Sunday, October 12, 2014

Author Interview: Steph Bennion: Hollow Moon and Paw-Prints Of The Gods

Steph Bennion lives in London and writes stories when not busy working for the UK Government. She has given up waiting for a pay rise but hopes enough people will buy her books so that she can move to somewhere nice by the seaside. Her books are written as a reaction to the dearth of alternative heroes amidst young adult bookshelves swamped by tales of the supernatural. For every aspiring vampire or wizard, she believes that the world needs an astrophysicist, an engineer, or at the very least someone who will one day work out how to make trains run on time.

What is your favorite genre and why?
I read a lot of science fiction and have a fondness for planet-hopping space operas that keep the human element firmly in focus, preferably with a few spaceships thrown in. Science fiction at its best takes contemporary issues and shines new light on them outside their normal context, all against a background of adventure, mystery, humour and thrills. What more could you want?

When did you start writing? What is the purpose of your writing?
I started writing and submitting short stories to various publications when I was in my teens, albeit with erratic success, so I’ve been at it for almost thirty years now. My first few novels were truly terrible and now live in a darkened drawer somewhere. I came close to giving up writing and for a while concentrated on music instead (I was a songwriter and bassist in a weird folk-rock band). I was still occasionally writing fiction and in 2010 I sold a fantasy novella to a small press publisher, which gave me the boost I needed to persevere. As for why I write, a big part of it is to pass on the love for the stories I read in my youth: books by Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein and the other masters of science fiction. My novels tend to centre around ordinary working-class folk who find themselves battling the consequences of upheavals caused by those in power. My stories are ultimately about friendships and how people come together in times of need.

Which of your work has been published so far? Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?
My novels Hollow Moon (2012) and Paw-Prints Of The Gods (2013) are both self-published, initially as ebooks but since June this year also in paperback. The intrepid teenage heroine of the novels is the unfortunately-named Ravana O’Brien, a half-Australian, half-Indian trainee engineer who lives with her father in a forgotten asteroid colony ship. It’s the twenty-third century and humans have started to colonise nearby star systems. Hollow Moon sees Ravana embroiled in a fast-paced mystery of interstellar intrigue. As the dark priest of destiny returns from the dead, she and friends find themselves on an incredible planet-hopping adventure into the shady world of politics, school band competitions and rebellion! The sequel Paw-Prints Of The Gods finds Ravana on another wild adventure with a mysterious little orphan, a cake-obsessed secret agent and a god-like watcher who is maybe also a cat. Archaeologists are on the verge of a discovery that will shake the five systems to the core. Cyberclone monks are preparing to meet their saviours, but does anyone still believe in prophecies? The books are space-opera adventures for all who relish a dose of humour and practical astrophysics with their fantasy, for young adults and adults young at heart.

What are your future plans?
I’m currently writing a follow-up to Hollow Moon and Paw-Prints Of The Gods, as yet untitled, which is set in a twenty-third-century London ravaged by climate change. If all goes well, it should be ready for publication late next year. The usual festive short story should see the light in December; previous ones have been science-fiction spoofs of classic fairytales, featuring characters from the novels. The book I’ve just published is Wyrd Worlds II, a free anthology of science fiction and fantasy short stories by indie writers, which I edited and also contributed a new short story. Like last year’s Wyrd Worlds, the collection is the work of self-published authors who came together via the book-lovers’ social network website Goodreads. Did I mention that it’s free?

Is high level of imagination important to have for an author?
A complete lack of imagination would undoubtedly put the brakes on any literary career, but I think what’s more important is being able to step aside and scrutinise life as an impartial observer. Fiction requires a knack for storytelling, but that can be learned – Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots is an excellent reference work for would-be novelists and playwrights. The trick is to see the story behind the mundane.

Your origin of birth and other countries you have visited/stayed. What best things you liked in these countries around the globe?
I was born and raised in the Black Country, which to the uninitiated is a region in the shires of the English Midlands that saw drastic changes during the Industrial Revolution. I now live in London and I’m fairly well-travelled, having visited the USA (California), Australia (New South Wales), Thailand, Egypt and various countries across Europe, including a trip to Romania as a student archaeologist. The sheer scale of America and Australia really brought home how small Britain is. Thailand was fascinating culturally and my friend and I were made very welcome. I’d like to see more of Asia, particularly India.

Your favorite time of the day?
I am definitely not a morning person!

What is the last book you finished reading? What is the current book you are reading?
The last book I read was The Brick Moon and Other Stories by Edward Everett Hale, a free ebook from Project Gutenberg. I sought this out because of the story ‘The Brick Moon’, which is an early tale about the creation of an artificial satellite that ends up being accidentally launched with people aboard (my novels contain a sly reference to this story in that the first humans to reach Alpha Centauri did so in a ship called the Edward Everett Hale). The science is very dated, which is hardly surprising given that the tales were written back in the nineteenth century, but they’re imaginative for the time. My current read is Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald, which is a delightful collection of short stories with LGBT themes, all set in a fantastical version of our world. It makes a change to read something where the protagonist isn’t the usual heterosexual white male.

Your favorite movie and why?
I’m going to say Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), on the grounds that it’s wonderfully weird, features really great performances and tickles my sense of humour. It shares a lot of themes with George Orwell’s 1984 but is a far better film than the version of Orwell’s book released around the same time. As a civil servant I love the hilarious dystopian bureaucracy, in the same way that This Is Spinal Tap is the funniest thing ever to anyone who has been in a band!

State your signature line / tagline / best quote
Someone once brought a home-made chocolate cake to work as a treat, gorgeous but bad for the waistline, which prompted me to describe it as “the cake that launched a thousand hips.” That got a laugh, so I slipped the line into Paw-Prints Of The Gods, the novel I was writing at the time, which happened to feature a cricket-obsessed English secret agent with a fondness for tea and cake. A few months after publication I found the very same line quoted on a cookery website, accredited to my book, which pleased me no end! Some credit goes to Helen of Troy, of course...

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