The Nemesis Program is number 9 in million selling author Scott Mariani’s main series (excluding the Ben Hope ebook novellas) and he told writing.ie, “I’m currently working on number 11 while planning number 12. The next one due out is called The Forgotten Holocaust, and right now the storyline is tightly under wraps. The action takes Ben back to some old haunts, and back across the Atlantic too. More than that, I can’t reveal . . . yet. I’m also hoping to bring out another Ben Hope short later in the year, to be announced at a later date.”
Scott was born and raised in Scotland before going on to study and live in Oxford. Moving to the tranquil and beautiful setting of rural west Wales and getting the idea for the first Ben Hope novel, The Alchemist’s Secret, he quickly became a successful full-time author: the book that London literary agents said ‘nobody will touch in the UK’ went on to spend six straight weeks at #1 on the Kindle bestseller chart and sell publishing rights in twenty countries, while The Lost Relic would later chart among the Top 50 eBooks published in 2011 and The Sacred Sword would go roaring into the Sunday Times Top Ten paperbacks.
Intrigued by what it takes to sell a million books, we asked Scott to reveal a little about his writing process. He told us, “It’s pretty simple, really. I wish I could make it sound exciting and glamorous, but writing is just a job like most others – there’s no special mystique to it. I don’t take long walks on windswept beaches in search of the muse, or anything like that. Six days a week, after breakfast and feeding the dogs and other sundry duties, I go up to my study, coffee in hand.
‘As I climb the stairs I start getting my brain in gear thinking about what I need to do that day. It could be an action scene, or it could be a scene between two characters involving lots of dialogue, or it could be something with a lot of geographical or historical content. In the latter case, I might need to have various reference books or maps around me to refer to. In the former case, I may have nothing at all to rely upon other than my poor overworked imagination. Then I sit down and spend the next few hours trying to do whatever it is I need to do, as effectively as possible.
‘I don’t like to leave the desk until I’m happy with what I’ve set down, which means I might sometimes have a very long working day. Some days are hard, others fly by and I’m able to hit whatever word quota I’ve set myself and stop early to go and attend to the thousand other things I invariably have to do, living out here in the country, like cutting wood or strimming the meadow. Oh, yes, and trying to have a life.”
So how does Scott write, we asked him to tell us more about his technique. He explained, “The only time I ever write longhand is if I get some kind of brainstorm away from the desk and something comes to me that (I think) is so sensational that I MUST get it down before it runs away from me again. Assuming that I can later decipher my own handwritten scrawl, it sometimes turns out to have been a good inspiration, sometimes not . . . Apart from that, it’s just tap-tap-tapping on the same old worn-out antique laptop that I’ve written about a dozen novels on now.
‘I pause now and then to back the text up on one of those memory stick things (you can see what a tech wizard you’re dealing with here), and now and again have to coax the thing to go online to check some factual detail or other. What constitutes a satisfactory word count for a day’s work depends on what’s being written. An action, chase or fight scene that’s all sketched out in my head beforehand might flow out onto the screen so fast that I can hardly keep up and I’ve written 3000 words, entire chapters, before I’m ready to collapse in a drained heap and go and eat something. A complicated dialogue-heavy or data-intensive (what a past editor of mine kindly referred to as the ‘information dump’) scene may be much more arduous going, and I may have to settle for a mere thousand or so words laid down before I likewise collapse in a drained heap . . .”
But do all these words come organically or are they plotted in detail? Scott revealed, “I used to be a much bigger advocate of planning everything in advance than I am now. That’s not to say that I’d encourage new writers just to go jumping in blindly – you absolutely do need a sense of where you’re going with it, or else the resulting loose and sloppy structure will certainly be obvious to the reader and produce a less than brilliant story.
‘It’s only after a lot of experience that you can dispense with meticulous scene-by-scene, chapter-by-chapter planning and to a certain extent ‘wing it’. It doesn’t faze me if I don’t always know exactly what’s going to happen before the end, but I still need to have certain elements in place before I can start: each book has a background historical mystery of some sort, so that all needs to be researched and figured out. Then there’s the question of what makes the historical intrigue relevant in the present day and how the mystery pans out.
‘Then there’s the question of why my hero, who is neither a historian nor an archaeologist, should care about it. How does he get involved? What’s the setup? Who will be the principal characters? Once I’ve got all that sorted out – and it’s not a small job, believe me – then I’m ready to crack on with the job. About halfway through, I’ll already be thinking about the next one. That’s essential, if you’re writing two or more books a year.”
The Nemesis Project has been described by readers as a rip-roaring, thrilling, intriguing, thought-provoking ride that tests protagonist Ben Hope’s skills to the limits and takes his character development to new places with a moving love story woven in. Set against a bigger and dramatic action-packed backdrop we wondered what the inspiration for this story was. Scott told us, “There is no single inspiration. It’s partly the continuing story of the main character, the ups and downs of his life and the adventures that fate and circumstance lead him into, and how he gets embroiled in this particular story. It’s also an exploration of a ‘what if?’ scenario revolving around this somewhat strange and mysterious historical character of Tesla, which I’ve been playing with for a while inside my head. What if you could connect his weird technologies to certain phenomena and events in more recent times? What if some of his insanely dangerous inventions could have fallen into the wrong hands? I can’t say too much more about that without giving the plot away!
We wondered if Scott believed The Nemesis Program is reflective of real life conspiracies? His answer: “That’s a big question. There’s generally some kind of conspiracy angle to each of the Ben Hope books, and in The Nemesis Program it revolves around certain lethal technologies developed from the work of Nikola Tesla during the first half of the twentieth century. Without giving away the plot, let’s just say that the present-day villains have taken the scale and power of the technology to even greater heights and are intent on making harmful use of it.
‘How true could it be? Well, from a scientific point of view, the book’s description of the technology’s potential capabilities is nothing like as far-fetched as one might first think. In fact, Tesla himself wrote chillingly about how he could topple mountains and pretty much wreck civilisation with it – and that was way back in 1898! How far the science could have been further developed since his death in 1943, when it’s claimed that US government spooks confiscated all his research papers, is both mind-boggling and deeply worrying.
So . . . that leaves the question of whether a conspiracy like this could potentially exist in real life. Who knows? The whole point of a clever conspiracy is that nobody on the outside can penetrate the web of disinformation and expose the truth. To paraphrase the one-time CIA counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton, it is a wilderness of mirrors. The best anyone can do is make an educated guess based on the available evidence, and that’s what I’ve done with the conspiracy element of each Ben Hope book.
‘I don’t think I write fantasy, and I have to believe in what I’m doing, or I wouldn’t do it. All I can say is that there’s an awful lot happening in the world that the vast majority of people have no idea about. I don’t even think that our elected world leaders know the half of it, either. That’s because the real power resides elsewhere, in the hands of people whose names we will never know. They’re the ones who set the agendas and are in control of the bigger picture, not the Obamas and the Camerons, etc. Those guys are just passing through, bit-part players in the political puppet show that’s created to keep us entertained and distracted from the truth. The real rulers wouldn’t even trust the so-called world leaders with the full extent of that knowledge, because it’s just so explosive. That’s been going on for many years. For instance, while President Harry S. Truman ostensibly ordered the use of the atomic bomb against Japan in 1945, he had been totally in the dark about its development until virtually the last minute. The project was so secret, even the president didn’t know . . . in fact it was Joseph Stalin, tipped off by Soviet intelligence agents, who casually revealed it to him before the US spooks got around to mentioning it. What does that tell you?”
Great story is all about great character and we asked Scott what makes his protagonist Ben Hope that makes him stand out from other action heroes, what makes him a million seller? Scott invented the character of Ben Hope while out walking one day in the Welsh countryside, where he lives. He said “I wanted to create a character who had all the trappings and virtues of the traditional action-adventure hero, but was also a little different and a little deeper. For all his training and exceptional talents, at the end of the day Ben is a normal, fallible guy who suffers from the same ups and downs as the rest of us, and is someone we can all empathise with. Readers tell me they find themselves getting as much involved with the highs and lows of his personal life as with the explosive adventures he gets himself mixed up in.”
‘I can’t pretend to be an authority on every action hero out there, and I’m sure that there are plenty who share similar qualities. Ben has all the military-trained Ninja skills of a Jason Bourne, all the smart deductive powers and crushing combat superiority of a Jack Reacher. He’s a little over-fond of his whisky, following the hallowed tradition of a thousand flawed heroes before him.
‘But beyond the obvious hero cliché stuff, what makes Ben is simply Ben. He’s his own person, with virtues and flaws and quirks and likes and dislikes and thought processes and dreams and disappointments that make him individual, in just the same way that you or I are individuals. I think that’s why people resonate so well with him. He feels real to them – they share in his sorrows as much as they’re thrilled by his successes, and they seem have a never-ending appetite to get to know him even better. I honestly don’t know how that happened. It’s not a process I’d be able to analyse, and I don’t think you can create such a vibrant, ‘real’ character just by writing out a list of qualities. Maybe I didn’t create Ben at all; maybe he was already there, lurking in some ethereal, archetypal dimension, waiting to be given form. Now, that would be weird.”
(c) Scott Mariani
About The Nemesis Project
A brutal murder, a scientist on the run, a plot to kill millions. The hotly anticipated new Ben Hope adventure from Sunday Times bestselling author Scott Mariani delivers the holy grail of thrilling action that is even hotter and faster than ever, fascinating historical detail and the brilliantly drawn character of Ben Hope that has made Mariani a million selling author in the UK alone.
While secretly researching the bizarre discoveries of Serbian scientist Nikola Tesla many years earlier, physicist Claudine Pommier becomes the victim of a remorseless and cruel murderer who breaks into her Parisian apartment. Is he just a serial killer, or is there more to her death than the Paris cops believe? Maverick American biologist Dr Roberta Ryder receives a mysterious letter from her friend Claudine and travels to Paris to see her, only to learn of her shocking death. Before she knows it, Roberta becomes the target of ruthless men with a deadly agenda that only the letter can unmask. She’s alone and vulnerable. But she knows someone – the only someone – who can help her. Ben Hope, ex-SAS soldier and Roberta’s old flame, now trying to retire to a life of peace with his fiancée Brooke, suddenly finds his life turned upside down by Roberta’s sudden arrival in England.
She needs his help; he can’t turn her down. In a frantic race to Paris and halfway around the world, Ben and Roberta battle to uncover the mystery of Claudine’s research, with the killers just half a step behind. In the process they uncover a global conspiracy that will claim the lives of millions of people . . . unless Ben can stop it.
(c) Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin