Monday, 27 July 2009

Interview with an Author: Alexander Gordon Smith

Alexander Gordon Smith's, debut children's book, THE INVENTORS, made the 2005 Waterstones Wow Factor shortlist and was published in 2007. Since then Gordon has written the sequel and has recently released the second instalment of his exciting YA series FURNACE.


Hi Gordon and welcome. How long have you been pursuing your writing ambitions and what have you done along the way to improve your writing?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. It’s the only thing I can ever remember wanting to be. I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen, a horror novel which was called Furnace Asylum (although the plot was completely different to the new series). It actually cost me my A-Levels as I was so convinced it was going to be successful that I pretty much dropped out (I fell asleep in my English exam). I sent it off everywhere, but it was returned by every agent and publisher, usually with a comment along the lines of ‘This is way too gory for us’ or ‘What’s wrong with you?!’ It was a very disgusting book!

The rejection put me off for a few years, but I kept writing and, more importantly I guess, I kept reading – reading reading reading all the time. The more I read, the more I learned about writing, about characters, about plot, about language. It’s really the best education any writer can get.
Also, even though I didn’t send anything else off to be published for a few years, I never lost that love of storytelling. For me that’s the best part of being a writer, being pulled along by a story at a million miles per hour, feeling like you’re part of the adventure. I would have kept doing it whether I was published or not. I was in my mid-twenties when I started writing seriously again, and fortunately enough that’s when I got my lucky break!

What made you think ‘I want to write for children?’ Is it a genre you enjoy reading?

I’m not sure it was a conscious decision to write for children. I think part of it was that I was reading a lot of children’s books and really, really enjoying them. I’m a big kid at heart and what I love more than anything else is story, and that’s what’s really strong in a lot of kids’ books. Many of them are brilliantly written, but the language, the words, really seem to be there as a kind of tarmac on which the story hurtles along. Whereas in adult books it tends to be as much about the style of the writing as the content. That’s a huge generalisation, sorry, but there’s something about the speed, the momentum, the impact of children’s books that I adore.

The other thing was that I wrote The Inventors with my little brother Jamie, who was nine when we started. The enthusiasm he felt towards the story was contagious, and when we were writing it felt as though we were the characters in the book, that this was our adventure as much as it was theirs. The story just picked us up and carried us along with it, it didn’t let us stop for breath, and it was wonderful. It’s that sense of excitement, of adrenaline, that comes with writing children’s books that I love so much. I think it’s an addiction!

Your first children’s book, ‘THE INVENTORS’ was shortlisted in Waterstones 2005 Wow Factor competition. Would you recommend entering competitions, do you think they can be an important deciding factor in finding success other than simply writing a good novel?

Definitely! One of the most difficult parts of the publishing process is getting your work onto an editor’s desk and making them read it. You can write the best novel the world has ever seen, but if it ends up on the slush pile, like so many of them do, then there’s a chance it will get returned unread. The great thing about competitions like the Wow Factor is that you know that somebody will definitely read what you send. Every single entry has to be read otherwise the competition isn’t being run properly. Of course there’s a chance that your book won’t appeal to the judges, but at least they’ll see it. I’d recommend entering every competition you can (legitimate competitions, that is, not some of the dubious ones that charge an entry fee, always check them out), it gave me my big break and it might just do the same for you. Good luck!

Have you changed genre since you first started writing? If so, do you feel your writing suits a specific genre and do you enjoy writing this genre more than any other?

To be honest, I never really give a great deal of thought to genre. It’s best not to pigeon hole a story into a genre just because you think that’s what publishers are after, the same way it’s best not to pick an idea just because you think it fits the current market. When I start writing, I usually don’t have much of an idea where it’s heading, what’s going to happen. It just seems to evolve and grow naturally. That’s one of the best parts of the process. It may develop into an adventure novel, like The Inventors, or a horror novel, like Furnace, but until the characters start to take control themselves I never really know! Of course I’m a huge fan of horror, and I always knew Furnace was going to be dark, but I didn’t set out specifically to write a horror book. It really was Alex’s (the main character) experiences in the prison, and his reaction to them, which turned it from what would maybe have been a pure adventure story into a horror story (although it’s still an adventure story at heart).
As I mentioned before, what I love about writing children’s books is that sense of momentum, the way the story can just fly along. I definitely think my style of writing suits this sense of speed and action, and so long as I can get that explosive enthusiasm into a book then hopefully it will turn out well no matter which genre it eventually fits into.

Have you ever tried writing for adults? Is it a market you’d like to write for in the future?

My first book, the horror novel, was definitely aimed at adults (as you may have guessed!) but apart from a few short stories and screenplays that’s been about it. I would like to write for adults again, but I think it may be limited to horror novels. Thinking about it, many horror novels are basically like children’s books for adults – it’s all about fast-paced plots, gripping action, mystery, and the way the characters deal with the situation they’ve been thrust into. I’m actually working on another horror novel now, but it’s pretty gory so it may never come to anything. It’s quite nice to be able to write it, though – one thing about writing for children is that you have to watch your language, so I have a surplus of swears that need to go somewhere! I’d definitely publish a horror book for adults under a pseudonym. I was thinking about Alexander Gore and Don Smith, or do you think that’s too obvious?

Did achieving a book deal change the way you approach your writing?

It didn’t change the way I write – for me it always has and always will be about the excitement and the enjoyment of the story – but it did change something. The great thing about having a book deal is that it means a publisher will always prioritise reading your books in the future. You don’t have to send them a manuscript worrying that it will end up in the slush pile, or be sent back unread. Of course it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get the next book published – successful authors have to prove themselves again and again with each new book – but it will definitely get read. Knowing that does make the writing a little easier because it removes some of the doubt, some of the insecurity. But I’m pretty sure that even if I’d never had a book deal I would still have written the books that I have.

Do you have an agent? Would you recommend having one and, if so, why?

Yes I have a wonderful agent, Sophie Hicks from Ed Victor Ltd. And yes, I would absolutely recommend having one.
Personally speaking I am hopeless with maths and contracts and business and all things money, so me trying to negotiate a deal with a publisher is, well, I can think of plenty of comparisons but I’d better not use any of them. The point I’m making is that a publisher wants to make as much money from a book as possible, it’s their business, it’s how they survive. I’m not saying that they’ll try to rip off new writers, not at all, but they may offer a deal that isn’t perhaps as fair as it should be. Most new writers, me included, would take a packet of peanuts for their advance if it meant seeing their first book in print, an enthusiasm which can be exploited (although I’m really not saying this happens all the time, or that it happened to me, I’m just saying it can happen). An agent is there for you, she’s on your side, she’s looking out for you, and she’ll make sure you get the best deal possible. And agents are really, really good at this! I don’t think writers should be expected to manage their own contracts, they should focus on what they do best, which is the writing – so get an agent!

If several agents were interested in working with you, how did you decide which one to choose and did you meet them face-to-face to help you decide?

I was lucky enough to click with Sophie from day one. She represented some of my favourite authors and she seemed absolutely devoted to her job. And her reputation was excellent. If you ever are in the fortunate position of having a number of agents interested then I’d definitely recommend a face-to-face. You have to click with your agent, you have to get on, you have to like each other, and they have to be enthusiastic about your writing or the relationship isn’t going to work. And it’s so much easier to get a sense of this when you meet somebody in person. The same goes for publishers – find an editor who you really like, who gets what you’re trying to do, who isn’t just going to see you as another client. It’s really important.

Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?

I never really plan out my books. Weirdly it’s because I don’t have the patience for it. When I get an idea I like to throw myself into it straight away. I get gripped by that adventure and pulled along by it, and half of the fun of writing is seeing where you end up. If I plot too much – and I have tried it – it feels too much like writing by numbers. It loses something on the page, feels too formulaic. It’s a cliché, I know, but letting your characters grow and develop by themselves is amazing, it’s what writing is really about for me. That’s why it’s so important to get your characters spot on, to know them inside out. If you really understand them then they will be free to evolve, to act according to their own needs and fears, and the story will practically write itself! I love that about writing – you can be half way through a chapter and have an idea of where it’s heading, then suddenly one of the characters will break away and do something completely unexpected, and you’re wrenched off course down a completely new path. Admittedly sometimes it doesn’t go anywhere and you have to backtrack, but most of the time it leads to something much better and more exciting than you had originally envisioned.
For a book like Furnace I really didn’t want to sit down and work out how, or if, Alex would get out. I knew that if I had this planned out from the start then his adventure, and his horror, wouldn’t be as convincing as it should be. I really wanted to feel like I was in Furnace with Alex, as if I was Alex, and so when I started writing I had no idea how, or if, he would make his break. Hopefully his experience is much more realistic because of this.
Having said all this, I do have a very rough story arc in my head for all five books – and I mean very rough. To start a series of books with absolutely no idea of where they are going could be literary suicide!

Do you use your own children or any others as a ‘sounding board’ for your novels?

With The Inventors I was lucky enough to write the book with my nine-year-old brother Jamie, which was one step better than a sounding board. He knew exactly what sort of book he wanted to read, what kind of adventure he wanted to have, and so the finished story was perfectly tailored to this. I would recommend the process to any writer. Writing is usually such a solitary job, but when you work with somebody, especially somebody the same age as your readership, it gives your ideas a real boost, it lets them grow and flourish in a way that doesn’t happen when you write on your own. But yes, using your own children as a sounding board is a great idea, especially when they’re brutally honest – if they don’t like it, if they seem bored, then perhaps you need to change something.

What sort of publicity and marketing do you do? Is it arranged for you, or do you have to initiate your own ideas?

I try and do as much as possible. There are so many books out there that it’s vital to make yours stand out somehow. These days especially, when most publishing houses are drastically cutting back on their marketing budgets, the most important thing is to get out there, visit schools and libraries, meet the kids, talk about your book, get them interested. It doesn’t cost anything except time – in fact most schools will pay – and it really does help spread the word about you as a writer. It’s great to sell books at events, but that’s not the most important thing. If every one of those kids tells somebody else that you visited their school, and those people tell somebody else, and so on, then that’s potentially hundreds of people who know your name who wouldn’t have done. And next time they go into a bookshop they may just pick up yours.
School events can be scary – I used to be so nervous before each one that I thought I was going to be sick, and even now I still get the jitters – but the adrenaline is a good thing, it keeps things fast paced and exciting. Now that I’ve had some time to practice, school and library visits are one of my favourite things to do. It’s so rewarding when you get to talk to readers face-to-face, especially when they’ve already read your book. And hearing them talk about wanting to start writing, and wanting to read more, is just fantastic. So yes, get out there and visit as many schools as possible!
Festivals are great too, although where school visits can be organised fairly easily by a writer – just call or email and they’re usually delighted – festivals can be harder to get into. It’s probably best if your publisher deals with them.

Aside from events, it’s important to keep your profile up in other ways. Try and get interviews with children’s magazines, websites, blogs, etc. Do everything you can think of. It’s all about reaching as many people as possible, especially when you’re new and nobody knows your name. And it doesn’t hurt to have some goodies to give away or to offer as prizes. When The Inventors came out I made up goody packs of Inventors mugs, notepads, pencils and T-shirts. It was pretty expensive, but the cost in terms of marketing was invaluable because we could give them away as prizes. We did something similar with Furnace, although this time Faber paid which was nice!
Goodies are less expensive than you think, check out somewhere like 4imprint for great deals. Be generous with free books and giveaways – it will be rewarded, even if it takes a little time.

You run your own publishing company, Egg Box, which promotes talented new writers and poets. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

I set up Egg Box at university (University of East Anglia) because I loved books and I really wanted to publish them. It started off with The Egg Box magazine, which was full of short stories and poetry and other weirder bits and pieces. We only had three issues but by the third we had some pretty big names in it. From there we published our first collection, The Zoo Keeper by Richard Evans, and our second, Come What You Wished For by Ramona Herdman, both of which were award-winners. It was silly, really, as I was basically trying to be a gentleman publisher without the gentleman’s bank roll – back then there was no print on demand so I was ordering 1,000 copies of each book to keep the unit cost down! I’ve still got quite a few in my loft… It was so satisfying, though.
That was back in 2002, and since then Egg Box has only published another handful of titles, but they’ve all been really strong books of poetry. I don’t run the company any more, my good friend Nathan Hamilton does, and under his leadership it’s going from strength to strength. I’d really, really like to start publishing again, and have been thinking about setting up a new publishing house for children’s books (not my own books!). But we’ll see what happens!

You have also set up your own production company, Fear Driven Films. What inspired you to do this? I understand you are in pre-production for a horror feature, what is your main role within the production?

Producing a horror film was my sister’s idea. We always get together for horror movie nights, as we’re both a huge fan of the genre, and one day she just said ‘why don’t we make one ourselves’ and I was like ‘why not?!’ So together with her husband, Simon, we set up Fear Driven Films and sat down and wrote the script for a film called ‘Stagnant’. Writing the script was so much fun. It was a communal effort, so we’d sit around and throw ideas at each other, trying to come up with the goriest deaths and the most action-packed scenes. Just like with The Inventors, working as a team meant the script went in some directions that none of us on our own would have taken it, it really was so much better because it was a group effort.
However, that’s also what’s so difficult about filmmaking. With writing you’re in charge, you call all the shots, and the only people you have to wrangle are in your head. When you’re making a film there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of people, it’s a management nightmare, and that’s what I’ve found hardest about the whole thing. Well, that and the fact that it’s bloody expensive! Still, it’s another adventure, and I’m really enjoying being a screenwriter and a producer. We’re currently pulling a team together, we have most of our cast, and we’re aiming to film either later this year or sometime next year. Keep your fingers crossed for us!
As a side note, I really believe that anything is possible. If you’ve got a dream – writing a book, making a film, anything – just go for it! Passion and commitment counts for a great deal.


Nate and Cat absolutely love inventing. You name it, they've tried to build it. After accidentally turning their headmaster blue, they win a year's scholarship with the world's richest, cleverest, most charismatic inventor, Ebenezer Saint. And along with twenty-three of the brightest scientific minds in the land they begin their year-long stay in the Saint Solutions paradise, a vast industrial compound filled with unimaginable inventions.

But it soon becomes clear that all is not what it seems. Ebenezer Saint is hiding a dark agenda - and if Nate and Cat ever want to see their families again, they will have to out-wit, out-run and out-invent the world's greatest inventor.

ORS was your debut children’s novel. Was it your first attempt at writing a novel or do you have other manuscripts hiding away?

Only my horror novel! I think that writing something so complex when I was a teenager, and then having it rejected, gave me a fear of writing. I had poured blood, sweat and tears into that book, and all for nothing. It made me feel that writing was a chore, was work, even though I hadn’t thought that at all when I was writing it. When Jamie and I started writing The Inventors I suddenly remembered how much fun writing could be, how much I loved it. And the story was so fast, so action packed, that the writing was addictive. I think the horror novel was just the wrong idea for me, it did involve too much work. I wonder how many other writers have done the same thing – forced themselves to finish something that their heart isn’t in any more. If I was ever in that situation again I’d drop it and start something fresh. I think that’s all it takes sometimes to give your writing a new lease of life. If you’re not having fun writing something, how can you expect people to have fun reading it?

You co-wrote The Inventors with your younger brother Jamie Webb. How did the partnership work? Did you share the writing? Did Jamie offer valuable insight as a younger reader/writer? Does he want to pursue writing as career?

Working with Jamie was an amazing experience, and one that I definitely want to repeat. Most of the time we spent together was planning and playing. We’d talk about our characters, draw sketches and even interview them, try and get to know them as if they were real-life friends. We’d come up with crazy inventions, plotting them on paper and even trying to build them (Jamie was the professor, I was the test subject, it was almost disastrous on many occasions). We’d talk about the villain, about what his plans were, and we’d act out sections of the plot, our favourite scenes. It wasn’t writing, but it was absolutely invaluable – it gave us a crystal clear idea of what we wanted our story to be about, what kind of adventure we wanted to have (us, not our characters), and the book that we wanted to create.
When it came to the writing, I’d do most of the work, but Jamie would usually be there. He’d read each section and tell me what he loved, and what he hated, and we’d edit it together. But because we’d conjured this story ourselves it seemed to evolve very naturally, and there weren’t many bits that didn’t make our finished cut. It was so different to the normal process of writing, and it taught me more about how to harness ideas than pretty much anything else. I’d recommend it to anybody writing children’s or YA books – writing isn’t just about sitting down and typing, get out there and have fun, play around, live out your ideas. It’s also a great excuse to be a big kid!
Jamie is now of an age (13!) where he’s not so interested in books as he is in computers, films and other things. There was definitely a period when he wanted to be a writer, and it’s something he says he’d like to come back to one day. His career choice bounces between cop, skateboarder, game designer and actor, but that’s the great thing about being a kid, you can dream about doing whatever you like. We’ll almost certainly write another book together at some point though.

What inspired you to write THE INVENTORS and how long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?

The actual inspiration for The Inventors came from a dream. I remember waking up one morning with this image of two young inventors trying to escape an evil genius. I started writing ideas down within five minutes, and the story just felt so right, and so exciting. I bolted round to Jamie’s house (he lives with my mum three doors down the road) and told him about it, and asked him if he wanted to help me write it, and that’s how it all began!
Jamie and I wrote the first three chapters of The Inventors in the summer holidays of 2005, and Jamie spotted a competition in Waterstones to find ‘the new J. K. Rowling’. We entered, and although we carried on plotting the book, and developing the characters, and even building loads of the inventions ourselves, we didn’t get round to writing any more of it.
A few months later we got a call from Waterstones to say The Inventors had been shortlisted, which was amazing! But we had to get the rest of the book to them exactly one week later or it wouldn’t be shortlisted. At first I thought it was impossible, but then I realised that this was our best shot at getting published. So we sat down and wrote 80,000 words in a week! Luckily we already had so much of the book planned out in our heads, otherwise we never would have been able to manage it.
It didn’t win, but Faber loved the story and offered us a deal, which was the best bit of news ever. It was maybe 21 months after I first had the idea that the book came out, in March 2007, but most books come out 18 months or so after contracts have been signed. It really was amazing.

Rewrites and Revisions: How much did you have to do throughout the writing of THE INVENTORS?

Fortunately, despite writing it so quickly, we didn’t have to change much at all. There was only one major edit, where Faber didn’t like a plot twist we’d written. It involved a character dying. We reluctantly changed it, but I’m so glad we did because that character is pretty much everybody’s favourite one, and comes back in the sequel. It really wouldn’t have been as good a book if Faber hadn’t asked us to make that change. Everything else was just typos and grammar, mainly caused by trying to write 11,000 words a day! My favourite typo involved the line ‘he shot across the room’, where an inadvertent vowel substitution had led to a sentence that you definitely shouldn’t find in a children’s book!

THE INVENTORS is the first in a 2 book series. Was it always intended as a series and therefore did you have further ideas in mind, or did you have to think about the sequel from scratch? What would your advice be for anyone writing sequels without having achieved a deal for book one?

When Jamie and I reached the end of the book we felt that, although the main story was complete, we’d only really told half of what we wanted to. For that reason we left the book on a cliffhanger and started planning the sequel. The Inventors and the City of Stolen Souls starts a few minutes after The Inventors has ended, and is basically the second half of the story. In fact, you could look at them as a single book that has been split into two. The same way, really, that Furnace is one very long book split into five. When we reached the end of the sequel it felt like a good place to stop, so we left it there. I would love us to write another book in the series, and so would Jamie, and so would a good many fans who have written to ask for one! In fact just writing this is making me feel nostalgic for Nate and Cat and Clint the robot. We’ll definitely return to it at some point in the future, although whether as a book or a film or a television series we’re not sure yet.

If you’re writing a series, but you haven’t yet secured a deal for the first book, then I wouldn’t let that put you off writing the next books. The more books in a series you have, the better chance, I think, that a publisher will be interested. The danger is that the publisher asks you to make a large, structural change of some kind – then of course the more books you’ve written, the more you may have to edit. Also remember that even if you’re planning a series each book has to be self-contained, it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, the same as a stand-alone title. If you’re enjoying writing the series then keep on writing it – right now you’re writing it for yourself, and this will all change when you get a publisher, you’ll be writing it for them, and to a deadline! It’s the enjoyment of writing, the excitement, the adventure, that you need to think about, it’s the only thing that matters.


Nate and Cat are still mad about inventing, but it's a dangerous game. Having narrowly defeated the crazed genius Ebenezer Saint, strange things are happening back home. What is Saint's building company up to? Why is everyone in the town acting crazy? And who is the metal man with golden eyes staring at them from the shadows?

Once again Nate and Cat will have to out-wit, out-run and out-invent the world's greatest inventor, but this time there's a whole army to defeat.


Beneath heaven is hell. Beneath hell is Furnace. Furnace Penitentiary. The world's most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth's surface. One way in, no way out. Once you're here, you're here until you die, and for most of the inmates that doesn't take long - not with the sadistic guards and the bloodthirsty gangs.
Convicted of a murder he didn't commit, sentenced to life without parole, 'new fish' Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Only in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and as dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison.
Together with a bunch of inmates - some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers - Alex plans the prison break to end all prison breaks. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace's deeper, darker purpose, Alex's actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that's hidden from the eyes of the world.

FURNACE is a dramatic change in direction and style from The Inventors. Did you find writing one style easier than the other?

Writing Furnace was very different to writing The Inventors. I’d just gone through a really rough patch in my life (well, I was still going through it). Although I’d already started thinking about the Furnace storyline I hadn’t started writing it, but as soon as this tragedy occurred I started writing, and just lost myself in it. It’s weird because as I was writing, Furnace Penitentiary ended up representing, even becoming, this dark period in my life, and I was Alex (we even had exactly the same name in the first draft). Our stories were totally different, of course, but we were in the same situation. I knew that if Alex couldn’t find a way out of Furnace, then I wouldn’t be able to move on from this part of my life. This really does give the book an edge, I think, because his panic and fear and hope really is my panic and fear and hope. I really do think that writing is excellent therapy, it certainly really helped me – although I’m not telling you if Alex makes it out or not!
I’m not saying that writing the book wasn’t enjoyable – parts of it were, hugely – but it was about as far away from the light-hearted, fun-packed adventures Jamie and I had writing The Inventors as you can imagine! But just as writing to meet the deadline for The Inventors taught me how to write fast and hard, writing Furnace taught me that you really have to throw yourself into a story, body and soul, if you want it to feel real.

Writing for an older teen age group FURNACE tackles some powerful themes. You mention the fictional ‘Summer of Slaughter,’ were you in anyway influenced by or referencing the gang culture prevalent in modern society?

I must have been, I guess, even if it was subconsciously. I certainly didn’t research it in any great detail – that’s another part of writing that I don’t really enjoy! A lot of the gang stuff really just stems from the feelings every teenager has, especially at school – the cliques, the fights, the aggro – only taken to its extreme. I vividly remember those elements of growing up, how difficult it could be, how cruel people sometimes were, and how important trust and friendship can be. Furnace may be a horror, and the plot may be edging on fantasy, but at its heart it’s about growing up, and surviving, which everybody has to learn how to do. That’s why books are so important, especially for this age group. Even if a plot is totally beyond the realms of possibility, so long as the characters are believable, so long as they act like real people and face recognisable challenges, then a reader will learn something about himself.

What inspired you to write FURNACE and how long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?

I can’t actually remember where the initial inspiration for Furnace came from. All I really remember is that I’d been chewing over the idea of a prison full of monsters for a long time. I used to watch a lot of prison shows on telly, and gradually the idea built itself up. The actual writing took about three weeks – driven, as I mentioned, by the need to escape from something myself. I decided to only offer it to Faber, and they loved it. From then it was a few weeks before the three-book contract was signed, then the usual eighteen months before publication.

The book is quite full-on in the horror stakes both psychologically and physically. Were your publishers open to all your ideas or did you have to censor yourself because of your target audience?

I made the decision right from the start that – aside from language – I wouldn’t censor anything in Furnace. I wanted it to be real, to feel like anything could happen. I didn’t want a reader to feel safe, to know that nothing would harm the main characters. I hate when you’re reading a YA book and you know, I mean really know, that nothing bad is going to happen to the characters, that they’re safe. It just takes the spark out of it! So with Furnace nobody is guaranteed survival – even Alex. It’s quite difficult building up that sense of danger when you’re writing a first-person narrative, because readers know the character has to live in order to keep telling the story. But in Furnace there are worse things than death, and that’s how I hopefully manage to keep up the tension. Obviously I don’t want to kill off characters for the sake of it, but death is an intrinsic, inevitable part of prison life, and sometimes events in the story would unfold in a way that led to somebody dying. And that’s the toughest part of writing, for me, having to kill somebody that you’ve made real. It’s heartbreaking.
Faber questioned a couple of the more violent bits, but in the end nothing was changed. Furnace is horrific, but I wouldn’t say that it was graphic. Not explicitly graphic anyway! It leaves a lot of stuff to the imagination, which is always scarier, but which means you can get away with more. I think if they ever made Furnace into a film it would have to be an 18!


Escape is just the beginning...
We thought we'd made it, we thought we were free. But we should have known there was no way out of Furnace. All we did was slip deeper into the guts of the prison: into solitary confinement, where the real nightmares live - the warden, the Wheezers, and something much, much worse.
The clock's ticking. Because if we don't escape soon they will turn us into freaks - like them.


In order to escape them, I must become one of them.
We were so close. We had one last shot at freedom and we failed. This time the warden will show us no mercy. This time, our punishment is a death sentence. Only death won't come for us here, not in Furnace. It wouldn't dare.
No, our fate is something much, much worse. Because in the bloodstained laboratories deep beneath the prison lies the horrific truth behind the warden's plans.
Down here, monsters are made.

Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?

If I had to pick one piece of advice for new writers it would be enjoy yourselves. Pick an idea that you love, that excites you, make sure it’s a story that you want to tell. Especially when you’re writing children’s and YA books. You have to want to experience that adventure yourselves, you have to want to live it – even with Furnace I wanted to be there with Alex, if only for the excitement of trying to find a way out. Don’t do what so many writers do, and pick an idea *just* because you think it will sell, or *just* because you think will fit the current fiction market. Your heart won’t be in it, and a reader (and a publisher) will sense that. Be brave, go with the ideas that you find thrilling, let yourself be carried away. For me that’s the best part of writing – the fact that you get to have these adventures, that inside your head they’re as real as your day-to-day life.
Also don’t worry about making your first draft perfect. Let the story pull you along at its own speed, get the first draft finished, and there will be plenty of time to polish it.
And read! It’s the best education a writer can have.



MGHarris said...

Fab interview, thanks Tracey and Gordy! I loved reading about how Furnace came about. Want to read it now, I love a good escape story! Incidentally, I narrowly missed being shortlisted in that 2005 Waterstones competition with an early version of Joshua Files...if I had things would have turned out very differently. Todd Garcia was going in a very different direction to Josh!

Tracy said...

The following comments were left on another messageboard but I shall copy and paste them here for Gordon to read.

Tracy said...

Well, he's a livewire crackerjackering along and taking half a million kids with him! Such enthusiasm the man has - and some great ideas to go with it. Hope he makes a ruddy fortune!
thanks for this, Tracy, another winner on the interview panel!


Tracy said...

Great stuff - thanks, Tracy. He sounds so full of enthusiasm and passion!


Tracy said...

Great interview Tracy, what an interesting chap - wish him every success


Tracy said...

I loved reading that - what a long and really interesting interview. Thanks Tracy.

His last two sentences are so true.


Tracy said...

'great interview. I am loving your series of author's interviews and wait eagerly for each one


Sue said...

First of all, huge congratulations on your blog. it's a fascinating mix of everything of interest to children's writers. This last interview was great - really inspiring.

Savita Kalhan said...

I met Gordon a few months ago at the Fab Award event we were both shortlisted for and he is just the way he comes across in your interview - enthusiastic, passionate about writing, and he has a real rapport with teens. I've read the first two books in the Furnace series and can't wait to read the last!
Savita Kalhan

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