A cheery good morning to you all,
Autumn is well and truly here, and it's that final run up to The Festive Season. Hallowe'en is finished, Bonfire Night has gone for another year and December is looming. Some of you may have started to plan for holidays for 2024. My friends and I only yesterday talked about having a wee January break on the East Coast, for the sole purpose of walking on the beach each day and taking in that fabulous sea air.
Right, it's interview time! So swiftly moving on, let's give a warm welcome to Alex Marchant!!
Eva: Hi Alex. Thank you so much for agreeing to take part in this series. Now, tell everybody all about yourself (as in, a bit of a biography).
Alex: Many thanks for welcoming me on to your blog, Eva. My name’s Alex Marchant and I’m the author of several children’s books, all so far with some sort of historical theme. Although I now live in Yorkshire, within sight of the ruined farmhouse that inspired Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, I was born and grew up in a village between the London suburbs and the Surrey downs, an area that features in my novel Time out of Time – albeit under a pseudonym. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write fiction, in all sorts of genres, although it was only as an adult I realized I wanted to write specifically for children. By that time I had worked as an archaeologist across the UK and abroad, and then as an academic copyeditor. It was a ‘big’ birthday that at last pushed me to get on with it, and my first children’s novel, which became Time out of Time, won the Chapter One Children’s Book Award in 2012. My next (working title ‘The Tower’) was put on the backburner in early 2013 when news broke that the long-lost grave of King Richard III had been discovered under a car park in Leicester. As a supporter of this maligned king for many years, I knew it was time to get on with the novel about him that I’d thought about for so long. And so The Order of the White Boar sequence of books was born. Since publishing the first of the books, my life has certainly taken a new turn as I’ve crisscrossed the country to attend author events, schools, libraries and various medieval festivals to give talks and sell my books, trying all the while to fit my writing around my freelance work. I’ve been lucky enough to meet many wonderful people along the way – readers, other writers, historians, many inquiring school children, and all the members of the team who actually found King Richard’s grave. Without their amazing work, I might never have embarked on this new career – and I’m currently waiting with barely suppressed impatience for Philippa Langley to announce in November the findings of her project to discover what really happened to the so-called ‘Princes in the Tower’. Am I right with my suppositions in my books? Her upcoming book and Channel 4 documentary can’t arrive soon enough!
How many books have you written up to now? Are they published or self-published? What genre are they?
To date, I’ve published five of my own books, along with editing two charity anthologies. Four of the books are in my The Order of the White Boar sequence, telling the story of the real King Richard III and the possible fate of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ through the adventures of a young page, Matthew, and his friends. Although aimed at children aged 10 and above, they’ve also been enjoyed by adults, and have been called ‘A wonderful work of historical fiction’ by the Bulletin of the Richard III Society.
As well as historical fiction, I’ve written a timeslip novel, Time out of Time, about a young girl who, during the long hot summer of 1976, moves with her family to an ancient house in the Surrey countryside and finds a doorway back into its history. My work-in-progress also has a historical theme; although it’s set in the present day, it’s a ghost story involving an archaeological dig to discover the remains of a historic mansion in Scotland.
The two charity anthologies – Grant Me the Carving of My Name and Right Trusty and Well Beloved… – are collections of short stories by myself and other authors who’ve been inspired by King Richard III (you might be surprised by how many of us there are!) They’re sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK, a charity which supports people with the same spinal condition the king was found to have when his grave was rediscovered in 2012. It was that amazing discovery, of course, that finally prompted me to write the White Boar books – after years of never quite getting round to them.
Of all the genres there are, is there any genre/s that you feel you wouldn’t be able to write and why? Is there any genre that you really wish you could write, but feel you wouldn’t be able to do it justice?
As largely a children’s author, I guess most adult-themed genres are out of bounds for me. I feel I’d be particularly bad at romance, murder mysteries and psychological thrillers. And perhaps it goes without saying that horror wouldn’t be for me. Short stories I think represent a particular skill – one that I don’t think I have, although I have dabbled recently, including short and flash fiction in my own and friends’ edited anthologies, and ‘Watchers’, a short story about King Richard’s loyal friend Francis Lovell, published by Australian publisher Clan Destine Press, in Clamour and Mischief (2022).
Do you have any favourite ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ words that you like to use in your books? What are those words? Also, what words used by other authors irritate you more than they should?
As a children’s author I tend to avoid using too many such words as they could put off a less-confident reader, although sometimes one has to throw a more challenging word into the mix. I do rather like scintillating, coruscating and opalescent, though, if they count as out of the ordinary. Only one of them (I think) has appeared in any of my published works – when I had to find a variety of such words to describe particular light effects that occur in Time out of Time when Allie goes into the portal through time. As far as other authors go, I wouldn't dream of criticizing – although sometimes repetition of phrases can jar, perhaps, rather than specific words.
Do you sing at all, be it karaoke, in a choir or have done so professionally? Whether you have or not, have you ever written (or had the urge to write) any song lyrics? Have those lyrics been used at all?
The short answer is ‘No’ – and I imagine the world is very grateful to be spared! Ironically, perhaps, my lead character in The Order of the White Boar books, Matthew Wansford, is an accomplished singer who was once a choirboy at York Minster and is valued for his voice by his master, King Richard.
Once or twice I’ve attempted song lyrics, but only in fantasy stories many years ago. An exception was very recently when I needed a song to use in my work-in-progress: I adapted a lyric from my favourite Wexford-born singer-songwriter, Pierce Turner, to fit a traditional Irish tune being sung by one of the characters. I wanted to harness that ability music has for prompting remembrance and longing.
What question would you like to pose, (if you were to ever interview your favourite author), which never seems to get asked in author interviews? And who is that favourite author?
I’m going to see my favourite author at a British Library event in a couple of weeks – maybe after that I’ll have an answer to this question! I suspect that I won’t get to meet her – and even if I did, I’d act too much like an adoring fan to ask her anything sensible. She’s Susan Cooper, the author of, among others, The Dark is Rising sequence, which I read first at the age of eleven, and regularly reread every few years – also rereading the titular book most years at Christmas, along with a surprising number of other people around the world. We all aim to read particular chapters on the dates when they’re set, and this has led to a worldwide online ‘readathon’ in recent years. This is one of my Yuletide traditions that I didn’t squeeze into the Christmas scenes in my work-in-progress…
If you were to ever write a children’s book, (and those of you who already do) would you/do you do the illustrating yourself, make use of a family member or friend’s talent or pay an illustrator? Do you solely write or do you have any other creative pursuits?
My sister is an amazing artist, having started painting again with water-colours and sketching with charcoal during lockdown. I’ve tentatively suggested she might think about illustrating my books, but I’m not sure either of us could cope with the technical requirements for publishing with illustrations. Fortunately, my novels are aimed at older children, who don’t require pictures – although illustrations can enhance any book.
Of all the characters you have created, who is your favourite? And why?
That’s a tricky question – and a little like being asked which is your favourite child! If I have to choose (character, not child – that would never happen!), I’d probably say King Richard (if he’s eligible, being a real person) and Matthew Wansford.
I spent nine years in Matthew’s company, off and on, and each time I started writing a book, I wondered whether I’d be able to pick up the thread of his character and thoughts. He grows through the four books from twelve years old to seventeen, always uncertain of his place in the world and doubting himself and his abilities, but ultimately proving himself a courageous and loyal young man. Despite my worries, starting to write the next instalment of his story has always been like slipping on an old, comfortable pair of shoes, and setting off on a new adventure together.
King Richard is very different. Historically, of course, he’s been much maligned – seen by too many still as the monstrous child-killer portrayed by Shakespeare for the benefit of his Tudor audiences and patrons. The real man was very different, and that’s the person I’ve sought to bring to life for readers. Not that it’s taken much effort on my part, as he’s one of those characters who almost write themselves – often catching me by surprise with what he says or does. And I love it when readers tell me this portrayal chimes with their own view of the man and his times.
Have you ever killed off a character in your books (I’m sure you have)? If so, was it because…it fitted nicely into the storyline? OR…Did you start to really dislike the character and, with too much work involved to re-write without that character, think it the easiest option to have that person die?
When events in your books are dictated by historical events, there often isn’t an option when it comes to characters’ deaths. I can’t say I haven’t occasionally thought about writing alternative history – usually when facing yet another battle with a poor outcome for people I’ve become fond of (the perils of writing about the Yorkist side in the later part of the Wars of the Roses). But my aim is to tell the real story of the period, based on the records of the time rather than later propaganda, so I can’t change their history.
So the deaths of King Richard and most of his close family over the course of just over two years were things I had to face rather than a choice in the first two White Boar books. The same with the deaths that come in the fourth book. Obviously some readers will know what’s coming; others – often the younger ones – won’t. There was only one death about which I had a choice, because it was a fictional character – and I’ve had more flak from readers about that than about anything else in my books! I had no idea when I was writing the scene that it would provoke such a response.
Are any of your characters based on family members or friends? Have you kept their characters totally true to life or have you given them bonus traits that you wish they possessed in real life?
No. Occasionally I weave an incident from someone’s life into my books, or a name, but none of my characters is based on anyone I know. Allie’s dad in Time out of Time is a DIY-keen Arsenal fan who was bombed out of his East End home as a child, like my dad, and Master Ashley, Matthew’s new master in The King’s Man, may look a little like the historian John Ashdown-Hill who was part of the team who found King Richard’s grave, but that’s as far as any similarities go among any of my characters.
Relationships/family life aside, what are your TWO main regrets in life?
I prefer not to look backwards and regret past actions or inactions. Having said that, I do wish I’d started writing again earlier. But, as with so many things, life got in the way through my twenties and thirties – there wasn’t time enough to raise a family, work full time, renovate our house and garden, travel, keep up with friends and family at opposite ends of the country, *and* focus on writing fiction.
What was your passion as a child? Did that passion stay with you during your adult life OR did you, as you grew up begin to detest what you once enjoyed?
I guess my two main passions were reading/writing and archaeology/history. Together they took up a great deal of my time growing up. Neither has gone away – and they’re now combined in the fiction I write, as well as the academic copyediting that is my day job.
What was your best subject throughout your school years? And your worst?
Considering my answer to the previous question, you probably won’t be surprised when I name English and history as my best and favourite subjects. Not every period of history, and not every area in English literature, but they both enthralled me.
Perhaps another regret is not studying history at A-level. The teacher for the medieval course left just as I was choosing my subjects, and all that was left was the ‘Napoleonic war’ or ‘Victorian social conditions’ – neither of which grabbed my interest. So instead I took history of art – and a whole new area of fascination was opened up to me. Then in my first year at university I was able to study medieval history for two terms alongside my main subject of archaeology (along with two terms of Russian), so in a way it was only postponed.
Tell me about your favourite teacher throughout your school years? Was it a crush you had? Were they just an excellent teacher of your favourite subject?? Or some other reason…kind, fun, generous…?
For seven years in senior school Mrs Chris Watts was my English teacher and she was a huge influence and so supportive of my work, as well as the person who introduced me to the delights of the theatre. She may have been disappointed I didn’t study for an English degree, opting instead for archaeology, but I hope she’d be happy that I am at last an author. For one of those years, she shared the burden of teaching me with Miss Eastaff, who also generously offered feedback on chapters of a book I was writing outside lessons. I still have the insightful and encouraging letter she sent me during the summer holiday after she left her job at the school. I’m not sure I’ll ever revisit that half-finished book though.
Did either of your parents ever express a wish to write? Are they supportive and proud of your work? Or do they just choose to not get involved, but they are pleased for you?
My father isn’t a great reader, but my mum always was, and both have always been very supportive of me, hence the importance to me of dedicating my first finished (and third published) novel to them. My dad had a lengthy hospital stay just after The Order of the White Boar was published, and I can’t describe how emotional it was when I visited him one day and saw a copy of it by his bedside with a bookmark several chapters in.
Tell us about your ultimate ambition, be it personal, travel, writing, work, hobby related or other?
I guess it’s to secure an agent for my work and perhaps to be traditionally published, particularly to help get my books into schools. So many teachers have told me that the White Boar books are excellent for introducing children to the rise of the Tudors and the importance of thinking critically about historical sources, both of which are part of the National Curriculum for Key Stages 2 and 3, the age groups that my books are aimed at. However, as an independent author, there are only so many schools I can personally contact and arrange author visits to.
Do you have any phobias and if so, what are they? Have you ever conquered any phobia and if so, how did you do it?
If phobias are defined as irrational fears, I don’t think I have any. The closest is perhaps my fear of heights, but I don’t think that’s particularly irrational – falling from a height is liable to kill you! I have forced myself to climb various cathedral towers or domes over the years (such as in Cologne, St Peter’s in Rome and the Duomo in Florence), but still prefer to avoid tall modern buildings. I’m not sure any amount of money would be enough to persuade me to walk across one of those glass floors constructed over huge drops. And don’t even mention cable cars!
Most people I know are not happy with something physical about themselves (face/body etc.,) but if you could change anything about your personality, what would you wish to change?
Probably my indecisiveness and growing inability nowadays to make plans. Which is perhaps ironic given my constant fear of not having enough time to do everything I want to!
What is your ‘go to’ snack, whatever the time of day? And drink of your choice?
I’m not particularly one for snacking, but if I’m offered cake, I don’t always turn it down, and I used to be bit of a crisp fiend – particularly salt and vinegar. Most days I’m fuelled by copious mugs of tea – I can barely function before the second one of the morning. Later in the day, my thoughts may turn to a nice glass of red wine – which can also help smooth the way if I hit a tricky problem when I’m writing. Sometimes a glass or two can help the words flow…
Cats or dogs? What do you have? Do you introduce any pets into your books?
I was brought up with a dog, but then had cats as an adult as my partner was originally a ‘cat person’ (and cats are easier when one has a busy life). We eventually ‘rescued’ our first dog when our children were old enough to help look after it, and we’ve never looked back. Our home is currently ruled by our third rehomed spaniel, Gunner, who at this moment is sprawled fast asleep on the sofa next to me. We’re ‘between cats’, but hope one day to rehome another. It will have to be one that copes better with dogs than our last one did. Each of our dogs was desperate to make friends, but poor Kolo wasn’t interested.
There are dogs in all my books so far. Matthew is given a hound pup, Murrey, by King Richard as a reward for a particular service rendered, and his friend Alys is given her sister, Shadow. Allie’s family in Time out of Time have a springer called Ranger, and Bilbo, a rescue mongrel, has a starring role in my work-in-progress. The aptly named ‘Mutt’ appears in Sons of York, but to tell you how or why would be too big a spoiler!
AND FINALLY, Hit me up with all your Amazon book-links? And the links to your website and social media profiles?
All my books can be bought direct from myself at AlexMarchant84@gmail.com or via Amazon:
My website can be found at: https://alexmarchantblog.wordpress.com
and my social media links at: https://linktr.ee/alexmarchantauthor
Thank you for hosting me today, Eva!
You're very welcome Alex. It's been a pleasure!
**COMING UP THIS FRIDAY**
For the next interview, author Ian C Grant, creator of DCI Wiggins, will be taking over my blog for the day. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ian some weeks ago and he has kindly?? (thanks, Ian) turned the interview questions back in my direction! Friday is your chance to find out what makes Eva tick! (Heaven help you all!)
Until then my friends,