Interview: Alexander Gordon Smith
When and why did you chose to be a writer?
I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. Well, it was either going to be a writer or a truck driver, so I’ve got a back-up plan if the writing doesn’t take off! My first book was published when I was six years old – published by me, with a stapler… :-) It was a book of monsters, and I remember being really disappointed when my mum wasn’t scared by it (even though all the monsters had smily faces). I wrote books all the time when I was a kid, but I was eleven when I made the decision that I wanted to be a horror writer. Even back then I knew the potential for horror – in horror, anything can happen. Horror works by breaking down the rules, by doing the unexpected. The laws of science, religion, psychology, geography, everything, are broken down in horror, which means that as a writer you have unlimited potential to write about absolutely anything you like. People are willing to suspend their disbelief when they read horror. I didn’t think about it like this when I was eleven, but I must have known it deep down. Back then I didn’t just want to write horror, I wanted to experience it too. I even tried to spend the night in a haunted house so I’d have a scary story to write about (I lasted seven minutes before running out screaming and puking). That mentality of trying to experience the world of the story in as much detail as possible still plays a big part in my writing.
Why did you chose to write ya instead of adult books?
I honestly can’t remember if it was a conscious decision or not! Before I wrote Furnace, my first YA series, I wrote a middle grade series called The Inventors. The Inventors was definitely a children’s book, no doubt about it. That’s what I set out to write – partly because I was writing it with my nine-year-old brother, Jamie. But when I started Furnace, I had no idea whether it was going to be a children’s book, a YA series or an adult novel. I just had this story that I wanted to tell. I think it became YA simply because the main character was fourteen. I certainly didn’t hold back on the horror and the violence because I was writing for teenagers, though!
It was the same with The Fury. I didn’t know what kind of story it was going to be when I started writing it, and for a while I thought it was going to be an adult horror. But again, because the characters were teenagers it settled into YA. I’m glad it did, because there’s something great about writing YA books. Unlike some adult horror, they’re always so full of hope, optimism, heroism. For me that’s the greatest thing about horror, especially YA horror – when things are at their worst, you see people at their best. The characters in YA books fight tooth and nail for their friends, their family, their beliefs, for what’s right. You never really lose that thread of hope. I’m a born optimist. I never lost that streak of childish enthusiasm and the positive mental attitude I had when I was a teenager, and this feeds through into my writing. No matter how bleak and awful the situation – and in The Fury it gets pretty bleak and awful – there is always that current of hope. I want my stories to have a good heart. I guess that’s why I mostly write YA!
Isn’t it hard to think like a teenager again? Or is it even more fun to do so?
I always say that being a writer means you never have to grow up. I’m still a teenager at heart, even though I’m 33 now. In some respects it’s a positive thing, because like I said before I’ve still got that sense of wonder and enthusiasm and rebellion I had when I was younger. So much of writing is about play, and if you lose the ability to think playfully then it makes crafting a story much more difficult. You mustn’t be afraid to break the rules, to go against authority, to follow your heart. Don’t get bogged down in work and money and responsibility. Of course the flip side of that coin is that people (my girlfriend, mainly!) are always saying that I don’t take things seriously enough, which is true I guess…
Of course you do have to go back into those feelings you had at that age – the powerlessness, the frustration, the anger. So much of my writing is about anger, and how much of yourself you lose to it. Furnace was very much about the balance of anger and power, and what happens when that balance is disrupted. The Fury is even more explicitly about anger, obviously! But The Fury in the title isn’t necessarily about how people respond to the characters, it’s about the anger that those characters feel, their own fury. By the end of the first book, and all through the sequel, it becomes a story of how much anger changes you, and how anger and power together make a very dangerous combination. I do remember a lot of anger in my teenage years, anger and powerlessness. It’s fascinating to return to it, but tough too because they aren’t always good memories. But on the whole it’s great fun being able to be a teenager again! I hope I never grow up.
Do you plan to write an adult novel someday?
My first novel, the one I wrote at school, was an adult novel. And I have started other adult novels since. I’m writing a couple at the moment, but I don’t enjoy it as much as writing the YA horror. They do tend to be bleaker in tone, I’m not sure why. Maybe adult characters just aren’t as robust as teenage ones, they don’t have the psychological resources to be able to handle tragedy and disaster. These novels might not go anywhere, but we’ll see. They’re just a side project at the moment. The truth is that I just love writing. I love that golden moment when you first think of an idea and you’re suddenly full of enthusiasm and intrigue. I love setting foot out of the door on a brand new adventure, with absolutely no idea where I might be going. That feeling is addictive! Like I said before, you don’t often know what kind of book it’s going to be – YA, adult, children’s. You just start writing it and it finds its path. Sometimes if a book decides it wants to be an adult horror I leave it and move onto something else, but every now and again an idea will seem too good to pass up and I’ll write it anyway!
Why do you think are there less male ya authors than female?
I’m honestly not sure! I didn’t realise there were, because many of my good male friends write YA horror. At the risk of stereotyping, maybe it’s because male authors tend to write a lot of action horrors that are heavy on gore and violence and death, whereas female authors often veer more towards YA paranormal romance, which is maybe more widely accepted. That’s certainly true of the authors I know. It’s also, I guess, because there are far more female teenage readers than male ones. But I think it’s changing. Every month there seems to be another fantastic series launched by a male author aimed primarily at a male audience, and they do seem to be filled with action and gore and monsters and the like! I think YA horror (rather than YA paranormal romance, which is very, very different) is becoming more mainstream, which is great! But these are just guesses, I honestly have no idea! I barely even notice whether a book is written by a man or a woman these days, I just read it.
Buchempfehlungen von Alexander Gordon Smith:
Most of my favourite books (Stephen King aside) are YA horrors! There are the obvious big names like Darren Shan, Jonathan Maberry and Charlie Higson, who are all fantastic. I’d have to recommend David Gatward’s horrifically brilliant The Dead / The Dark / The Damned series too, as well as Sarwat Chadda’s Devil’s Kiss and Jonathan Mayhew’s Mortlock. One of my favourite YA series of all time is Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series, so he’d probably be my recommendation. There really are too many amazing books out there to choose from, though!