Monday, 13 February 2017

Meet A Writer Monday presents...

...Ben Davies

1. Tell me about your book Hinterland and where you got your inspiration for it?

It concerns the legendary Welsh Prince Madoc and his discovery of America in 1170. Yes, Yes I know, but stick with me. The legend has it that Sickened by civil the young prince sails west with a boatload of men and disappears into the Atlantic. He returns a year later telling of a land overflowing with deer, rivers stuffed with fish and riches for all. A Flotilla of 10 ships is fitted out and they sail over the western horizon never to be seen again. The story has had an incredible influence on American history and was a huge pull for westward expansion on the Continental USA. Stories came back of encounters with welsh Indians, Strange fortifications on hill tops that looked similar to those three thousand miles to the east. When Thomas Jefferson Sent Lewis and Clarke into the interior he instructed them to take a welsh speaker with them. I have told the story of this second voyage from the point of view of some of the younger members of the expedition.

I first came across the story about 10 years ago in an article about the Zeno Brothers map which purports to show America, despite being drawn in 1422. The author of the piece listed a lot of people who had claim to getting to America before Columbus and Madoc was the one who stood out for me having never heard of him before, and the fact we are both part welsh (he was half Irish, I’m half English) What appealed was the fact that the story had a good grounding in history but was vague enough for me to more or less do what I wanted with it.

2. Did you learn anything from writing this book? If so what was it?

I learned a great many things from this book. Firstly, it’s harder than I imagined as a 40 year old man to write from the perspective of a fifteen year old Girl (Though I did eventually get into a satisfactory rhythm. What was also fascination was the interconnectedness of medieval Europe. That Arab merchants traded directly with the coast of Ireland, that Slavery was still rife throughout the continent, and that the Church in wales, despite being a branch of Catholicism, allowed its priests to marry and have children. What the really big eye opener for me though was the level of sophistication of the Native American tribes in North America. Despite having no Draught animals or written language , they constructed cities that were bigger than either London or Paris were at the time, they had Trade routes that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and had complex political and social alliances that made the machinations of the Borgias in Italy look positively tame by comparison. It also opened my eyes to the rather Euro centric nature of our history. One of the reasons that the Madoc legend gained so much traction as late as the 19th century is the European belief that “Savages” were simply not capable of building some of the vast earth complexes of particularly the Mississippian cultures in Alabama and Georgia and must therefore have had help at some point from Civilized Europeans . Indeed there are those who argue that Madoc “Civilized “the Mayan, and taught the Mezo Americans the secrets of metallurgy and stone building.

3. What do you think Victoria’s secret is?

Victoria’s secret is she’s a controlling player in the beauty myth and body fascism of our society. You want sexy? Give me a woman who laughs out loud, has a healthily deviant attitude to sex and loves food and drink. But you can’t sell any of that stuff.

Blimey! Look at me getting all feminist and stuff.

4. What is your best childhood memory?

Tucked up in the crook of my Grandfathers arm as he read me stories of the Greek myths. It was only when I was clearing out his bookshelves years later that I realised he’d been reading to me in the original Greek.

5. How would you survive a Zombie apocalypse?

Zombie apocalypse? No problem. I’m a former boy scout, a door man for a homeless shelter and an inveterate forager. Bring it on….

6. What makes you cry?

Pretty much everything. We had a parents evening this evening and my nine year olds Prayer at the front of his RE book, asking God to look after my father (who has cancer) had me blubbing in the school corridor.

7. Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages a day?

I am not the most disciplined of writers, though I am getting better. I aim to write 1050 words a day. 350 words is roughly a page, so that gives you three pages a day. 100 days gives you, more or less, a first draft. For my latest book I’m being a bit more ambitious and aiming for 1400 words a day. My Mantra is “don’t get it right, get it written.” I’m lucky in being married to a self-described Grammar Nazi who is becoming very good at knocking my words into something approximating English.

8. Do you think the cover plays an important part in the buying process?

Yes I believe the cover of your work is of vital importance. If people are scrolling through quite literally hundreds of thousands of books and, with a few exceptions have no track records or professional reviews, then an eye-catching ( for the right reasons, there are some horrendous ones out there) cover is your best weapon. Luckily you can also buy covers very cheaply, so no excuses!

9. What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

Reviews are tricky. I don’t know of any writer who doesn’t read them. The worst one for me simply said “Boring and uninteresting.” 2**.

Part of me wanted to metaphorically scream “you just said made two statements that mean the exact same thing!” The rest of me felt “Well you haven’t give me much to work with there mate. Come on, throw me a bone. What would you like to see better next time?” I’ve only talked about a negative review. Draw from that what you will…

10. What has your experience been like as a new Indie Author? Bruises, Highlights, and lessons?

My experiences as a new indie author have been overwhelmingly positive. Technology in the form of Amazon, smash-mouth and Kobo have allowed a voice to literally millions of new authors. There’s a very telling line in “The Player.” by Robert Altman where a studio executive says that the studio receives fifty thousand unsolicited scripts a year and it can only say yes eight times. I don’t know what the rate is for publishing houses, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the number ratios are very similar. Now anybody with a computer, an idea and patience can become an author. I’m lucky in being married to someone who is to all intents and purposes an editor. I also am lucky in having quite a few creative people around me, my dear friend Clare Williams created my cover.

11. Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?

Despite your best efforts your characters do hijack the story. I suppose that is a sign of them being well rounded and having an inner life of their own! I have a group of friends who are for the most part Taxi Drivers and consequently read a lot whilst waiting on rank. Three of them read my first drafts and are happy to tear them apart. I vividly remember one of them texting me in full caps screaming “you killed so and so you BASTARD!” and I was in the bizarre position of having to say “It’s nothing to do with me, I’m only the writer.”

12. Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

Almost all of my characters are to some extent based on real people. My heroine is largely a girl called Hannah as she was when we first met around 20 years ago. I’ve worked in tourism and social care for most of my life and so there’s a little truth in all of my creations. And readers who are friends have a tendency to say “is so and so me?” which can be disturbing as my characters live and operate in a very violent world. It does have a tendency to rub off on every body though. When my Illustrator Catie did a few characterisations for a kids’ book I wrote, I remember e-mailing her saying “they are great, but you realise, the two main characters look like you and me.” She wrote back “What? Wait… Nooooo…..”

13. Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?

I am still only a part time writer. My real world job is as a manager of a homeless shelter in London, which is a source of wonderful characters and incidents. I’d write a book about it all if I thought anybody would believe the half of what went on.


Wales 1170. The kingdom of Gwynedd is in flames and civil strife threatens to tear it apart. King Owain’s passing pits brother against brother. Marauders roam the land and the English watch the border with hungry eyes.

Sickened by bloodshed, Madoc, younger son of the late king, gathers his people and embarks on a quest that will alter history and push the boundaries of the known world.

Seen through the eyes of the young people of the community, Hinterland is a tale of discovery and adventure, violence and betrayal, where two civilisations must learn to live together or see one fall to destruction.

About Ben

Ben Davies is an author and playwright living in London UK.
Fascinated from an early age by History and historical fiction he has devoted his energies to the theatre, winning the prestigious Thorndyke exchange new Playwrights award aged only 22 for his post-colonial thriller “A dangerous Business.” His New Adaptation of “The Labours of Herakles” by Apollodorus was performed to great acclaim in 2012

Hinterland is his first novel.

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