A couple of months ago, I sent Ollie a copy of my novel Heart of Stone. He asked if I was interested in answering a couple of questions and I agreed. Here are the questions and my replies. Enjoy.
What was the genesis of the novel? When did you first get the idea for it?
The first idea for this novel came to me in 2013. I had the idea for Emerson Heart on my mind for a long while. The first story I ever wrote with original characters, that weren’t fanfiction, was about a character not unlike Emerson, but far less conflicted. I kept having ideas for scenes and wrote many small notes in my journals. I had similar ideas for Riley Stone, but at first these two characters were not meant to be together in the same book.
How long did it take you to write it?
The first draft took about three months. Then I let it go and turned to a different project, but the characters kept coming back to me at the most inopportune moments and I knew they needed more attention. The file was always running in the back on my laptop. I added a bit here, a sentence there. But I never worked on it with any urgency. During lockdown, I decided that I wanted to send this novel out into the world. So, from the first draft to the publication, it took almost 7 years in the end.
What is your writing routine generally like?
Generally, I put my headphones on and choose music that doesn’t silence my mind. A cup of coffee – if I write in the morning, or an alcoholic drink – if I write in the evening, and then I just let the words flow. I am not one who plans my novels in the beginning. The plan only happens around halfway through when I don’t want to miss any details or loose ends. I also take many notes during the day about sudden ideas or sentences I want to use.
Did it change for this novel or did it stay the same?
For the final draft the routine changed since I only wrote and worked on it while my kids did their homeschooling. They had schedules and I adapted to them. I guess that is why it all happened so fast in the end.
How did you create the two main characters, Emerson Heart and Riley Stone?
As I mentioned, the first idea of Emerson is based off an older character. In the first draft, he didn’t have the anxiety attacks that became a big part of his character. The inspiration for that came after I saw a documentary on TV about a young man who was suffering from these attacks. I also like to give my characters something of myself – I had my first anxiety attack in 2016. It all came together naturally. Riley was supposed to be in stark contrast to Emerson at first. A bit of a cliché. But I was not happy with shallow Riley and I gave him a back story and insecurities of his own. He too has some characteristics of myself. I like my characters to be real and relatable.
The names Heart and Stone came from a picture I took a long while ago – it became the cover of the novel in the end.
Are they based on anyone you know? (Do you have a favourite between them two?)
Emerson and Riley aren’t based on anyone I know and Emerson is not based on any known musician either. They are creations of my imagination. I have a favourite indeed. Riley. Strong and stoic on the outside, fragile and vulnerable on the inside.
Mental health is a big theme in the novel. Panic attacks, for example, are described quite visibly. How important was it for you to explore this theme?
For me, it was important to draw a real picture of the anxiety attacks. They are not just there one moment and forgotten the next, they creep up and have some kind of aftermath. Of course, every anxiety attack feels different for every person, but to me, it feels as if mental illnesses are romanticized too often on TV or in books. I needed to show the real side of them and how utterly helpless one feels in those moments. I did a lot of research and also – once again, took some of my own experiences and weaved them into Emerson’s attacks.
Stone Island, the novel’s main setting, seems like a dream paradise. Did you base it on any place you visited?
Unfortunately, Stone Island only exists in my fantasy. Very vividly though. The image of the mansion overlooking the ocean came to me early on.
If you could spend a day on Stone Island, what would you love to do there?
I would go to the beach and enjoy the waves and the salty sea on my skin. Then, I would return to the mansion and sit outside with a little fire, watching the sunset. Just relaxing and enjoying the serenity of the island.
Another big theme of the novel is same sex love. What drove you to explore this type of relationship?
I first started writing fanfiction for a same-sex couple – Kevin and Scotty from the TV show Brothers & Sisters. I got stuck in the genre of same-sex couples and never felt the need to explore outside that genre. But it felt important to me to show two males who are in love. I read so many novels in this genre that are filled to the brim with cringe-worthy clichés. Now, I don’t claim to be the best writer there is, but I am always trying to keep it real and relatable. There is never a doubt that the main characters are men, and although they are very different from one another, I feel that they are equals, too. There is not one victim and one saviour. They are both victims and they are both saviours.
From the whole process of writing and publishing the novel, is there anything you would have done differently if you could go back in time?
I am not sure. I was left hanging from different beta-readers, quite disappointing actually, and it led to me doing everything all on my own. I guess, having someone else read over the manuscript and making the writer aware of mistakes or illogical sentences or paragraphs is quite helpful. I would insist on finding help nowadays. Also, I am much more confident in my writing, I would probably approach a publishing house earlier on.
Are you working on any new writing projects?
I am not writing much fiction at all these days. After writing and finishing Stone, I felt as if my creativity had dried up. But who knows what happens in the future. Inspiration comes from different places all the time.
Although, I am thinking about publishing a collection with my short stories. And by the end of next year (2021), a new poetry collection will probably see the light of day too.
Do you think you will ever revisit these characters?
I am thinking about Emerson and Riley a lot, to be honest, but I will probably not revisit the characters. There won’t be a sequel.
Top review on Amazon for Heart of Stone from Ben:
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Heart of Stone, it is available worldwide as ebook and paperback on Amazon, or you can get in touch with me and I will send you a signed copy. Also, consider using the shop on this site. You can pay with Paypal, making it easy for you and for me.