It’s my pleasure to introduce Alex Marchant, a lovely author I met at the Indie Lit Fest earlier this year. I was fascinated by her books and was thrilled when she agreed to be my interviewee.
Q. You’ve written two books in your series for children so far. Can you tell us a little bit about The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man?
A. Thank you for inviting me on to your blog, Esther, and for your interest in my books. The two books together aim to tell the story of the real King Richard III, rather than the famous Shakespearean villain, who was almost entirely a dramatic fiction based on lies told about the king in the decades after his death.
I’ve been a Ricardian – someone who believes his reputation was deliberately destroyed by later writers for political reasons – for many years, and when the king’s grave was rediscovered beneath a Leicester car park in 2012, I realized it was the perfect opportunity to capitalize on the ensuing interest in him to bring his real story to the public. As a children’s author, I was surprised that no novel for that age group had yet been published with that aim, and so The Order of the White Boar was born.
Q. Your books are about King Richard III. Are there any other events/periods from history that you’d like to write about in the future?
A. There’s hardly a historical period that doesn’t interest me! I used to be an archaeologist, and although my main period was early medieval (post-Roman, Saxon), I’ve studied and/or worked on sites across most historic and prehistoric eras. Book ideas in various stages of development at the moment run from Lydian Turkey to the Second World War!
The Order of the White Boar was my first (completed) foray into traditional historical fiction, though, rather than novels with some sort of timeslip element. I was somewhat daunted initially about the need to immerse myself totally in the period, rather than have the main character witness the history from a modern vantage point (such as in my earlier Time out of Time, which follows a contemporary girl as she travels back to the fourteenth century, the Civil War and the 1870s). But the experience of both research and writing from a fifteenth-century character’s point of view has given me confidence to tackle it again.
Q. Your books are historical fiction. What do you most enjoy about writing in this genre?
A. At the moment, what I most enjoy about it is being able to get away from the present! Seriously though, apart from the chance to duck out of twenty-first century woes, it’s been a pleasure to explore life through completely different eyes – and yet discover that in many ways people, children especially, were not so very different after all. But yes, also it’s marvellous to escape to what in some ways was a simpler time, if perhaps a more violent, dangerous, unhealthy one.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. That’s a difficult question to answer as they mostly just seem to arrive. Sometimes an idea for a story can be triggered by something I’m reading (perhaps when I’m working – which has been the case with the possible Second World War novel), perhaps a place I’ve been (Time out of Time was sparked by a blocked-up medieval doorway in Brittany on a family holiday many years ago). My second children’s book, which was put on the backburner when King Richard’s discovery was announced, came to me almost fully formed when I was mattocking and shovelling on an archaeological dig in Scotland some years ago. Smaller ideas for a work in progress tend to sneak up on me in the shower (many’s the time I’ve had to rush out of the shower dripping in order to note down characters’ conversation or the solution to a knotty problem that has just appeared) or on dog walks – occasions, I guess, when one’s mind and imagination can wander at leisure and away from normal, daily matters.
Q. Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
A. When I embarked on writing the White Boar books I had one aim in mind – to bring King Richard’s story to as many people as I could, particularly younger readers – and I decided at that point that, if necessary, I would self-publish the books once complete. I’d had the usual round of rejections with my previous novel, Time out of Time, despite its having won the Chapter One Children’s Novel Award in 2013, and I knew how long and dispiriting the process could be.
The White Boar books were about two and a half years in the preparation and writing. Add on the redrafting and editing, and I feared the interest in King Richard might disappear before publication, after his reinterment in 2015. So, when it struck me that the time and energy spent on crafting individual approaches to agents and publishers could perhaps be more fruitfully spent on learning how to self-publish, I decided on that route. There was no guarantee that any traditional publisher would recognize a market for the books – and my years of chatting with other Ricardians online and in person had already identified that there was indeed a pretty substantial market out there that I could target. In addition, I’ve since discovered the books tie in well with the National Curriculum for Key Stages 2 and 3. Having now published both books myself, and received reviews from teachers as well as members of the public, it may now be the time to start thinking about a more traditional route.
Q. Which is your favourite of the two books and why?
A. Wouldn’t that be rather like saying one had a favourite child?! To be honest, I’d find it difficult to separate them anyway, especially as the two books were originally written as one – before I realized it was far too long for the target readers and made the decision to split it into two. Having set out to tell King Richard’s story from 1482 to a certain battle three years later, it had seemed obvious to tell it in one sitting – until it crept past the 100,000 word mark… and I still had a year or more to go.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you find about being a writer?
A. I can’t deny that it’s simple time management – finding the time and opportunity to write amongst all the other distractions of everyday life. I’m a self-employed copyeditor and proofreader in my day job, so that’s always there calling me, quite apart from chores around the house and garden, and the demands of family. Since publishing the books, I’ve also been involved in various events – from school and library visits to having stalls at medieval festivals – most of which take preparation, especially if talks and readings are involved. And then there’s always the lure of social media – with the excuse that it’s been the channel for many of my sales, as well as a source of ideas and information from the many very active Ricardian groups. It will perhaps be no surprise that most of my writing is done on train journeys (thanks to the quiet carriages) and on holiday!
Q. Do you get time to read yourself and if you do, what books do you read?
A. I couldn’t live without reading. And reading for pleasure is an absolute necessity, although as a result of having to read so much for my day job, most of my reading for myself tends to be last thing at night. Or on holiday – if I’m not writing!
I suppose I’m quite a butterfly nowadays in terms of what I read – flitting across anything from children’s and young adult fiction (both classics and contemporary – a recent favourite being Patrick Ness’s ‘Monsters of Men’ series, while I’m just working my way again through Alan Garner’s early books), to adult classics – Austen, Hardy, Trollope, Tolstoy. At the moment, I’m eagerly awaiting the new Hilary Mantel. In the past, I noticed a tendency to be influenced by other writers’ styles when I’m actually writing myself, so I have to be careful what I choose to read when I actually find the time to write!
Q. When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A. Spare time? I wish! But when I do discover some (down the back of the sofa or wherever), I love the cinema, theatre, watching football, travelling (especially by train), gardening, walking with our new rehomed hound at my heels – or more likely, he’s off somewhere in the trees or the heather chasing anything that moves.
Q. Finally, what piece of advice can you give to writers who are struggling to get that first book written and published?
A. It’s a bit of a cliché but ‘never give up’. If you’re determined and you want to be published enough, you’ll get there – and in these days of self-publishing, you don’t have to wait for traditional publishers to identify a way in which your work can make them money. But I guess the most important thing is to keep writing – and keep reading, as the essential fuel for that writing.
Alex Marchant is author of two books telling the story of the real King Richard III for children aged 10+, The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man, and editor of Grant Me the Carving of My Name and Right Trusty and Well Beloved…, two anthologies of short fiction inspired by the king, sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK).
Alex’s books can be found on Amazon at:
Alex can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AlexMarchantAuthor/
On WordPress at https://alexmarchantblog.wordpress.com
And on Twitter at @AlexMarchant84