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Ben Craib chats about his debut YA novel Love is the Answer

Love is the Answer, by Ben Craib, is his debut novel and also the first YA novel to be published by QuoScript. Ben says that his decision to write a YA novel was not a conscious choice. “I feel that YA chose me, rather than the other way round.”

It started when he was working with young people – aged between 5 years and 18 years – and became intrigued by the books they were reading. “I found myself reading books for older and older children and realised that I wanted to write for the upper age bracket myself. However, the first novel I attempted was for 7 – 9-year-olds. I got some interest from publishers and some nice rejections.”

Ben was not new to writing when he completed that first novel. For the past ten years he has been writing playscripts. None of these has been used in a professional production, but there have been lots of “nice moments”. He has had meetings with actors and theatre managers to discuss his scripts. In 2009, he won a competition run by the Menagerie Theatre in Cambridge to have a play staged, but at the time he was studying for an MA and chose to focus on that instead.

Ben currently devotes his career to writing in various guises. This includes preparing marketing copy for publishers – for example, he has a contract with a well-known Mind, Body, Spirit publisher. He is also working as a ghost writer – he took this on for a particular co-author whose story interested him and has now been contacted by several others who would like to work with him. He says he enjoys collaborating with people to tell their stories, although he doesn’t expect to make his fortune from ghost-writing: “The golden age for that was the late 90s”.

Ben placed Love is the Answer with Caroline Montgomery, of the Rupert Crew Agency. She was not the first agent he contacted, but he knew as soon as he talked to her that she was the right one for him: “She just ‘got’ the book straight away.” He adds that trying find a publisher for Love is the Answer was a “wake-up call” for him. He spent two years writing the book and feels the publishing market has become much more competitive since he started it.

Asked what inspired him to choose an eighteen-year-old heroine with significant personal problems, he says he wanted to portray the deep visceral journey that Scarlett must undertake. “I wanted the reader to go through that journey with her – her pain, her joy, how she comes out of it with a stronger, more real self.”

Music is a strong theme running through Love is the Answer. “When I was a teenager music was so important to me, it was almost a life-or-death issue. I started going to gigs and followed lots of bands. It was my secret world: exciting, thrilling and completely detached from school. Music said things about myself I couldn’t put into words. It is part of my identity.” Ben is a keen dancer who has “explored a lot of territory” in the dance world. “It has stayed with me. I used to play the violin but I wasn’t great. Dancing was my big thing. I used to go to Covent Garden and dance at Pineapple Studios.”

Ben has no fixed writing routine but tries to write every day. He says he goes through periods when he doesn’t write as much – for example, at present, he is focused on getting Love is the Answer “out there” – and ghosting takes up a lot of energy, too. He takes his ghosting responsibilities seriously and works hard to get it right. But he feels “antsy” if he leaves too long a gap before he writes for himself again. He is an early morning writer – he likes to start at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., perhaps going on until 10.00 a.m. or 11.00 a.m. and then calling it a day.

His advice to other authors is simple: “Find the right process for you. Everyone has a process that is innate to them. Don’t be intimidated by others. Keep in touch with the part of you that loves writing. You’re bound to have many ups and downs – some people will shower praise on you, which can give you a false sense of security. Others will really dislike your writing, which can sap your confidence. Remember you are an artist – this is how you express yourself.”

Ben says he has found the right writing path for him. “I love this genre. When I started working in it, I had an intuition that there are three YA books in me. I shall write them and then see where I am. Writing Love is the Answer has given me a sense of coming home. I found it satisfying in a way that surprised me. When I was young I was impatient and desperate to succeed and that impatience was hard to deal with. What has really helped me is becoming more patient and finding the ability to take a long-term view. I now enjoy writing for writing’s sake.”

Ben has a son and spends a lot of time with him. Like most writers, he is also an avid reader. He is a Crystal Palace supporter and says he would like to take up dancing again.

Over the next few weeks, Ben will be exploring aspects and scenes of the lives of the characters in Love is the Answer that don’t feature in the book itself. Watch this space!

Love is the Answer will be published by QuoScript under the Tusk imprint on 15th July.

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