Welcome to Writers' Wednesday! Today we're chatting with Australian writer Ben Solah...
1. Hi Ben! Can you tell us a little about your background?
I've grown up basically all my life in a working class suburb in south-west Sydney. My father works in a factory and his family were all wharfies. I went to a number of schools in the area including one in a 'ghetto-like' area, where unemployment, poverty and police harassment is rife. I guess my family has never had a lot of money and writing would have to be a factor in escaping that.
2. When did you first begin writing? Was there an event or moment in your life that triggered your desire to write?
I was a real reader in Primary school and hung out in the library a lot. I was also a crafty sort of kid who liked to make things, I drew a lot and created a world of cartoon characters. I guess I was writing a bit then, though it wasn't much. When I was like 11, I remember attempting a novel about martians from Mars coming to ancient Egypt. It was about 10 or 20 pages long, and I thought that was pretty epic.But in High School all this kind of stopped until Year 11 when my English teacher suggested we all read more to improve our vocabulary so could write better essays. I started reading King and Koontz and it did build my vocabulary, to the point where I was bursting with renewed enthusiasm to write. I was having petty teen issues at that time too and found my escape in some of my writing (and poetry) for a period.
3. Tell us about the stories you write.
Initially, it was just straight horror, with a focus on gore. I guess a lot of it was trying to do what King and Koontz did but mimicking never did a writer any good. At the same time, I was developing political ideas, reading political books, going to protests and throwing myself into debates with friends, family and online through blogs and forums. These political ideas couldn't just sit separate from my writing and now it's very much apart of my stories. I write Marxist horror. Which is horror stories about living under a capitalist society and fighting against it. This includes war, racism, poverty, labor exploitation. These things are truly horrifying and get my blood boiling. With my roots in horror fiction, I hope to draw out the horrible things about capitalism and make people fear and get angry at the way the world is, and perhaps to the point where they want to change it.
4. How do you go about developing your characters?
My characters come from real life, as most writers would say. And also, most writers would say that there's always a part of themselves in their characters. Certainly that's true for me. It's my own experiences of living under capitalism and reading stories of others that become part of the characters in my stories. I meet people on the street as part of my political organizations weekly stalls and you get to hear their experiences.When a story comes to me, it usually comes with its character, complete with little bits and pieces of myself, people I meet, and lives I read about. But these traits are not static and don't come out of nowhere. My characters have histories and with each trait, must come some reason why they came to this and my characters develop further as we go through the experiences of their story and how that shapes them further.
5. What advice would you give to other writers, or to people who are thinking about taking up writing?
I suppose reading again did me a lot of good, so I'd suggest doing that, but not just fiction but non-fiction as well. Read the news, blogs and on subjects that interest you. That gives you the ammo you need to write your stories. And you must write, try to write regularly, just ignore the inner editor and let it flow.
6. What kinds of books do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?
Of course, I like horror and I like political leaning books. King and Koontz certainly rank among my favourites, as well as John Steinbeck and George Orwell. Though, in terms of left-leaning horror, there isn't a lot about. Though, I think whether they're trying to or not, politics comes out in all forms of writing, just not so overtly. And of course, Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath really can be seen as a horror story. King's The Green Mile is a really excellent book.
7. What do you find most difficult about writing? What do you find most exciting or rewarding?
I go through stages of problems with my writing. Sometimes it's the ideas that aren't coming and at other times, I can't seem to articulate my overflowing ideas and characters. At the moment, I'm having trouble turning my images and ideas into fully-fledged plots and actual stories.I think the point at the end of each stage, the draft, the edit, the submission is so rewarding. It's the thrill of completing something you've put a massive amount of emotional effort into. I really enjoy the feeling when words are pouring out of you, full of action and ideas and you're barely trying.
8. How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?
I don't. I was unemployed for about one and a half years after I left school, which doesn't do a lot of for your inspiration. I started working full-time last August and now I'm struggling with all these images and ideas and not enough time to develop a routine to do stuff with them. I tend to write mostly on weekends and sometimes of a night if I'm just itching to write.
9. Can you tell us about your next writing project?
I'm working on short stories this year. I really have found flash fiction a savior recently with my troubles in developing plot because within those 250 or so words you can have a complete story. You don't have to spell the whole thing out for the reader, but in the background it's there, people know there's more to it and there's a history in the actions and the characters. In those short paragraphs, you can reveal the story for yourself. And on the subject of flash fiction, I used run a horror flash fiction carnival, that has recently lay dormant - Tastes of the Darkness - so maybe so readers here would be interested in getting it going again.
Want to know more about Ben? Stop by his website. And make sure to leave a comment on this blog so we know you were here!