A decision by York-based musician Alexander King to take part in National Novel Writing Month two years ago led to publication of his first book in late 2014.
It Looks Like You’re Writing A Letter is a slick, fast-paced foray into sci-fi detective noir, with a deftly humourous touch running through it.
Soundsphere Magazine’s Steve Nash likened Alexander to sci-fi greats Paul Auster and Philip K Dick, describing King’s book as “Bladerunner in 1080p on super-fast forward.”
Amazon readers agree with a slew of five star reviews backing the debut novel. So, how does it feel being compared to some of the most respected science fiction writers of all time?
He said: “It feels amazing. Dick is an obvious influence, so that’s great, but Auster is even more of a compliment as although he’s highly regarded, I hadn’t read anything by him before I wrote the book. I’m reading New York Trilogy at the moment and it’s brilliant. To be even vaguely in the same category is a real compliment.”
Before adding writing to his repertoire, Alexander has been active within York’s creative scene for many years. Having been born and raised in the area, he has played with various local bands over the years, including Cognac (who played Reading Festival in 1998), AKP for just over a decade, GLASS and, since 2011 with Berlin Black.
“I’ve played guitar, drums, bass and sung, all completely self-taught - well, up until a few years ago when I had a few guitar lessons, which blew my mind as I didn’t realise how much I didn’t know!”
Berlin Black have released a number of EPs and are just about to release their eponymous debut album, which has been put together through PledgeMusic.
Alexander also collaborates with York film makers, theatre types and webseries creators to create soundtracks and incidental music.
“It’s always been my ambition to write film soundtracks, even from when I was a teenager. I’ve been producing music for plays for a number of years for people like Hedgepig Theatre, and Six Lips Theatre and it kind of came from that. I do a lot of work with RedShirt Films and I’m really excited to be involved with a new one from Tony Hipwell of MilesTone Films.”
We sat down with Alexander to get the lowdown on his debut novel and just what it’s like churning out 50,000 words in a month, with so much else to juggle.
Where did you get the idea for It Looks Like You’re Writing A Letter?
I noticed that a friend who had died young still had an active Facebook page and it got me thinking about how much of our identity solely exists online and whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It Looks Like… is, on the face of it, a detective story but really it’s a commentary on loss, identity and change.” Where can people get hold of a copy?
“People can buy the paperback from neuromanticpress.co.uk or grab the ebook version from Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and just about everywhere else. I released it as an ebook first because, to be frank, I didn’t think anyone would be interested, but I sold about 70 ebooks before I did the first print run, which sold out in about a week. I ordered another short print run and they’re going fast too. The paperback is £5.99 and the ebook is around £2 to £3, depending on the outlet.”
How was the writing process?
“An education! I’d never written anything longer than a blog post and it was very daunting. National Novel Writing Month challenges you to write a 50,000 word book in a month, and somehow managed to accomplish it. Then the real hard work began. I was lucky to find a friend who was prepared to help me edit the book, and that’s where the real honing and crafting took place.” For anyone out there who wants to write a book for the first time, what’s your advice?
“Just write. There are no shortcuts. You just have to put one word after another until your story is told. Write every day, set yourself a target word count and don’t stand up from your desk until you hit it. And accept that the first draft of everything is shit. If you don’t believe me, ask Hemingway.”
Who are your influences?
“I love Dick (Philip K), Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard. I love sci-fi and post-apocalyptic books and films. I love A Boy and His Dog and Bladerunner and Buckaroo Banzai and Mad Max and all that good stuff. I love good stories that stay with you long after you’ve finished them.”
Moving away from writing for a second, what’s great about living in York?
“Well, it’s a beautiful city and just the right size to be interesting without being a sprawling metropolis. It’s got the touristy thing going on but also a really vibrant creative scene which is very cool.”
Having been involved in the York music scene for so long, what are your thoughts?
“I’m actually not too au fait with everything that’s going on, but I seem to see young bands raiding their dad’s record collection and aping it. I’d like to see people taking more risks. I love Mark Wynn for this reason, he just does crazy shit and it’s exciting because he’s recognised that playing blues rock is tedious and people need to aspire to do more with the privilege of standing on stage in front of a paying audience.”
So, what’s next?
“I’m writing a new book (working title What The Geranium Says) which is at the editing stage. It’s ostensibly about telepathy but much more about empathy and the connections between people. It’s longer than It Looks Like… and much harder to write. Strangely I feel a lot of pressure after such a good response to the first novel.
“The Berlin Black album will be out soon and we’ll be touring to support that, I have a film (The Supply Teacher), a web series (Nerfageddon) and a play (The Maids by Jean Genet for Hedgepig Theatre) to produce music for, and I’m planning to enter my first amateur strongman competition later in the year so I’m training for that. Basically, more output. Creativity is key to my existence. If I can find time I’ve also got an idea for a solo live musical project, something electronic and weird and original – no blues rock.”