Today I chat with fellow author crew member of the Written Undead, Ben Black about all things writing and the apocalypse.
GJ: What do you find is the hardest part of being an independently published author?
BB: It’s a combination of exposure, getting your work out there, and clamouring to get the reviews to start cranking up. It is disheartening to see what sales figures you have not correspond to the reviews you get. I’m a big fan of 3 R’s = Read. Review. Recommend.
GJ: Other than writing, what is your favourite aspect of being an author?
BB: I think it’s a thing of being in control. I’ve got a regular 9-5 job (actually, it’s 8 – 4.30 but you know what I mean), and within that role, there’s certain limitations you have to fit within, there’s not much give. I come home, fire up the laptop, and I’m in my own world that I control. Someone’s pissed me off? That’s fine, someone may end up being based loosely on that person and meet a grim demise. It’s the catharsis that comes with it, a release, but it’s not just the control, it’s the design element of it – Sometimes you’re just making things fit in the real world, but sometimes you’re building a whole world, which can be quite rewarding.
GJ: How you describe the type of books you write?
BB: Horror or science fiction. But the science fiction also currently has some horrific elements, a bit of body horror thrown in just fun. Zombie-wise, I’ve got one solid tome out there already that’s big enough to bludgeon a whale with the paperback form, and that’s horror/fantasy – a zombie story, set in the not-too distant future, and based in the UK. I’ve also got a short based on that out there which is free on kindle, as well as my space-bound spider-based tale.
GJ: Do you plan to write in any other genres in the future?
BB: I’ve got a slew of ideas on the back boiler covering a variety of genres; sci-fi dystopia, post-apocalyptic with different flavours: A nuclear winter, more zombies, and a take on the book of Revelation. I like to stay within the genres I feel more comfortable with. I guess in a similar way, I’m in a metal/punk/rock band and I’ve written a lot of the lyrics to our songs, too – So I can hold my own at poetry as well.
GJ: Can you describe a typical day where you get chance to write? Do you spend long sessions into the early hours with a glass of wine or do you thrash out words at every spare moment?
BB: Typically, what I like to do is get in from work, go out on my pushbike for a 20 mile jaunt, then after that I’ll have something to eat. Only then do I get to spend a couple of hours trying to work through some writing. It can be a slow process, to be honest, depending on where I’m at in the story. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn’t.
GJ: If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice without breaking the time-space continuum, how old would you be and what would you say?
BB: In retrospect, it would be ‘Just Do It,’ at the risk of being sued by a certain famous brand of trainers. Looking back, Pestilence Reigns was ready to be done through self-publishing years before, and I looked in to it at the time, but didn’t go with Amazon – It took me another few years — and numerous close encounters with vanity publishers — before I just did what I should have done years ago and hit the button.
GJ: What’s your favourite ever book you’ve read and why?
BB: One of the books that I like the most, that I’ve read more than others (if you don’t count graphic novels) is it I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson. I found the book after watching the film Omega Man years ago, and after getting hold of it I really enjoyed it, the different take that it ended up presenting, and truth be told, it’s the only book that I’ve read that got some tears (that damn dog…). I think I’m on the third paperback copy of it, I’ve also got the graphic novel adaptation of it, and it’s much better than the film adaptation with Will Smith.
Imagine waking up with the hangover of all time as someone pounds on your door telling you to get out quick. You have to evacuate to where? From what? That’s the premise of this story as it unfolds in sleepy Cornwall. Their terrifying flight to safety is not guaranteed. Behold the undead risen.
GJ: What’s on your bucket list of things you want to do before the end of the world?
BB: Other than pressing the button that ends the world? I think I’d like to finish my main zombie story (I think I’ve got them planned out over something like about 6 or 7 books, so I’ve got a lot of thumbs to pull out my ass to get on this, as that’s a lot of words to lay down). I quite fancy going mental with some automatic weapons, too: it’s not a thing we can do too much of here in the UK, but I understand Vegas has a place where you can fire a mini-gun, so that’s a good place to start.
GJ: What brought you into the world of writing post-apocalyptic fiction?
BB: I started writing when I was 8 or 9, so you can imagine the quality of this, but I started rewriting the story of War of the Worlds but putting my friends in it. That was just the way stories were written at that age, I suppose. The post-apocalyptic writing started when I was 15. One of my classes was pretty boring, so I started writing this piece of fiction just to pass the time, show a little of that control I mentioned in question 2 (a 15 year old doesn’t have much control of anything in his life, not even the tone or pitch of his voice sometimes).
My friends liked reading it, it was something to do during the lesson (other than learning the curriculum, but it didn’t matter anyway as it turned out the teacher was going through the wrong curriculum with us anyway…) and it all just started to evolve from there. As I started to write this one, I started to come up with ideas that wouldn’t fit in this story, but would fit in others, so one lead to many.
GJ: How would you describe your style of writing and what makes your zombie book stand above the crowd?
BB: I’d say it’s visceral, gruesome and descriptive with some strong character building; I like to be really gritty when I can, ideally be able to make people uncomfortable, and like to think that no topic is taboo (One of the songs I’ve written is about bondage and necrophilia). I think it stands out mainly because of its sizeable length (it’s actually the length of about 3 or 4 books in one, to be honest).
GJ: So what can readers expect from you in 2020/21?
BB: Arachnocide was released in 2020, an enjoyable sci-fi novel (no zombies yet!) loosely described as ‘mutant spiders, evisceration, lasers and zero gravity’. I also managed to piece together a short story called Dying Memory, which serves as a nice little introduction the world of Pestilence Reigns and giving a little tase of what to expect. I’m planning to have the follow up to Pestilence Reigns ready at some point this year, which is currently sitting and being reviewed in various stages of editing, and while that’s in that process I’m coming up to the end of the first draft of a sequel to Arachnocide. Once that’s done and off to editing… well, I’ve got a lot of things to choose from.
GJ: One for the authors in the group, what do you find is the best way you have found of getting your books in front of readers?
BB: I think it has to be word of mouth and recommendations. A lot of the authors in the group are incredibly lucky enough to have ardent fans who love their work and follow them, and will recommend them. I’d love to be lucky enough to be in that position, but at the same time it’s all about putting yourself out there. Looking back on this, I feel like it’s more difficult for me to do that and get that following – I’m not so much an introvert, but I am the kind of guy who keeps himself more to himself, and because I was ridiculed for doing something “weird” like writing when I was a kid, I think I automatically keep things more to myself because of that stigmatism. It’s something that I need to work on.
GJ: How are you coping with the lockdown and are you finding it helps or hinders you to write?
BB: I think from a writing point of view, Lockdown has been more of a boon than anything to my writing. I did write a journal of the first lockdown until it was “over” and the country was opened up again, which made me stick to more of a regime and kept me going, however I did find that this journal was something that actually kept me from writing. But the word count I’ve managed to get done over the last year has been impressive, in my eyes, for someone who’s not actually writing full time.
I think I tackled lockdown pretty well, however my initial thoughts of “I’ll save money because I’ve not got any shops to go to” quickly changed in to hardcore online shopping, which saw me sinking a large amount of money into boardgames. That I can’t actually play yet, because we’re still not allowed to mingle yet.
GJ: Thank you Ben for taking the time to talk to me today. If you want to take look at Ben’s books then you can head over to his author page on Amazon.
When humanity faces an undead nightmare, one man’s party turns into a race to survive.
Logan has always taken things a little too seriously. So when his New Year’s Eve attempt to unwind descends into chaos, he’s the first to realize it’s no joke. After Logan and his friends miss the evacuation transport, he’s given a choice: lead the group to safety or watch all of his friends come back from the dead…
When Logan discovers the military and government have no interest in saving them, making it to sanctuary alive may be their only hope. And after he learns his party of survivors might hold the key to a cure, the fate of humanity rests on his shoulders. But saving his species could mean sacrificing himself…
Can Logan stave off the end of the world or will one wrong decision doom humankind?
In The End is a fast-paced post-apocalyptic zombie thriller. If you like nightmarish settings, reluctant heroes, and action-packed adventures, then you’ll love GJ Stevens’ spine-chilling novel.