Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
– Tom Benson, and I’m 66 …until November ….
Fiona: Where are you from?
– Originally, from Glasgow, Scotland, although I’ve lived in Northeast England since my military career ended in 1992.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
– I’m the oldest of four boys and two girls. I was eight years old when my three brothers, my parents and I, moved out from a single-room house in a rundown tenement in the east end of Glasgow. We set up home in what to us, was a luxurious two-bedroom apartment in Drumchapel, a sprawling housing estate on the city’s western boundary.
I was a natural scholar and artist, so I excelled at lessons, but due to lack of support and financial backing I was destined to leave school at 15. That was just how it was in 1967. I worked in an office for the next two years and commenced training as a book-keeper. (There’s something ironic about that job title and how life has turned out for me).
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
-Two weeks ago I published ‘One Man, Two Missions: and other stories’, my seventh collection of short stories.
– At the time of responding (July 2019), I have thirty-six published titles and I’m presently working on three projects.
– ‘Codename: Nightshade’ a standalone/spinoff of the ‘Beyond The Law’ trilogy.
– ‘Czech Mate’, a standalone thriller.
– ‘Around the Bend: and other stories’, my next collection of twelve multi-genre tales.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
– I started writing my military memoirs in the mid-1990’s, having finished my army days in 1992. It took me a couple of years, because I was then a retail manager 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.
The story was written in different points of view, but I eventually opted for changing all the real names (including mine), and declared the tale to be fact-based fiction.
I wrote my military story partly as a catharsis, partly as something to leave behind, and if I’m honest—to relive those 23 years. I enjoyed the life and I survived to tell the tale.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
– In 2007, about ten years after shelving my military life story, I started writing poetry, which was something I did spontaneously one day during my lunch-break. At the suggestion of a colleague I joined a poetry website and after a few months I attempted writing short stories.
In 2010, one of my stories was a winner in a national competition to be included in the anthology ‘Whitby Abbey – Pure Inspiration’. For me, that was the turning point—my writing and my name were in print; together. One year later I came second in an international competition.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
– My military career inspired my first book, ‘A Life of Choice’.It wasn’t the first story I published, but it will remain my magnum opus however many other titles I publish.
Although ‘A Life of Choice’ is available as a series of five eBooks or a paperback trilogy, it is word-for-word the same story.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
– The title is a key ingredient of the whole writing package, so I tend to give myself a ‘working title’. I list more possible titles while I’m in the process of writing the particular story. The title is something which must carry appeal, but also be an accurate description of the tale, whether it be location, character, plot, a message or even a hint of the content.
‘A Life of Choice’ was not my first option, but it grew on me and I realised over time that it was an ideal fit for such an extended tale.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
– In my writing I’m not inclined towards the regular use of ‘three days later’ or similar phrases to show the passage of time, so from the outset I’ve kept a perpetual diary close at hand. This means that for the sake of detail it doesn’t matter if the date were in 2018, or 1901, I would know what the specific day would be. I like my reader to be comfortable with time scale and progression.
I would hesitate to call it a style, but it’s in my nature to keep everything neat and tidy. It’s probably for that reason that I tend to produce a story in a mainly chronological order with clearly defined periods of time. Flashbacks are used sparingly, but as required. If my fiction had a style it might be referred to as ‘literary diarist’.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
– Although ‘A Life of Choice’ is purported to be fact-based fiction, the story is factual and autobiographical. The names and descriptions of all characters are disguised to protect the innocent … and the guilty. Apart from this I omitted a couple of family members.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
– In the case of ‘A Life of Choice’ the travelling was already done many years before.
For my other fiction I don’t usually travel to complete the process of writing a story, but in the case of my ‘Beyond The Law’ crime trilogy, I conducted detailed research on several brief visits to my birthplace, Glasgow.
For one of my projects ‘Czech Mate’, I made copious notes on a five-day trip to Praque and several weekends in Edinburgh.
There is something visceral about walking the streets a story’s characters walk and inhabiting their world, even partially. In my military career I drove on city streets and walked among people while armed and I find it easy to recall such a strange sensation.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
– The covers for my early novels; ‘Ten Days in Panama’, ‘Amsterdam Calling’, ‘A Taste of Honey’ and the ‘Beyond The Law’ trilogy were all designed by Aimee Coveney, a professional cover designer. Aimee also designed the covers for the paperback trilogy version of ‘A Life of Choice’.
I take pleasure and pride in designing my covers and have produced the others myself. I have created 34 of my present covers.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
– In my work generally, whether it be novel, novella, short story or poetry I strive to entertain, but in that context I work hard to provide a sense of justice, karma and a feeling that good will prevail. As things turned out in my military career, I feel that these same things occurred throughout ‘A Life of Choice’.
If there is a message in that story it is that beneath the military uniform and the confident, usually humorous facade is a human being, complete with all the trappings of any other.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
– I can’t think of anybody I’d classify as a ‘new’ author. I’m a fan of several indie authors but if I had to choose one, for consistently memorable storytelling and incredible characterisation I’d name Lesley Hayes.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
– If you’ll excuse the pun, this is relatively easy for me. Although my wife has believed in me from the outset, neither she, nor my grown-up son have read any of my work.
If there were one entity I’d name as support it would be Amazon as a platform. After publishing a few titles, more important to me has become the psychological and personal advice and support provided by the Indie Author Support and Discussion (IASD) group on Facebook.
For quality reading material in a wide variety of genres, I would recommend many of the talented authors in the IASD.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
– I would say, yes I do, if we take it that as a career or occupation it takes up a significant part of my time and I maintain the desire to improve, or if you will, develop my craft.
Although I treat my writing as a ‘job’ I do so more to achieve the natural wish to produce stories—not to earn money. For example, I regularly send the paperback versions of my work as gifts or prizes for military veteran fund-raising events.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
– I’ll refer once again to ‘A Life of Choice’ and the answer would be; no. I gave my heart and soul (not to mention twenty-three years of my life) to producing that story. At twenty years (off and on), it took almost as long to write and edit as it did to live the life.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
– If I were to use ‘A Life of Choice’ as the book(s) I’d suggest that I learned how fortunate I was to have achieved so much after such a self-indulgent, self-destructive start to my military career. The success was, of course, a by-product of effort, enthusiasm, diligence, and professionalism, but also due to marrying Olive, my lifelong support and anchor since we tied the knot in 1977.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
– James McAvoy (Atonement, X-Men, The Last (King of Scotland ), et al. He is not only a fellow Glasgow man, but was brought up on the same housing estate as me; Drumchapel. Like me, he was Roman Catholic and also like me, for a brief period in his childhood considered joining the priesthood.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
– To a novice writer I would suggest—do not publish until the work is as good as it can be and accept constructive criticism in good faith. We’ve all been there—really.
To established writers I would suggest—whether or not we sell our work we are promising entertainment and/or education. With this in mind we should devote ourselves to achieving what we’ve offered. Do not over-promise and under-deliver.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
– If you enjoy my books, please tell others—if you don’t; please tell me.
I’m a really big fan of reviews—particularly good ones!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
– ‘The Silence of the Stones’ by Rebecca Bryn, aka Ruth Coulson.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
– ‘Tom Sawyer’ by Mark Twain. Until I finished reading; I was Tom Sawyer.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
– Humour is capable of making me do both.In my writing I’ve learned to judge how realistic a scene has developed by my mental and physical reaction. I move on at a pace when writing, so it’s when I am editing for the final time that I might feel the emotion. This applies to all genre: thriller, adventure, erotica, romance.
I may not always be reduced to tears but in our modern world I despair when I see evidence of tragic loss of life. For example, with humans due to natural disaster or terrorist activity, or in the case of wildlife, wanton destruction like ‘hunting’ or ‘poaching’.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
– Sir David Attenborough—the naturalist and broadcaster. My hero. He’s been to places and seen and done things many of us will only ever see on a screen. I admire his tenacity, and though in his winter years now, he remains passionate about our natural world.
I’d also like to go back in time to meet Adolf Hitler in a dark alley when we were both in our twenties …
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
– I’m a self-taught artist, so I draw and paint when not reading or writing. Maintenance of my physical fitness has been a personal aspiration for many years. Due to a knee injury in my forties I had to abandon long-distance running. About two and a half years ago I rediscovered my love of cycling. I go out every morning (except Monday) before breakfast to cover between ten and twenty miles.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
– Natural History on TV has been a favourite all my life, even when the picture was black and white. In films I like humour, action, adventure and espionage.
I love the Airplane movies, the Monty Python movies and I enjoy the flippant humour in The Three Musketeers (1993 version).
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
– I’m not now, and never have been a ‘food junkie’. I like sweet rather than savoury. If anyone pulls me up for not trying new things or eating more, I have a maxim—‘I eat to live; I don’t live to eat.’‘
I like reds and golds for some reason. Perhaps I should have been a Chinese temple designer or an interior designer for Chinese restaurants.
I like most music, including pop (up until about 2015), classical, instrumental, folk, country and western, and heavy metal, but I don’t like jazz, garage, funk, hip-hop or any of the other strangely designated stuff that is around now.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
– Art would be my natural choice—most likely graphic design. If not, then musician or linguist would be my next choices. I’ve always wanted to play the piano, but though I can touch-type efficiently I don’t have the dexterity for instruments.
Although I’m capable of learning foreign vocabulary, I’m not good at conversational use. Okay, for a long time I’ve also harboured the dream of being a rally or racing driver.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
– Best answered by a poem from my ‘Poetry-Volume 5 – Thrills and Chills’.
I can give you a flavour* of the piece:
.With only one more day to live
all worldly goods I’d gladly give
to let me simply go on living
I would never tire of giving
I wonder how I would be
knowing soon I would be ‘free’
No more trouble and no more worry
what time is left there’s no hurry
I’d go to Scotland’s mountains high
watch golden eagles in the sky
I’d see the herds of deer all wander
that’s how time I would squander
*(there are five more verses)
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
– ‘Here lies Tom Benson: soldier, retailer, author, and artist. He was adored by women, admired by men and envied by all who saw his beautiful house in the Scottish Highlands so realising the extent of his astounding fortune.’
I would like that message to be true, but at least it would bring a smile when a visitor realised it was for fun.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
– https://amzn.to/2CXjflq (Amazon)
I highly recommend a visit to the IASD website which has an extensive catalogue of excellent reading material available.