Today I’m excited to present Benjamin Hope, author of The Procurement of Souls. As a fan of alchemy, the premise of his novel intrigued me, and after reading the first chapter, it’s definitely on my to-be-read list!
Question 1) What part of the world do you come from?
I’m from Hertfordshire, just north of London, in the UK.
Question 2) What do you think makes a good story?
Good stories immerse the reader in their world. In order to do this most effectively, I think narratives need to have strongly imagined characters through which the reader can understand and experience this world. By strongly imagined, I mean characters who develop and grow through the arc of the story; who are fallible in one way or another; and who have a strong sense of purpose, a goal to achieve (and even better if this shifts or changes along the way!), and problems to overcome. In this way, characters not only allow the reader to connect more personally to the story but also drive the pace forward and craft the shape of the plot.
Question 3) What inspired you to write your first book?
I’ve always been inspired to write, even as a very young boy. Although, my first attempt at a full-length novel came when I was about 18 – it was a disaster! I was trying to write with somebody else’s voice; to emulate an author rather than allowing my own natural style develop. It wasn’t until later on, after I truly felt that I had found my voice that I came up with a seed of an idea for The Procurement of Souls. It kept on resurfacing, like an itch that wouldn’t be scratched until I finally put fingers to the keyboard and started getting it down. I can’t say what the inspiration was exactly, only that I have always loved history and fantasy-sci-fi and I suppose those loves combined into an initial idea kept growing until I had the bones of my first novel!
Question 4) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Well, I have a full-time job and an 8-month-old baby, so more recently I’ve been fitting it in as and when I can – lunchtimes, weekends, evenings, etc. I’ve also been on shared parental leave in Berlin for the last couple of months (with my wife’s work) and I’ve been very fortunate to have my mother-in-law with us too, which has enabled me to get cracking with my sequel in between changing nappies!
Question 5) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
It’s not so much a quirk as an interesting circumstance, but my wife is an opera singer and so travels a lot with her profession. This means that I’m quite often a mobile writer! The Procurement of Souls was written in London, Madrid, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin! In fact, I finished my first draft of PoS in a smoky café in Vienna – I felt like Hemmingway!
Question 6) Give us the title and genre of your latest book.
My debut, The Procurement of Souls, had its official launch on 1stJuly. It’s a Victorian-gothic-steampunk crossover about the exploits of two opposing bio-alchemists.
Question 7) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
The fact that finishing a complete first draft of a novel is only the beginning of the journey! When you get there, it’s an amazing feeling and one that every writer should be proud of, but then comes the re-writes, the overhauls, the re-jigs, the additions, the exclusions, the copy-editing etc. As an indie author, you are reliant on a huge amount of self-discipline and of course it’s exceptionally hard to be objective with your work – you quickly become ‘snow-blind’ to the words on the page – both in terms of content and technical accuracy and without access to, or the means to employ, a professional editor, the ability to ensure all aspects of the narrative is a good as it can be, is a real challenge. I am a self-confessed perfectionist and to ensure that The Procurement of Soulsreflected the very best of me, I turned to a number of people I knew who could objectify my work, provide that much needed brutally honest feedback and eliminate any technical errors too.
Question 8) Do you have an excerpt from your current work you’d like to share?
I think it’s best to start at the beginning, so here’s chapter 1!
The whites of two wide eyes were all that could be seen in the splinter of light that passed through the crack in the swollen doorjamb. Dr Weimer observed in silence the blind panic that radiated from them as they darted one way and then another, desperately trying to place themselves. The fear was pungent. Smells like he’s soiled himself, he thought with distastebefore throwing open the door and illuminating the room with such a contrasting brightness that the man in the chair audibly gasped.
‘Mr Wade,’ Dr Weimer began as he stepped inside, ‘you must forgive the enforced and abrupt manner in which we make one another’s acquaintance. I dare say that having a bag thrust upon one’s head unexpectedly is most unpleasant and disconcerting.’ His tone was saccharine; sugared with false sincerity. ‘But unfortunately, you hold in your possession something I require. Something important. Something personal.’ He smiled at him, his fat lips parting obtusely and revealing a row of white but stubby teeth, spread with almost uniform gapping in a blood-red gum, before pushing his circular glass frames further up the bridge of his nose with deliberate precision. ‘Nevertheless, this is the situation we find ourselves in.’ He moved a little closer towards him and noticed with curiosity and self-acknowledged satisfaction how the man visibly shrank at his advance.
Wade felt his throat constrict at this sudden and disturbing entrance. Panic took a slightly firmer grip and he tried pressing with all his strength against the back of the chair, to no avail.
His mind clutched at words to try to rescue himself from the situation. ‘Alright, alright, I’ll do whatever you want. Just untie me and I’ll promise to –’ but he felt his voice catch, his mouth dry to gravel. He simply couldn’t seem to keep his sense of dread in check. He’d been in precarious situations before but this whole scenario seemed different. The moment he’d been taken and heard the purr of that woman’s accented voice in his ear, it was clear this was out of the ordinary. This man too; the smell of the place – acrid and chemical – was all wrong. He cursed inwardly for not keeping his cool. It was normally him doing the intimidating, yet his pulse continued to spiral higher as sweat pooled at the nape of his neck and thoughts of what this could be about flickered across his mind’s-eye like a flip-book. ‘Listen,’ he implored, ‘listen. I don’t know what it is you think I have but if you untie me, I promise to help you. I have connections. You just need to untie me first and –’
He was cut off with a single word. ‘No,’ the man said, savouring the roundness of the vowel before continuing. ‘That won’t be possible, I’m afraid. After I explain our situation further, I happen to know you’ll be rather less obliging of my needs. Untying you would be entirely counter-productive.’
Wade snorted a number of times in quick succession. Why him? Why now? It had occurred to him that this could be some vengeful intimidation strategy being exacted upon him by some enemy or other. God knows there were plenty of those. Somebody he’d cheated maybe? Perhaps a harbour-master from one of the dock sites he’d failed a run for? But although a good number of possibilities came to mind, not one seemed to fit this particular glove and looking up at this piggy-eyed psychopath in his pristine white apron, illicit goods and aggrieved dockers appeared to be the least of his worries. No, this was something different and strange: it sickened him to the gut. And as he looked wildly around for some hope of an escape, he thought he began to connect a number of the dots.
A surgeon’s operating table stood in the middle of the room with a tray of instruments waiting next to it. Beside that, a tangle of transparent tubes articulated with rubber joints led to a brass-coloured sphere the size of a carriage with a dozen or so pistons sticking out at a diagonal on either side. Bile rose in his throat.
‘What is this? What are you – a doctor? A surgeon? What do you want from me?’ Anxiety had forced his larynx so far up that the words barely squeaked out. He pulled upwards desperately with his wrists to try and loosen his manacles. ‘I… I really have nothing… nothing worth taking.’
‘That you know of, Mr Wade, that you know of. We all have something worth giving. You need to calm down or you’ll cut your hands to shreds. It’s surgical wire, not yarn; I don’t want you bleeding out.’
‘But… but what could you possibly need me for? I’ve told you, I have nothing to my name, I’m just a… a… nobody.’ He frothed at the mouth a little.
The doctor’s eyes narrowed tightly to slits. ‘That’s precisely why you’re here. You’ve no family either from what I’m told?’
‘Wha-what? No! I don’t – I – fuck! Please! Don’t cut me open! Don’t take my organs, I –’
‘Mr Wade, nobody is going to cut anybody open. What possible use could I have with your organs? I’m not some vulgar anatomist looking to advance his expertise. We shan’t be on the table today. What I want is much more valuable than that.’ He walked abruptly behind his chair and unlocked the wheels. ‘And it’s time to start the preparations.’
Wade’s chair took a sudden jerk backwards and he came face-to-face with his tormenter. He felt the floor slip away beneath him and heard the grumble and squeak of the casters as he was wheeled beside the bed.
‘Now, I should warn you that you may feel a certain degree of discomfort, Mr Wade. It’s perfectly normal. I just need to support your neck a little.’
Mr Wade screamed. Something was clamped suddenly about his thick neck, rigid and tall, pulling his vertebrae fully erect. Cold steel pressed against his skin and held him there unnaturally straight. His hands squirmed despite himself, the wire cutting into more flesh. He had been rendered absolutely useless, and despite his muscular, bullish frame, he was quite at this malefactor’s mercy: a pathetic fly wound tight in the spider’s web.
‘Forgive me,’ continued the doctor, ‘just a precautionary measure to ensure the tubing doesn’t shatter mid-journey. It’s imperative your oesophagus remains in one piece.’ He unhooked a length of tubing from the stand and held one end up to the bare light. An evil metal barb, like the tail of a stingray, flashed as he turned it slowly in his gloved hand. ‘Now listen, you’re an exceedingly large man and I would suggest that the stiller you are, the easier this will all be and the fewer accidents we are likely to have. Open your mouth please, wide.’
Wade’s eyes took on the appearance of twin new moons crossing each other’s orbits as the metal end came towards him.
‘Your mouth, Mr Wade.’
A spike of pain burned unexpectedly at his side forcing him into an involuntary gasp and in that instant the end of the tube found itself secreted at the back of his mouth. He tasted the cold tang of metal briefly on his tongue before it passed back and slipped down into his throat and further still. He gagged to no relief. His tongue lolled inadequately to one side.
The doctor put the scalpel he’d been holding back on the table. ‘Now take slow steady breaths. You will manage that if you remain calm.’
Down the tubing went, like some uninvited serpent, all the way until he felt it in the pit of his belly. The doctor held the other end up vertically above him and with a curt nod looped it through a fine wire coil dangling from the ceiling.
‘Well, we’re in place and anchored at your core. So, let’s begin.’
The syringe was not like anything Wade had ever seen before. For one thing, the needle was curved, and flexed at the touch.
‘We need to introduce the antithesis of what we require in order to act as a lure. It is the simplicity of opposite attraction.’ The doctor held the syringe a little higher and squirted a touch of the scum-coloured fluid into a kidney-shaped tray. ‘Human brain to be precise, mixed with a unique compound of my own design – the cerebrum is quite dead you see and just what we need to draw our target out.’ He depressed the plunger, introducing the liquid steadily into the tubing. This he unlatched from the wire loop and secured the opposite end to a panel at the bottom of the brass sphere behind them. Mr Wade blinked violently in protest, his teeth vibrating against the glass. His mind swam. What was he talking about? What did he mean? Surely, he would realise he had the wrong man.
Suddenly a terrible cramp grasped at him somewhere near the pit of his stomach. For a second, he had the notion that he might soil himself. The cramp grew. He felt an excruciating wrenching of something pulling apart; could actually feel involuntary movement in his abdomen. A tearing was faintly audible. ‘Sthh-sthh’ he hissed with his tongue on the tubing.
He could feel the doctor’s eyes upon him, observing. His apparent composure was chilling, as he stood, hands formed into a cage at his chest, simply watching. And then a peculiar stillness came over him too: an emptiness and sensation of release, much like the feeling after vomiting. Was this it? Would he let him go now? His eyes searched sideways for an answer.
‘The calm before the storm,’ noted the doctor.
A crippling, violent spasm shot through Wade’s body, radiating from his centre so that, despite the length of glass-tubing inside him, he stretched out awkwardly against his wire restraints, his frame rigid as steel. He couldn’t breathe, not at all. He tried to suck in air. His lungs burned. Blood rose to the surface, covering his skin in raised veins and capillaries: worms of red, threatening to burst at any moment. I’m dying, he thought. This is it.
An audible popsounded from within him, the noise making even the doctor jump slightly. Wade’s body slumped as far as it could in the chair and then movement shook the tubing. Something viscous issued from his mouth along the length of glass. Pink, yellow, plum, red, green: its colour seemed to morph as it moved rapidly towards the brass sphere, like light refracted through water. It gave off a haze or glow that bathed the room in a peculiar tint before disappearing again inside the machine.
Question 9) What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently busy writing the sequel to The Procurement of Souls. It’s called A New Religion and I won’t give too much away about the plot except to say it features more steampunkesque inventions, a host of new characters, and a few familiar faces along the way! I also have plans for a collection of gothic-influenced cautionary fairy-tales. I released one for World Book Night this year, The Rookery at Smeaton Abbey, which you can read on my website here. I have also sketched out the bare bones of a full-length cautionary fairy tale. So, with the addition of my regular blogging and book recommendations, there’s lots going on but I am focusing my energies on A New Religion at the moment, which should be set for publication in 2019.
Question 10) What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Well, The Procurement of Soulsis my debut so I’m yet to experience that joyous moment but I did treat myself to a new laptop a few months ago. As I said earlier, as I travel a lot, it’s important that I have something reliable and portable, so that I can write wherever I am.
Question 11) How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
You can check out my website, www.benjamin-hope.com where you can find out about my latest work and read my regular blogs about the writing process. You can sign-up to my mailing list there, follow me if you’re a WordPress user, or follow me on Twitter or Instagram @BenjamHope.
The Procurement of Souls is available as a paperback or eBook (in most formats) from your local Amazon and most online bookstores.