B.G. Hilton has a fascination with the weird and wonderful, from Victorian-inspired steampunk to a place where low fantasy meets high soap opera … and no doubt beyond! Then there’s Leonard Nimoy and Dr Who to add to the mix.
Ben’s debut novel will be published by the awesome Odyssey Books (where books are always an adventure!) next year. It’s titled Champagne Charlie and the Amazing Gladys and promises to be a rollercoaster read.
Welcome to last Word of the Week, Ben, great to meet you! Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Ben: I was always an eclectic reader, even when I was young. The seed for my novel ‘Champagne Charlie and the Amazing Gladys’ came from a book of trivia for kids – probably from Scholastic? I’m not sure.
This book had an article about a weird science-fictiony idea, a hoax that people in the Nineteenth Century believed to be true. Somehow, this idea stuck with me for thirty-odd years and became the basis for my novel. I’ve always been interested in Victoriana, so this idea joined with a bunch of other things that fascinated me about the era – the music hall, weird quack medicines, steam power, the Royal Navy and more.
So, coming the long way round to answering the question, what they should know is I’m a bit of a magpie with ideas, and when I’m writing I try to make use of them.
What a great combination of notions! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
For me, the easiest part of writing is dialogue – I’d write dialogue only novels if I could get away with it. For that reason, the scenes I’m most proud of are the ones that are largely or completely dialogue free. They’re my biggest challenge to write. My favourite is a scene in Charlie and Gladys in which one of my protagonists, Charlie Decharles, escapes from a boat and swims for safety across a freezing river so for obvious reasons he can’t say anything. It’s probably the least complicated action sequence in the book, but I think it’s pretty pacey and it captures Charlie’s struggle against the river. And it ends with Charlie having a nice little chat with his rescuers, so it makes me happy on that level.
So maybe you’ll be writing plays and film scripts in the future! Or episodes of Dr Who. That would be cool. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
My protagonists probably wouldn’t care – Gladys is too practical to let something like that worry her and Charlie would probably pretend to understand but not really follow. The character who would react in the most interesting way is Charlie’s mother, Lady Decharles. I think she’d try to take advantage of the situation by outsmarting me, the author. She’d probably succeed, too. She’s much smarter than I am.
I like the sound of her! Can’t wait for her to appear. Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?
When you’re in a writing class and they ask you that question, you’re supposed to say Hemingway or Carver or someone like that, I don’t know. I love reading great works of serious literature when I’m in the mood for it — but they don’t make me think ‘I should try that; I should do that’. The people who make me want to write are more like Harry Harrison, Agatha Christie, Terry Pratchett, Frederic Brown, Robert Holmes, Cherie Priest. Not writers of deathless prose, perhaps, but entertaining writers with something real to say. That’s the sort of writer I want to be.
Entertaining and real – perfect goals, IMHO. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Ten years ago, I was alone and struggling to balance my studies with a job that I hated. I guess I should say to myself ‘hang in there’ – but I actually did, so it wouldn’t be particularly useful advice. More practically, I think I should have told myself to spend more time hanging out with other writers when I had all that time to socialise. Now I’m a dad, and I just have too much cleaning to do.
No, wait, that’s what I’d do. I’d tell myself – ‘learn to be a more efficient cleaner, and also get used to finishing half-eaten bananas’.
That’s hilarious! Great answer. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
Short term? Marketing. Lots and lots of marketing.
Longer term, I’m working on a sequel to Charlie and Gladys. Also, I have a horror-inspired speculative fiction manuscript I’m trying to get into publishable shape. It’s about a young woman whose life is turned upside down when she learns that she’s Frankenstein’s granddaughter. To escape from her family’s enemies, she must seek shelter with the creatures that her ancestors have made and cast out. I think it’s a basically a good manuscript, but the setting was very misjudged, so it needs a serious rewrite.
Great heavens, that sounds interesting! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
I hate to say it, but probably I’m most like Mr Toad from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ in that I get very enthusiastic about things and then lose interest in them. It’s not a bad thing for a writer, having dozens of past obsessions that I can call on when I need. Saves a lot of time researching, sometimes.
My wife says I’m like Professor Moriarty. That could mean that I have big plans that don’t go anywhere or just that I rock a top hat. Or maybe she’s just saying I’m good at maths. I’m not sure I want to know, so I didn’t ask.
Brilliant! Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Ben. Can’t wait to meet Charlie and Gladys.