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Interview with Benjamin Cross

Benjamin Cross’ debut novel Colony is releasing today. I have read the book and I cannot stop gushing about it. Of all the thrillers I have read so far, I definitely think Colony is unique, mind-blowing, a complete page-turner… in short, THE BEST!

Colony recently won Indie Books We Love award from lovereading.com

Hello Benjamin and welcome to my blog, The Book Decoder. Please tell me and my readers about yourself.

Hi Rekha! Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. It’s an honour. I grew up to the south of Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK. I left when I was 18 or 19 to go to university in Reading, north of London, and then to Oxford for my post-graduate degree. My wife, my two young boys and I then moved to a smallholding in south Wales in 2018. I’ve been an archaeologist since the mid-00s, and I’ve been writing fiction since I was very young; I read The Hobbit when I was seven, and I’ve been inspired to try and write something decent ever since.

Your debut novel Colony is releasing soon. Tell us more about it.

I first started writing COLONY nearly a decade ago, since when I’ve written a second thriller and made a start on a third, all inspired by my career in archaeology. The story follows Callum Ross, a professor of archaeology from the University of Aberdeen. Callum finds himself undertaking a survey on a remote Arctic island, only recently discovered. It’s not long before he discovers an ancient ice mummy, a prehistoric corpse preserved by the freezing temperatures. It’s the discovery of a lifetime, but it’s also a disturbing find. Why? Because whoever it is has suffered a horrific and mysterious death…

Callum is eager to solve the mystery, but there are others who have (very) different ideas, and he and the rest of the survey team end up stranded on the island. And they are not alone. There is something else living in this ancient place, trapped amongst the ice floes, a thousand miles from anything resembling civilization. The story follows Callum as he desperately fights to survive the elements and the machinations of certain others trapped with him, as well as an ancient and terrifying primal threat.

What is the inspiration behind Colony?

I can remember walking along one day when a fictive scenario just popped into my head. There was an Inuit village, and a man lay dead. Not just dead but mutilated. The rest of the villagers were gathered around him and the terror on their faces was palpable. As I looked on, I got the sense that this wasn’t the first time this had happened. These villagers were being picked off by someone, or something that they just didn’t understand.

Then I noticed that one of them – a small girl – was sneaking away from the rest of the crowd and heading out into the snow. By this point I was hooked on my own daydream! If I’d been that age I would’ve been terrified and rapt by the site of the mangled corpse. But this girl seemed oddly unmoved. I watched as she made her way towards a towering ridge and into one of numerous caves at its base. There she stopped and called out, and moments later she was joined by… well I won’t say any more. But suffice it to say that what joined her got me thinking and, ten years later, Colony is about to hit the shelves.

What was the most challenging part of writing Colony.

To be honest, just writing it at all was a challenge! It was written while I worked full time as a field archaeologist. Archaeology is a fascinating job, for sure. But it’s also demanding. Not just physically, but in terms of lifestyle too. The excavations take place in intensive bursts, involving long hours, a lot of travel and regular re-location to other parts of the country. There is no rhythm, and the all-important work / life balance just isn’t going to happen. These are some of the worst possible conditions under which to try and write a novel.

Writing your first novel is always going to be an uphill struggle, not least mentally. You have no idea whether you’ll be able to finish it, whether it will be any good, or how it will be received. It’s what they describe in the industry as ‘writing into a blackhole’, and it’s one reason why finishing a book is so much harder than starting one. That said, I’m convinced that those same restless conditions also helped produce a better debut. Why? Because they forced me to develop a number of qualities essential for all new authors: self-belief, self-discipline, stubborn determination, rhino-thick skin, and an obsessive preoccupation with putting words on page. Put simply, they gave me a ferocious contempt for the ‘blackhole’.

Did the pandemic/lockdown affect your writing schedule? If yes, how?

Colony was finished long before the pandemic hit. However, it’s no exaggeration to say that the pandemic also gave the novel a much-needed second wind. So, my agent and I had been touting Colony for a long time prior, and it had been getting a lot of love. We had protracted negotiations on the go with various of the ‘big five’ publishers, including the likes of Little Brown, Transworld, and HarperCollins. Where it fell short though wasn’t the writing or the concept. It was the simple fact that action-thrillers just aren’t a popular genre over here in the UK.

If you take a look at the shelves in any UK supermarket, you’ll see that the genre fiction mass market is dominated by crime fiction; I’d say anywhere between 75% and 90% at a guess, with the remainder being largely a mix of psychological thrillers and historical fiction. The nearest parallel you’ll find to Colony is the ever-present new release from Clive Cussler and the occasional offering from Wilbur Smith. So the final word from the bigger publishers was pretty much the same each time: We love the book. We want the book. But the numbers are telling us there’s no market for the book, so we’ll have to pass. (Often followed closely by: ‘Why don’t you write a crime novel’.) In response, we decided to put Colony on hold while I concentrated on writing a second thriller novel – now complete – and made a start on a third.

So, to come back to the question of the pandemic, times had changed by the time March 2020 came around, and I had started to feel a restless need to pick Colony back up and try to get it out there. The down time that most of us experienced during the first wave of Covid lockdowns actually gave me the time I needed to concentrate on re-submitting the novel to publishers; this time I was lucky enough to be signed up by Book Guild Publishing, a medium-sized publisher here in the UK, that produces around 100 titles per year. Ultimately then, while there’s an awful lot to hate about lockdown, it has (not without irony) actually turned out to be quite a positive thing for Colony.

What’s next for Benjamin Cross? What are you currently working on?

My next novel has been written and will be hitting the shelves in 2022. As an exclusive for you and your readers, Rekha, I can tell you that this one is set in the Amazon Basin in Peru, and that it contains plenty more archaeology, thrills and spills… Otherwise, my lips are sealed for now.

As well as marketing for Colony, I’m currently halfway through my third novel too and am working hard to get it finished. I should also report a burgeoning itch to return to Harmsworth Island for a sequel to Colony… but let’s just see what the future brings!

COLONY is published in paperback and as an Ebook on 28th January 2021. It is available to pre-order now from all good bookstores and you can find additional info, links, reviews, interviews and other details on the official website: https://www.benjamin-cross.com/


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