An exclusive interview with Alexander King, author of It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter

itlookslikeyourewritingaletter_cover

Cover graphics by Andy Curry. Click on the image to buy the book.

Recently I was privileged enough to get an early glimpse at this debut novel from author-musician Alexander King. If that wasn’t exciting enough, (it was) he agreed to tell me a bit more about it, to share with you all on here (below).

I had a great time with this book. It’s a fast-paced, gripping social-media-social-commentary thriller. I liked it as a detective story, and a road movie, and as everything else it was, because it’s so much more. King paints affectingly the exhilaration of unexpected moments of human connection, and other poignant reminders of the sad state of modern-day interaction.

It’s full of cheeky, fun, clever uses of language and tasty characters. I can see it working really well on the big screen should we be lucky enough to see an adaptation. The world-building was immediate, natural and effective. It had terrifying parallels with our own reality. The ending was very satisfying, which is a big thing to say of any story, though I was hungry for an extension of time in this world when I finished reading.

Fun, thought-provoking, insightful and poignant. And fun. Looking forward to a second read, and to sharing it with my friends and family.

Anyway, enough of what I think, let’s hear from the man himself.

1.1 What’s the book about?

It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter is a sci-fi/detective story set in the near future, in a world where one social network knows everything about everyone. It follows Henry Thorner, a consultant who specialises in missing persons cases, trying to track down a young hacker called Tanner Griffen. The ubiquity of Ora, the world’s largest social network, makes his job harder as he’s “off-grid” and he’s trying to find someone who is an expert in manipulating the online world. There are twists and turns, murders and double-crosses and an explosive denouement.

1.2       What does the story mean to you?

On the one hand, it’s a way for me to pay homage to all my favourite literary and cinematic tropes, but on the other I’m exploring a subject very close to me, which is our digital life and how it’s changing, and whether these changes are a good thing or a bad thing. I had a friend who died young, and his social profiles lived on without him and it got me thinking about how much of our ‘soul’ is contained in databases owned by huge corporations.

1.3       Describe the route to this debut novel being published…

I took part in NaNoWriMo last year (2013) and wrote the first draft of 50,000 words in the month of November. I wrote 1600 words every day without fail which was tough but a huge achievement personally. The book went through a long editing process, I think I did nine or ten drafts, with the help of an editor friend of mine. Once I considered it complete I had a cursory attempt at sending it to a few literary agents and had a few rejections before deciding to self-publish digitally. I figured I could bang my head against the wall of the literary establishment for a year while my story withered on the vine, or publish and be damned and have real humans actually read it. It was a no-brainer.

1.4       How do you feel about the cover graphics?

I love the book cover. Andy Curry has done a great job both on the concept and the execution. I like it because like the book title, it doesn’t really make sense until you’ve read the book.

1.5       Any chance of an adaptation?

I hope so! I’d love the story to be made into a film. When I wrote it, I basically played a film in my head and wrote down what I “saw”, so I think it would suit that media. There’s enough action in it and colourful characters to make it something I think people would watch. I’m also realistic enough to accept changes to the characters or stories if the book was turned into a screenplay by someone else.

1.6       What’s your Thing? Do you lean toward a certain style/theme/time?

I love stories with an interesting concept or premise. Something that makes a reader think and maybe see life in a different way. Quite lofty ideas but why spent months of your life on something if you don’t want to change a little corner of the world, or people’s perceptions? This book is an action/adventure novel and exploration of the human race as data in equal measure.

1.7       Why do you write?

It’s just another creative outlet really. I also write music for theatre and film, draw and paint and play guitar in a rock band. I often start with an idea then determine what media best suits it. I’ve got an idea for a play, for example, that I think is pretty strong, but that idea wouldn’t work as a novel. I’ve never written a play before, but it would be exciting to try.

1.8       Who/what are your influences/inspirations?

I love Philip K Dick, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Bret Easton Ellis, Ray Bradbury and all the big Sci-Fi writers.

1.9       Favourite writers?

See above!

1.10  What are you reading?

I’m currently reading I, Robot by Asimov and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. I listen to audiobooks in my car when driving to and from work every day, and have a paper book on the go at home.

1.11  Describe your writing routine/ritual

I read a lot about the first hours of the day being the most productive and this has proven to be true. I get up an hour before my family (very early when you have a 3 year old!) when the house is quiet and nobody is asking me to do other things. An hour is usually enough.

1.12  Do you have an agent? Why?

No. It’s a bit early in my writing career and I feel I have to prove myself before I can seriously approach people like agents and publishers. I’m really hoping that the interest in It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter will create a bit of a buzz around what I do.

1.13  What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?

How easy it was. I paid a company to format the ebook to the acceptable technical standards, then used SmashWords to push it out to most of the online bookstores. Amazon and Google Play had to be done manually, but even they were just a case of filling out a few online forms and bingo – you’re published.

1.14  Would you have done anything differently if you could do it again?

Knowing what I do now? Everything! I pretty much learned how to write in the process of writing this book, which sounds a bit melodramatic but it’s true. I thought I knew a bit about grammar and punctuation but when you actually sit down and analyse your work word-for-word it’s a real eye-opener. The plus side is that I feel more at ease about the idea of tackling another book.

1.15  Something personal about you that people may be surprised to know?

I teach Wing Chun Kung Fu, which I’ve trained for 16 years.

1.16  Would you identify yourself as a writer, or something else?

I would like to! I think having written a full-length book that I’m very proud of should qualify me. It’s not all I do, but I’d like to add it to my list of skills if that’s not too presumptuous.

1.17  What are you working on next?

I think I’m going to do NaNoWriMo again this year. I’ve got a half-baked idea for a novel with a lot of depth, probably a lot less action-based than It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter and more psychological. Plus I’m writing music all the time for some York based film and theatre companies and trying to be a good father and husband at the same time!

1.18  What’s your ultimate goal, writing or otherwise?

To be happy. I think that should be everyone’s goal. Everything you do should go some way towards making you a happy person. If you’re doing something that makes you miserable, stop doing it.

AK

You’re welcome.

You can buy the book here, which you should, like, now, because it’s currently an absolute steal at £1.83.

Check out Alexander’s own website here in time for when you’ve finished reading the book and developed a totally healthy celebrity obsession.

Read All About It

Don’t worry, York
You don’t have to go outside today
Read
All
About it
There’s frost, quite a lot,
People breathing like dragons,
No snow,
Though there is something speckled in the air,
Maybe it’s trying to snow, maybe someone’s ashes have gone astray
Steam rises from the river in a Dickensian manner, bleak yet cosy in its familiarity,
Don’t worry, don’t look, just
Read
All
About it
There’s a man on the footbridge
Taking pictures
But I won’t do the same
My descriptions should suffice
If they don’t, your imagination is due an update.
It should be enough to just
Read
All
About it
I contemplate Dickens and fog
as I descend the steps at the other end
A man appears, passes
Smoking a pipe
Swinging his right arm in a controlled way
Adding to his drama
Which is swiftly detracted from by his beanie hat and backpack
Though I still enjoy him.
Don’t leave your homes, don’t leave your Facebook,
Read
All
About it.

 

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My friend has changed

I waited for you. I watched you. With kindness. With kindness in my eyes, I surely made that obvious. I was always ready to catch you. For you to run into my arms, should you be in trouble. In doubt. I was there, always. You could have used me. You could have been horrible. You weren’t. I was patient enough, though. I was there. The whole time we knew each other. Through your genius, your presence. I was there. I was even there, thinking about you, when we all went our separate ways. For a while. For a while, I was there. And I know it was probably just me. Just me that was watching, and thinking. Only me there. I like that. I like the quiet in that. Nothing can move you there, it’s a staying place. A staying feeling. I wish you could have felt that. I suppose that would have changed it. Not so quiet then.

And after all these years, I find you. You, so different, so un-sarcastic and seemingly deformed from yourself, removed, so unaware and somehow one of them, those you used to mock, those who write on Facebook about how drunk they are, in unashamed length and detail, those who live for all that rubbish, live for the weekend. Those with faces like the one in your ridiculous driving license picture that we all got hours of laughs out of, sipping coffee and smoking in BHS. While it was legal. Legal but not approved of by our parents, so still a bit secret and naughty.

What happened to you, my friend? You were so bright and clever. It breaks my heart to see you now. What a tragic waste of a good brain and soul. My friend, you’ve changed. You’ve gone. I don’t know you anymore. But I did hope for so long that I did. I pretended I still knew you. That you were still there. With me. On that lovely wavelength. Where the world was stupid and we were brilliant. And weekends were dirty and caveman-ish, and a bit of looking down our noses was all we needed. That and aimless wandering through countryside, strolling and running sticks along wall tops, tugging idly at hedges and weeds. All that and putting the world to rights. Figuring everything out. Where did all that go? Maybe, just maybe, as painful as it would be… Maybe I never really knew you at all.

Pet Sounds

Watching some early Sex and the City, I am reminded of my decision that my grandchildren should call me Bunny. No Nana, Granny or Grandma Something. Just Bunny. I think of a sweet, elegant friend from university who used to call everyone that, and I am reminded of all the pet names I have been fond of because they made me feel like the inventors were fond of me. Honey, Bunny, Baby, Half-pint, Squidge, Munchkin, Noggin, Kitten, Pooch, Bushbaby, Banana, Red, Snuggles, Dimples, Pidgeon, Poodle, Bear, Malenky, Cheeks, Rosie, Vimto, Vertically-challenged, Environmentally-friendly.

I remember my charming friend who always did something different every time I saw him; suddenly turned into a zombie walking down the stairs, put on weird voices at random intervals, called me weird names. “You’ve got to mix things up a bit”, he told me.

I’m looking down at my arm, which is covered in such a shameful amount of ice cream from work that it makes for a convincing beaten-wife costume. My memory being what is is, my body often shocks me before I happen to scratch off what I thought was a disturbing bruise.

I think about the times I have wanted to re-invent myself. Decided I hate my name because it’s too common, and has too much associated with it. I have wanted fresh starts. I have tried and failed at this at work, and in relationships. I request or suggest some new name I like the sound of, and know it will never arise in conversation again. I tend to be laughed at by boyfriends because they don’t take me seriously, ignored by close friends because they have their own habits already established, and I set worry in the minds of those who don’t know better than to think they could possibly offend me while their intentions are good.

I think the trick is – you do not get to control how people identify you. You decide so far how you classify yourself. Others do what they like from there.

I feel grateful that I read into things, because I have felt wanted, blessed and adored in little words, and there is nothing wrong with that. I also love the fact that, no matter what anybody else has ever thought, I am in this little world completely my own, and my suspicions, inklings, hopes, beliefs, are all the gospel truth.

Friends

So many girls online posing and exposing. Shameless, tasteless pictures. So many girls out there that I could be, or date if I wanted to take that road. So desperate to be sexy and seen by every possible punter all over the world. I could do that, I think, why haven’t I, I am in a relationship and I could take sexy self-portraits for my boyfriend, or have him take them, and be up there with the internet hall of fame. Well, for one thing, I don’t want to be famous, for any reason at all. I don’t want to be a household face, I want to live a decent, normal, personal life and be able to retreat into my cave whenever I want to.

Of course these girls have their media impact on me. In a general browse to add friends to the profile for this blog, roughly four out of every forty women whose profile pictures appear – accessible to the whole world in case you weren’t aware, even those who aren’t registered users of the site – are clutching naked breasts and arching their backs, brushing a wall or some other suggestive background with their thong-clad arses and low-rise tattoos of stars, guns and butterflies.

As per my feelings on porn (see below), I feel sad and jealous at the same time. I start to question my body and my principles. Am I boring for not doing it? Do I need to tone? Are boob jobs really all that bad?

Men live in a much safer world. Their desires, as above, are readily available, and their bodies are not under scrutiny. In many cases, women settle, for fear of coming second to the billions of other perfectly beautiful women in the world. Men can afford to be more fussy.