January 10, 2011

Interview with Alexander Gordon Smith

Today Alexander Gordon Smith, the author of LOCKDOWN and SOLITARY, is visiting IBWB. The third book in the Escape from Furnace series will be out this summer. I hope ya'll enjoy the interview; Alexander was quite loquacious! Plus, if you scroll to the bottom, I'm giving away two copies of SOLITARY courtesy of AuthorsOnTheWeb. You will receive a bonus entry if you comment on my review posted later today.


Thanks for interviewing me on In Bed With Books, it's fantastic to be here!

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace 1 (Escape from Furnace (Quality))

1. LOCKDOWN, SOLITARY, and DEATH SENTENCE were all released in 2009 in the UK. What was it like to have three books come out in such quick succession?

Originally Faber (my publisher in the UK) only wanted to publish the first two books in 2009, but I managed to convince them to speed up the schedule! I love reading a series, but I get frustrated when I have to wait for the next one to come out. I wanted readers to be able to finish the first book, Lockdown, and have the next one out in three months, and the next three months after that. I'm pretty impatient with most things, and writing is no different! The only thing I didn't plan for was the editing – I forgot that each book needs about six different edits, so I was totally swamped for the whole year!

I would have loved to do the same in the States, but Farrar Straus Giroux (my publisher over here) wanted to publish a hardback edition of each book, which affected the schedule. It's a little longer to wait between each title in the series, but I think it's worth it because the hardback editions look absolutely amazing!

In terms of the writing, it was great to have three books out in a year. Being so immersed in the story during such a brief time really made me feel like I was part of Alex's nightmare, that I was trapped inside Furnace with him. It was intense!

Solitary: Escape from Furnace 2

2. Have you noticed a difference in reception to the Furnace series between the US and the UK?

I've been so lucky – the response on both sides of the Atlantic has been astonishing! I've been touring over here in the UK since the books came out, and it's been brilliant meeting fans face to face. I get most of my British fan mail after events. I've also had some fantastic reviews from the British press, which has been great!

On the whole, though, I think the response in the US has been more enthusiastic. Eight out of ten of the letters and emails I receive are from the States, and quite a few of them are positive feedback from teachers and librarians, which is just amazing. There really is nothing better than getting an email or letter from somebody who enjoyed the books enough to get in touch. There has been such a great response from bloggers as well. There seems to be a much bigger culture of blogging in the States, people who absolutely love reading and talking about what they've read. It's been wonderful to see so many of you getting behind LOCKDOWN, and I'm truly grateful!

I've done a couple of Skype events to American audiences, but I'm hoping to visit the States next year to do some shows. I really can't wait!

3. To me, horror seems to come in two main categories: psychological horror and terrifying monsters. While LOCKDOWN and SOLITARY have their psychological moments, most of the scariness comes from the monsters populating Furnace. What were some monsters (from movies or literature) that scared you?

Great question! Yes, I really wanted these books to be full of monsters – not familiar ones like vampires and werewolves but really nasty ones, things that people hopefully haven’t seen before. I think for me the scariest monsters you can get are the ones that are human, or at least that were once human and which have become something else. Some of the monsters in Lockdown fall into this category. They're terrifying not because of what they are, but because of what has happened to them. I can't say any more without giving too much away! I'm also fascinated by the idea of evil, and the existence of entities that are utterly inhuman – that are the very antithesis of life and warmth and happiness. I explore the idea of timeless, depthless evil in the Furnace series as well. It really, really creeps me out.

As for the monsters that scared me . . . There are way too many to mention here, but witches used to terrify me. When I was a kid I used to have a recurring dream, I think it was brought on by a fairy tale, of a witch who was trying to kill me. As I woke up, she'd pull me through the dream into this horrible, dirty house and I'd see her standing by a bloodstained table, grinning. Thankfully I always woke up before she got me. More recently I began to dream about her again, only this time she sits at the bottom of the attic stairs in my house in one of those trolleys that legless people sometime use. I'm still irrationally frightened of stereotypical evil witches!

Strangely angels used to scare me too, because they were so human and yet so utterly not. Their almost sociopathic detachment from humanity, combined with their powers, made them really scary. Frankenstein was another one, and Pennywise the Clown from IT, oh and the Blob, because I used to imagine it oozing down the corridors inside my house when I was trying to get to sleep. I'd totally forgotten about that! I was freaked out by zombies and ghosts as well. But one of my greatest fears was doppelgangers – people who looked like my friends and family but who weren't. Another dream I remember was talking to my mum then realising she had horse's teeth and that it wasn't her, it was someone pretending to be her. Horrible!

Thanks for bringing back all these memories, I'm never going to sleep again!!

4. What attracted you to writing horror for young adults?

It's weird, but with the Furnace books I wasn't specifically setting out to write for young adults. I just had this story in mind, the location really – this horrific underground prison full of nightmares – and I started writing. It became a book for young adults because the characters themselves were teenagers. I was so close to Alex, the main character, when I was writing. I mean I was him. And he reminded me so much of a bad patch I went through as a teenager – I wasn’t as much of a criminal as him, but I was certainly heading in the same direction. There was a time when I might have written Alex as an adult, but there was such a powerful connection between him and my memories of myself as a teenager that I made him fourteen.

What I really didn't want to do was tone down the action and the horror just because it was a YA book. Teenage readers deserve more. So I just wrote the story exactly the way that Alex lives it, red in tooth and claw. Luckily for me, my editors on both side of the pond were fine with the violence and the horror!

Oh, and I love horror because it’s really the only genre where there are no rules. None whatsoever. Absolutely anything can happen.

5. It can be hard to keep up with British authors on this side of the pond. (For instance, I picked up THE BLACK TATTOO because of the awesome cover and only realized Sam Enthoven was British because the first part of the novel was set in the West End. It seems to happen more by accident than purpose.) What British authors should American YA fans seek out?

There are so many amazing authors over here! It's funny that you mention Sam Enthoven because he's a great friend of mine. I love THE BLACK TATTOO, and his latest, CRAWLERS, is disgustingly brilliant! Sam and I are both members of two groups of writers. The first is called Trapped By Monsters and includes nearly twenty children’s and YA authors. We all blog regularly on the site about writing and books in general, and it's a great place to find some wonderful British and Irish authors.

The second is called The Chainsaw Gang and is made up exclusively of horror authors. It was set up by Sarwat Chadda, author of DEVIL'S KISS and DARK GODDESS(which are available in the States). We do quite a few events, and we're planning an anthology of scary stories this year as well. At the moment the gang includes me, Sam, Sarwat, David Gatward, Steve Feasey, Jon Mayhew, Alex Milway, Alex Bell, William Hussey, Steven Deas and Sarah Pinborough. If you're looking for a good read and a good scare then I can recommend any of these writers!

The Inventors

6. Before the Furnace series, you wrote the Inventors duology with your younger brother. What are some of the differences between writing a novel on your own and collaborating?

Writing The Inventors books with Jamie was one of the best experiences of my life. He was nine when we started it. I woke up one morning with the image of an evil genius chasing two inventors, and I ran round to his house (he lives three doors down the road from me with my mum) and told him we had to write a book! He loved reading so he was really keen, and together we expanded the idea into the story of two teenage inventors, Nate and Cat, who win a scholarship with the world's most famous inventor, Ebeneezer Saint. Needless to say Saint turns out to be the bad guy (kind of, anyway, he's a complex character!) and Nate and Cat have to outwit, out-run and out-invent the world's greatest inventor!

Writing with Jamie was a very different experience to writing alone. For a start, Jamie attempted to build a lot of the inventions in the book for real – traps, remote control gadgets, even rocket boots – and he would test them on me! It was a real adventure, and I was almost blown to smithereens several times. But the writing process was very different, too. One of us would have an idea, and the other one would roll with it and add something new, then it would bounce back and forth, growing and evolving in a way that it never would have done if I was working on my own.

It's a great way of writing, it opens up so many doors creatively. I'd absolutely recommend it to anyone out there who is writing a book, especially one for kids or teens, and especially especially if you have kids or relations that are the same age as your readers. Jamie was nine, so he knew exactly what kind of adventure he wanted to read about, what kind of characters he wanted to meet, what kind of inventions would be most exciting and what kind of gory deaths everyone should have! And writing with somebody else really does alleviate the boredom of sitting by yourself all day trying to have a conversation with the cat (which is pretty much how I wrote Furnace)!

Thanks again for the chance to appear on your blog!


  1. Excellent interview! Even though Solitary traumatized me, I'm still looking forward to reading the third book.

  2. Very interesting interview. The author brought a lot of insight into the why's and how's of his work. It's good to be able to see where his insight comes from.

  3. I've had my eye on LockDown. Looks too yummy not to watch for!

    Today I posted a review of a grand Steampunkery Book!  Please do check it out, I highly recommend Vampire Empire: The Greyfriar if you want Steampunkery and a mix of many genres.  A new favorite... indeed a huggable book!

    Mad Scientist
    Steampunkery & Book Reviews
    Forbidden Steam
    Where the Mad Scientist can be found behind the bed chamber doors!


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