Hello Book Smugglers!
I had the chance this week to interview the author of The Chair Man, and Sleeping with the Blackbirds, Alex Pearl. Keep reading to see what advice Pearl has for his fellow authors and what he enjoys most about writing.
Alex Pearl, what inspired you to write a book?
As an advertising copywriter, I have always loved playing with words. And I suppose the idea of writing a story in book form was something I always quite fancied having a go at. But I guess the impetus really took hold when I had children and would read them stories. My first attempt was an experiment to see what happened if I just sat down and started writing. But I’m not one of those kind of writers that can write by the seat of my pants. After 15,000 words I just didn’t know where to take the thing and I dried up. My daughter read my unfinished manuscript and nagged me to finish it since she had enjoyed reading what I had penned. I did try several times to revisit the story I had begun but could never resolve it to my satisfaction, so put it to one side and resorted to thinking of another completely different story for my daughter. And the idea for my first book came to me gradually while the advertising agency I was working for was going through a bizarre worldwide merger that would take the best part of a year to come to fruition. During this time work dried up and I had time to think of a story, and this time I would write a very detailed synopsis. The idea of a young boy’s affinity with birds was quite probably triggered by my son’s remarkable ability to brilliantly mimic seagulls, and from this random trigger, I created a storyline for my first book, Sleeping with the Blackbirds.
Was there a book or author that you admired that played a role when developing your book?
The first book I ever read as a child was Stig of the Dump by Clive King, and it’s a book that I have always admired for several reasons. Firstly, it was the book that introduced me to the power of storytelling and got me hooked. So in that respect alone, it was a fantastically important book. But that aside, it is also so deftly and charmingly written. And I certainly have a soft spot for writing that is a tad whimsical. And at work at that time there was a tendency for some clients to insist that their copy was written in a very ‘up-to-date idiom’ and refrained from using any words that sounded ‘old-fashioned.’ It’s a ludicrous notion, since most words in the English language hark back to Shakespear. So looking back, I may have been rebelling against this irritating and mindless diktat by writing my first book in a style redolent of authors like Clive King and Richmal Crompton who had written the wonderful Just William books that I had also enjoyed as a child.
It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?
If by that you mean: should I believe that my story is one that people will want to read, well then yes, of course, I have to believe that. Otherwise, why spend an eternity working on it and writing the thing? But if you mean: should I believe in the premise of the story, that’s a very different question. And that suggests that the moral and political thrust of a book reflects the writer’s own beliefs. And I don’t think a book has to do that at all. A book’s protagonist and narrative can be thoroughly unpleasant and stand for values the author himself rejects. When Johnny Speight created Alf Garnett for television all those years ago, this wasn’t a character whose racist, sexist and misogynistic views reflected Speight’s. But by creating a monster like Garnett and putting these unpleasant views into a comical context Speight was able to send up these prejudices for what they really were by making them look totally ludicrous and literally laughable. Literature is no different.
Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
No. I am pretty shambolic and disorganized. But then, I can afford to be as I don’t rely on my writing for an income. I have retired and my writing is purely for pleasure. So in this respect, I am very fortunate. I take my hat off to authors who write for a living and are constantly up against deadlines. It was the late, great Douglas Adams who said; “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
I don’t have a style as such. I’m a chameleon in that I write in a style that suits the story. My first book was an urban fantasy written for children and my second, a tense thriller. The style of writing was very different for each of these books
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing? What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?
The hardest thing for me is the plotting of a story. I’m old-fashioned in that I believe that all great stories have to have a beginning, middle, and end. And the ending has to be a surprise and it has to be credible. Once I have the story worked out in detail, writing it is the easy part.
Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last? Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?
Since I write at my leisure I haven’t experienced Writer’s Block. But if I had to write to deadlines and meet schedules, I’m sure this would be an occupational hazard. As a copywriter, there’d be times when you couldn’t think of any decent ideas in the office and had to get out of the office environment. Sometimes you’d get an idea when you weren’t trying to think of one.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Enjoy your writing and don’t be put off by rejection letters from literary agents. We have all received them. Even the likes of J.K. Rowling has a large pile of them.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
To my shame, I’m not. But watch this space…
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
There are no rules. There are no rights and wrongs. There’s more than one way to tell a story. What will yours look like?
About Alex Pearl
You can learn more information about Pearl’s books by visiting his website. Here, you will find reviews of his books, interviews, trailers, and readings. It also carries book reviews and interviews with other authors. Alex’s claim to fame is that he is quite possibly the only person on this planet to have been inadvertently locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve.
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