Hi Alex welcome to my blog. It’s great to be able to return the favour, and to thank you for the lovely feature interview you did for me recently on your blog.
Alex Pearl is an extremely shortsighted copywriter, author, ghost writer, travel writer & artist.
MJ: I love the premise of your YA novel Sleeping with the Blackbirds – a darkly humorous modern fairy tale story – which tackles many important topics: bullies, homelessness, single mums and abusive parents. How did you get the idea for the story?
ALEX: That’s a tricky one. The story came to me gradually, and the circumstances in which it was written was fairly bizarre. I was working for an ad agency at the time that was going through a global merger, and work dried up while this was all going on. So I had time to think about my first book. Strangely enough, the title came to me before the story became fully formed. And the rough outline of the story involving the schoolboy Roy Nuttersley leading a miserable life with awful parents and school bullies looming large in his life, and of course, the birds who try to assist him – these were ideas that I had in my head before I started writing the thing. I think the idea of a young boy and birds may have come to me because my son at that time used to imitate seagulls, and he was quite brilliant at it. And it’s no coincidence that we have a 400 year-old-oak tree that towers over our own garden, just as one does in Roy Nuttersley’s. But the details of the story evolved as I wrote it. That said, the ending to the story, which many people didn’t see coming and seem to have enjoyed, came to me before I’d started writing it. So it was a case of knowing how it started and how it ended but not knowing much else until I started to write.
MJ: I believe your debut was published in 2011. Are you surprised at how your writing path has changed/developed since then?
ALEX: Not really. I’m a bit of a chameleon, probably because of my background in advertising and the fact that copywriters are always briefed to adopt a certain tone of voice that is suitable for the audience they are addressing. So for instance, you’d write in a certain formal style when talking about an investment trust to readers of The Telegraph, and a very different lighter tone of voice when talking about Smarties to children and mums. And my approach to writing books is the same. I’d like to have a go at any genre.
MJ: On your Amazon profile, I was amused to read that you are perhaps the only human being on this planet to have been inadvertently locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve. How did this happen? And did you manage to have your Christmas dinner?
ALEX: To this day, I’m not entirely sure how it happened. All I can remember is stepping into the shop in broad daylight. I think it must have been about 4.00 in the afternoon. So it wasn’t even normal closing time. I don’t remember hearing people locking up or anything like that. But that’s what they obviously did. And strangely enough, all the lights were left on. So when I finally found the record I was wanting to buy and discovered nobody behind the till my first reaction was one of mild annoyance. Then when coughing loudly and profusely still produced no results, I went behind the till myself and into a back room that was empty. At this point I gave up all hope of spending my pocket money and marched over to the front door and on yanking it hard to get out, nearly pulled my arm off. It was locked. Only then did I realise the full horror of the situation. But thankfully, I’d spotted a telephone in the back room (this was well before mobile phones had been invented), and I called my father who duly called the police, who in turn tracked down a caretaker who lived in Mile End and took over an hour to finally show up with keys to unlock me from my temporary prison. So in answer to your question, yes, thankfully I did get my Christmas dinner. But it must have been a miserable Christmas for the staff who I learned later, were fired.
MJ: Since you were an advertising copywriter, if I were to ask you to write your own slogan, what would it say?
ALEX: Aha! The advertising slogan question. I actually hate slogans. The best ads don’t actually have them. But that’s a subject for another day. I’d settle for something funny. There’s a lovely piece of graffiti that I’d love to have written: ‘Smile they said. Things could be worse. So he did. And they were.’ It doesn’t say anything about me exactly, but its delicious, deadpan irony is the kind of thing I love. So it does tell you something about me indirectly I guess. I suppose I haven’t really answered your question. Hey ho, or ‘La-di-da’ as Dianne Keaton says in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.
MJ: You mention that you are a slow writer, I relate! Is that because you get distracted? What is the slowest aspect of the writing process for you, or perhaps the most difficult part.
ALEX: I get distracted, I procrastinate, I put things off. I’m just generally a bit shambolic and disorganised. And then when I write I tend to take time; writing and rewriting. I’ve read that Douglas Adams used to go backwards and forwards like this and used to end up with mountains of screwed up paper in his bin, which I find reassuring. The hardest and slowest part for me is the planning stage. For my first book ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ planning took up almost as much time as writing. For my second ‘The Chair Man’ planning and research took me for ever – far longer than it took to write the thing. This said, ‘Blackbirds’ didn’t require any research at all. With ‘The Chair Man’ I had to look into the ways terrorists communicated in 2005. It’s not an easy subject to research as you can imagine. But I did find an obscure book written by academics in America that delved into this. I also had to find out about GCHQ and MI5, which again are difficult subjects to research for obvious reasons. Then, of course, I had to get the politics right. So all in all it was something of a challenge.
MJ: I love your book covers. Do you get much input into choosing them? And are you swayed by enticing covers yourself? What are your favourite cover/s and book/s.
ALEX: I’m glad you mentioned that. I’m very fortunate to have a good friend who is a serious, professional advertising photographer. He photographed and designed both my covers. I love his work, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer using John because you know whatever he produces is going to be fantastic. For ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ he took an atmospheric shot on Hampstead Heath and used an excellent typographer to design a special typeface for the title.
And for ‘The Chair Man’ he created this strong silhouette in the studio and again used a special typeface to create the title. Interestingly, John used a similar silhouette technique for the film poster he shot for Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.’
MJ: Awesome! I love the black and white style that you use on your blog to platform so many authors. How did that come about? What made you choose that style?
ALEX: Thank you, Marjorie. I wanted to keep the style of the website simple, consistent and stylish. So I deliberately kept the typeface reasonably large sans serif in grey, which always looks classy, and decided that all portraits should be in black and white. Besides creating a distinctive house look, it also gives the books the prominence they need, as they are always reproduced in full colour. Many people have commented on the look of the site, and some love the fact that it’s so very readable. There’s nothing worse than having to squint at tiny type on the screen that you have to blow up.
SLEEPING WITH THE BLACKBIRDS
Eleven-year-old schoolboy, Roy Nuttersley has been dealt a pretty raw deal. While hideous parents show him precious 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 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 – but in a surprisingly good way.
“Wonderful images and thought-provoking scenes.” Bramwell Tovey, composer & broadcaster
“The strength of the author’s voice held me captivated long after turning the last page. With the wit of JK Rowling, Alex Pearl has definitely earned his place in the young adult fiction hall of fame.” Lisa McCombs, Readers’ Favorite
“A delightful fairy story that deals sensitively and compellingly with modern-day issues like homelessness, single mums and abusive parents.” George Layton, actor, screenwriter and bestselling author.
THE CHAIR MAN
Michael Hollinghurst is a successful corporate lawyer living a comfortable, suburban life in leafy North West London. But on 7 July 2005, his life is transformed when he steps on a London underground train targeted by Islamist suicide bombers. While most passengers in his carriage are killed, Michael survives the explosion but is confined to a wheelchair as a result. Coming to terms with his predicament and controlling his own feelings of guilt as a survivor conspire to push him in a direction that is out of character and a tad reckless. In a quest to seek retribution, he resorts to embracing the internet and posing as a radical Islamist in order to snare potential perpetrators. Much to his surprise, his shambolic scheme yields results and is brought to the attention of both GCHQ and a terrorist cell. But before long, dark forces begin to gather and close in on him. There is seemingly no way out for Michael Hollinghurst. He has become, quite literally, a sitting target.”The nearest I ever got to a “terrorist incident” was in East London, when I heard the IRA bomb go off in Docklands in 1996. I cannot predict my reaction were I to be caught up personally in such events, but I hope I would not go the same way as Michael Hollinghurst, the central figure in this entertaining and elaborately plotted novel. It is a gripping thriller that repays careful and close reading (and I will certainly read it again).” Graham Smith
MJ: If you could share your experiences and thoughts whilst writing The Chair Man?
ALEX: Once I had worked out the story in some detail and written a synopsis, and had taken copious notes from research sources both online and from books, I felt able to start writing. And the writing process is far more enjoyable and liberating than the planning and research, which I don’t especially enjoy. But it’s the ammunition I need – a kind of road map if you like. Without it I just don’t know where I’m going and I simply don’t have the confidence to write. I envy people who are pantsters and can just sit down and write. I just can’t do it. I tried it once and after 15,000 words I dried up. I still have the unfinished manuscript somewhere. My daughter nagged me for ages to finish it, so I wrote ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ instead.
MJ: I believe The Chair Man is your thriller debut. Have you any plans to write any more thrillers and if so what topic/backdrop do you plan to use?
ALEX: I knew you’d ask me that. I really want to write a sequel to ‘The Chair Man’ but am struggling to come up with a storyline that I’m happy with. I know how the first half of the novel kicks off, but it’s the last two thirds that have so far eluded me. Perhaps I’ll resolve it. We’ll see.
MJ: How did you become an author? And do you think it has changed you?
ALEX: It just happened. I suppose I’ve always toyed with the idea of writing fiction, but never really had the confidence that I could do it. But once you have an idea in your head, writing it isn’t actually that difficult. Has it changed me? No. Not one bit.
MJ: Have you a favourite character in The Chair Man? Or a particular character that you had great difficulty developing, or who altered in a way you did not expect.
ALEX: That’s a really good question. And the answer is yes. Surprisingly, I ended up liking one of the terrorists Qssim who is a very complex character. I originally intended him to be pretty nasty, which he is initially. But as the book develops his character develops, too and he becomes a much more sympathetic character that you can relate to. It’s interesting that some readers find him more likeable than the protagonist who is a victim of a terrorist attack.
MJ: What are your writing plans for the future? ALEX: If I can plan a sequel to ‘The Chair Man’ I will definitely write it. Time will tell. I’m also planning to get back into painting, which I haven’t done for many years. I used to paint large abstract paintings on glass and exhibit them. I’m hoping to produce enough new pieces for an exhibition in the next year or two. You can view some of my work here: http://glasspaintingsbyalexpearl.weebly.com
Wow, I’m impressed! And so jealous, I wish I could paint.
MJ. Is there one marketing tip you would like to share?
ALEX: I’m no expert at marketing. But I have found that offering a free ebook and using services like The Fussy Librarian to promote it can be quite effective. I have seen around 800 copies downloaded in one day. But services do vary. Ereader News Today managed to shift 1,000 copies on one occasion and only 300 on another. I was rather pleased with myself when I placed a free ad on Nextdoor.co.uk for residents of NW3 which is the postcode where my thriller is set. Doing so led to 100 downloads in a day and three reviews. And that cost me nothing.
Alex’s first novel ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’, a darkly humorous urban fantasy, written for children and young adults, was initially published by PenPress in 2011. It has since become a Kindle bestseller in the US. In 2014, his fictionalised account of the first British serviceman to be executed for cowardice during the First World War was published by Mardibooks in its anthology, ‘The Clock Struck War’. A selection of his blog posts is also available in paperback under the title ‘Random Ramblings of a Short-sighted Blogger.’ In 2019, his psychological thriller, ‘The Chair Man’ that is set in London in 2005 following the terrorist attack on its public transport system, was published as an ebook by Fizgig Press. The paperback followed in 2020.
Alex lives in NW London with his wife and two children who are far smarter than their old man.
He is quite possibly the only human being on this planet to have been inadvertently locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve.
This is Alex’s Linktree link:
Alex Pearl Linktree QR code:
You can visit his website at http://booksbyalexpearl.weebly.com
Love the sound of Alex’s books.
Do comment below would love to hear whether you’ve read Alex’s books.
Haha, I like Pearl’s self-slogan. Both books sound good, but especially The Chair Man, and what a great cover!
Yes I agree Priscilla. I like the sound of both his books too. And great covers.
Alex sounds like not only a terrific writer but an interesting person. He would be fun to have as a guest at a dinner party! Thanks for introducing us to him and his books.
My pleasure Darlene. Always nice to fond a new author. 🙂