Hi Ben, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself and your most recent book, The Heart of Stone?
Hi Tam, and thanks for having me on the Fantasy Inn! I’m Ben Galley and I’m the author of The Emaneska Series, the Scarlet Star Trilogy and The Heart of Stone. When I’m not glued to a laptop concocting strange worlds or being a local menace, I help other authors from around the world to publish and market their books.
The Heart of Stone is the eighth fantasy novel I’ve published. It’s a grim, military fantasy standalone novel that follows the story of Task. He’s a 400 year-old stone golem and an almost indestructible war-machine. Over the centuries he’s been sold to warlord after warlord all across the Realm. At the beginning of The Heart of Stone, Task finds himself owned by the losing side of a civil war in a broken country called Hartlund. Task has come to despise us humans and our nature, and he expects nothing different from his new master: a young general eager to prove his worth. But a fearless peasant girl called Lesky is intent on changing his mind. There’s plenty of fighting and action but also a strong undercurrent of emotion and self-discovery. Overall, the book is about personal struggle and the strange nature of humanity, all told through the eyes of a non-human protagonist.
Task is probably one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve had the pleasure to read about. What inspired you to write him?
Thank you! I’m honoured by that. Task was the culmination of several intentions. Firstly, I’ve always wanted to explore a non-human protagonist such as a monster, a creation or an outcast. Essentially a Frankenstein’s Monster setup. Task wound up fitting all three of those in one convenient stone lump. He’s a creation, deemed a monster through his actions, and therefore an outcast even among those he fights for. He doesn’t fit anywhere he goes, yet he is vital. He is praised for his actions but shunned to his face. The more I wrote him, the more complicated he became.
Secondly I wanted something non-human but not too farfetched, such as a writhing mass of tentacles or some trans-dimensional being made of lost socks. Being human-shaped and almost human—all apart from the stone skin and skull-crushing, that is—makes for some difficult tension between Task and the flesh and blood around him. Beneath all the stone he is very human, especially in the way his emotions define and lead him. He’s far more than just granite and gore and yet that’s all people see in him. Golem mythology is fascinating to me because of this dichotomy. I’ve always been drawn to the fragility such humanity creates in otherwise fearsome and unstoppable monsters.
And on that note, lastly I wanted a protagonist that was badass. And I mean BADASS. Call it a guilty pleasure, but there is a lot of fun to be had writing the sort of protagonist that can use a cannon as a club. I wanted Task to be a one-person army. A harbinger of destruction. The paragon of a war-machine. Task is all of these things and more. It’s indulgent, I know, and a fine line to be trodden between powerful and unbelievable, but I had so much fun writing his chaotic battle scenes. I hope the fun I had shines through my writing.
I definitely enjoyed reading about Task and his time on the front lines. Do you have more plans for Task and the world you built in The Heart of Stone, or are you looking at writing more in one of your other/a new universe?
When I started plotting out The Heart of Stone, I promised myself it would be a standalone. The story I planned had a beginning and an end without the need for sequels. It was all self-contained: I wanted to open window into Task’s life and then to shut it at the right time. I was also worried that if I dragged it out, I would somehow ruin or dilute the themes I wanted to explore. That’s why there are no sequels planned, and I’ve been working hard on a brand new trilogy since releasing The Heart of Stone a year ago. I did release a short story called Shards that explores Task’s early days, but so far that’s it. Do I want to go back and write more of Task? Even without the fantastic reactions and feedback from the fantasy community, a thousand times yes. He’s one of the best characters I’ve ever created and there’s a bunch I could—and want to—write about him. Perhaps we’ll see the standalone expand into a series in the future. For now, however, I have a few more short stories to play with. There’ll be more Task later this year if you need another dose of golem.
You recently released The Heart of Stone in audiobook format. Personally, I found the narration to be amazing. How’d you find the process of finding a narrator and having the audiobook narrated? Was the final product what you expected?
I’m unbelievably pleased with it. My narrator Adam Stubbs has done a fantastic job. I’ve tried doing audiobooks myself before with previous titles, but the time and work required just isn’t worth it for me. Besides, nobody wants to hear my voice for that long.
Instead, I used ACX to find a narrator. Adam was one of the first that auditioned and as soon as I heard Task’s voice, I was sold. As well as his own impressive vocal range, Adam applied layers of effects to enrich the sound of a nine foot-tall golem. Adam’s performance really brings the text to life in a way that’s exceeded my expectations tenfold. I’m pleased to say that Adam and I have just wrapped up the audio version of the Shards short story this week and it should be out in early April. If you think he did a great job with one golem, you should hear a whole damn pack of them.
I’m very excited to hear Shards will be getting an audiobook, that’s definitely on my list to buy. Enough about Task for now, if you could take any experience from your life, sprinkle some magic on it, and write a book about it… What would it be?
That’s a very good question! One of the most enjoyable experiences in my life has been a recent one, and that’s moving from the UK to British Columbia in Canada. I’m truly honoured to be able to live there. I’m constantly surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, first nation folklore and culture, and wildlife I’d only dreamed of seeing before now. Over the past year I’ve had whales breach a dozen foot from me, seen trees that put buildings to shame, and discovered what puts the wild in wilderness. Just the other day our car alarm set a pack of nearby wolves into a howling fit. I can only imagine how the first European explorers felt when they found such a place, and I’d like to capture that in a book at some point. Over the past year, I’ve been making a plethora of notes for new ideas and plots, feeding off the scenery and local tales. It’s the sort of inspiration that’s inescapable and inexorable, so I think there’ll be a bit of BC flavour in the next few releases!
You’re making BC sound incredible. I can’t wait to see how your experiences there impact your future novels. I’ve heard you’ve done a lot to help out new indie authors, and consult with new self published authors. If you could give one piece of advice to a new self-published author, what would it be?
Absolutely. Helping others to achieve their dreams of being an author is something I’m very passionate about. I set up my website Shelf Help in 2012, just after publishing my second title, Pale Kings. There was a minefield of misinformation out there back then, along with unscrupulous vanity companies charging thousands to publish one book. With my Emaneska books I found a method of self-publishing that was similar to being a project manager: working with freelance professionals to create a book, doing as much DIY to be cost-effective, but never at the cost of quality and professionalism. I called that the Shelf Help method and I’ve been sharing it far and wide ever since.
Over that time, I’ve realised that the best one piece of advice that I could give is “aim high, achieve higher”. By that I mean make sure your book is the very best product it can be before it hits the shelves. Your book could be the frickin’ literary masterpiece of the century, but if its cover puts everyone off, who will know? It could look like a gleaming jewel on the shelf, but if the story’s riddled with mistakes, how many will finish it? By aiming high and for absolute professionalism, it means you’re more likely to achieve what you want.
I’ve also heard that you’ve recently joined the new Sigil Independent author group. Could you tell us a little bit about the guild and what it does?
I have indeed, and it’s a pleasure to be part of such a great group of authors. It’s a group of authors that share the same sentiments I mentioned above. All of us have been in the publishing game for some time and by forming such a guild, we can promote each other as well as the importance of professional indie publishing. Sigil may sound like a publishing house but actually we’re all autonomous, publishing in our own ways and then sharing what works. These sorts of author communities are so important. We authors are by definition a solitary breed, so having close groups, guilds and communities helps us stay up to date, cross-promote, better ourselves, and most importantly, stay sane.
For the reader, we represent a pool of authors who are good bets in terms of quality and enjoyment. It’s an honour to be amongst such other great authors and I’m looking forward to seeing Sigil grow over the coming year.
My final question for you, The Heart of Stone, or simply Heart of Stone is often used as the title of romance novels as well. Was the use of this title, and a shirtless chiselled man on the cover an intentional move or simply a happy coincidence?
While I do hold the *cough* utmost *cough* respect for the erotica genre, it was a “happy” coincidence. Maybe we need to ask legendary designer Shawn King? Most often I know the title of my book before I start it, and that title normally sticks through to publication. I’ve only changed one title halfway through and that’s my current WIP, the last book of a new trilogy called Chasing Graves. I knew The Heart of Stone would be The Heart of Stone from the start, and only when I did a test search did I realise it was practically 1 in 5 erotica titles. On one side, it doesn’t interfere with my sales thanks to Amazon’s genres and algorithms. On the other, I like to chuckle thinking of the erotica reader giving HoS a go by mistake, utterly confused and thoroughly un-horny by the first battle scene. Who knows; maybe it’ll spark a trend. If dinosaur erotica can be a thing, stone golem erotica could be too, and I’ve got a head start on y’all.
Thank you very much for this interview, Ben. I look forward to reading your future books.
For more information on The Heart of Stone, you can check out my review.