Hi there, thanks for interviewing me on your blog, it’s great to be here!
Where did your ideas for the Escape from Furnace series come from?
The genesis of the story was in the main character, Alex. He’s basically me, but a version of me that made a few bad decisions in his life. When I was a teenager, I went through a phase of getting into trouble – nothing as bad as Alex, but staying out all night, getting into fights, drinking in biker bars, that kind of thing. Thanks to my family I got back on track before it got too serious, but Alex was a version of me that didn’t get rescued. Whereas I grew up and lived my life, he never got the chance to – he was stuck in this weird purgatory in my mind. Years later, when I was looking for a scary story to write, I realized that Alex’s life was the perfect starting place. He wanted to live, to have a story to tell, so I kind of just sat back and let him tell it. Luckily for me that story involved a terrifying prison and some incredible adventures! I wrote the story exactly as Alex lived it. It really felt as though I was just transcribing the events, rather than creating them – sometimes the story moved so fast I could barely keep up with him!
Both Lockdown and Solitary are full of action and suspense. Tell us a little about what writing such action-packed stories is like.
So I just rolled with it, I just started writing. I threw myself into Furnace the same way Alex had been thrown in, without hope and without a plan. Because I’d done it like this, I felt as desperate as he did. Time was running out for him because the Blood Watch and the gangs were closing in. Time was running out for me because I was getting through the book and I still didn’t know how he was going to get out. I didn’t even know if he was going to escape! I think writing like this – writing at the speed of life – is what gives the books their relentless pace. I didn’t slow down when I was writing, I was living the story alongside Alex, so the story never lets up for a second. I love writing this way!
It’s not uncommon for authors to base bits and pieces of their stories on their own lives. The situations in the Escape from Furnace books are quite extreme, but is there anything in them that was inspired by your own experiences?
Unfortunately yes, although not in a direct way. Shortly after starting the book I went through a really bad time, a family tragedy. I threw myself into the writing to try and get through it. It was about the point where Alex first arrives in Furnace, so here I was alongside this version of me, trapped inside a horrific nightmare from which there was no realistic possibility of escape. We were both lost, both locked in the darkness at the bottom of the world. And I knew that if Alex didn’t find a way out of Furnace, out of the prison, then I’d never find a way out of this awful time in my life.
Alex kept me strong, because I saw how resilient he was under these terrible conditions, I saw how he kept faith even when all looked lost. I knew he was me, or a version of me anyway, so I understood that if he could do it then so could I. But neither of us could escape alone, we needed each other. This bond made the book harder to write emotionally, because I felt everything that Alex did – his fear, his hopelessness, his pain. It made it easier to write in many ways too, because I could see it all so clearly. I really was down there with him. As amazing as it was, however, I hope I never experience it again.
What was your favorite part about writing the Escape from Furnace books?
The friendship. It sounds weird – and I guess it is a little – but Alex’s friends inside Furnace were my friends too! I was so close to all of them because, like I say, we were all in Furnace together. The dialogue between Alex and Zee and Donovan – others too, but mainly those three – was an absolute joy to write. It still makes me smile when I think about some of the conversations they had, the ones I’d just listen in on. They had hundreds, and only a few of them actually made it into the book. They were cool guys to hang around with, even if it was just in my head!
Which of your characters can you relate to the most, and why?
Definitely Alex, for the reasons I talk about above. Although Alex is a great deal cooler and braver than I am. The character I’d most like to be is Donovan, because he’s just awesome, but in actual fact I’m probably closest to Zee!
What was the most difficult part of writing Lockdown? Of writing Solitary?
They were both difficult books to write in many ways, not least because I was so entrenched in the story that it felt as if everything that happened to Alex was happening to me. His fear and his pain and his hopelessness are all real, because I was feeling them too. In Lockdown, I guess the most difficult part to write was the last few chapters, because even then I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen. And the most painful part of writing Solitary was around the end of the book too – those of you who’ve read it will know why. I think I must have cried solidly for a whole afternoon.
What is the most interesting thing you learned while writing the Escape from Furnace series? (This can be about yourself, about writing, or anything at all).
I think the most positive thing I learned while writing the books was that no matter how bad things get, there is always – always – hope. The fact that Alex held onto hope, no matter how bad things got, made me realize that there was always hope for me too. It let me know that if I fought hard enough, things would be okay. I think that writing is a great way of dealing with the difficult things in your life, not least because when you put them down on paper, when you turn those difficulties into words, then you have a little more control over them. It can’t always help solve those problems, but it helps you deal with them because you become the author, you can decide how to write your life.
What is the most rewarding part about being a young adult author?
Without a doubt it’s hearing from people who have read and enjoyed the books. I get letters and emails almost every day now – some wanting to say how much they loved Furnace, others asking questions about writing (it’s so awesome to see how many teenagers out there are writing their own books!), occasionally the odd one or two that aren’t so complimentary, but mainly just people writing to say hi. It’s an incredible feeling, knowing that people all over the world have enjoyed the books so much that they take the time and effort to write and let me know. I’m flattered and humbled whenever I get a letter or an email, and I’m so grateful to everyone who writes. Thank you! Oh, and all my contact details are on my website, (http://www.alexandergordonsmith.com) so feel free to get in touch!
If there was one thing you could change about either Lockdown or Solitary, what would it be?
Well, it would probably be the same thing that I mentioned earlier, a part of Solitary – I don’t want to say too much for those who haven’t read it yet. But there is a death at the end of the book which was just heartbreaking for me as an author. I could never actually change it, though. Like I said, I wrote the story the way that Alex lived it – he can’t go back in time to change what has happened, and neither can I. To be honest, as much as I’d like things to have turned out differently for this character, I don’t know what would have happened if he had survived. He is such an important part of Alex’s life, even after death, that the entire shape of the story might have changed. I still miss him though!
What are you working on next?
I’ve just about finished the first book in another series. It’s horror again, but it’s very, very different to Furnace. It doesn’t have a title yet – every time I decide on one I find out that somebody else has already used it, grrrr! In a nutshell, it’s a zombie book without zombies. It follows a small group of unrelated children and teenagers who, for an unknown reason, trigger a brutal, violent reaction in every single other person they meet. Everyone – even their loved ones – turn against them, but as soon as these kids are dead, or gain enough distance, their attackers forget all about it and go on with their lives as usual. I won’t say why it’s happening, but it’s tied in with a terrible secret that could destroy the world! All going smoothly, it should be coming out in the UK in about a year, and it will hopefully be available in the US soon as well. If I can think of a title!
I’m really enjoying it so far, but it’s so strange writing something new after spending so much time with Alex. He keeps wanting to jump into this story as well!
Thanks again for interviewing me on your blog!