Alex! Thank you so much for joining us. We loved Mr Jones and really appreciate you answering our questions. First, what made you start writing or want to write a novel?
As a child I read voraciously, especially science fiction. I loved making up my own stories and thought it couldn’t be that hard to write a novel. I began a science fiction fantasy, but soon became overwhelmed by the complexities of the plot and ran out of steam. My next attempt was a novel about the ghost of a murder victim who takes over the body of his own murderer. It had a decent plot and garnered some polite comments on the rejection letters, but I hadn’t yet found my voice as a writer. Still, it gave me a taste for novel-writing. In my thirties I began to have some success. My first published novel was Chronosphere, a time-warping science fiction fantasy aimed at young adults. It attracted some good reviews and I followed it up with two sequels.
Mr Jones is your new novels and it is receiving some wonderful reviews. Could you explain to a potential reader what Mr Jones is about?
It’s a psychological thriller about a stressed-out suburban single father called Ben and his creeping suspicion that someone is out to kidnap his eight-year-old daughter Imogen. Ben hears noises in his basement and witnesses weird goings-on in his local park. Imogen starts receiving messages from someone claiming to be her missing mother. Then there’s the terrifying entity known as Mr Jones who haunts the imaginations of the children at Imogen’s school. The question is, how much of Ben’s fears are real and how much are a result of his own stress-induced paranoia?
Where did the idea for Mr Jones came from?
Back in 2015, when my daughter was about Imogen’s age, I’d walk her to school each day and we’d pass through this overgrown recreation ground. I’ve always found parks or gardens that have gone wild quite sinister, and I think it was on one of these walks that the idea of Mr Jones popped into my head.
Can you tell us about your experience writing your novel?
I wrote the first 25,000 words very quickly, and then I hit what seemed like an insurmountable roadblock with the plot and I abandoned it. Five years later, during the second Covid lockdown, in search of something to write, I took it out again and as I reread it I realised how the plot should progress. Once I’d figured this out, the process was, again, fairly quick. The hardest part was that the book is set during a summer heatwave and I was writing it in winter so remembering what heat felt like could be a struggle. The characters pretty much wrote themselves. For Ben I used elements of my own personality, such as my tendency towards paranoia and my fear of feral nature, and exaggerated them for effect. I didn’t have much of a writing routine – I tended to write it in bursts whenever I found the time.
What is the biggest challenge you've faced as a writer?
Luckily I’ve never suffered from writer’s block or struggled for ideas. My main problem is finding the time to turn these ideas into stories. Another problem is perseverence – once I reach that inevitable point in every novel where it’s stopped being easy and has become a battle, I’m tempted to abandon it. As a result, I have an embarrassing number of half-completed manuscripts. Another more recent problem has been concentration. My mind is a moth to the flame of social media, unfortunately.
What do you think of the publishing industry and its processes?
My story is unusual. I’ve never had an agent, but I’ve published around 16 novels and 19 chapter books (along with nearly 200 non-fiction titles), mainly for young people. This has happened because I worked as an editor in children’s publishing for a few years and built up a lot of contacts in the industry before I became a freelance writer 20 years ago. Having said that, I’ve not yet had a novel published by one of the top publishers, which tend only to work with agented authors. As a result, the books I’ve written haven’t benefited from the kind of marketing, publicity or reviews enjoyed by those produced by the top publishers.
Why have you chosen Indie Novella?
I was very impressed with Indie Novella’s publishing model. I had previously been put off going down the self-publishing route because of the amount of work required in marketing the book, the often low-quality product and the slim chances of success. I was also struggling to make any headway with the traditional agent/publisher route. Indie Novella seemed to offer a “third way” for authors, which is, as Damien Mosley says, “zero cost, time efficient and high-quality”. I like their passion for books, their commitment to beautiful design, their not-for-profit, cooperative status, and the fact that many of them are authors themselves, happy to work directly with authors instead of via agents. I’m also really intrigued by the read-as-you-go format, which seems well suited to the smartphone generation.
What do you think of diversity and inclusion when it comes to novel writing and publishing? Is there more we can do to encourage new writers from different backgrounds?
My experience of working in publishing and then later as an author is that it’s not very diverse either in terms of class and ethnicity, although this has improved in recent years. Storytelling is, of course, universal and it’s sad if new and original voices aren’t being heard because of some perceived idea that novel-writing is not for them. Publishers are, I believe, trying to encourage writers from different backgrounds to submit their stories. The more diverse their list, the more this is likely to inspire working-class and ethnic minority authors to give novel-writing a try.
What advice would you give new writers?
The most important advice I’d give is read, read and read. Everything I learned about writing came from reading other people’s work. Read widely, outside your comfort zone. Read analytically: note the passages that work and those that don’t, and try to work out why. Also, try to write something every day – even if you only have ten minutes. Writing is a talent like music and you need to keep practicing.