Born in the barren heartlands of Durham, England, Ben’s love of literature grew from reading the works of Joyce, Hemingway, Ginsberg and several other writers a teenage boy should really have no interest in reading. After several tumultuous years at a northern comprehensive (think Billy Elliot with less ballet), Ben went on to study Journalism at Edinburgh Napier University.
Following several years struggling to pay rent as a freelance journalist, Ben became a copywriter and editor for an architecture firm in Edinburgh. Ben now divides his time between writing, reading, and frequenting the drinking establishments of established Edinburgh authors in the hope of finding some clue to their genius or, failing that, a good dram of whisky.
1. Congratulations on winning our contest with ‘Chip Shop Shaman’. What was the inspiration for this story?
I drew inspiration from a number of sources. In the UK, there’s been a significant increase in homelessness in the past few years. The number of homeless families and individuals placed in temporary accommodation hit 78,000 last year, a 60% rise since 2012. Simultaneously, we’ve seen a change in the kind of discourse people use when they discuss homeless people. Politicians and media outlets portray them as feckless, lazy drug addicts. It’s this kind of rhetoric that means more than one in three homeless people in the UK have been deliberately hit, kicked, or experienced some other form of violence.
There’s a general attitude among the public that homeless people are unworthy of the same compassion we show each other; a kind of dehumanisation that in turn empowers people to abuse the homeless with relative impunity. I wrote Chip Shop Shaman to show how easily anyone can find themselves in that position. In this age of austerity, food banks and economic uncertainty, we can’t afford to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. If we all recognised the humanity in each other a little more, we
could begin to instigate real, lasting change.
2. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you?
I tend to be quite rigorous in my planning of stories. My time working as a journalist made me recognise the importance of research and planning in developing a believable, cohesive structure. Having said all that, Chip Shop Shaman was pretty much an exercise in free-form writing. I locked myself away in a room for the night and wrote it out in full. It was an idea that came to me basically fully formed, probably as some subconscious reaction to regularly reading stories of homeless people being attacked.
3. What type of books do you like to read and who are your favourite authors?
I have a broad spectrum when it comes to literature. I like to break up my reading with different literary styles – so I can flit quite happily from Joyce to Vonnegut, Fitzgerald to Didion. Of course, I have my go-to favourites that I can always read; Mark Haddon being one, but I also love the sci-fi writing of Philip K Dick and Ray Bradbury. I guess what I’m saying is I try to keep my mind open to different styles, and great, engaging writing can’t be confined to any one genre in particular.
4. Can you tell us what you are working on at present?
I’m working on a number of different projects right now. I recently self-published a short story on E-Kindle about a travel writer visiting Lampedusa – a tiny Italian island still coming to terms with the massive influx of refugees from Africa. I’m also working on a few long-term projects (I never could bury myself in one project at a time) that will hopefully see the light of day soon. I write to better understand what’s going on in society and, as distressing as most of the news stories these days may be, there’s no denying they’ve presented some interesting themes to deal with.