Impact’s Art’s Editor, Fatima, interviewed Ben Hinshaw, a University of Nottingham alumnus, about his debut novel Exactly What You Mean which was published back in March 2022. From divulging her thoughts about the novel to discussing Hinshaw’s own experience at University, Fatima shares their chat.
When I was first approached to interview Ben Hinshaw, even before looking him up or setting eyes on his book, I jumped to take the offer. The more I learnt of him and his background, the more I looked forward to the interview.
Because I was so blinded by excitement and do not remember clearly what exactly happened, I cannot promise that I did not squeal with joy in a flustering-fan-girl manner when Ben Hinshaw joined my zoom call for this interview. It was 8:30 pm on a Thursday and I was standing by the staircase in the empty Trent building corridors, itching to press record!
When I first heard he was an alumnus of the University of Nottingham, I couldn’t contain my joy as I thought to myself, maybe one day, this could be me. Ben Hinshaw studied at University of Nottingham and graduated with a BA in Geography in 2003, after which he bagged an MA in Landscape and Culture, graduating the following year.
Holding the bright coloured book in my hands, being the struggling writer that I am, I understood and appreciated just how much talent and tears it must have taken to have me, in this moment, hold Hinshaw’s work of art in my hands and flip through its pages. Hence why the first thing I wanted to ask was how long it had taken him to write the book, despite fearing his answer.
“10 years,” Ben replied!
But it was all worth it, because Exactly What You Mean is a book that is so well crafted, I wasn’t surprised it took that amount of time to complete. He added that he felt no pressure to get it done so quickly; he wrote it in bits and pieces over the span of those ten years. He confessed that even though being an author was never a childhood dream, he had always thought of it as a cool idea. After university, with Nottingham being his first city experience, the geography and sense of place in literature greatly inspired him and he knew he wanted to do it. For the past 20 years, despite the rejections he has faced along the way, he was able to nurture this dream into reality.
“It is like a grand project for making people be kinder to each other.”
I thought it beautiful, when he said that part of the inspiration for the book was experiences growing up; the places he travelled to; and the places he lived. I then asked him what he thought makes this book such an amazing and worthy read. Despite his humble response, stating that he wouldn’t call it amazing, what he added after that really stood out in describing the book so beautifully: “It is like a grand project for making people be kinder to each other.” He then adds how every story in the book is somewhat connected and once you “solve the puzzle” and figure out the unseen connections, you get a profound sense of the way the people’s lives play out, and how “everything we do has consequences.”
Asides from writing and spending time with his family, he enjoys cliff-walking, swimming in the ocean and surfing. Although he doesn’t surf as much anymore, he added that he was the Surf Club president at some point in university and part of his favourite experiences were their weekend trips to Cornwall and Wales. He is also passionate about music and even plays the guitar and piano and advised me to simply try to enjoy it after I told him how painfully difficult attempting to learn both instruments were for me.
To finish our chat, I asked him if he had any useful advice for writers like me, who dream of one day publishing too. “Do not focus too much on thinking of it as a book”, he begins, “but as an artistic expression”, as that will take away some of that pressure that you do not need. He adds that one should “Find the right idea” and keep working on it.
And when I asked him if there was anything else that those that have read or are looking to read the book should look out for, he added that the book will be featured on episode 6 of the BBC’s Between The Covers on Wednesday the 15th of June 2022.
Our call ended in a less embarrassing but equally exciting manner, with me giving the author a (somewhat unsolicited) tour of the Lower ground level of the historic Trent building, which he noted as looking virtually the same way it did nearly two decades ago.
You can find out more about Ben Hinshaw’s debut novel on his website https://www.benhinshaw.com/.
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