Interview with Alexander Clement

What are you working on next?
Book #2 in the Omily Topatus saga which is called The Cakes of Wrath. I'm really excited about it because it advances the story of the hero, Inigo Jones, and his goblin friend Omily Topatus. We'll delve down underground into the Goblin Realm where I hope there will be a few surprises. I also want Inigo's school friends Cissy McVitie and Lachie Henderson to play bigger roles so that their characters have a chance to develop and shine.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have many, as you might expect. I've always loved Harry Harrison and his blend of what I regard as proper science fiction (i.e. laser guns, gadgets, space ships etc.) and great humour. The Stainless Steel Rat adventures are a pure joy to read. I never tire of Jane Austen when I want something beautifully paced and written to perfection - it's like a literary detox. Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, though rooted in their time, are still gripping and have a rawness which never translated to the films. Roald Dahl is an undisputed genius and never fails to please. I also really like Andy Stanton and the wild, scatological comedy he brings to his Mr Gum books. Who else? Charles Bukowski, Richard Brautigan, Charlotte Bronte. I could go on. It's a highly eclectic mix.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Quite simply writing. I have always been an inveterate and compulsive writer. The prospect of what I might bring to life on any given day, what story I might tell, is unerringly exciting. That and back ache - I get a right pain in my lumbar if I stay in bed too long.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I have a day job at present, so to speak, so when I am not writing I am a fine art and antiques valuer. It's a nice way to make a living although working freelance means a terrifying lack of financial consistency. My hope is that writing will reach a point where it becomes my main source of income. I guess like most authors.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
If I buy them myself it is usually to fill a need. I tend to buy non-fiction ebooks because they are less costly and easier to carry around as references. So discovering them comes down to searching ebook stores for specific topics. I have more recently been using Twitter much more and there's a wealth of great new authors tweeting which makes it an exciting marketplace for discovering new things. My wife is ahead of me in the fiction ebook stakes and so I sometimes discover things by browsing her Kindle when she's not looking!
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
When I was at primary school at the start of the autumn term, our teacher asked us to write about what we'd done during the summer holidays. Rather than bore her with what I had actually done, I invented this terrific story about a trip to the USA. It was full of skyscrapers and big cars and fast food. The teacher took it all at face value and commented to my parents when they came to collect me about what a great time we all must have had in America. My Mum and Dad were completely confused by this until they saw my handiwork.
What is your writing process?
The first order of business is coffee. Must have caffeine. Then lots of thinking. It doesn't look like I'm doing very much. In fact, to the casual observer it might appear that I am lazing around, drinking the aforementioned coffee, eating biscuits, staring out of the window and spending too long in my pyjamas. But it's all going on up here [points to head]. Then I must resist the temptation to start writing. It is very strong. I've developed a technique of creating a storyboard in paragraphs so that I can shift and shunt them around until I get the flow and continuity right. When I'm happy with it I will begin writing properly. I like to leave a little bit to serendipity and not plan in minute detail, otherwise the joy of discovery as I write is sapped away and that's the best part.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first book I read to myself was The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Harry Harrison. Although it's not the first in the series and makes references to earlier stories I still got a huge amount of entertainment out of it. It turned me on to fast paced adventures, sci-fi and time travel. It was funny and exciting, the hero being someone who had both strength and weakness. From then on I have always loved stories that put the hero in a seemingly impossible situation from which they manage to escape. Harrison always managed to do this convincingly.
How do you approach cover design?
From a great distance at a slow walking pace. Fortunately my wife is an artist and so I had her help with the cover for The Woolly Mittens. She was super-busy at the time and so couldn't do the whole thing but helped me put it together using different elements. With YA and kids books you can play around and be a bit different (but not too much so). The trend at present is hand drawn, as evidenced by Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates (both great), and so I threw in some of that. I like mixing fonts and collage and I think the end result is intriguing enough to draw readers in.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Sheesh, that's a hard one. Okay, in no particular order I would say Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - a beautifully balanced romance yet gripping to the last page. The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Harry Harrison - the author had got into his stride with the characters and wrote the perfect sci-fi book, here. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming - the first and best Bond book. If Fleming had never put pen to paper after this it still would have been a stand alone classic. Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan - crazy and hilarious in a small package. And finally Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney - the only fiction I've read in second-person view narrative mode. It takes getting used to but it works brilliantly.
What do you read for pleasure?
Lately I've been reading non-fiction for pleasure. This is the direct opposite of how I read as a child. When you're at school, the idea of reading something 'informative' and 'educational' is so abhorrent (well, it was to me) that even the very phrase 'non-fiction' would strike dread into you. It was the lonely, forgotten and cobweb-strewn area of the local library that I avoided like a spooked horse. I craved the bright, colourful, magical, inspirational world of FICTION! Now, though, I love to read books on history, art, architecture and design. When I do read fiction it is usually adventure, thriller or paranormal. I am still a little boy at heart.
Published 2014-06-09.
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