Alexander Gordon Smith, the author of the Escape From Furnace series as well as The Inventors books, did a little Q&A with us. His idea of a good time consists of dropping an unlucky character into the middle of a prison of DOOM. Yeah, we think he’s pretty awesome too. Take a glimpse into the mind of a horror writer and learn about his earliest stories (from the vegetative to the terrifying) and everything in between! Be sure to check out his website and visit his Twitter, @AGSmith_Author.
Thanks for interviewing me on Figment, it’s great to be here!
Your initials were almost GAS, but your conscientious parents dodged a bullet. Do you think about your characters’ initials when naming them?
No, but now I’m worried!! *Runs off to check books for any initials fails* Phew, luckily I didn’t give Alex Sawyer a middle name beginning with ‘S’! Yes, I was lucky not to have the initials GAS, but my parents decided to call me by my middle name, Gordon, instead. So I avoided being Gassy Gordon at school, but have had to put up with everybody calling me Alex until I correct them!
In the original draft of Lockdown, the first Escape From Furnace book, Alex was actually Alex Gordon Smith. I wanted him to have the same name as me because the character is kind of based on me when I was a teenager (I had a bit of a rebellious phase)! But my UK publisher, Faber, wanted me to change his surname to Sawyer so that people wouldn’t be confused when I published a new series.
You talk about a character, Super Carrot, that you abandoned early in your career. Could we look forward to the return of Super Carrot?
Wow, you’re the first people to ask about Super Carrot! That was my first proper ‘novel’. I think I was about seven or eight, and I started a story about a carrot with super powers (as you may have guessed). I must have filled half a notebook, which for me was pretty good going. I’ve lost it now, unfortunately, but I remember that Super Carrot had a sidekick called Karate Tom (a tomato that, er, did karate), a scientist friend called Professor Asparagus, and an arch enemy called Cider Strawberry (because I thought cider came from strawberries). I think they all went into space at one point, and probably saved the world. I even made action figures of them all with Fimo modelling clay (which I still have). I hadn’t thought about that book for years, but maybe the idea is due a comeback… Keep your eyes peeled (haha) for the continuing adventures of Super Carrot!
What’s the best part about writing thrillers and horror?
I absolutely love writing horror, because it’s really the only genre where there are no rules. Literally anything can happen. Even when you’re writing science fiction and fantasy you have to set out the rules of your world so that it stays consistent, but with horror the laws of science, geography, religion, psychology – everything – can fall apart. That’s how horror works, it takes the world we know and turns it inside out. You can never go too far with horror, because when people read horror books they are usually willing to suspend their disbelief as far as it needs to go. And this gives you unlimited freedom when you are writing. I love that freedom, the knowledge that I can go anywhere and do anything in a story. It’s kind of addictive!
And I love the thriller aspect of writing because it often takes me by surprise. I don’t plot a book, I don’t have the patience for it! I just get to know my characters like they were family, then I throw them into the story and let them work it out. Planning always feels a bit too much like playing god, and your characters can risk feeling like puppets following your commands (although obviously there’s no right or wrong way to write a story, and loads of my writer friends choose to plot). When I started Lockdown I had no idea how and even if Alex would find a way out of prison. We were trapped in Furnace together, desperately trying to work out a plan, and when we did finally think of something it was an incredible feeling because it was so real and so genuinely spontaneous. The whole series was written this way, and I was constantly surprised by some of the things that Alex and the others did. I always find that if you make the effort to get to know your characters as well as you possibly can, then they write the story for you.
You’ve written articles, comics, screenplays, fiction, non-fiction, novellas- which format is your favorite?
I just love telling stories! Often I’ll start with an idea and know straight away whether it’s a novel or a comic or a film – or even a video game. Sometimes I’ll start writing it as one thing and then decide it’s actually something else. I don’t think it matters what shape a story takes, just so long as it’s told one way or another. I guess the thing I enjoy most is sitting down to write a novel. I love that feeling of starting out on a new adventure, where literally anything can happen. You get so much freedom with a novel too because you don’t have to worry about the constraints of a budget, like with movies, or about artwork, like comics.
Saying that, writing a novel can be a lonely experience because it’s often just me and a laptop (and the cats!) for days on end. Writing a screenplay and then making a film is awesome because so many people are involved. You start off with a story, but every single person who contributes to the production – the director, the cinematographer, the actors, the sound people, the set designers, the make-up and costume and prop folk, even the tea and coffee guy – adds something. You end up with a true collaboration, something so much bigger than what you started with. It’s an incredible experience.
You co-wrote two books with your younger brother and opened a production studio with your sister. What’s the best part of working with family?
It’s so great to be able to work with family. For a start, even if you fall out over a project you know you can’t fire each other! Writing The Inventors with Jamie, my little brother, was one of the best experiences of my life, especially as we tried to build quite a few of the inventions in the book for real! He was nine when we started, and eleven when it was published, which is proof that you are never too young to be a published author. He is fifteen now, and I’d love to write another book with him. But he’s addicted to World of Warcraft at the moment so doesn’t have any time for writing!
My sister Kate and I have always loved horror films, and one day we just decided to set up a production company (with Kate’s husband Simon) and make our own. We didn’t have any money, or any connections, we just had some ideas and wrote a script and thought we’d see what happened. Our first feature, a horror comedy called Stagnant, is hopefully being filmed next year. Working on a project with anyone – friends or family – is great because when you collaborate with somebody else you end up with something that neither of you could have thought of on your own. It really adds new dimensions to the creative process. Oh, and the thing I learned from this experience is that if you really want to do something then just do it – don’t put it off, just make that leap of faith and believe in yourself.
Any story ideas/plots from your teen years that you’d like to share with us?
Ha! There were loads, because all I’ve ever wanted to be is a writer (well, I’d still quite like to be a truck driver too, but mainly a writer)! I used to write short stories all the time as a teenager. They were mainly horror, and pretty gross. I wrote a short story at school once about a serial killer who murdered all my teachers in horrific ways (which got me in trouble, although my English teacher did give me an A for it because she was the only one who didn’t die). My first screenplay was called Tommy Terror, and it was about a kid that got bullied who developed deadly powers and exacted a horrific revenge on his tormentors (or at least he thinks he does, but the twist was that he was actually insane and imagining it all). My first ever novel was called Asylum, and was actually set in a prison called Furnace. But the plot was totally different – it involved a guy who had found a way to bring angels back to Earth. Only these angels ate people… It was horrible, and was universally rejected! I was seventeen when I wrote it, and was so convinced that it was going to make me rich and famous that I failed all my exams at school… I had to go back for another year!
I have to say, though, that it was all of the writing I did as a teenager that made me the writer I am today. I absolutely loved telling stories, and I just kept writing and kept dreaming and vowed that I’d be a published author one day come hell or high water. That’s the most important piece of advice I could give, really: keep writing what you love, and keep dreaming, and never, ever give up. If you’re passionate about your writing, then you will be successful – maybe it will take a year, or ten years, but it will happen. Don’t let anything put you off. There are so many amazing writers here on Figment, and absolutely every single person on this site has the potential to be a bestselling author one day. Just keep writing, keep dreaming, and never give up!
Thanks again for interviewing me on Figment!! 🙂