Please welcome Alexis Hall who kindly agreed to submit himself to our questions. We hope you have as much fun reading his answers as we did planning the questions. Here we go!
First of all, we want to thank you for agreeing to this interview. You’re one of our go-to authors, and we were really excited at the idea of getting to ask you some questions. We promise we’ll behave. We’ll do a few general questions, and then some related to your latest release Looking for Group.
What does your typical writing day look like? Do you have a writing schedule?
I’m actually full-time employed so I usually write in the evenings and weekends. I don’t particularly have a schedule, but I try to write every day if I can.
Where do you think you’re your most comfortable writing? Home? A café? The train station? The possibilities are endless and we’re always curious.
I’m pretty boring in this regard. I write at home in my study or sometimes in bed on my laptop.
What does the future look like for you in terms of writing? Any projects you can share with us?
At the risk of sounding infuriatingly enigmatic I’m not sure what I’m officially allowed to talk about. There’s probably going to be another Spires book, hopefully another Kate, and there’s a contemporary trilogy in the pipeline that hasn’t been announced yet. Other than that, there’s always a few weird projects that I’ve got in the back of my mind, but I’m not sure if those will find homes.
You’ve written in some different genres: steam punk, contemporary, erotic, young adult… Is there any genre you would like to experiment with?
I’m afraid the answer to that might be …all of them. I really like trying on different genre hats and I want to do it as much as possible. Basically, I’m quite flighty.
And while we’re talking about genres, is there one you’re afraid to dabble in? Some genres take a lot of work (We’re not saying romance doesn’t) but sometimes that’s scary.
Hard SFF doesn’t really speak to me, despite my having a science background. And I am very aware that straight mystery requires a lot of detail work. There’s a bit of that in Kate but it’s a lot easier to make a mystery plausible when you can fall back on “a wizard did it” in times of crisis.
Have you ever thought about co-writing a book? And if so, who are your ideal candidates as co-writing partners?
I think about it, but I’ve basically concluded I’d be terrible at it. I have no idea how it works at all and no experience in that kind of collaboration. So I’ve pretty much accepted that it’s not going to happen.
Now for the last of the general questions: tell us 3 books you liked lately and 1 book you’d like to recommend to everyone.
Actually, weirdly I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction kick recently so most of the things I’ve read wouldn’t necessarily be things I’d recommend to a novel-reading public.
I read Of Living Valour (The Stories of the Soldiers of Waterloo) by Barnley White Spunner. I tend to be a bit ambivalent about military history because it’s often very, well, valorising. While I’m not one of those people who think the only acceptable way to present war is from the viewpoint of an absolute pacifist I do think it’s important to recognise that it’s mostly pretty shitty for most of the people involved. But I liked this book, even though it’s about a million pages long, because it’s super-detailed and the story of the battle is largely told through the lives of individuals involved in it. Which is a very personal approach to history.
There’s The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother And Me by Sofka Zinovieff which I keep going on about in the Hassell & Hall Facebook Group. It’s about an eccentric 1920s aristocrat (Lord Berners) and his significantly younger male lover (the mad boy) and it’s completely charming and fascinating. And really makes me want to be an independently wealthy gentleman who can paint his doves. That’s not a euphemism.
And I’m on a bit of a Le Carre kick at the moment so I recently re read Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, which, if anything, is even better than I remembered. Le Carre is just so good at this stuff and, even knowing exactly what’s going on, it’s still a completely absorbing read.
The book I always recommend to everyone is Skin Lane by Neil Barlett. It’s an eerie, wonderful, terrible, beautiful sort of thing about … oh … a lot of complex stuff, including love and identity, but most explicitly about the fur trade in the 1960s. It’s also kind of a Beauty and the Beast re-telling if that sells it.
Where did the idea of Looking for Group came from? What made you want to write this book?
It’s had a pretty long development process really. I originally conceived the idea because my publisher were talking about having a presence at what, once-upon-a-time, was Gaymer Con and is now, I think Gaymer X. This didn’t, in fact, happen but I’ve been wanting to write a nerdy romance for a long time. I think nerdery occupies quite a difficult place in culture at the moment. We’ve moved beyond it being automatically the loseriest thing in the world, but not quite as far beyond that as we think we have. And a lot of nerd-focused things often feel like they’re more about nerds than for nerds. So basically I wanted to write something with its nerdy heart on its sleeve, and I think LFG is basically that. Arguably to a fault because there’s an extent to which the book makes a lot more sense if you’ve played an MMORPG.
How was the writing for Looking for Group different from your previous books? Was it more difficult, writing two 19 year old characters? And what about all the game speak?
The game speak wasn’t difficult at all. Or, rather, what was difficult was striking a balance between its feeling authentic and its been remotely comprehensible to someone who isn’t very embedded in that culture. You might have noticed there’s a glossary in the book and this came about because my editor kept having to stop every couple of pages and leave a note saying “I do not know what this word means. It seems to be the same as this other word, which seems to mean something completely different.”
The nineteen-year-old protagonist thing, I think, was trickier in that whenever you’re writing about an age group that you have since moved past (and this is basically the case for virtually everyone writing children’s, YA, or NA fiction) you need to decide whether you’re writing about nineteen-year-olds as they see themselves or nineteen-year-olds as thirty-somethings see their nineteen-year-old selves because those are very different books about very different people. And I think if you want to write about those kind of age groups successfully you need to pick one perspective while maintaining sympathy for the other. I think when writing Drew, Kit and their friends, I tried to do with it with the awareness that they were very much at a time in their lives that would not last forever but without minimising the importance of the things that were happening to them from their perspective.
But it’s not your first time writing a 19 year old. How was writing Drew and Kit different from writing Toby?
This might sound glib but the simplest answer is that it was different because they’re all different people and writing different characters is different. I think one of the things you have to watch out for when writing younger people in general is reducing them all to a single teenager archetype.
To be more specific, I think one of the major differences between Toby and K&D is that while they’re all the same age they’re actually at very different places in their lives. Kit and Drew are nineteen and have done the going-to-university thing and are presently at university. While Toby is nineteen but dropped out and still lives with his mum (but now has a job, like an adult). So K&D are in this strangely insulated bubble and Toby is basically living a life that is more like what his life is supposed to be from now on. So essentially they’re all making the transition from childhood to adulthood but K&D are doing it through this socially-mandated interim step where you’re sort of neither and Toby is doing it through a piecemeal process whereby he’s sort of both.
In a weird way I was probably exploring similar themes in both books but obviously one has more computer games and the other more anal hooks.
And what do you think would happen if the three of them meet? They’re the same age but they couldn’t be any more different.
I think that would not be a great party. Toby would be fine but Kit and Drew would really not be sure what to look at or where to sit.
In Looking for Group, gaming is a big part of the book. And we know from your blog and twitter that you’re a big fan of board games. Which would you say is your favourite?
There are two answers to this, one of them being “it’s very dependent on context” (who you’re playing, what you’re in the mood for) and the other being “it’s definitely Pandemic Legacy.”
And what about your favourite RPG?
Do you mean cRPG or tabletop?
CRPG … that’s a really tough call because a lot of the real classics have not aged as well one might expect. I’ve tried to go back to Torment a few times but I haven’t quite been able to, although I did romp through the two Baldur’s Gate enhanced editions—though, honestly, I think the reason I was able to re-enjoy them successfully was the fact they’d been slicked up a bit. I have a soft spot for Dragon Age II, which is usually considered the weakest of the series and does kind of have a terrible ending, but the character arcs (and the romances) really work for me. (Also Dude!Hawke is voiced by the guy who narrates Glitterland and Prosperity so that’s awesome). And I can’t not mention The Witcher III because I’ve poured about a hundred hours into it. It’s the perfect blend of open world exploration, hitting things with sword, and really solid story-telling and characterisation.
In terms of tabletop RPGs, I enjoy Dungeons & Dragons like most right-thinking people. I wasn’t massively keen on 4th ed, but felt 5th edition did some really good stuff. Back in the late 90s I really liked Unknown Armies, which basically did the weird modern occult stuff that White Wolf (Onyx Path as they now are) did, but in a more interesting and unusual way. Oh, and Call of Cthulhu is obviously a classic. Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted quite a few Call of Cthulhu jokes in my books. And there’s a scene in Shadows & Dreams where Kate kind of blatantly plays Vampire The Requiem.
Did you play a lot of games while working on this? Research would have been a good excuse for playing. 😉
Games are my hobby so I don’t really need an excuse to play them. Virtually every game that’s mentioned in the book is one I have played at some point (except for the fictional one, obviously).
Heroes of Legend, the game played in Looking for Group, seem to be your own version of World of Warcraft, can you tell us a bit about your experience playing WoW?
I played WoW pretty extensively back in the day, but was never massively hardcore about it. There’s this weird convention I’ve noticed where people who used to play WoW and don’t any more are supposed to act like recovering drug addicts. You very seldom get an ex-WoW player coming out and saying “I was into this a while ago, I stopped and moved onto other things, but I value the time I spent with it.” All of which said … I was into WoW a while ago, I stopped and moved onto other things, but I value the time I spent with it.
Are the people in the Kit and Drew gaming group based on people you know? The dynamics between them would have been at home in my own group.
I appreciate this is a cop-out answer but “yes and no.” A lot of the personalities in the group are inspired either by people I encountered in the game or people I heard about through anecdotes or saw on Youtube. I suspect every guild has a Bjorn and a Dave and a Magda, for example. People do occasionally Tweet or message to me to say, “wow LFG is just like my guild”, which makes me feel I’ve done my job right.
This may be unfair to ask, but is there a character in Looking for Group that you relate to more than others?
This is a massive cliché but I think you always recognise a bit of yourself in every character you write. I think I’m more of a Kit than a Drew, but then Drew was supposed to be sort of an everygamer. I’m not as much of an alpha-nerd as Sanee but I definitely share some of those traits, especially when it comes to organising parties. I’m not quite as “everything is subjective, I defy all social conventions” as Tinuviel but I’m not exactly a million miles away either. I don’t brag quite as much about how awesome I am as Bjorn, but I think that’s basically a lack of confidence rather an excess of empathy.
A bit of silliness before we’re done with this interview with a more serious question: with all the Pokémon Go fever out there, and we know you’re a player, do you think Kit or Drew would play it?
Drew would play it for a bit, develop a massively powerful Somethingatron, and then decide it was too easy and get bored. Kit, I’m genuinely not sure about. On the one hand, he really likes exploration. On the other hand, he’s quite a cautious person, and I don’t think he’d appreciate a game that sent him into weird parts of Leicester late at night.
And the last question: can you tell us if there was something special you were hoping to achieve with this book? It’s a really nerdy one, and it seems to be written for a specific audience.
Special sounds a bit grandiose but I did want to write a book in which nerds could recognise themselves, rather than a book in which people who aren’t necessarily nerds can recognise nerd archetypes. And, as always, I should say that this is a privilege that comes from the fact that I don’t rely on writing to pay my bills because it means that I can get away with producing books that mean a lot to a small number of people.
And that’s all! Thank you, Alexis, for answering our questions, we hope you had as much fun answering them as we had while preparing this interview.
Thank you for inviting me – I’ve loved answering your questions 🙂
About Looking for Group
So, yeah, I play Heroes of Legend, y’know, the MMO. I’m not like obsessed or addicted or anything. It’s just a game. Anyway, there was this girl in my guild who I really liked because she was funny and nerdy and a great healer. Of course, my mates thought it was hilarious I was into someone I’d met online. And they thought it was even more hilarious when she turned out to be a boy IRL. But the joke’s on them because I still really like him.
And now that we’re together, it’s going pretty well. Except sometimes I think Kit—that’s his name, sorry I didn’t mention that—spends way too much time in HoL. I know he has friends in the guild, but he has me now, and my friends, and everyone knows people you meet online aren’t real. I mean. Not Kit. Kit’s real. Obviously.
Oh, I’m Drew, by the way. This is sort of my story. About how I messed up some stuff and figured out some stuff. And fell in love and stuff.
You can read our review of Looking for Group here.
About the author:
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.
He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.
He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
Connect with Alexis:
- Website: quicunquevult.com
- Blog: quicunquevult.com/blog
- Twitter: @quicunquevult
- Goodreads: goodreads.com/alexishall
To celebrate the release of Looking for Group, one lucky winner will receive their choice of 3 ebooks from Alexis Hall’s backlist. Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on September 3, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!