It’s pretty simple, really. I wish I could make it sound exciting and glamorous, but writing is just a job like most others – there’s no special mystique to it. I don’t take long walks on windswept beaches in search of the muse, or anything like that. Six days a week, after breakfast and feeding the dogs and other sundry duties, I go up to my study, coffee in hand. As I climb the stairs I start getting my brain in gear thinking about what I need to do that day. It could be an action scene, or it could be a scene between two characters involving lots of dialogue, or it could be something with a lot of geographical or historical content. In the latter case, I might need to have various reference books or maps around me to refer to. In the former case, I may have nothing at all to rely upon other than my poor overworked imagination. Then I sit down and spend the next few hours trying to do whatever it is I need to do, as effectively as possible. I don’t like to leave the desk until I’m happy with what I’ve set down, which means I might sometimes have a very long working day. Some days are hard, others fly by and I’m able to hit whatever word quota I’ve set myself and stop early to go and attend to the thousand other things I invariably have to do, living out here in the country, like cutting wood or strimming the meadow. Oh, yes, and trying to have a life.
Tesla was a great inventor. What do you wish you’d invented, and why?
He was responsible for, or at least instrumental in pioneering, many technologies that we find essential and take for granted in the modern world (apart from also being, very possibly, a dangerous lunatic). But you don’t necessarily have to be a scientist or an engineer to be an inventor. I think that writers, as designers of stories, are inventors too. I regard what I do as a kind of industrial design job, blending technical and creative abilities in the same way that an automotive designer might come up with the sleek, beautiful form of a new Ferrari or Porsche, or some other end product aimed at appealing to the public. And being a writer, I can’t think of anything I’d rather have invented than a fictional character like Ben Hope, the hero of my books. Readers say they feel they know him like a real person, a friend even, someone they love to share time with, in whose world they love to dwell a while. That’s good enough for me.
What would you say is the main inspiration behind your book, The Nemesis Program?
There is no single inspiration. It’s partly the continuing story of the main character, the ups and downs of his life and the adventures that fate and circumstance lead him into, and how he gets embroiled in this particular story. It’s also an exploration of a ‘what if?’ scenario revolving around this somewhat strange and mysterious historical character of Tesla, which I’ve been playing with for a while inside my head. What if you could connect his weird technologies to certain phenomena and events in more recent times? What if some of his insanely dangerous inventions could have fallen into the wrong hands? I can’t say too much more about that without giving the plot away!
The only time I ever write longhand is if I get some kind of brainstorm away from the desk and something comes to me that (I think) is so sensational that I MUST get it down before it runs away from me again. Assuming that I can later decipher my own handwritten scrawl, it sometimes turns out to have been a good inspiration, sometimes not . . . Apart from that, it’s just tap-tap-tapping on the same old worn-out antique laptop that I’ve written about a dozen novels on now. I pause now and then to back the text up on one of those memory stick things (you can see what a tech wizard you’re dealing with here), and now and again have to coax the thing to go online to check some factual detail or other. What constitutes a satisfactory word count for a day’s work depends on what’s being written. An action, chase or fight scene that’s all sketched out in my head beforehand might flow out onto the screen so fast that I can hardly keep up and I’ve written 3000 words, entire chapters, before I’m ready to collapse in a drained heap and go and eat something. A complicated dialogue-heavy or data-intensive (what a past editor of mine kindly referred to as the ‘information dump’) scene may be much more arduous going, and I may have to settle for a mere thousand or so words laid down before I likewise collapse in a drained heap . . .
Do you plot and plan or write organically?
I used to be a much bigger advocate of planning everything in advance than I am now. That’s not to say that I’d encourage new writers just to go jumping in blindly – you absolutely do need a sense of where you’re going with it, or else the resulting loose and sloppy structure will certainly be obvious to the reader and produce a less than brilliant story. It’s only after a lot of experience that you can dispense with meticulous scene-by-scene, chapter-by-chapter planning and to a certain extent ‘wing it’. It doesn’t faze me if I don’t always know exactly what’s going to happen before the end, but I still need to have certain elements in place before I can start: each book has a background historical mystery of some sort, so that all needs to be researched and figured out. Then there’s the question of what makes the historical intrigue relevant in the present day and how the mystery pans out. Then there’s the question of why my hero, who is neither a historian nor an archaeologist, should care about it. How does he get involved? What’s the setup? Who will be the principal characters? Once I’ve got all that sorted out – and it’s not a small job, believe me – then I’m ready to crack on with the job. About halfway through, I’ll already be thinking about the next one. That’s essential, if you’re writing two or more books a year.
What is it about Ben Hope that makes him stand out from other action heroes?
I can’t pretend to be an authority on every action hero out there, and I’m sure that there are plenty who share similar qualities. Ben has all the military-trained Ninja skills of a Jason Bourne, all the smart deductive powers and crushing combat superiority of a Jack Reacher. He’s a little over-fond of his whisky, following the hallowed tradition of a thousand flawed heroes before him. But beyond the obvious hero cliché stuff, what makes Ben is simply Ben. He’s his own person, with virtues and flaws and quirks and likes and dislikes and thought processes and dreams and disappointments that make him individual, in just the same way that you or I are individuals. I think that’s why people resonate so well with him. He feels real to them – they share in his sorrows as much as they’re thrilled by his successes, and they seem have a never-ending appetite to get to know him even better. I honestly don’t know how that happened. It’s not a process I’d be able to analyse, and I don’t think you can create such a vibrant, ‘real’ character just by writing out a list of qualities. Maybe I didn’t create Ben at all; maybe he was already there, lurking in some ethereal, archetypal dimension, waiting to be given form. Now, that would be weird.
How significant do you view setting in your writing?
I’m starting to run out of countries for Ben to visit! But the concept of the stories requires a broad canvas, so why not take it global? It’s fun for me to research and explore the potential of all these locations, and reader feedback tells me that they find it fun, too. Quite often, readers write and tell me how Ben’s travels evoked memories of places they visited themselves in the past, and how it all came back to them in vivid detail. Taking Ben to different locations also allows me to introduce a broad range of characters from all kinds of diverse cultural backgrounds, which makes my work easier in that I have a whole spectrum of possibilities to draw on – and also harder in that I have to take great care to make them believable. I was delighted when a reader told me how accurately the depiction of the Amazon jungle and tribespeople in The Armada Legacy tallied with their own personal experience of the place. In The Nemesis Program Ben covers an even greater span of the world, travelling to places he’s never been before . . . but you’ll have to read it to find out!
What do you have planned next for Ben Hope?
Ben is going to keep going for quite a few more books. The Nemesis Program was number 9 in the main series (excluding the Ben Hope ebook novellas.) The next one in the series is called The Forgotten Holocaust. The action takes Ben back to some old haunts, and back across the Atlantic too.
For people that haven’t read The Nemesis Program and The Forgotten Holocaust, can you tell us why they should?
I’m far too modest to say it’s because it’s a rip-roaring, thrilling, intriguing, thought-provoking ride that tests Ben Hope’s skills to the limits and takes his character development to new places with a moving love story woven in, set against a bigger and more dramatic action-packed backdrop than you’ve ever seen in a novel like this before. That’s just what the readers are saying.
Scott was born and raised in Scotland before going on to study and live in Oxford. On moving to the tranquil and beautiful setting of rural west Wales and getting the idea for the first Ben Hope novel, The Alchemist’s Secret, he quickly became a successful full-time author: the book that London literary agents said ‘nobody will touch in the UK’ went on to spend six straight weeks at #1 on the Kindle bestseller chart and sell publishing rights in twenty countries, while The Lost Relic would later chart among the Top 50 eBooks published in 2011 and The Sacred Sword would go roaring into the Sunday Times Top Ten paperbacks. When he isn’t hard at work on his next book, Scott can be found pursuing his other interests which include shooting, archery, photography and astronomy. An ardent nature lover and advocate of conservation, he supports charities such as The Woodland Trust and The World Wildlife Fund.
For more information on Scott and the Ben Hope novels, visit http://www.scottmariani.com
To view The Nemesis Program and The Forgotten Holocaust at the Book Depository, click here.
The Forgotten Holocaust was released in paperback by Avon in January 2015 and is available in most major bookshops.