I have great pleasure in sharing my interview with Alex Pearl, author of Sleeping with the Blackbirds. Alex talks about writing emotional scenes, meeting Tim Peak, and the inspiration behind his middle grade urban fantasy.
Back in the distant mists of time, Alex spent three years at art college in Maidstone; a college that David Hockney once taught at, and later described in a piece for The Sunday Times as the ‘most miserable’ episode of his life. Here, Alex was responsible for producing – among other things – the college’s first theatrical production in which the lead character accidentally caught fire. Following college, he found employment in the advertising industry as a copywriter. He has turned to writing fiction in the twilight years of his writing career.
Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?)
I’m a retired advertising copywriter living in NW London. So I have been writing press ads and commercials for my entire working life. But it’s only in recent years that I’ve turned to writing fiction. My first book, ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’, a novella for children, was written for my kids, and was penned while waiting to be made redundant from a large agency that was merging with another even larger lumbering giant. Some bright spark at the time equated the merger to the rescuing of the Titanic by the Hindenburg. The process took forever, and it was a year before they finally let me go. By which time my manuscript had been finished and made it into print shortly afterwards.
When I’m not writing, I’m reading; volunteering as a guide to a local historic house (Kenwood House); listening to music; or gardening.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)
‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ was my first book. In 2014 I had a short story accepted by Mardibooks in its anthology ‘the Clock Struck War’ to mark the centenary of the Great War. And at the end of 2019, my first full-length novel, ‘The Chair Man’ made it into print. ‘The Chair Man’ is a thriller set in London in 2005 and is loosely based on the London terrorist attack on the capital’s transport system.
What genre is it, and what is it about?
‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ is a middle grade urban fantasy. My intention was to write a book that would appeal to both children and adults. A book that touched on serious subjects like bullying and homelessness in a non-threatening and light-hearted fashion. It’s about an 11-year-old schoolboy, Roy Nuttersley who has been blessed with awful parents and whose life is made even more dreadful by school bullies. He turns to looking after the birds in his garden by building bird feeders and hanging them from the trees. The birds appreciate his efforts and in return attempt to help their friend by hatching several cunning schemes, all of which backfire, and turn the lives of Roy Nuttersley and his tormentors on their head – but in a surprisingly good way.
What or who inspired you to write this book?
I suppose there are several influences at work. I wanted to write in an old-fashioned style redolent of authors like Clive King and Richmal Crompton while keeping the story up-to-date with modern technology and the internet.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Enjoy your writing. Have fun with it. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And don’t try to write to a formula. There isn’t one. Just be yourself.
What do you enjoy most about writing and why?
Writing emotional scenes that bring a tear to the eye. I don’t know why. I suppose it’s a bit like crying in the cinema. Getting emotionally engaged is something we all seem to get off on. It’s a form of escapism; a way to lose yourself in another world.
List three interesting facts about yourself
I once got locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve; I once hit a six in a cricket match by mistake: and I have met Tim Peak, the British astronaut on a British Airways flight to see the Northern Lights.
What is your least favourite part of the publishing/writing process?
Probably proof reading. It’s really difficult to pick up everything without going blind, and it’s why you need to get an editor, proof reader or both to help you out. I have read very many mainstream novels published by large publishers that still have typos buried in the text. I also find the plotting of a book extremely challenging. But it’s not quite as bad as proof reading.
What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
That’s easy. Just go onto Amazon and Goodreads and share your thoughts by writing a review. Reviews are like gold dust to writers.
What is your next project?
My next project is to write a sequel to ‘The Chair Man’ and I’m still at stage one, trying to create a storyline that works for me. But as I said earlier, this is really terribly difficult, and can take an eternity.
Eleven-year-old schoolboy, Roy Nuttersley has been dealt a pretty raw deal. While hideous parents show him little in the way of love and affection, school bullies make his life a misery. So Roy takes comfort in looking after the birds in his suburban garden, and in return the birds hatch a series of ambitious schemes to protect their new friend.
As with the best-laid plans, however, these get blown completely off course – and as a result the lives of both Roy and his arch tormentor, Harry Hodges are turned upside down. While Harry has a close encounter with God, Roy embarks on a voyage of discovery that draws in and impacts on everyone around him, including the local police, his headmaster and the national media. Where will it all end, and will life ever be quite the same for Roy Nuttersley?
Huge thanks to Alex for joining me on my blog to talk about his writing and publishing journey. Please take a few moments to follow him, leave a comment, and buy his book.
BONUS: Enjoy this sample reading of Sleeping with the Blackbirds read by Nigel Havers: https://alexpearl.bandcamp.com/album/sleeping-with-the-blackbirds