Hello, reader friends, thanks for joining me here today – it’s a very exciting day! You may or may not have heard of a new dystopian YA series that is said to rival The Hunger Games trilogy by Glasgow-based writer Ben Oliver. The second book in the The Loop trilogy, The Block, is out now – I hope you’re ready for the wild ride that this book is (you’re not). Join me for an exclusive Q&A with the author Ben Oliver who is talking character development, impossible odds, and TV adaptations!
Q: Ben, congratulations on your brilliant new book, The Block! All of The Loop’s readers are anticipating reading the sequel – what are they in for?!
A: Thank you! The readers are in for even more excitement, terror, twists and turns (and maybe a few moments that will make them squirm!) I always try to make each book I write better than the one before, and with The Block that meant more intensity, more tension and more fast-pace action! It was so much fun to write. I’ve also introduced some new characters who I think the readers are going to love (especially a certain little drone).
Q: You live in bonnie Scotland – Glasgow, to be specific. How do you think that has affected your writing? Is there a Scottish writer that has inspired you?
A: There are so many Scottish writers that inspire me. I read very eclectically. Sci-Fi and speculative fiction are my favourite genres, but I love Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, Iain Banks’s works, Muriel Spark, Val McDermid, and we try to claim George Orwell because he wrote 1984 while living in Scotland! Growing up in Scotland has definitely affected my writing. I think all writers are influenced by their environment, the people that surround them, the landscape around them, the history, myths and legends of their country. A lot of Sci-Fi writing is about looking back into history as well as forward to the future, and Scotland has a lot of history.
Q: The world of The Loop and The Block is so well structured and intense. What’s your world-building advice to any aspiring writers?
A: My idea of good world-building starts with seeing the world in which your story is set. For me, writing starts with watching the story unfold in my mind and then describing what I’m seeing (in some ways I’m writing the novelisation of the movie that plays in my head!). If you can visualise your world, it becomes more alive. The history of your world is also important, whether or not you include this history in the telling of your story doesn’t matter, it has to be there, it will make your world more rich and believable.
Q: I feel like I’ve been through so much with Luka (it’s been quite the ride)! How did his character come to you? Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
A: Luka was a character that arrived almost fully formed in my mind. I like Luka Kane a lot, although you wouldn’t think it after all I have put him through. My writing process doesn’t start with characters though, it starts with an idea that usually comes out of nowhere! This idea will sit at the back of my mind for a few months, developing and growing, and then I’ll sit down to write. Hopefully, at this point, all of the characters will sort of just arrive and introduce themselves (this sounds sort of crazy, but it’s the way it happens for me).
Q: You tackle a lot of difficult themes in your books, including physical and emotional torture. How do you bring those topics to a young audience?
A: A lot of my writing is inspired by the books I read when I was in high school. I think I borrowed almost every sci-fi book from the library! I loved the way I could get lost in books and escape for a while – in a lot of ways I’m trying to recapture the feelings I had back then. Those books never shied away from tough subject matter, and I appreciated that the writers didn’t talk down to me. I try to do the same. Plus, I have a strange fondness for being terrified! I like it! I used to read Stephen King books when I was too young and after everyone had gone to bed because I loved being scared, and there’s nothing scarier (to me) than the isolation and torture of the Loop.
Q: I know you’re an English teacher as well as a writer (talk about multi-tasking!). Have any of your students read your books? What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve received?
A: Yes, working as a teacher is such a brilliant (but exhausting) job, and it gives me loads of inspiration to write more. A lot of my students have read it. The most memorable reaction I’ve had is students bringing their copies into school to have them signed. Some have also asked to know what happens in the last two books, but I haven’t given away any secrets!
Q: There’s a TV show in the making with the producer of Black Mirror – wow! Congratulations! Can you share any well-kept secrets with us? On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you?
A: Thank you, it’s so amazing – the contract has been signed for months and I still can’t believe it – I don’t think it’ll ever fully sink in. Unfortunately it’s one of those things that I’m not allowed to talk about until things are official, but having something I’ve written turned into a TV show is right near the top of my author bucket list! There is no scale that can accurately measure my excitement levels!
Q: By now you are well-known for your cliffhangers! Can you give us a little taster of what to expect of the final novel the Loop trilogy? (I can’t wait!!!!!)
A: I can’t give too much away, but there will be more hellish imprisonment, more destruction, more action, and more impossible odds (plus characters living in a computer game, the return of flying cars, and a robotic sidekick named Apple-Moth). The middle book in a trilogy is famously difficult to write, but I had such a great time with this one, I just wanted to ramp up the stakes and the emotion to another level, and I think I’ve done that.
Thank you so much, Ben! What a brilliant Q&A.