Coming soon: Art Books by Ben

One night in London…

One evening while looking out of my office window over the rooftops of London, I realised that while I am passionate about spinning words into tales… I also really enjoy art. I missed drawing the black and white seascapes and fantastical universes I began to create many years ago, initially for my children.

With a portfolio stretching back fifteen years, many requests, and lucky enough to have attracted thousands of Facebook “likes”, I’ve decided to put my art into two books.

What kind of books?

The first will be ocean-themed (the formatting is already well advanced), the second land-based. My art is detailed black and white magical realism, interspersed with trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye). Often I disguise a message or story in my imagery.

What I think about when I think about art…

I enjoy taking existing animals and plants and reproducing them with accuracy down to the diameter of a hair follicle or stem texture of a mature sporophyte. But as I believe in parallel worlds (or multiverses—think quantum physics), I also like to modify my flora and fauna, sometimes minutely, sometimes big time, while retaining apparent authenticity. It’s up to the viewer to spot where I’ve accelerated evolution or wandered into a shadowy recess of my imagination.

How many pictures?

Each book will have about 55 illustrations. On the opposing pages, I’ll include a few (hopefully) interesting facts about the subject matter; my personal experiences; perhaps a few lines about what I was trying to achieve with that picture.

For the originals, I worked exclusively by hand and eye—no computer trickery here! But I’ll be adding a few “digitally doubled” images—images reflected down a central axis—at the end of both books. Just for fun.

When?

The first book is already 75% formatted. If the Great Crested Lemur, unknown in Mad-agascar but commonplace in Sane-agascar (Editor: Ben, I can’t believe you wrote that :-/ ) would just stop hopping around for five minutes and let me finish the seascape behind it, I’d be able to wrap this up soon and have the first book up on Amazon in a few weeks.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the trompe l’oeil and the hidden stories you might see in these works…

 

Spring Ben-isms!

It’s not every day you run 5 miles in a record time. Then write 5,000 words, edit a business plan and meet up with an old friend whom you beat at chess in eleven moves. And still manage to cook dinner for twelve. And today wasn’t one of those days.

My oeuvre needs expanding.

I hate the way auto-connect ruins all my testes.

Flat (apartment) below me catches fire (& brimstone). Smoke, eye-watering smells, fire brigade, ambulance, police, mayhem. My smoke alarm doesn’t go off. Grilling a quorn peppered “steak”. Smoke alarm goes off. Explanations please…

PHOBIA OF THE DAY. The fear of invisible words:

Facebook wants to know what my position is at “Author”. Errr…writer?

I mind that my mind thinks it knows what I’m thinking.

I signed up to a website that promised to make me happier. After several boring emails, I unsubscribed. But they kept emailing me. So I emailed them to tell them they were making me unhappy. The rate of emails increased.

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Alysia Seymour Reviews Something in the Air

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Alysia Seymour has posted a review of Something in the Air on her blog.

Something in the Air is a sweet and emotional read with an unexpected ending that…pulls at the heart-strings”

“Ben Starling does an impeccable job”

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A Poem: POM – Book Your Australian Holiday!

POM – BOOK YOUR AUSTRALIAN HOLIDAY!

Who’d wanna be a wallabeee?

I wish I knew, said the kangarooo.

I love this land, chirped the cuddly possum,

Yawning, stretching on a bed of blossom.

So Pom, if you need a getaway,

Come to Oz and play for a month and a day.

Let’s meet the locals, who’ll make your stay

A Dame Edna-tastic holiday!

 

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Let’s start in Sydney, our biggest city,

Where the girls are ripped and the Bruces gritty.

A swim off Bondi late at night?

Great white sharks are friendly, right?

Tired of beer, mate? Try our great cider,

Then play dare by kissing a funnel web spider.

In search of a unique culinary dish?

Have you tried raw box jellyfish?

They drift In search of the mankini-ed swimmer,

Who they tickle all over, in time for dinner.

 

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A real Ozzie swills Fosters from a gallon syphon,

While wrestling his twenty-foot amethystine python.

Did you know a drop of wolf spider’s venom

Can amuse fifty lawyers at their annual plenum?

 

Up in Queensland, where the sun’s always yellow,

You may meet a charmingly laid-back fellow:

So be sure to stomp on that buried stingray…

It’ll say thanks with its tail—and make your day!

Then check that travel insurance clause

In case a redback crawls in your drawers.

In the rainforest? That’s where the amiable cassowary,

Rushes over to greet the sun-stroked unwary.

 

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When driving north, on the heat-baked roads,

You can count the two billion cane toads.

Here’s a ripper sport: tug a Taipan’s tail,

It’ll lick your fingers without fail!

Or swim a river with a salty croc,

Whose playful death-roll’s sure to rock.

Then there’s the stonefish, beneath the sand,

They say its venom’s super bland.

Want a buddy with Usain Bolt’s speed?

Introducing our giant centipede!

 

In the coral garden you’ll find a pet

With a beak as blunt as your rusty Gillette.

Known as the blue-ringed octopussy,

Squeeze his head hard to prove you’re no wussy.

Remember that cone shell you found on the beach?

Hold it tight—it’ll do strange things to your speech.

Tie a yellow-bellied sea-snake in a knot?

Try it. You’ll win Gold for projecting snot.

Then end your day with a fun party trick:

Play a game of spot the paralysis tick!

 

Dingo, wombat, bull ant, brumby,

Australia’s wildlife won’t leave you grumbly!

They’re here to greet you, make you feel special,

Cos our hospitals are empty and the examinations rectal.

So people: book your flights, plan your vacations,

But first…write your wills and warn your relations.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

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ODE TO A WREN

A graveyard squats beyond a wall
Where they bury dreams with rocks.
As child, as adult, those dreams once called
And on those caskets knocked.

Each year a thinning wail would stray
From walls bulged thicker, taller.
Each day my prayers, more distant, play
In silence to the caller.

Until that sleety autumn noon
When quiet cloaked my pleadings,
As thorns and claws and hooks of Moon,
Tore love from spirit’s bleedings.

Now death puffs its heartless chest
On bones through broken soil,
A waxen, tuxedoed dinner guest
Slurps grinning at the spoil.

Time tried but failed to fix
My endless melancholy,
A constant acid reflux mix
A three-legged border collie.

Okay, so the dog makes zero sense,
I bet you can’t do better,
Onward then with the suspense,
As I struggle with every letter.

One day the calendar did turn,
And a wren, of fluffy breast,
Who’d dined on creepy-crawly things, and a worm
Flew by to build a nest.

The graveyard scared the birdy so,
It jettisoned its eating.
A deluge white as driven snow
Spattered barren soil in greeting.

And in that spattering, a seed was sown
It germinated quickly.
Then roots and trunk and branch were grown.
The plant grew tall, and thickly.

It burst the walls, it let in light,
The voice of hope returned.
The dreams with their attendant might,
Bore fruit in all I’d yearned.

Now love has settled where all was lost,
I’m no longer a complainer,
Remember—whatever the cost—
Keep hold of hope. That’s a no-brainer.

The moral of this poetic crime,
Strained from slurry, compost, grit?
No one’s more certain than I’m
That good can come from s**t.

 

A Valentine’s Day Poem…from Ben to you.

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(Ode to a Wren, Ben Starling, 2016)

Winter Ben-isms

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Aiming for the goal – everyone’s gotta have a dream!

#4,377 in Ben’s occasional series “Culinary Recommendation of the Day”: grind 4 nutmegs into 1/3rd pint of (fake) low fat double cream. Blend. Pour over freshly steamed Brussel sprouts. Eat. Smile.

2 hours in the gym, 475 calories burned. 2 minutes in Starbucks, 475 calories consumed (choc chip frappuccino). Well, my yoga teacher did say I needed to achieve balance in my life…

I NEED YOUR HELP!! Forget the presidential election. Brexit. David Bowie’s passing and global warming. My life has been ambushed by a far more sadistic, insidious and determined interloper. How do I deal with the frustration of an unopened pistachio?

I have men-flu. (It’s like man-flu but at least twice as bad).

What should today’s rhetorical question be?

Provisional title of my weight loss book: I’m Gonna Need a Smaller Parachute.

I’m informed that 45 of my Facebook friends have birthdays today. 4960/365 = 13.6. 3.3 times as many birthdays as the expected average? Anyone else notice the same thing? Or has Putin hacked Facebook and is playing with the numbers?

With 2016 drawing to a close, I’m naturally devastated to not be included in the New Years Honours List. Looks like I won’t be a Knight of the Realm. It being New Year’s, I shall drown my sorrows in the realm of the night.

Proud to see my cooking still fails the smoke alarm test.

(1) Estimate odds that utility company will screw things up. (2) Phone them to tell them they’ve mis-spelt my name and could they please send out a corrected bill. Make them repeat correct spelling. Twice. (3) Suppress astonishment that it will take 10 working days. (4) On thirteenth working day receive bill with name uncorrected. (5) Review (1) above and smile. There aren’t many dead certainties in life.

My phone suffers from phantom vibrate syndrome.

Following an unexpected explosion – a partial meltdown – a shock that made me jump – last night, my life was cast into darkness. Total, unrelenting darkness. Logic dictates that the eerie silence, the chill wind that accompanied it were coincidental; that the drop in temperature was a trick of body over mind. Alarmed observers might whisper, “Oh no, Ben – it could be a case of OW Syndrome (Open Window Syndrome)” …Time, I think, for a new lightbulb…

Tip of the Day: bored of that monotonous landline “bring-bring” ringtone? Looking for a constant ringing to make you feel wanted and keep the neighbours awake, even when no one is phoning you? Simply pour water down your phone socket.

 

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A Day at Amazon Academy

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I just spent a fascinating day at the launch of the Amazon Academy in London, on Wednesday. The location was the HQ of their new fashion label (yes, they do clothes too!) in Hoxton.

Amazon laid on a range of lectures and expert-led panel discussions to demonstrate what’s on offer which included KDP (Kindle), Alexa and Amazon Marketplace workshops. There were guest panels in the morning and break-out sessions with Q&A in the afternoon. It wasn’t just for authors – there were also experts who spoke on Amazon Web Services (for serious techies and programmers) and a new service that targets entrepreneurs in the food and beverage space. Professional, entertaining, friendly.

img_3774The company is forging ahead with interesting ideas and isn’t resting on its laurels. The event was a well-planned, precision-executed taste of corporate America before a taste of vegetarian (other diets catered for too) lunch.

Deputy Mayor of London for Business, Rajesh Agrawal, told an amusing anecdote about arriving penniless in London from India in 2001. He spent weeks working on a business plan which he took to the bank hoping for a £10,000 loan. He was turned down. He returned a few days later with a request for £20,000 for a car…which was approved. And guess what he used the money for? He quickly added that the bank has been paid back in full!

img_3771Lessons learned? The company treats its writers as valued customers. Despite its size, Amazon demonstrated a human face and will continue to trial the Academy concept.

As a writer, what did I take away with me? Lots of great tips!

In particular, I learned from the mouth of author/entrepreneur Mark Dawson:

  • have at least one free book on offer;
  • build a loyal following via interaction;
  • have a well though out and researched marketing plan before you begin to spend your budget,

and from the Founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross:

  • develop your own email distribution list as one of your key pillars in your marketing plan,
  • speed up your operation by using a database manager like Mailchimp and
  • don’t start spending money on advertising until you have at least three books out there.

So far, there have been two other Amazon Academy events on this side of the pond: one previously in Dublin and this one in London. And there will be one more in Newcastle coming soon! After that, Amazon will review feedback to see if they will do it again.

And I, for one, hope they will.