Hi, Alex! Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work.
I was born in London, but spent most of my writing career in Los Angeles creating shows for TV. My background was largely in comedy, but when I decided to write a novel, I took a departure into thriller territory. I wanted to write about an anti-hero who, in his childhood, had a very positive talent, but who found himself using that talent for more negative uses later in life. Michael Violet was the character who emerged – a guy with talented hands who dreamed of being a magician when he was a boy, but who is now a successful pickpocket, lifting the keys to luxury cars. Although he enjoys the trappings of his success, he’s a troubled man who mourns the loss of his ideals. The challenge to him comes when his elder brother, Jon – a respected journalist – is killed. Michael uses his talents as a thief to track down the murderer – and recapture some of his lost principles in the process. The novel Black Violet is the first in a series that will follow Michael’s battles against the criminal world that helped shape him.
Which gives you more satisfaction – to write a first draft, or to finish the last round of editing?
Definitely the first draft – that moment when you realize that the character arcs and plot structure have cohered into something meaningful. The last round of editing never quite feels like a moment to me – it’s usually dictated by time pressure, and I always want to do more. It’s like leaving a party just when it’s getting good.
What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t know where they come from, but they arrive in the bath. I’ll lie there soaking for hours with little else to do but let my mind wander. It’s very therapeutic. When I get out, I’ve always got lots of ideas. Douglas Adams was the same apparently.
Pick a random piece of writing that you worked on ages ago and that never saw the light of day. Now tell us about it!
When I was at school I wrote a fantasy story called The Toymaker. It’s about a young man named Thomas who wakes up in a forest with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He takes refuge in a secluded village that he finds. Although the villagers are happy for him to stay, he’s required to contribute to daily life there. With no memory of any talents that he may have, Thomas is asked to try and fill the shoes of the village toymaker who died recently. Thomas starts carving toy animals for the children – eagles, horses and lions – however, whatever he creates then emerges in real life from the forest and threatens the village. When people begin to die as a result, Thomas is viewed as an evil presence. Convinced that his predecessor must have had some knowledge of this power, Thomas carves a figurine of the deceased toymaker, Marcus, in the hope that he too will emerge from the forest. When Marcus appears, only then does Thomas learn the truth to his existence and why he’s there at all.
It was probably the first story I wrote that didn’t begin with, ‘This weekend, my mum and dad took me to the zoo.’ And although I’ve never attempted to pursue it seriously, it’s a story that I still think fondly of. It was the first time I understood how story structure works. I felt very proud of it at the time.
Do you have a writing routine? If so, can you tell us about it?
I drop my daughter at school at 7:30 a.m. By 8:00 a.m. I’m back in bed, curtains drawn, laptop on my knees and plugged into my music. This is my writing position, from which I will not move for nine hours. I can’t write in cafes or offices – I find people and sunlight a distraction. My week is almost entirely dark and secluded, except for Sundays when I play princesses with my daughter.
What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?
Vintage Cheever – Collected Stories. John Cheever had often been recommended to me, but I didn’t pick him up until I read a quote of his regarding story. “Plot implies narrative and a lot of crap,” he said. “It is a calculated attempt to hold the reader’s interest at the sacrifice of moral conviction.” I wasn’t sure that I entirely agreed with that, but I was curious to see how his stories worked. They work very well, as it turns out. They’re largely character studies of middle class family life in 1950s America. Dark and humorously observed, I enjoyed them a great deal.
Who are some of your favourite unsigned and indie authors?
The last indie book I read was The Deal by Maury Shenk. It’s an eye-opening thriller about a business deal in China that goes wrong, and it’s based on Maury’s own experiences in the country. Beyond that I also like Adam Croft and Russell Newell. However, I tend not to read that much fiction while I’m writing – if it’s good, I find it eats up too much of my time. I tend to to read a lot of science books instead – quantum mechanics and string theory – which are involving, but easier to put down.
What’s the best bit of writing advice that you’ve ever received?
A frustrated TV executive once rolled his eyes at me and said, “Just write, for Christ’s sake, will you?” Whenever I’m feeling uninspired, I still hear his west coast drawl in my head. It tends to work. For all the subtlety of the writing process, there’s an awful lot to be said for brute force. Even if what you come up with is crap, there’s usually something of use in it.
What’s it like working with Accent Press? Tell us a little bit about your journey together.
Accent are doing a great job making my life as easy as possible. They’re a small team, but full of fire and energy – much more than I have. I’m a relative newcomer to the publisher, but so far it’s been a wonderful experience. My editor completely understands what I’m trying to do, the marketing team are full of great ideas, and the other writers at Accent are nothing but supportive. My only point of reference is writing for network TV, and thankfully, it’s nothing like that at all.
How do you get the word out about your work?
I only recently joined Facebook and Twitter. Social media never really appealed to me before, but there’s no arguing that it’s the best way to get the word out there. That said, I’m finding it a challenge posting comments about my life – “still in the bath”, “still in bed” – that’s about all there is to say at the moment. I don’t own a cat that does cute things on video, so I’m kind of stuck there too. I do write a blog on my website though, and that’s a lot of fun. I think I prefer blogging, because you can pick a topic and just go to town with it. The blog is a little more comedic than my novel, but it’s a good way of introducing me as a writer. Beyond that, I’ll talk to anyone who’s prepared to listen.
Big thanks again to Alex Hyland for stopping by SocialBookshelves.com. Be sure to check out his Amazon page to learn more about his books, or to follow SocialBookshelves.com on both Facebook and Twitter for further book stuff. I’ll see you soon!