Interview with Alexander Gordon Smith
by Wendy Zazo-Phillips
Alexander Gordon Smith is the author of The Inventors, The Inventors and the City of Stolen Souls, and the Escape from Furnace series (Lockdown, Solitary, and Death Sentence).
AGS: Hi there, thanks so much for interviewing me on your blog, itís fantastic to be here!
WZP: What would you like your readers to know about you?
AGS: I love stories. I love reading them, I love hearing them, I love watching them, I love writing them most of all. Stories are one of the most important things in the world, they are vital for letting us know who we are, and what we want to be. Theyíre boundlessly exciting and entertaining too. Without stories, I donít think the world would be worth living in. Iíve always been an avid reader, ever since I was a kid. When I was really young I used to think that books appeared on the shelves by magic, and it was only the fact that my parents used to tell me stories, and that my uncle Frank put his own stories into little books, that made me realize that they were written by people. If they could do it, I thought, then so can I! Iíve been writing ever since Ė books, comics, screenplays. And I hope Iíll be doing it for as long as I live. I honestly believe that anyone can be a writer. If youíve got a story to tell, just tell it!
WZP: When kids write or talk to you, what do they talk about?
AGS: Itís incredibly humbling to know that someone has enjoyed your book enough to write and tell you. I get emails and letters almost every day now, which is amazing. Most people are just writing to let me know they enjoyed the books. Others want to know what happens later in the series, or where I got my inspiration. Quite a few are writing books of their own, and thatís always the best thing to hear. Most are just getting in touch to say hi, which is awesome! Iíve had a couple of emails which werenít so welcome Ė one telling me to remove all my books from shops and libraries because they contained violence! But other than that theyíve all been fantastic. Thanks to everyone who has written, and if you want to drop me a line (details on my website) then Iíll always write back.
WZP: In addition to your writing career, you have had your hands in several projects, including a couple of publishing ventures and a movie production company. How do you choose what to focus on?
AGS: I like to stay busy! I was always told from an early age that if you really want to do something then you have to just do it. Donít put it off, donít Ďum and ahí about it, just go for it. Iíve always been fascinated by books, not just the writing of them but the production too, and the influence they have on people. Books and stories are so important. Thatís why I set up the publishing ventures, although theyíre both still very, very small. I love movies too, especially horror ones, and Fear Driven Films, our production company, came about when me and my sister and my brother-in-law decided to have a go at making a horror movie ourselves. We werenít sure what would happen but we had absolutely nothing to lose. Deciding what to focus on can be tricky, especially when deadlines clash, but as long as you enjoy what youíre doing then you always find a way to make it work. If anyone out there has always wanted to do something, and has been putting it off, then stop procrastinating and just go for it!
WZP: You mentioned elsewhere that several authors have influenced you, including Stephen King, George Orwell, Clive Barker, and Lloyd Alexander. Would you talk more about how these authors have influenced you, particularly those you read growing up?
AGS: I think every book I read influenced me when I was growing up. I loved stories, the thrill of opening a new book and not knowing where it would take you. It was that excitement which made me want to be an author, to create worlds of my own that other people could explore. I loved King and Barker when I was a teenager because anything was possible in their books. There were no rules. You just never knew what was coming. They inspired my love of horror, and itís why Iím still addicted to and fascinated by the genre. It really is the only genre where absolutely anything can happen. It lives outside of everything we know and it pushes back the boundaries. In doing so it scares us, but it also lets us know that anything is possible.
WZP: In the Furnace series, the wheezers, antagonists of the main character, are always recognized by their wearing of gas masks, and there are references to Nazi-like experimentation throughout the books. Do the symbology of gas masks and other World War I and World War II references still resonate with people in the U.K.? How did British history influence character development?
AGS: Great question! History was important to me when I was writing Furnace, but I didnít ever want to let it hold the story back. There are references to both the World Wars, but I guess I wanted to capture the mood of those conflicts rather than the historical fact. I think the imagery of those wars still resonates with people everywhere, it has been engrained into our culture, into who we are. They were terrible times for so many people, all over the world, periods of tremendous evil and tragedy and loss. But they were also times of incredible heroism and hope and resilience. I hope that Alexís time in Furnace Penitentiary resonates with both the horror, and the humanity, of the wars.
WZP: No matter how bad it gets for Alex in the Furnace series, there always seems to be a thread of hope, that this is not the end of the line for himÖor, not yet. A lot has been said about the despair and the terror of the Furnace Penitentiary, but would you talk more about that thread of hope, especially in the story of Alex?
AGS: That thread of hope is, I think, the most important thing in the book. It has to be, because when Alex has lost absolutely everything, hope is all he has left. Itís the only thing they canít take. When he loses that hope Ė and there are times throughout the series that he does Ė things are at their absolute worst. Some people say that hope can be dangerous, because it can drive you insane with its promises. But I think itís wonderful. If you have hope, then you never lose sight of freedom. When I was writing Furnace I was going through a really bad time myself, a personal tragedy that left me in a very dark place. The fact that Alex almost always held onto hope, no matter how bad things got, made me realize that there was always hope for me too. It let me know that if I fought hard enough, things would be okay. I think Iím paraphrasing Stephen King here, as I did in Lockdown, when I say that fear really does keep us prisoner, and hope sets us free.
WZP: Was going to the library a part of your childhood? Do you still go?
AGS: The library was one of my favourite places to visit as a kid, and we went every week. Iíll never forget that feeling of running into it knowing that I had literally thousands and thousands of books to choose from. Every trip to the library was like a new adventure because I came out of it with an armful of stories that I could lose myself in. I still use the library. I always will. Libraries are vital to any civilized society, they are places of learning and excitement and fun and endless adventure. Over here in the UK weíre seeing massive cuts to our libraries, and countless closures, by a government that evidently thinks books and stories arenít important (itís also a government that wants to sell off our forests, donít get me started). It makes me so angry that these idiots with their private fortunes donít understand how essential libraries are to the public.
WZP: The purpose of our website is to help librarians make well-informed decisions about which horror-genre books to purchase for their collections. What books do you feel are ďmust haveĒ titles for libraries?
AGS: Iím the one usually asking librarians to recommend new horror books to me, so Iím not sure if Iím qualified to answer this question! I think that the more horror books a library has, though, the better. I donít simply mean gore and violence Ė the term Ďhorrorí covers so much, itís a huge umbrella. Horror is the perfect genre to make young people think outside the box, to question accepted knowledge, to dream.
WZP: Americans will not be able to purchase the third novel of the Furnace series, Death Sentence, until the summer of 2011. Is there anything you would like to share about the third book with your U.S. readers?
AGS: Iíd like to start by saying sorry about the wait! I donít want to give too much away, but Iíll just say that in the third book things get really, really bad for Alex. He realizes that in order to defeat his enemies, he has to become one of them. Itís a grueling book, terrifying in places because there are times when Alex really is lost. But in the second half of the story the horror gives way to action, and one hell of a sequence of events! I really hope you all enjoy it!
WZP: Is there anything else youíd like librarians and readers to know?
AGS: Iíd like to say a huge thanks to all librarians. Iíve had an amazing response from you, and itís incredibly humbling to know that you have enjoyed Lockdown and that you are recommending it to readers. Iíve had so many emails from people who say they borrowed the book from the library, itís great to know that theyíre there on the shelves and that anybody can read them. And I owe the greatest thanks to readers for giving Lockdown a chance. Knowing that people are reading my stories is the best thing I can ever ask for.
Thanks again for interviewing me on your blog!
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