice very kindly pointing out my split infinitives many years ago and now I myself am a part of the grammar police. Yes, I’m afraid that I’m the sort of guy who uses the correct punctuation in text messages. And yes, I have probably made many errors in this article before you go searching! I don’t claim to be perfect. One of my English teachers always said you can break the rules of grammar but only if you know them first.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
It was called Benjamin’s Squirrel. I did the illustrations too. I must have been about six or seven at the time. It featured a daring rescue of said squirrel from a castle by young Benjamin. I seem to remember that the antagonist was a giant, which is kind of nice as giants feature in my fantasy works now. Perhaps this is all a product of being one of the shortest kids at school. Sadly, the Benjamin’s Squirrel manuscript is lost to the parental dustbin of time.

What genre/genres do your books fall under?
Fantasy. But I sometimes hesitate to use that word as it can really put people off. People often think that fantasy books are Tolkeinesque and all about dragons and magic swords. My work is more like His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman or Harry Potter in being set in our own world and using much of our own pre-existing mythology to develop the story. That said, I hesitate to compare myself alongside JK Rowling who has done incredible things with her work. And actually, even that comparison can put some people off as the uninitiated think Harry Potter is childish.

I am eternally grateful to whoever decided to put Game of Thrones onto the screen. It’s done a lot to interest more people in the fantasy genre and has shown that a big part of epic fantasy, amongst the adventure, is political critique with a big dash of crime. It’s not all about orcs and goblins.

What is your latest book called, what is it about and what was the inspiration behind the book?
My current project is a trilogy called The Complex Throne. The first two books The Circle Line and The Blood Line are done and I’m working on the third. The trilogy aims to explain the unexplained by weaving together a number of myths, legends, conspiracy theories and unusual phenomena. Essentially, it’s an adventure, a thriller, about a group of people, good and bad, who have a hidden telekinetic power called presence and the impact they have had on our world over the ages. I wanted readers to be able to research the events in the book and realise that they might not be entirely fictional after all.

The story follows a young man called Sam and his journey from the London Underground to another world and to other times in our own history along pathways called lines. Sam discovers that people and creatures from this other world are the basis for many unexplained mysteries. For example, Sam learns about such peculiarities as the strange disappearance of an American warship in the Bermuda Triangle in 1918, a massive unexplained explosion in Russia in 1908 and the appearance of two green children in a Suffolk village in the 12th Century. Sam also becomes mixed up in the Montauk Project, an alleged series of US experiments involving time-travel and telekinesis. I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers.

The inspiration? Bear with me. I know this is going to make me sound a bit crazy. I lived in the same house from birth until I was eighteen. On the face of it the house looked normal, it was fairly small, reasonably old but not particularly so. But it was haunted. I’m open-minded about what that means. Some studies have been done which say that our brains can be affected by certain very low inaudible frequencies which can have the effect of causing us to experience things that are not there. Mostly, in my house, it was a feeling of unease around the hall and up the stairs but it sent a shiver up your spine when the dogs perked up and watched something invisible walk past the door. My parents and older brothers all assured me that I was just imagining things but when we moved out they all confessed that they hadn’t wanted to scare me, as the youngest. We had all seen and felt similar things in the same part of the house. I remember seeing a figure turn a corner on a bright Sunday morning. When I followed, expecting it to be my father, the figure had disappeared and I realised that I was alone in the house. After we moved my father admitted the hole in the cellar wall had been dug by him, under the hallway, expecting to find human remains or something. My parents even had an exorcism performed in the house, to no apparent effect. Ten years after we moved out I happened to be in the neighbourhood so stopped by to take a look at the outside. By chance the man we had sold to was working in the garden. We chatted and he told me that they were now moving on. He said he would be sad to leave, but his wife and children were looking forward to it because, he said, they had become convinced that the area around the hall and stairs was haunted.

So, my inspiration was to try to get some of this down into a story. My first novel started out a ghost story but evolved into something more approachable as I wrote. I hope the first few chapters give a sense of some of the feelings I had about my childhood home though.

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Besides your current book, do you have any new projects coming up?
It will take me some time to finish the trilogy but I have some ideas about what I might do after that. I have a working title for something called ‘Occupied’. I had a very powerful and clear dream a few months back about the early stages of an alien invasion which set me off thinking about someone being forced into captivity and those horrible stories where young women have been locked up for decades and raised in isolation. So, I have an idea of a group of older children, held captive in a home by a strange adult in the belief that he is some kind of extra-terrestrial. I then got interested in false memories and brain-washing but I’m not yet sure where the story goes from there.

I’m focusing on my current trilogy at the moment though. There are many benefits to self-publishing but I’m interested in the traditional route too. There would be something special about seeing my name on a shelf in Waterstones. I don’t yet have an agent or publisher and it would be wonderful to find some support. Self-publishing can be rather exhausting.

Where can people find your books?
They’re available through Amazon on Kindle and in paperback. Just search for my name. It’s easy to find me. I think there are only two Ben Yallops in the whole world (Hello, Ben Yallop who works at Croudace Homes if you’re reading this!) so I’m easy to spot. My website is www.benyallop.com and there are some extracts from my first two books to read there.

What has been the greatest moment in your writing career?
Can I give you a couple?

I know someone very well who had never been much of a reader. He wasn’t particularly academic and left school early having never found a love for reading. He picked up The Circle Line in his 40s and, more out of a sense of loyalty to me I think, started to read. He’s now an avid reader and I know he snatches every minute he can to dive into a book, often finishing a couple of novels every week or so. Knowing that I have, in some small way, helped someone get into something which they now feel passionately about is a good feeling. It was a great moment when he wrote to me to tell me about all this and really inspiring. That was the moment when I first felt able to admit to myself that I was a successful writer. He’s now a great support to me.

Also, creeping into the top 40 in fantasy on Kindle’s bestselling list was quite a moment. It’s not all that impressive really but seeing my book on a list sandwiched between JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett was kind of special. It came about because I was featured in a BBC article on creative commuters (I do almost all of my writing on the train). That article led to other bits and pieces of publicity, including an appearance on BBC Radio which was a little surreal. Of course, I never expected my writing to get me there.

Besides writing, what hobbies or interests do you enjoy in your spare time?
Spare time is something I have precious little of and that is why I write on the train. Most of my time is either spent working (I do quite a bit internationally) or with my family. I have three young children.

I support a couple of charities that I devote a little time to, although not as much as I’d like (shout out to The Surrey Care Trust and AdvocAid). In a month I will be sworn in as a Magistrate. That aside I frequently run obstacle course races and very occasionally get to do a bit of taekwondo (I’m a black belt). I like to keep fit (and muddy).

Which novelists do you admire?
Brandon Sanderson is admirable, in part because he is so prolific. I just do not know how he produces so much quality stuff so quickly. Every time I turn around to look for something else to read he has another book out. I admire JK Rowling, of course, but my other favourites include Tad Williams, Joe Abercrombie, Hugh Howey and Chris Beckett. All of these authors are able to completely engage me and draw me into their worlds totally. Bill Bryson makes me laugh aloud more than any other writer.

My eldest daughter, Elodie, loves Roald Dahl and I certainly admire him. I have probably read or listened to his novels hundreds of times and I still enjoy them each time. It’s been great coming back to them 30 years after I first fell in love with them.

What has been the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
I am not sure that I have ever had any single brilliant piece of advice. Everyone has different ideas about how you should do it. I’ve learned not to listen too much to well-intentioned advice and particularly not to the advice on the internet by writers who I’ve never heard of. One of the most common pieces of advice which I have found unhelpful is that writers should set themselves a number of words to write every single day. I think that kind of approach often means that people who may be working on their first novel are setting themselves up to fail. With the pressures of modern life very few of us have time to set aside each and every day to do the things we love. Sometimes I’m unable to write for weeks or even months at a time, I’ve learned not to sweat it. Don’t worry if you lose your momentum, just jot down your ideas to refresh your memory whenever you can and pick it up later. Don’t stop thinking about it though.

Do you have any tips or advice for other indie authors?
Take every single opportunity to promote yourself and your work. You never know what it might lead to! Oh, and get yourself some professional covers produced and make yourself a website. That way as soon as anyone shows a sniff of interest you can direct them to a single place where you can sell your work and provide your contact details. The site doesn’t need to be complicated. You can see mine at www.benyallop.com.

You can find out more about Ben and his books at his website or via Facebook.

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