Interview with James Alexander

How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
It’s given me a platform from which to publish – for which I’m grateful. I don’t like monopolies and, without Smashwords, Amazon, for all the benefits it brings to indie authors, would dominate the market, which isn’t a good thing. Also, Amazon ebooks are limited to those with a Kindle, whereas Smashwords offers a much wider coverage – which is a huge advantage to the indie author.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been published and broadcast outside the world of indie publishing – books, TV, radio, magazines etc – and across a variety of genres. That said, these days it’s increasingly difficult, in the UK at least, to be published in the ‘traditional’ manner. Unless you’re very talented/lucky or both (and not always even then), your chance of a breakthrough is near-zero unless you’re a celebrity/failed politician or have the sort of friends who impress the posh newspapers. Indie publishing is democratic and exciting. On the downside, you have to do most of the work yourself, from writing to editing to marketing/publicity etc. But that makes success – if it comes – all the sweeter. Work hard, have something to say, and you have every chance of succeeding. And, even if you don’t, it’s a great adventure.
What do your fans mean to you?
Anyone who is kind enough to read one of my books is important to me. I’d go so far as to say I’m their fan! To read a book is a personal commitment, almost akin to friendship, and I’m very grateful. So if any of you are reading this interview – thank you!
Who are your favorite authors?
Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, PG Wodehouse, Tom Sharpe, Peter Pook and Anthony Horowitz. Among others.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a murder mystery set in Victorian London. I’m also working on a comedy murder mystery, featuring two retired villagers as my plucky, if not always on-the-ball, detective sleuths. And I have two non-detective comedy books in the pipeline.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Life. We only have the one stab, and it’s a shame not to make the most of it. Which is generally easier once you’re up, washed and fed.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I read a lot – which is, I think, very important for a writer. We need to be constantly enriching our vocabulary and adding to our storehouse of knowledge and ideas. I’m one of those people who always needs to be doing something. I’ve taken an OU degree and an acting/performance course in recent times and give humorous after-dinner talks to a wide range of groups. Two years ago, I tried my hand at stand-up comedy and, as well as performing at venues around Yorkshire, was fortunate enough to appear at the Edinburgh Fringe. I’m a member of The Magic Circle and enjoy performing magic, reading about magic, lecturing on magic and inventing tricks. I’m also a very bad, but enthusiastic cartoonist, collect old comics and spend too much time watching DVDs of old black-and-white William Hartnell/Patrick Troughton 'Dr Who' serials! Reading the above list, I’m tempted to say, ‘When I’m not doing other things, I write.’
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes – though I can’t remember the title. I think the words ‘Princess’ and ‘Fairy’ were in there somewhere. I was 8 years old and won second prize in a London-wide competition for primary school children. The awards ceremony was held at a grand Victorian library near Baker Street and I had to walk up an aisle to collect my prize – a book token – with hundreds of adults applauding politely. That was when I first decided I wanted to become a writer.
What is your writing process?
Chaotic. Ideas appear out of the blue – usually when I’m daydreaming. Which is often. I tend to rush to the computer and bash out as many words as possible before I know where I’m going. I might not even start at the beginning – though I don’t always know it at the time. For firming up ideas and resolving problems, I work best ‘on the move’. I can’t ‘think’ at a desk. I have to be on my feet, either pacing the carpet or, better still, going out on my own for a long walk and not coming back till I’ve sorted things out. (I’m very lucky. I live in a small village in Yorkshire with the countryside on my doorstep – so I always have somewhere nice to go.) I had a serious logistical problem with my current book, ‘When The Devil Calls’, and couldn’t resolve it, however hard I tried. I went for a long walk and, by the time I came home, I’d worked everything out. Or, rather, my characters, who had been chattering non-stop from the moment I stepped out of the front door, had resolved things for me. I couldn’t start a crime novel without knowing ‘whodunnit’. With ‘Wait to Deceive’, I wrote the last chapter first, because I had to know where I was heading. But if I’m writing comedy, I’ll often start with no idea of how it will end.
How do you approach cover design?
With trepidation. I’ve tried creating my own covers, with royalty-free images and Photoshop. But one of these days I plan to get someone who knows what they’re doing to relieve me of this onerous task.
What do you read for pleasure?
Mostly comedy. I’m doing my best to work my way through the entire PG Wodehouse canon. I think he was an absolute genius and will never be equalled. I also love all Tom Sharpe’s early work. I read plays, too, because I love the theatre. And I’m constantly re-reading Agatha Christie because I don’t think anyone has come close to matching her in terms of murder-mystery plotting. I devour ‘Private Eye’ for its satirical humour and magic books because, well, that’s another of my passions. Comedy, crime and magic have a lot in common. Each succeeds by getting a reader/viewer to look in one direction while – hopefully – you’re busy elsewhere!
Describe your desk
It looks as if a burglar has been searching the room for something valuable and dumped everything on the nearest flat surface – which is the excuse I give people if they ever see it. Of course, after they’ve heard the same explanation six times in a row, they tend to get suspicious. When it’s ‘tidy’, it has a computer (with all the usual trappings), a pack of playing cards (because I’m a magician and occasionally like to do magiciany things), a telephone, a coaster (for endless cups of tea!) and a photo of my wife – so she can keep an eye on me.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
London. I’m not sure how much it influenced me, though it was – and remains – a vibrant cultural centre. I was a great theatre-goer and I’m sure something must have rubbed off somewhere. I’ve lived in Yorkshire for the past 25 years, which has, I suspect, influenced me more. ‘Wait to Deceive’ is set in an imaginary version of my immediate locale. That said, my next book, ‘When the Devil Calls’, is set in London – so maybe I’m wrong!
When did you first start writing?
Almost as soon as I could hold a pencil. I used to buy every comic there was, read them from cover to cover (my sister's too!), then try drawing my own cartoon strip adventure stories. (Years later, I wrote for many of the same comics, which proved a great learning experience – lots of weekly cliffhangers – and huge fun into the bargain.) After that, still a child, I graduated to writing short stories, none of them very good – but I knew it was what I wanted to do more than anything else.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My next book is provisionally entitled, ‘When the Devil Calls’ and features a new character, Ninian Cole, a consulting detective. It’s set in Victorian London – which has proved quite a challenge. How long would it take a train to get from A to B? Or a horse-drawn carriage to make the same journey? What does the condemned cell at Newgate prison look like – and what is ‘oakum picking’? Even more vexing, could you get a mobile phone signal in the middle of Trafalgar Square? I didn’t want to say ‘no’, and look silly. As for the story itself, Cole has three days to save the life of a woman he believes has been wrongfully convicted of murder. It’s a novella, set largely on a country estate, and very different to 'Wait to Deceive', but if it takes off I hope to write more Ninian Cole mysteries.
Do you have anything you'd like to add?
No. Other than, if you're still with me - thank you for reading this far!
Published 2013-08-30.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Wait To Deceive
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 97,690. Language: British English. Published: July 23, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths
In normally sleepy Tetherton, a psychopathic killer is on the loose – with a thirst for Biblical vengeance and under-age girls. As the body count rises, and with a new boss to contend with – one with dark secrets of her own - DS Declan O’Hara begins to fear that the monster they are hunting for may be closer to home than anyone dares imagine…