Guest Post: “The World behind The Heart of Stone” by Ben Galley
Ben Galley is an author who’s been on my radar for a while now, ever since his book Bloodrush was chosen as one of the top ten finalists in last year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition. This spring, he has a new novel coming out called The Heart of Stone, a grimdark fantasy featuring war, magic, and a battle golem made of stone. Today we are thrilled to welcome Ben himself to The BiblioSanctum to talk about his process of creating the world behind his new book (which will be released at the end of this month!) We hope you will enjoy this awesome guest post which he has so kindly written for us, and let us know what you think of The Heart of Stone!
THE WORLD BEHIND THE HEART OF STONE
by Ben Galley
A wise man once said: “Books are a finer world within the world.” I think Mr Alexander Smith was spot on. Every time I pick up a new book, I am just as excited to discover the world as I am the characters that live within it. I hold Tolkien responsible this. He, along with other authors like Lewis, Pullman and Donaldson taught me about the endless possibilities of world-building, and left me with an addiction for creating fictional worlds. I thought I’d talk about this obsession, as well as how I constructed the world for my new standalone novel – The Heart of Stone.
To me, the world is as every bit as important as its characters. It’s not merely the canvas for the story, or a set for a play, but a character in itself. Sometimes multiple characters. It can be just as deadly as any dark lord, or as intricate as any plot. It even sets the rules the characters can live by or fight against.
Whenever I’m planning out a new book, my first job is to build the world. I say job because it comes with responsibility, but at the same time it’s an absolute pleasure. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being a small god, tinkering with a new creation, but for me it’s not work, it’s fun. When I was creating the world for The Heart of Stone, I drew the maps before even deciding on a name for the main character – the golem Task. Authors plan and write in all sorts of different ways, but for me it’s the first port of call. It sets the mood, the tone, and even defines certain aspects of the genre I’m writing in.
For The Heart of Stone, a book about war, I decided I needed a fractious world. One with a bloody and bitter history. While it’s still a fantasy book, there is an underlying theme of real-world struggles, and so I created The Realm.
The Realm is a world split between south and north, with the desert lands (The Harmony) faced off against the north (The Accord). Despite these pacts, each country vies with its neighbours, and if they don’t, they insulate themselves behind walled borders. There’s even a patch of the world divided up between states called the Duelling Dozen, where the reigns of kings and queens are measured in days rather than decades. Even the natural world has a heartless element to it, with the addition of a gigantic whirlpool in the ocean. The God’s Rent is miles wide, forged by long-lost gods thousands a years before, and dictates the Realm’s weather and seas. It’s also responsible for war itself, forcing the south into drought while the north gets all the rain, and creating a very good reason for another war.
For a standalone, the world is possibly too vast. I’ll be the first to admit it, and say that’s largely because of my obsession for world-building. It’s like a tube of Pringles. Once I start, I can’t stop, even if it’s for my own knowledge rather than the reader’s. However, the main story arc is largely confined to one area of The Realm – Hartlund. It’s a far-flung island in the midst of a long civil war. It’s this war that my protagonist Task is forced to fight in, and so most of the world-building was done there. I made it a grim and cold place, I have to admit, but most war zones are.
Another aspect of my world is its implied era, which defines a lot of Hartlund. Being a Brit, I thought I’d look to my own country’s long history or war for inspiration. I took a lot from the English Civil War, where royalty fought against government for nine rancorous years, countryman against countryman. That inspiration led me to build my own post-Renaissance world, and stray into the realm of gunpowder fantasy.
There was an element of necessity in this, as I needed battle scenes that were not only different from the medieval, magical worlds of previous books, but also ones that worked with a golem. Arrows, swords and catapults were not enough of a threat to a stone war-machine, but cannon and muskets were. It’s the first time I’ve dabbled in this sort of era. I’ve come close with the 19th century world of my Scarlet Star Trilogy, but that was more steampunk than “powderpunk”. It was a hell of a lot of fun to write, especially when you have a golem that has a penchant for throwing cannons across battlefields.
I did draw a lot of parallels from that period of history, primarily because I needed it to be somewhat familiar to a reader, and not too fantastical or otherworldly. Of course, I couldn’t help myself in other areas. I would say The Heart of Stone is definitely more low fantasy than it is high fantasy. There may not be a whiff of elves or goblins in sight, but it is still very much a fantasy novel. Hartlund is populated with odd animals, with half-mammalian, half-reptilian steeds and other beasts. There are roamwillows – carnivorous trees that traipse across battlefields. There is magic, albeit a lost or banned art, and mostly a magic of the mind, verging on physic or telekinetic powers. And there is the magic of golems, which is practically a mystery to everyone but a golem. And even then, Task isn’t quite sure how he works.
And that’s a brief introduction to the inspiration and construction of my latest world, and why world-building is such an obsession for me. It’s been a pleasure writing about it, and thanks again to BilbioSanctum for having me on the blog! If you’d like to know more about The Heart of Stone, all the links and info can be found at. It’s out on the 30th of March this year.
Thanks for reading.
Ben Galley is an award-winning fantasy author from the UK. He is the author of the epic Emaneska Series, the weird-west Scarlet Star Trilogy and the brand new standalone The Heart of Stone.
When he’s not dreaming up lies to tell his readers, Ben works as a self-publishing consultant, helping fellow authors to self-publish and sell their books at www.shelfhelp.info.