Killer Reads: When did you start writing?
Scott Mariani: I’ve always made up stories in one form or another, since childhood. When I was ten, I used to write little plays to be acted out by groups of friends. For some reason they always had very dark endings, and all the actors would end up in tears. We used to record the performances – I wish I still had the tapes! I also used to draw little cartoon strips as well as attempting baby novels, usually involving monsters, sharks or ghosts. So it’s something that’s been there my whole life.
KR: Where do you write?
SM: I write in a very peaceful study right at the top of my house in the country, with a big desk and a leather chair and a fabulous view over endless acres of lush west Wales countryside. I also have a motorhome – called ‘The Escape Pod’ – which is perfect for parking up alongside a Scottish loch or on top of a mountain, forgetting all about the rest of the world and working on a story.
KR: What are the pros and cons of being a writer?
SM: Aside from the fact that it’s much harder work than many people realise, a constant challenge and has the ability to draw you completely away from your normal life, I can’t think of too many cons of being a writer. It’s a real privilege to be able to spend your working hours immersed in the wonderful world of fiction, and there really isn’t another job I’d rather be doing.
KR: Which writers have inspired you?
SM: I’m a great fan of classic literature, one of my very favourite authors being the wonderful Jane Austen. Another favourite is the historical novelist Patrick O’Brien, whose books I devoured in quick succession. I also love Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy and John Grisham; and I’m currently having a lot of fun following Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole detective novels. But I’m probably more inspired and influenced by films than books, having been movie crazy all my life.
KR: How important is a sense of place in your writing?
SM: My main character Ben Hope finds himself in all kinds of settings and locations, from the city streets of Oxford, Vienna and Paris to the rugged mountains of eastern Europe, to the sands of the Sahara. Wherever I’m placing the action, I always try to make it feel as authentic as possible in order to bring the scenes to life and make everything very visual and immediate for the reader. I also have a great passion for architecture, and I love designing the various ‘sets’, whether these be houses or other buildings, into which I place the characters and action.
KR: Do you spend a lot of time researching your novels?
SM: Because each of the Ben Hope books revolves around some kind of historical intrigue, there is a certain amount of research involved. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but it’s one of my favourite parts of the writing process. But there’s also a whole range of other areas of research involved, from technical stuff to finding strong settings. It’s a lot of fun to travel to the places where I want to set the story, scouting locations in much the way a film director would, and meeting lots of fascinating people along the way. I’m also very indebted to the ever-increasing number of people I’m able to call upon to help me, from British Museum Egyptology experts to my contacts within the SAS – as well as my Reverend friends out here in the wilds of west Wales, who help me out with matters of theology!
KR: Do your characters ever surprise you?
SM: Sometimes the characters seem to dictate their own direction. I might create someone I initially want to be a hateful baddie, and find myself warming to them so much that they start developing into a more likeable character as the writing progresses. That’s happened a few times, and I’m sure it will happen again. It’s as if the nascent characters were coming to life, budding into little people and crying out for extra dimensions and greater depth than you originally planned for them. As for the main character Ben Hope, he seems like such a real person to me now after finishing five books that I sometimes get the strange impression that he’s telling me what he wants to say and do.
KR: How much of your life and the people around you do you put into your books?
SM: There’s obviously a lot of influence in the books from my various interests and passions: the sea gets featured a lot as I grew up by the Scottish coast, as well as old and modern buildings, the countryside, music and astronomy, and so on. As far as the characters themselves, I don’t consciously model them on anyone I’ve known, or on myself. Ben Hope happens to have attended the same college as me, and we share the same taste in whisky – but the similarity ends there (and he could drink me under the table any time)! And I sincerely hope never to meet anyone like Franco Bozza, Jack Glass, Irving Slater or Khaled Kamal from The Heretic’s Treasure – thankfully, those guys all reside purely inside my head.
KR: How did it feel when you saw your book in print for the first time?
SM: When I saw the first Ben Hope novel in paperback, it was a tremendous end to what had actually been a long, hard struggle. When you’ve had agents telling you ‘nobody will touch your books’, only to see the series grow and grow the way it has, it gives you an incredible sense of achievement. Of course, none of it would be happening without all the readers out there, and I’m eternally grateful to every one of them – as well as to all the team at Avon / HarperCollins who have done so much to make it all possible.
KR: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing now?
SM: I’ve had a range of careers, from musician to shooting instructor to teaching English as a foreign language – so I guess there would be other avenues to pursue if I wasn’t making my living writing. I might have gone off and done more with my astronomy studies, or taken up something like architecture, or even opened up my own gourmet burger joint as I love cooking… in fact I do have an idea for a brilliant, completely unique burger franchise, which still might happen one day. But at the moment I’m very content just writing!