Stress Free Book Marketing has a conversation with author Alex Pearl.
RL: Tell me about your latest book and why you wrote it?
AP: My latest book ‘The Chair Man’ is a thriller. It’s set in London in 2005 and revolves around the central character of Michael Hollinghurst, a successful corporate lawyer who becomes a victim of the London 7/7 terrorist attack on the capital’s transport system. While most passengers in his train carriage are killed, Hollinghurst survives, but is left in a wheelchair as a tetraplegic. As a result, he struggles to come to terms with his predicament, and also suffers feelings of guilt as a survivor. As time passes, he also becomes increasingly angry, and harbours a very strong desire to seek retribution via the internet by posing as an Islamist radical with the intention of tracking down and deterring potential terroirists. However, this obsession doesn’t go entirely to plan, as both GCHQ and a terrorist cell become aware of his presence; and before too long, Hollinghurst becomes quite literally, a sitting target.
I wrote this book because there are so few novels that feature protagonists with disabilities, and the idea of a wheelchair user gaining freedom and independence through the internet and then getting themselves on an incredibly dangerous roller-coaster that they simply can’t get off, was one that really appealed to me. So in this book, I set out to address a problem: this dearth of disabled protagonists in fiction, while hopefully conveying a compelling yarn.
RL: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
AP: For me, the hardest part of the process is coming up with a storyline that I’m happy with. A narrative that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s what I want from a story. I don’t want a narrative that just hinges on wonderful character studies where very little actually happens in the way of a story. And for me, a good ending is absolutely crucial. And I love endings that are surprising, yet logical and credible. Such constructs are very difficult to create.
I have only written three works of fiction, but am pleased to say that two of them have surprising conclusions, which have been noted by readers who have left reviews on sites including Amazon and Goodreads.
RL: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
AP: I have one unfinished manuscript, which was in fact my first attempt at writing fiction. At the time I was working full-time as an advertising copywriter and this particular book, was an experiment to see if I could sit down and formulate a story on the hoof. It’s something some writers are able to do; and I certainly take my hat off to them. In my case, however, the exercise was very unsatisfactory, for having written some 15,000 words about the kidnapping of a young child, the writing came to a crushing dead-end. I simply didn’t know where to take it. So I’m afraid to say that the manuscript was shelved and not looked at again, until my young daughter picked it up, read it, and then nagged me incessantly to finish it because she had enjoyed it so much.
I did try to formulate the rest of the story but could never resolve it to my satisfaction. But because my daughter had enjoyed it so much, I vowed to write something else for her, and by a stroke of luck, had an idea that appealed to me. This eventually came to fruition in the form of my children’s urban fantasy ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’.
RL: What is your favorite childhood book?
AP: My favourite childhood book was the very first proper story I read as a child. It was ‘Stig of the Dump’ by Clive King. It’s a wonderfully charming book about a little boy who is staying with his grandparents in the country, and while exploring the back garden happens upon a cave inhabited by a caveman boy. He strikes up a friendship with the boy and has a lovely time with his new friend. But when he tells adults about his new caveman friend, they don’t believe him. The book explores themes of friendship and growing up and is rather moving. And looking back on it, it was probably an important book in that it got the ball rolling and got me into reading and the magical world of literature and storytelling. This said, it’s also a wonderful little book in its own right.
RL: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
AP: For my first book ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ I did no research at all. I relied entirely on my imagination and one or two characters from my own childhood. But for my recent thriller ‘The Chair Man’ I had to do a lot of research. I knew nothing about the way in which terrorists communicated via the internet in 2005. I had no understanding of the workings of MI5. And nor did I know anything about GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters). So I had to turn to both books and the internet and make copious notes from my findings. Of course, there are very little published facts about GCHQ and MI5 for obvious reasons, but if you search diligently, there are certain books you can turn to for some details, and these did in fact work themselves into my book. The research takes a long time though. In my case I must have spent as long researching as it took me to write; something in the order of nine months. But then, I am retired and writing for pleasure rather than a living, so I’m not writing to a deadline. In other words, I’m slow. Bloody slow.
RL: Do you have any tips for first-time authors?
AP: Never let rejection letters from agents get you down. We all receive them; even JK Rowling. But take constructive criticism on board and don’t feel you have to agree with all criticism that comes your way. After all, you have to remember that this is a subjective game. There are no hard and fast rules. But the most important rule of all is this: enjoy your writing because if you don’t nobody will.
RL: Have you been inspired by any teachers in your life and why?
AP: My old English teacher, a man named Clive Lawton was hugely inspirational. He was totally unconventional in his approach to teaching and would turn everything on its head. On one occasion he announced that he wasn’t going to mark our essays but was going to ask us to mark his, and then proceeded to dish out some of his old essays. He had an affinity with his pupils and was able to engage with us and broach controversial subjects in a way that no other teacher ever tried. And by doing so he was able to instill into us the incredible power of words and storytelling. He was a remarkably gifted teacher and went on to achieve great things in education. A couple of years a go I was driving in my car and his dulcet tones came over the airwaves on Radio Four. Needless to say, he was totally captivating all those years after he’d been capturing imaginations in the classroom. And I often think that his inspirational lessons led me into a lifelong career as a creative advertising copywriter.
RL: What’s your favorite line from any movie?
AP: That’s an easy one. It was the line that Orson Welles came up with on the set of ‘The Third Man’. The line was unscripted. Welles had come out with it on the spot, and the director Carol Reed loved it and kept it in. It has since become one of the most brilliant ad-libs of all time and demonstrates the genius of Welles. The line is as follows:
“You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Alex’s first novel ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’, a darkly humorous urban fantasy, written for children and young adults, was initially published by PenPress in 2011. It has since become a Kindle bestseller in the US. In 2014, his fictionalised account of the first British serviceman to be executed for cowardice during the First World War was published by Mardibooks in its anthology, ‘The Clock Struck War’. A selection of his blog posts is also available in paperback under the title ‘Random Ramblings of a Short-sighted Blogger.’ In 2019, his psychological thriller, ‘The Chair Man’ that is set in London in 2005 following the terrorist attack on its public transport system, was published as an ebook by Fizgig Press. The paperback followed in 2020. Alex lives in NW London with his wife and two children who are far smarter than their old man.
He is quite possibly the only human being on this planet to have been inadvertently locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve. You can view Alex’s books on Amazon.