Ben Hobson is a teacher, and an author, based in Brisbane. To Become a Whale, his debut novel, was released in 2017. It was longlisted for the ABIA Debut Fiction award and shortlisted for the Courier-Mail’s People’s Choice Award.
His second novel, Snake Island, a literary thriller, was released in 2019. He also runs Ben’s Book Club, a monthly online book club for libraries, and the Burgers, Beers and Books podcast. The Death of John Lacey is his third novel.
Hi Ben, welcome to Famous Writing Routines, great to have you here with us today! Your debut novel, To Become a Whale, was longlisted for the ABIA Debut Fiction award and shortlisted for the Courier-Mail’s People’s Choice Award. That’s quite an accomplishment for a first-time author. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this book?
Thank you for having me! The inspiration for this novel really started with the relationship between the father and son – the son, a sensitive young man, who recently lost his mother to illness, and his father, a man often away at the Tangalooma whaling station, who has never truly had to “father” his son until the death of his wife. The conflict between those two who, despite their differences, do love each other, I thought would make for an excellent book.
Your latest novel, The Death of John Lacey, deals with the themes of power, greed, and colonialism. Can you tell us more about what inspired you to tackle these themes in your writing?
Themes in my writing present themselves as I’m developing my work – I don’t know what a story is about from the outset. These themes became important to me to tackle as I continued to dive into Australia history – it was not a kind place, especially to the First Nations people of Australia, and it was important for me to include this struggle in the novel, rather than shy away from it.
The protagonist of the novel, John Lacey, is a complex character who lusts for power and has committed terrible crimes to attain wealth. How did you approach the development of this character?
I simply asked myself – if I had no empathy at all, or no moral compass, what would I do? If I saw people as objects, rather than human beings, what could I do, especially in a society where more could be hidden, where the system really rewarded me?
Brothers Ernst and Joe Montague play a significant role in the story, and their relationship is depicted as one of love and loyalty. Can you talk about the inspiration for these characters and what their story represents in the broader context of the book?
These two are really the moral centre of the novel, I think. They’re the heart. They don’t always get things right, and Ernst especially often mistreats Joe, but in the end I think the two truly love each other. It’s one of the most honest relationships in the novel.
Born in Gippsland, Victoria, you grew up surrounded by the sights and smells of the country. How has this early exposure to the country influenced your writing, especially in The Death of John Lacey?
The country has always evoked a lot in me. I live in Suburbia now, and I often feel hemmed in, or trapped. I miss the wide open spaces. I think a lot of that longing is in Lacey.
Outside of writing, you also run a monthly online book club for libraries and host the Burgers, Beers and Books podcast. Can you tell us more about these initiatives and why you felt it was important to create them?
I just love this writing world! Writing is just one of the things you do as a creative person – you constantly immerse yourself in the creative works of others. It was important for me to have a go at providing one small outlet for such things!
Can you tell us about your writing routine? What does a typical day look like for you?
At this stage I’m having to rethink my writing routine. It’s honestly quite difficult! I used to write first thing, for about half an hour a day, but then I’ve replaced that with exercise, so now I need to place that half hour elsewhere. Besides having a full time job, interviewing others, caring for my family – I get a bit burned out! But that half an hour is so precious. I’ll figure it out.
If you could have a conversation with any author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be?
Cormac McCarthy, hands down. That dude is so secretive about what he does.
I’d love to know about the books you’re reading at the moment. What have been some of your favorite recent reads?
For my book club I’ve been reading Genevieve Gannon’s The Gifted Son, which has been a very heartfelt look at how families cope with tragedy. And we also recently read Jack Heath’s Headcase, which was so fun!
What does your current writing workspace look like?
We recently installed a new desk into our home, so I’ve been writing there! But really, it’s whatever space I can find. I’m not precious about it at all.
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