This interview is part of a series of blog posts to introduce my colleagues in this endeavour. The anthology is available for pre-order and will be released on July 11.
Twenty-seven writers from around the world, including myself have entered an assortment of short stories for your pleasure, show your support by liking the new page on Facebook and expressing an interest in buying the book.
You’ll find the book on your Amazon for per-order via these links:
You’ll find the Facebook page here:
And here is the fund, in loving memory of Pamela Mary Winton
“Amsterdam Calling” by Tom Benson is a beautiful novel. Part romance, part mystery thriller the book has both lighter and deeper tones. Dan, a British journalist, is on his way to Amsterdam after running into trouble in Manchester. He meets Crystal, an American woman who is heading to the Dutch capital, too. In her case it is to find out more about her family’s history. They end up travelling together and explore the city. I’m a big fan of Amsterdam and found the descriptions of the city and its wonderful sights charming, accurate and well incorporated into the story. It took me back to many holidays I had there. Benson captures the spirit of the city and the people wonderfully.
But this is not just a simple travel memoir. It has reflections on European and Dutch history and their effects on the present. For our lovers their personal / familial past comes to haunt them in the present, too, which adds complexity to the story.
This is not as fast paced as you’d expect for a thriller and – thankfully – doesn’t venture suddenly into James Bond territory. Instead of an adrenaline fuelled action piece this novels gives more space to character development and unfolding of the romance. The disturbance of the peace helps well to illustrate how sudden and unexpected the troubles in the past must have hit the city. A fascinating and – despite its relaxed pace – a gripping read.
Interview with Tom.
Tell us a little about yourself as writer and as person.
In 1969 at the age of 17, I left my native Glasgow to join the British Army. My military career spanned from 1969 to 1992. I followed this with a career in Retail Management, in which I was employed from 1992 to 2012.
I have been writing since 2007. I have published four novels, two anthologies of short stories, and a series of five anthologies of genre-based poetry. I am presently working on three novels, and a third anthology of short stories. I’m also a self-taught artist.
Tell us about your writing history. When was the first time you decided to write and when was the first time you did?
I started writing my military memoirs in the mid-90’s, having finished my army service in ’92. It took me a couple of years, because I was holding down a full time job and commuting daily. When the manuscript was completed, even I knew that the story might be okay, but the writing was terrible. I left the idea aside and concentrated on my day job.
I wrote my military story partly as a catharsis, partly as something to leave behind, and if I’m honest, to a greater extent – to relive those 23 years. I enjoyed the life and I was fortunate enough to have survived to tell the tale.
Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?
My earliest influences would be ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe, plus ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. They all encompass endurance through a period of hardship and harrowing circumstances.
In 1973 whilst serving in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I lived in an overcrowded church hall. One day whilst on a break from foot patrols, I picked up an adventure story by Wilbur Smith. I loved his storytelling. Reading was not a regular part of my life during my military career, and it was many years before I once again picked up a paperback.
In 1992 during the first Gulf War, in a remote location in the Saudi Arabian desert I found a paperback in our admin tent. It was a Wilbur Smith novel and I was once again transported to the locations within the story. I knew then that I wanted to write.
When did you decide to write in your chosen genre(s)?
I like to believe I am not a single-genre writer. I tried a variety of genre in the short story format and found a natural leaning toward crime and thriller. When I first wrote ‘Ten Days in Panama’ it was intended to be a romance, but somewhere around the fourth draft it veered off course. I knew after a few reviews that I had to concentrate on the crime thriller genre.
Tell us about the concept behind your books. How did you get the idea?
As mentioned elsewhere, for example on my author website, I was bullied in my early school years. In military basic training I was bullied again, but fought back with surprising results. That single altercation left me with an attitude problem. From then onward it took very little to ‘light my fuse’. My revised attitude to a disagreement landed me in trouble many times. From those days was born the underlying plot for my writing – Good versus Evil.
What is your life like outside of writing?
To most people – boring I suppose. I work as a sales assistant for three days of the week in a stationery store. I don’t socialise, because for just about everybody I know, socialising includes drinking, which I no longer indulge in. For many years I had what is best described as a close relationship with alcohol, and about 20 years ago when I left the military – I left the excessive drinking behind.
What makes you laugh?
Apart from that I enjoy movies like ‘The Hangover’ series, or, ‘Three Muskateers’ – 2013 version starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Oliver Platt, and Chris O’Donnell.
What are you working on now?
I have three novels ongoing at present. ‘Acts of Vengeance’ is the crime thriller sequel to ‘Beyond The Law’. Resting at the moment is about the sixth draft of ‘A Life of Choice’, which is the fact-based-fiction account of my military career. Most recently, I finally got underway with a full length erotic novel, ‘Give and Take’.
You have created great characters. Which one is your favourite?
My favourite character is Annabel Strong, who appears in both ‘Beyond The Law’ and ‘Acts of Vengeance’. The first name and physical appearance are taken directly from a real person I never knew personally. She was a woman who worked in a jewellery store which was opposite a store I managed a few years ago.
Who would you cast to play the characters in a movie?
I would like to see Cate Blanchett play the lead role in my story ‘A Taste of Honey’.
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
The plots of all of my novels so far have been written with a loose direction in mind. My reasoning behind this was to let the characters and story unfold naturally. I don’t want to impose actions or characteristics on what might evolve to be a realistic portrayal.
I tend to get the main writing job done, leave it aside for a few days or longer and then I print it, read it and amend it with a notebook at hand … and copious amounts of coffee. I go through this process several times.
Initially my main reason for writing was for my own entertainment and the satisfaction it gave in producing a story. By the time I’d had feedback from my first few poems and short stories, I found I was writing for the entertainment of my readers.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
The best aspect of writing is the absolute control over the characters and the action.
The worst aspect of writing would have to be my addiction to it. My wife sees me at breakfast, at our evening meal, and then around 9pm each night when we watch a movie or a recorded (comedy or documentary) programme together. We still sleep in the same bed, so I suppose she sees me there too, just before the light goes off.
What do you do when you don’t write?
When I’m not writing, I think about writing. I mentor some of my peers in their writing efforts. I read both paperbacks and my Kindle TBR list. I paint with acrylics and occasionally draw portraits. Due to a knee injury I can no longer run, so I walk or cycle when the weather is decent.
Tell us one odd thing about you and one really mundane thing.
If I had to admit something odd about me, I believe it would be the satisfaction I feel when in solitude. Between my military career and retail management career, I had 43 years of teamwork, but now I enjoy being alone.
Mundane is a different thing to different people. I was physically fit throughout my military life, although I smoked and drank to excess during a period of a few years, but the one thing nobody has ever been able to teach me to do is swim – due to my fear of the water.
What else would you like us to know about yourself and your books?
Unlike some writers, I don’t imagine myself as the hero of my stories. I allow a little of myself into each character, and whilst writing I may indulge myself by getting ‘into character’ to think an issue through for him or her, but it’s not based on me.
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
Until now I have used one proof-reader and editor. Her name is Carmen, and because she lives on the other side of the world it makes it a slow process, but I trust her judgement. I paid for an editor once, but have never gone down that road again.
I write several drafts of every piece of work. After each draft the manuscript is left aside for a period of days or even weeks. I read it aloud from a printed version and edits are made in red ink, along with copious notes. This is the case for short stories and novels.
How have you found the experience of self-publishing? What were your highs and lows?
I write the story, either influence or design the cover and format the finished product so it is a serious high to see the first meaningful five-star review.
A low point is when reviews seem to be going well and then somebody points out a glitch that nobody has spotted until that point. This has happened to me twice.
What is your advice to new writers?
I believe that new writers should strive to produce their very best, and always be prepared to listen to advice, even if they decide not to accept it.
Who are your favourite independent writers?
My favourite indie authors of the moment are: Jim Murray, Patrick (Max) Power, Lesley Hayes, Michael Billington, Kayla Howarth, and Eric Lahti.
Who are your favourite authors?
My favourite authors would have to be: Robert Louis Stevenson, Wilbur Smith, Frederick Forsyth, Jeffrey Archer, Chris Ryan, and Lee Child.
What is your favourite book?
My favourite book is ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ by Dee Brown.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
I’m presently reading ‘Beneath the Rainbow’ by Lisa Shambrook, (on my Kindle). Lisa is a fellow member of the Indie Author Review Exchange group on Facebook.
What (not who) would you like to take to a lonely island?
A quality hunting knife, because even if I started out naked with that single item, I could provide for myself, work materials for shelter, and manufacture defensive weapons. If it were an island I wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon. I’m not a boat man.
What would your friends say are your best and your oddest quality?
I wouldn’t use the word ‘friend’ for anybody I know in my daily life, so my contact is with colleagues. They would say my best quality was finding solutions and positives in any situation. They’d probably say my oddest quality was that I can engage with customers, male or female, from the ages of 8 to 80+.
What would you chose as those qualities?
My own choice for best quality would be that I don’t allow anything or anybody to make me feel deflated. An odd quality would probably be that I’ve learned to let folk talk a load of rubbish about a topic, when I know that they are clearly wrong, or misguided.
Tell us about your other books?
My books are all effectively underpinned by a ‘good versus evil’ theme, so people are going to get hurt – and that is a given. As a childhood victim of bullying, I began to fight back in my late teens, but bullying leaves deep mental scars. I now use those scars as my support.
What song would you pick to go with your book?
‘Search for the Hero’ by M People would probably work with any of my novels.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
If it’s brainless drivel I’m reading which is posted as feedback – I ignore it, but remember the reviewer’s name.
If the review or feedback is constructive, I read it more than once, make notes and work out if the person has a good point. I remember the reviewer’s name, but in a good way.
In signing off Christoph, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to open up in this format for the benefit of those who are interested in learning more about the people behind the pen.
My online presence is increasing all the time, but my main links are:
Author Website: http://www.tombensonauthor.com
Creative Writer and Artist: http://www.tom-benson.co.uk