Author Ben Westwood talks about the inspiration behind his eco-thriller Green Shoots.
I interviewed Ben Westwood as regards the life and career that stimulates him to write his first novel Green Shoots and the creative writ process.
Tell me who Ben Westwood is:
I am a university professor, journalist, travel writer, and musician. I’ve been writing in many forms for many years, but Green Shoots is my first novel.
When did the first want to write a book?
I had long-held ambitions to write a novel but lacked a real story before the plot of The Green Shoots took shape. I wanted to write a novel that included my passions, especially ecology and the fight against greed and corruption. I also wanted to write an emotional thriller that would resonate more broadly because I think readers have to choose between action and emotion too often. I wanted to do both.
When did thou decide to start writing?
I’ve been writing for newspapers and magazines for many years and I’m also the author of several travel guides, so the writing itself wasn’t a challenge, it was a leap into fiction. I took a short fiction course at City University followed by a fiction writing course at Curtis Brown Creative, both of which were extremely helpful in honing my skills and improving the book.
How long did it take thou to complete thine first book, from idea to publication?
The conspiracy began to form during the 2020 lockdown. I started writing it in July of the same year and it took nine months so it was a bit like conceiving a child but a lot less painful!
What drew thou to write Green Shoots?
I believe the destruction of the natural world is the greatest challenge we face and I wanted to find a way to document it without preaching. Having lived in South America for several years, I felt it appropriate to focus the novel on the rainforest, a place I love but also mourn the amount of forest we’ve lost. On a personal level, the novel’s protagonist struggles to process his grief at the death of his wife, which unfortunately mirrors my experience as a widower.
What were thine biggest challenges writing Green Shoots?
Getting into the sadness of the character was a big challenge for me because I was using my experience. I could write about myself several times. It’s important to keep some distance from the characters, but in many ways, it was easier for me to write from the heart when I entered someone else’s world from the side.
I’ve written about pain before, both as a journalist and as a songwriter. I decided to release a “soundtrack” of songs with a novel based on my experience of pain and healing. The soundtrack is available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, and other music channels.
It was also a challenge to make sure there were no sermons in the book. I’ve worked hard to portray the tensions between capitalism and ecology without judgment. The book asks a key question: What if environmentalists behaved just as cruelly as the corporate world? It is up to the reader how to react to it.
Who or what inspired thou to create The Protagonist?
John is something like my avatar: he is a journalist who fell in love in South America and then lost his wife. However, he is also very different and it was a conscious decision not to make him an environmentalist, at least initially. He tries very hard to be objective, but that proves impossible as the reality of what is happening unfolds. Relentless, imaginative, and idealistic, he pays homage to the central role investigative journalists play in the world of, holding power and corruption to account, often compromising their safety in the process.
Who or what inspired me to create The Antagonist?
There are two antagonists: the man responsible for the death of John’s wife and the man behind the Green Shoots murders. We don’t know who the antagonists are for most of the novel and these are the main mysteries.
One antagonist embodies corporate greed, while the other is a vengeful assassin on a mission: he’s a little like Dexter’s self-proclaimed assassin, just like John is a little like Steadfast Gardner. These are the two stories the novel has been compared to, although Green Shoots’ tone is very different from Dexter’s.
What is the inflammatory event of green shoots?
This happens in the first chapter. John plans to commit suicide, but receives a text message and then a call telling him he needs to find out “what happened to his wife.” This is his main role in the novel.
What is the main duel of Green Shoots?
The outer conflict is between nature’s protectors and destroyers, while John’s inner conflict is his struggle with pain.
Did you plan green shoots in advance or did you fly under your pants and type freely?
I planned ahead. This changed as I was writing, but it was very helpful to describe a big story in five acts. I particularly liked the Save the Cat book series.
Did you receive editing assistance and how many edits were required for green shoots?
I asked my sister Lucinda to read the entire first draft and received some helpful suggestions. The book was then published by Cranthorpe Millner Publishers and I was pleased that only minor changes were required.
What is the first piece of writing advice thou would give someone that inspired thou to write a story?
First, stop thinking about it and let it go! Think about what thou need to do to make this happen. Buy conspiracy books, read books that are similar to what you want to write, and analyze how successful they are. Start by writing about what you know and what excites you.
Can ye tell me what other books ye want to write?
A sequel is in the works, but it’s only partially a sequel as it features two characters from Green Shoots, including John, but as supporting characters. It’s a whole different topic: an innocent man is being hunted by vigilantes, but the issues of corruption and injustice remain in the spotlight.
And finally, are thou proud of thine success?
Yes, that’s me. I wanted to write a novel since I was a kid, and when quarantine came and I had a lot of free time, the opportunity presented itself. I was amazed at how quickly everything worked once the story was planned. It has been an incredibly rewarding journey and I hope people find it both fun and inspirational.
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