Writing Journeys – Ben Galley
It’s a real pleasure to have Ben on the blog today. Ben was the first real author friend I made. This was back at FantasyCon in Nottingham in 2015. It’s not even a full 18 months ago but I look back on my past self and shake my head – I was running around at that con as yet unpublished, naive and a little too squeaky-voiced around big name authors there. What an embarrassment. I didn’t know as much I ought to have but I knew about Ben Galley, and how he was this big-time self-published guy, and he was young when he did it too, and I thought ‘hey, I should say hi’. Ben was kind enough to grab a few pints with me and pass on some wisdom. Since then he’s been excellent company at other conventions, cheering my successes with me and helping me get through some of the rougher patches. An all round great guy. And this is his journey…
For anybody knows me as a fantasy writer, I’m a series man. I came into the book industry writing a series and will probably go out writing one too. Why? I’ve said in the past I have too many ideas for one book, that the characters deserve more page-time, that it’s better for the reader or that the story can’t just end there. It has to go on. In truth, however it’s because I was scared of saying goodbye. So much so, in fact, that I’ve come up with sequel series to my existing series, and dozens of short stories in between (in themselves forming a series, naturally.)
In writing this blog for Michael, I had to some deep thinking, so I took myself back to the start of my author career, and looked at the emotions that drove me to write.
Firstly, I was bored. I was desperately bored. In 2008, I’d just finished two years studying bass at the Academy of Contemporary Music, with the all-consuming intention to be a professional musician. I worked and I worked at it, but I never managed to shake the feeling I’d missed the boat. The independent music revolution had started some five years before this, and the market was already saturated. I made headway, but never enough to get me out of the dead-end jobs I was working in bars, pubs and a pasty kiosk.
Those jobs are worthwhile to many, but to me I felt as though I languished. I recalled the day a friend handed me a copy of American Gods, and I devoured it between shifts, after shifts, even during shifts. It took several days, but when I was finished, I was so enraptured by the story and the writing, it ignited a passion I hadn’t felt since enrolling in the ACM. A passion I hadn’t felt since my early teens, when all I did was write. I had three books under my belt by age 13, and all I’d wanted to be was an author, before music and school and growing up distracted me. That dream came rushing back to me, and Mr. Gaiman reminded me of my love for words, and made-up worlds. One sunny lunch break, I decided that was it. No more. I would write my way into a life of my own design.
Just over 18 months later, I slammed my laptop down on a finished draft. It was called The Written, and I had poured every waking moment into it. Most of it was written on my phone between customers, just to get it done quicker.
When you spend so much time on something, pour so many hours into it, you don’t want to say goodbye. I had fallen in love with The Written, its world, and the stubborn fire mage that was its namesake. I didn’t want to stop writing his downfalls and narrow escapes. And it wasn’t just the love of writing that kept me hooked. This book, these characters, formed the vessel of my hope and determination. They embodied my fresh start. I couldn’t just leave them by the wayside.
I found justification when I started to self-publish, and gleaned advice that told me a series is better for success, as readers can buy into a series, and stay in for the long-haul. It was like telling an addict it’s perfectly okay to indulge themselves. A solid case for a series had been built, and on I went, writing and releasing the sequels Pale Kings, Dead Stars and Dead Stars Part 2 over the next two years.
Then I had a problem. As much as I enjoyed writing Farden and Emaneska, the story arc had come to an end. To try to stretch it out, keep it going, would have sacrificed the story’s quality and truth. I knew I had to move on. Even then, I wrote the ending open so I could scuttle back to it whenever I wanted, like a book booty call.
I had placed so much importance on that series, as if the very completion of it would assure the accomplishment of my dream. In a way, it already had: I’d changed careers to something more writing-friendly. I was making sales and the good reviews had started rolling in. I was on my way, but not there yet. My reckoning was that if one series could get me this far, another one would push me over that imaginary finish line in my head. And so, I embarked on another series.
This one was different, however. It had to be. I still had Emaneska floating around my mind, but I had become fascinated by the idea of western fantasy. Once again, I was enraptured by a new cast of characters, and a new world. Before long, I was building another soaring story arc, and embedding myself in a trilogy – The Scarlet Star Trilogy.
The Scarlet Star books got me over that imaginary finish line. It enabled me write full-time, and has won me competitions and awards. The problem with finish lines that are set by the person running the race though, is that they can be moved. Ask the 2010 Ben Galley in the pasty kiosk whether I’d made it and he would cry agreement at the top of his lungs. Ask me at the end of Bloodfeud, and I wanted more.
Here began a personal crisis. I was writing for two reasons – one, because I adored writing and fantasy, but two – I wanted to be successful. With two series already down, and the question of “What next?” buzzing around my head, those two were clashing. I was blinded to what I’d already accomplished by constantly looking forwards, and being desperate to accomplish more. This is a natural state for a writer, I’m told, and while it can drive you to great productivity, it can also be stressful. It was starting to feel more like work than fun, and that’s dangerous.
At the end of last year, I had two other series lined up: a seven-book epic fantasy series and a YA trilogy. They would occupy my next two to three years of writing. The story and characters would have time to grow. In essence, they were comfortable. That’s why, in early 2016, I chose to do something uncomfortable – a standalone.
I thought back to American Gods, and how the story, like so many of my childhood favourites, was self-contained and whole. You could sit down for a weekend and go start to finish without waiting a year for a sequel. The prose was cut-throat, the characters vivid without spending pages building depth, and the world mysterious by allusion not by explanation. In every page you can tell that book is for Shadow, and that the reader is simply there for the ride. I wanted to do that, to get back to the passion I had for writing. To focus solely on what story I’m telling.
Writing The Heart of Stone pushed me into areas I feared, made me question my skill, change my writing style, and Task kept me up later than Farden or Tonmerion ever did. I didn’t want to say goodbye to him at the end, but I did it anyway.
The Heart of Stone taught me a lot. Naturally, it taught me how to write a self-contained, one-book story, but it also helped me rediscover my passion, and taught me the value of putting the story front and centre. I have learnt that I’m not a writer because people buy or review my books, I’m a writer because I have stories to tell.
Currently, I’m straining at the bit to release The Heart of Stone, but in the meantime I’ve started a new project – another standalone, would you believe it. I can’t tear myself away. I keep checking my emails and to-do list because somehow it feels like I’m cheating to be having so much fun doing, what effectively is, my day job. If I look back, that’s exactly what that twenty-three year-old in a pasty kiosk wanted.
Ben Galley is a best-selling purveyor of tall tales and dark fantasy from the UK. He is the author behind the gritty and epic Emaneska Series, as well as his new western fantasy series, the Scarlet Star Trilogy.
Aside from writing and dreaming up lies to tell his readers, Ben works as a self-publishing consultant and tutor, helping fellow authors from all over the world to publish and sell books. His website www.shelfhelp.info will tell you all you need to know about DIY self-publishing.
Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley), Facebook (/BenGalleyAuthor) or at his website www.bengalley.com.
Join me tomorrow in hearing from Anna Smith-Spark. Anna’s first book (The Court of Broken Knives) is due for release this summer from Harper Voyager!
ben galley, fantasy authors, heart of stone, writing journeys