9 Minutes Reading Time
Benjamin Cross is an archaeologist and writer living in South Wales in the UK. During his career, he has the good fortune to explore many ancient sites. – Amazon Author Page
His first published work was a short story titled The Changing Room, in the famous Mays Anthology. His second story, Enclosure, was published in the same collection the next year. He is one of only a few authors who had a short story published in this anthology two years in a row.
Colony took him four years to complete since he is a full-time archaeologist and writes in his spare time. The book attracted a literary agency’s attention and soon found its way to the world’s top publishers’ desks. It is available on Kindle and as a paperback.
Ben was promoting his book on Twitter, where its cover grabbed my attention. Since archaeological adventure is my favourite genre, I’ve contacted the author, and he provided me with an ARC.
Colony takes place in the Russian Arctic, where a group of scientists and soldiers are left stranded after their boat’s destruction. While trying to survive, they encounter the mastermind behind the destruction of the ship. As well as a fast and deadly enemy, only striking when the mist rolls in from the sea…
Since I am fascinated by archaeology (reading about it in novels, but not so much non-fiction), I’ve contacted Ben, and he agreed to this interview.
Hi Ben. Welcome, and thank you for your willingness to answer a few questions.
1. The setting for Colony is in the Arctic. Have you ever been there yourself?
No, unfortunately not, but I’d love to – it’s top of my travel bucket list for sure! I think the fact that I haven’t been there was actually part of the allure for me; through the process of writing and research, it feels as if I’ve been as close to the Arctic as I possibly can without actually physically setting foot there. The fact that the Arctic is such an environmental and political focus at the moment was another key influence, its mix of remoteness, hostility and beauty.
I find it amazing that an author can describe a place this well just from research. He managed to make me feel as if I was there myself.
2. What is the most challenging part of your writing process?
The most challenging aspect for me is the fact that I can usually only write in short and irregular bursts. Like a lot of new writers, I work full time, and I also have a young family. Those are the responsibilities that have to take priority, and they get the lion’s share of my time. Writing effectively has to be shoe-horned into my life, and I don’t mind sharing with you how frustrating that can be when you enjoy it so much, and you’re desperate to get some words on the page.
This is a challenge many writers face. Finding the time to write, but sometimes we can feel so drained from all the demands placed on us. It takes real discipline to go and write instead of relaxing.
3. What advice would you give a writer working on their first book?
Writing a book is a steep learning curve, and there are loads of useful things that I wish I’d known when I first started out. A key piece of advice would be to start not by writing but by reading. If you know what type of book/genre you want to write, then have a look online or at your local store for successful titles within that genre. You could do a lot worse than getting hold of five or six that are current, popular, and that grab your attention and reading them cover to cover.
Take in the different writing styles. Look for patterns in terms of their structure and theme, the types of characters that crop up and the flow of action and reaction sequences. Basically, try and understand what it is that has made those novels successful and appealing to readers. What makes them great books? Arming yourself with that knowledge will give you an early advantage because you’ll have a good idea of what you’re intended readership will expect, what does and doesn’t work, and the sort of standard you should be aiming for.
4. What inspired your idea for Colony?
I was talking about this with a friend recently, and it’s a difficult one to answer without giving too much away…
Basically, I read a very interesting article on the subject of ‘Volcanic Winters’ (so-called because the ash thrown up into the atmosphere during large volcanic eruptions can block out the sun and cause a significant drop in temperature). That got me wondering about the potential effects of that altered climate on wildlife. It would, of course, be very bad news for most ecosystems to suddenly be plunged into a severe and protracted winter. But would that be the case for all forms of life, or would some be unaffected? I can’t really say too much more, only that my attempts to answer that question were a key inspiration for Colony.
Revealing more will be a spoiler for sure, but you gave us a good idea of where the idea originated.
Stephen King would be the front-runner here. For a start, we’d have a LOT to talk about as I’ve devoured most of his books; certain of them are amongst my all-time favourite tales. As a debut author, I reckon he could teach me an awful lot about writing, too, especially when it comes to characterisation, which he excels at. Finally, I also get the impression that he’d be great fun; his imagination is so active that I can’t see much scope for awkward silences, which is a great thing when you’re spending the day with someone!
Yes, even if you don’t read his books, most people know about Stephen King. Mostly since so many of his books were made into movies, and then he also wrote a useful guide for writers himself – his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
6. What do you do to get into your characters’ heads?
That’s an interesting question. For me it’s probably more about the characters getting into my head. So, I start out with a rough idea of who and what kind of person they are. But then I leave them plenty of room to breathe (personality-wise). Like with any new relationship, we’re all a little guarded at first. But before too long, their nature starts to shine through, and I start to get a firmer and firmer grasp of who they are as people.
A lot of this development is born out of the dialogue. As they start talking to one another, the nuances of their individual voices start to creep in, until I know exactly what reaction to expect from each of them in any given situation. One of the greatest things about writing a book for me is watching those characters take shape (and perhaps giving them a helpful nudge back into line every so often;)
So many authors talk about characters taking on a life of their own. I still can’t get my head about how it works, but I am happy that they manage to get it right. It makes such a difference in any book.
7. You are an experienced archaeologist. How much research did you have to do to create the unknown enemy in Colony?
The author thought that the answer to this question will be a spoiler and had declined to answer.
Well, are you curious enough to get Colony yet?
Ooh, let me think. Okay, sure. For reasons best known to my teenage self, I used to have a couple of pet tarantulas!
9. Is there a particular genre you would love to write, but under a pseudonym?
Quite a few, actually, but the most realistic one for me would probably be crime. It’s something that I’d be interested to try my hand at…
10. Do you use any special writing software? If so, what is it, and what are a few of your favourite perks of it?
No, I’m pretty basic when it comes to that sort of thing. It’s pretty much MS Word all the way for me.
Do you prefer:
1. Summer or winter? Summer for sure. Trees in leaf fill me with hope, while trees without leaves I find a bit depressing.
2. Coffee or tea? Coffee. If you cut me, I’d bleed coffee.
3. Dog or cat? Dog.
4. Morning person or night owl? I’m a both-ends-of-the-candle burner, in truth. But I am 99% more productive in the am, and I enjoy the calm before the storm, so I’d have to say: morning person.
5. Beach Holiday or camping? Beach. I love me a sunbathe.
6. Movie or book? I love both, but a great book takes me places movies don’t and stays with me a lot longer.
7. Meat lover or vegetarian? Neither. I basically eat whatever’s served to me or (more typically) whatever I can find in the cupboard! Somewhere in the background, my diet does appear to be moving away from meat, though…
8. Introvert or extrovert? Extrovert (much to my wife’s frustration and my kids’ embarrassment!)
9. Travel locally or internationally? Internationally. There’s a lot to explore out there and not much time to do it.
10. Text message or call? Probably a call. Texts are useful, but there’s a lot that can become lost in translation… and that’s coming from a writer!
Yeah, if you’ve enjoyed Colony, then I have a second novel already completed (another action thriller, this one set in the Amazon Basin in Peru). This will hopefully be released next year (2022). I’m currently working on my third novel, but my lips are firmly sealed on that one!
I hope it will be early 2022. The Amazon is such an intriguing place, and I have read a few books in that setting. We are bound to encounter a few Tarantulas there! Can I stand in line for the ARC?
There you have it! Benjamin Cross, an archaeologist who bleeds coffee, had a couple of tarantulas as pets as a teenage boy and would love to travel internationally – favouring the ancient sites, I presume.
We wish you many happy writing hours, and we all look forward to your next book.
Susan van der Walt is an avid reader of genres like crime, thrillers, adventure, and true stories. On Read or Rot she shares her favourite books and quotes with you. She also writes articles, book reviews and book recommendations. She lives in Alberton (South Africa) with her husband, Warrick, and fur baby, Pixie.