Saturday, September 10, 2011
Ben Chandler - Author Interview Series
Ben Chandler's first novel, Quillblade: Volume One of the Voyages of the Flying Dragon, was published in 2010, and the sequel, Beast Child, is available now!
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember, and probably even a bit before that, so I don’t have an actual memory of discovering my love of books. It’s just always been there. I first realised that loving books was something special when I was about 7 or 8, and it only occurred to me then because I noticed that not everyone enjoyed staying inside the library during school lunchtimes to read. I read a lot as a kid, so a list of authors/books would go on for a while, but I do have vivid memories of being terrified by the ‘original’ Brothers Grimm tales (i.e. the scary, non-Disney versions), and of loving Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (the first Really Big Book I ever read on my own).
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I’ve probably been a writer almost as long as I’ve been a reader, but it took me a while to realise exactly what I was doing when I was daydreaming (I do this a lot) and scribbling my stories down on paper. It didn’t occur to me that you could actually be a writer until I was about 16. It took another few years of determined scribbling before I felt game enough to call myself a writer. I hope readers enjoy visiting the worlds I create in my books. I want them to want to spend time there, and I mean that literally. I want my readers to imagine themselves into my world, to create themselves as characters within the scope of my worlds, to interact with my characters and imagine how they would handle things if they were the heroes. That’s what I do when I read really great books. I’d love to think that I could inspire that sort of imaginative journey in my readers.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
For me, this is a bit of a false dichotomy. Some people see reading and writing as a spectrum, with full critical scrutiny at one end (the ‘writer microscope’ frame of mind) and pure reading pleasure at the other. The idea seems to be that the more you scrutinise a piece of writing, the less you’ll enjoy it. The flip side of this, if you take it to its extreme conclusion, is that you have to switch your brain off in order to enjoy reading! This just isn’t how I read, and I suspect this isn’t really how most people read. My writer microscope actually heightens my appreciation of what I’m reading, so I don’t find it difficult to read for pleasure. If anything, it just provides another level of enjoyment, an ability to peek behind the curtain, as it were.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
Yes, no, and sometimes. This is a really hard question for me, as I don’t have a set way of doing things. For some books, I try to read as widely as possible within the genre I’m writing in as I can. Sometimes, it’s the opposite, and I have to read things that are completely different. Rarely, but occasionally, I don’t read at all when I’m writing. It just depends on what I feel I need at the time. What I read definitely impacts what I write, and sometimes I crave that influence, and sometimes I shun it. It’s the old ‘whatever works for you’ thing, but I’ll add ‘at the time’ and ‘given the circumstances’ as well.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.
Just five?! That’s a tough one!
David Eddings’ early works for his grasp of genre, his humour, his characters, and his wonderful worlds.
JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – ‘nuf said.
Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story for all its magic.
Neil Gaiman’s work. All of it, including his graphic novels / comics, for his contribution to contemporary mythology.
Robin Hobb’s work, particularly her assassin books – the greatest first person fantasy series ever written. Ever.
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
Isn’t that what e-readers are for?! Seriously, though, this is the hardest question you could ask a writer. I guess it would have to be The Lord of the Rings, not because it’s my favourite book ever written (it isn’t), but because I could read and re-read it over and over again, and it always takes me ages to get through (I’ve read it through about a dozen times already, and I could easily read it a dozen more).
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
Interesting characters. Magical world. Engaging plot. Sounds simple when you put it like that, doesn’t it? It’s sometimes difficult to find that magic combination of the three, though, and it always comes down to the Big 3 (I’m tempted to throw in a DC Universe Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman analogy here, but I won’t): character, setting, and plot. I might be tempted to add ‘conceit’ to that list in the case of speculative fiction (i.e. the Big Idea underlining a book), but too often spec fic writers rely solely on the Big Idea to the detriment of the Big 3, and no matter how clever or cool the Big Idea is, if any of the other 3 are lacking, I’ll put it down. Really great prose is also a plus, but if it is all just wonderful sentences without the Big 3, again, I’ll put it down (and maybe pick up a book of quotes).
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
See above. Also, if I’m bored I’ll put a book down. Life is too short and there are too many great books out there for me to waste time reading something I don’t want to read.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
I really don’t have a favourite author, as such, because I read widely and enjoy lots of different kinds of literature, I suppose. I could easily list a couple dozen, but then I’d have left out another couple dozen, so I’m not even going to attempt it…
If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?
Excluding classics? What do you class as a classic? Oh, dear. Okay. Let me think… Hmmm… I’m going to have to include series. Each of the entries on this list has the Big 3 I was talking about earlier, and they each have that special something that earns them a prominent place on my bookshelves.
Gaiman’s Neverwhere (quirky, magical and real, and with great characters).
Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (I guess this is probably a ‘classic’, but I can’t resist adding it, for all the obvious reasons).
Ende’s The Neverending Story (also a ‘classic’, but it had such a profound effect on my 8-9 year old brain for its sheer imaginativeness and for teaching me to put myself in the story).
Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy (Best. First person fantasy. Ever.).
Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic (Everything YA Steampunk Fantasy should be. Full of Big Ideas that don’t get in the way of the Big 3. Everyone should have a friend like George).
Lian Hearn’s Otori series (Everything is better with ninjas. Okay, it’s also a wonderful story with that perfect mix of the grand and the personal set against a fictionalised medieval fantasy Japan).
Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series (To me, this series is what YA literature is all about. Full of moral dilemmas, action, drama, great characters, and twists).
Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (Such a beautiful story told without words. A master illustrator at the top of his game telling a story that should resonate with us all).
Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (One of my favourite works of speculative fiction. Another Big Idea book, but the Big 3 still shine through).
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen (If you like comics / graphic novels, especially superhero ones, then you have to read this. An often searing look at the superhero genre and the society that spawned it). *Disclaimer: If you ask me tomorrow you’ll probably get a different list!
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
I can’t remember when it was published, but I first read Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, and Richard Isanove in 2010. It’s a graphic novel that places the superheroes of the Marvel Universe in the Elizabethan court. Think mutant ‘witch’ hunts and the dawning of a new world in a dinosaur-infested North America and you’ll start to get the general idea. A great reimagining of the Marvel Universe with bold characters and beautiful, dynamic illustrations. You couldn’t ask for more from a graphic novel.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
I do think e-readers are encouraging more people to read. I know a number of people who weren’t traditionally ‘readers’ who have now embraced the new technology and are reading more than ever. Personally, I don’t like reading books on an e-reader (I’m a bibliophile), and I don’t see this new technology as the death of the printed book, but I do think it’s going to bring books and reading to more people, and that’s a great thing.
Ben loves heroes, villains, comic books, and video games, and he believes you can learn more from watching cartoons than you can from the news. Like all fantasy writers, Ben has a cat. His cat is named Loki. It’s possible Loki is the reincarnation of the Norse God of Mischief, but Ben hopes this is just a flight of his fancy. In 2010 Ben was awarded the Colin Thiele Creative Writing Scholarship from Carclew Youth Arts Board and in 2011 was awarded a grant by Arts SA to work on a YA urban fantasy novel set in Adelaide.
Find out more about Ben here.