Welcome back to another exciting addition of My Blog! To all of my followers (both of you) we have Alex Laybourne in the house! We finally got a chance to sit down with the ever elusive Mr. Laybourne and pick his brain a bit. We covered a lot of territory in this interview so, let’s kick this party off!
Me: Alex, thanks for dropping by and visiting today. For those who don’t know you, can you tell us a little about yourself. Are you married? Do you have any children?
Alex: I am an Englishman in New York Holland. Since New York was once New Amsterdam, and lots of places there still carry the Dutch names, I claim to be guilty by association. I am indeed married, and I have as of today, 4.5 children. I don’t mean that I have half a child running around, or crawling, depending on which half I would have, but rather, my wife is currently mid-way through growing our fifth child. I have three (and a half) boys, and one girl. They are aged 8, 6, 4 (my daughter) and 2. My six year old son, Logan, has autism, which adds an interesting element to our lives, to say the least. While they may not actually read my work, not yet at least, having kids is certainly a great thing for your imagination. They keep you on your toes, and help to keep the magic in the world alive.
Me: Wow, you really got your hands full. What do you do for relaxation?
Alex: With a full time job, and close to five kids, I don’t have too much time for relaxation J. I am a big fan of reading – shock / horror for a writer – and I like to play with the kids. Running around those big indoor playgrounds is great fun. Climbing, slides, trampolines and ball pits. A great way to blow off steam. I also enjoy working out. I have built up a little gym in my shed. Mostly free weights, but it is all I need. Cardio I get from the kids and our husky puppy. Ok, he is almost 2, but I still call him a puppy. Writing is also a wonderful way to relax. I have a job that is often somewhat stressful, and there is a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. Being able to disappear into my fiction from time to time is a great way to relax. What is it they say about loving your work, and making your hobby your work?
Me: So true. If you love what you do, you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life! So, tell me, are there any recent works (books) that you admire?
Alex: Hmmm, recent works. That is an interesting question. There are several up and coming writers whose fiction inspires me, as well as it makes me question my own skills as a writer.
Paul Flewitt is one such name, and another is Eric S Brown. A prolific author whose fiction is as action packed as you can imagine. I feel honored to have gotten to know both of these gentlemen, and to be able to call them friends, and confidants is a blessing. Christopher Abbott is another writer whose whodunit novels are a wonderful example of how a story can be weaved, and clues can be dropped without giving anything away.
All of these writers are classed as Indie writers. Take from that what you will, to me is a term that holds no real definition, for a writer is a writer at the end of the day. There are certainly plenty of established names whose fiction I have not yet read, or rather, have not read very much of, and to me those are recent in terms of their discovery. With that in mind, I could easily add Joe Hill and Poe to that list, however, I feel that would not only open the door to a near never-ending answer, and would be twisting the real question a little too far beyond acceptable limits.
Me: Admittedly, I’ve not read any of their work. I’ll have to add them to my ever growing TBR list. So, who is your favorite author(s) (and is there a reason why)?
Alex: Growing up I had several favorites; Stephen King and Patricia Cornwell to name two. Kathy Reichs was also a big favorite. I wasn’t exposed, or rather I didn’t truly embrace the horror genre until I was older. It was always the genre that fascinated me, but I also loved, and still do, all things police and forensic related. Hence my love of Cornwell and Reichs. I grew up reading Scarpetta and Brennan novels, and still do to this day.
However, Clive Barker was the author that really changed the way I viewed things.
Well, technically speaking he was the second, but Clive Barker was the author that really showed me where my talents and my true calling lay.
I read IT, by Stephen King when I was about nine years old, something like that. I was hooked by it. Terrified, excited, all of those wonderful superlatives that people throw towards the things in life that grab us with such ferocity. It cemented my love of books, and of the written word.
The Books of Blood, by Clive Barker were what showed me the true scope of our own imagination and how boundaries are only place there by those afraid to venture into pastures new. I was blown away by the scale and the fantasy in many of the tales. I devoured all six volumes and they lit the horror fires in me.
To come back around to the question at hand, there are too many authors that have inspired me and whose work I love to read, not as a writer, but as a reader, that I could not pick just one.
Me: Yeah, it seems like Stephen King is right near the top of most horror readers lists. Surprisingly, I don’t hear Clive Barker named that often, but I’m not surprised at his influence. Are there similarities between you and any of the authors you listed?
Alex: Well, we all share the same wonderful talent… oh wait, modesty I remember the notes I made myself for when speaking in public.
In honest, I think there are small similarities between me and these authors. Certainly in my earlier work. The scribblings and sketches that will never see the light of day. Because I had yet to find my voice, and these professionals were my teachers. It was natural that I adopted and blended their styles, where possible.
As I improve as a writer, I feel two things happening. My connection with them as writers, is stronger than ever. I can read their words and see how they are piecing things together, what they are building to, but yet their impression on my own work is lessening. I have found my own voice, and I will push forward to be the best me I can be.
Me: Lucky you. I’m still trying to find ‘my voice’. Then again, I’m loathe to call myself an author. I still prefer ‘storyteller’. Anywho, tell us…why do you write?
Alex: I write because it is a part of me, a compulsion. It is not a choice I made, to write, but rather a physical part of me. I could not stop writing any more than I could stop eating or drinking and expect to carry on living.
Now, I´m not saying I would die if I did not write, I´m not some wordsmith-shark or anything like that, but I am sure you get the idea.
Writing is the way I view and process the world, it is how I silence the noise that rings through my head. Ideas are not forced. Storylines are not forged by some manual process, not in the first instance. They are born. Born inside our minds, where the conditions are perfect for their cultivation.
I have heard people use the phrase, everybody has a novel in them, and I believe that is, for the large part true. Everybody who can read and write has the ability to write a novel. There a only 26 letter with which we all have to work. However, not everybody is a writer. That is the fundamental difference, and I think that is part of the issue that is still hindering the reputation of indie writers to this day.
Me: I feel that way too. It’s more than a habit, it’s become part of your life. You just can’t imagine existing without spinning your tales. Speaking of, what is a typical working day like for you?
Alex: Well, I have a full time job as a Product Owner for a software company within the Aviation Industry. That keeps me busy for a lot of my hours. As a result most of my days follow the same pattern.
I get up at 04:30 and take the dog for a quick walk. I then get ready for work and do a bit of writing, before heading out to catch the bus. I take the bus to the train station where I will write on the train until I get to Schiphol airport. A final bus will have me in the office at 06:45 (ish). I work through until 16:00 normally skipping lunch, but if I take a break, I will spend it writing. I then follow the same commute home, two buses and the train. The train journey is once again spent writing.
I get home at about 17:30, play with the kids, have dinner, shower the kids, and myself, and then, once the kids are in bed, I will hit the gym (at least 4 times a week) and then settle on the sofa to watch some TV with my wife, and work on my writing a little more.
Besides my fiction, I also have a few freelance projects that I work on. The profits of which will fund my writing pursuits.
At around 22:00 I take the dog for a final walk, then head to bed around 22:30 where I will read for a bit before falling asleep.
Me: Holy smokes. I’m a night owl. I just can’t wrap my mind around you ‘morning people’ types. And people who can just slip back into the mode and do it in snippets have my total respect. It takes me so long just to prepare myself mentally and once I get started I want to keep at it while the creative juices are flowing. But this is about you…so tell me. When and where do you write? Do you have a private room set aside or secret place that you run to for privacy?
Alex: I write whenever and wherever I can. I don’t have an office or anything at home, so normally it is either at the dining table or on the sofa. The train has become quite a productive writing location for me in recent months.
Given the hectic nature of my life I take any chance I can get to write, even if it is just a single sentence at a time.
Me: What kind of research do you do for your books?
Alex: For all of the novels I have written so far, the level of research involved was relatively minimum. Highway to Hell took a bit of research on the different levels of hell, but for the rest everything was fictional, from locations to the majority of the demons themselves. Diaries of the Damned was based in the part of the world where I was born and raised, so not too much research was needed for that one.
Blood of the Tainted had a few bits, but again, I wanted to re-write the vampire lore completely, so allowed myself the freedom to make it up as I went.
The novel I am now working on however, that is a different story entirely. I have a LOT of research I need to do for it. I need to cover thousands of years in history and want to tie in real facts and events in circus history as well as making sure I get accurate representations of the world as it was in each time period.
Me: I understand completely that desire to have your universe as realistic as it can be. It seems like it pulls the reader deeper into the story. So, how do you conceive your plot ideas?
Alex: As I alluded to in one of the answers above, they just come to me. I can be driving to work, or having a shower. An idea will just form. It might be a snippet of a conversation I had overheard. It might be something I saw or read, maybe even an instance where several of these things happen to cross paths. The seeds for stories are always planted, and it just takes the right thing to come along and make them bloom. I have tried to sit and force ideas into words, but it never works out very well.
Me: I know, right? So many story ideas hit me from the silliest little things! It can be anything and suddenly the seed is planted and the story will grow and take on a life of its own. So, when naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?
Alex: I do, I often think about the character and their role in the story as well as the meaning of any given name itself. I don’t always use those names, and will sometimes trade one in for something completely different at a later date, but in the initial instance, the intentions are there to make the names reflective of the character.
That being said, I do not do it for ever character, and have written several shorts where I put more effort and thought into the names of the back ground characters, who only appeared in passing, than I did the main players.
Me: I’ve done that too. Change a character’s name (sometimes multiple times) to fit a mental image I have. At least I now know that I’m in good company.
So I’m curious…what are the major themes of your work? How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Alex: I am not sure if I have any themes as such. I do not set out with the intent of writing something laden with hidden meanings or social commentary. Sure, I harbor literary ambitions, but at the moment I am writing stories that are designed to entertain those that choose to read it. However, I am also of the belief that people will read different things from different texts not based on what the writer had planned but on how they process what they are being shown.
Me: I know what you mean. I know that nothing I ever write will ever be held up in a college Lit class and reviewed. “When the author speaks of the Fall rain chilling their skin” he really is alluding to death and blah blah blah. Uh…no. I meant it was cold and water was falling from the sky. Duh.
As a writer you can most surely weave an internal struggle into your storyline and the reader may not realize it until the end. That’s when your audience has that sudden realization; Oh yeah, I didn’t see that coming. You know what I mean? Is that something you do often? A writing style you prefer? Or are your stories an “open book” so to speak?
Alex: Good question. To be honest with you, I never really think about the ending of my novels until I get there. I have found that most of the time, the endings I had planned originally would rarely be the ending I ended up writing. Such is the nature of my writing style.
A lot of my shorter fiction has a more ambiguous end. Not in terms of the ending being unfinished, or unclear, but rather whether or not it is a happy ending. I like my endings to make people think, but not so much stun. There is always a twist, well, almost always, but I don’t make it my ending. I don’t know whether that is because it is my natural style, or just because the stories I have written to date have simply not warranted such a climax.
Me: Ah. See, now that’s where we differ. I have to have the ending before I can start the story. Otherwise, there is no direction and the story obviously wanders. But, to each their own. As long as it works for you…
Okay, carrying on. Who are your target readers?
Alex: Anybody. I mean that. Seriously. I want anybody to read my work. I mean, I should probably be sensible and say adults, those above the age of 18, given the horror and erotic components to much of my work, but let’s be honest. Nobody pays attention to age warnings on novels. I didn’t when I was young. I was reading King and Herbert before I hit my teens, and while I do not condone it, if someone is willing to pick up my books and given them a read, who am I to judge.
Me: What do you think readers search for in a book?
Alex: I have no idea. If I knew that, then I would certainly be onto something, wouldn’t I. I think, in truth, that this question is unanswerable. I mean, the obvious answer would be escape, they are looking for a chance to escape this reality. But, that key, that trigger, is different for us all. Escape, entertainment, distraction, they are all valid reasons for reading, as are hunger and desire. Each is conjured in a different way, and even when we share a sought after effect, we do not have the same cause.
Me: Agreed. It’s the escape they want. And a well told story along the way. What is your favorite part of a book?
Alex: Of reading a book or writing one? My favorite part of reading a book is probably that third quarter up until just before the end. I love that time when you know the characters, and are just completely swept up in the whole thing. You keep reading, faster and faster, devouring the words, hungry for me. The ending, that is such a bittersweet moment that I cannot say it is my favorite, so I shall cut off just moments before that final arrives.
When writing a book, there is nothing that can compare to the ending of the first draft. It is not ready, it is not polished and shiny, but it is there. It has been created, and it is the draft of a novel that only you will ever see. It is a great moment, and while by long way, not our finest moments as writers, it is a special moment that nothing and nobody can take from us.
Me: What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Alex: That is easy. The hardest part of writing itself, the act of writing, is finding the time to get everything done. Finding the time to sit down and write a good chunk of words. The hardest part of writing a novel, would have to be the editing. I suck at editing, and while I strive to do better and better each novel or story, every time I think I have mastered something, or at least gotten an understanding of one part, I find two things I have no clue about. It is a horrid act, editing a novel, and yet I relish it at the same time. Twisted huh!
Me: Masochist! Hahaha. I hate editing. Every part of it. I’d rather pay somebody else to do that part. It’s not fun. What is the best thing about being an author?
Alex: The best thing about being an author, is just being. It is being able to see the magic in the world still. To be able to keep believing in Santa Clause and the Loch Ness Monster. It is in being able to create stories not because of some God complex, but to entertain others. Even if it is just one single eager reader, then all of those months of blood, sweat and tears will have been worth it.
Me: Absolutely! Totally agree with that. So, do you listen to music while you write?
Alex: Sometimes I do. It depends. On the train, then no, but if I am writing in the office, I love to put on the headphones, and crank up the music. Mostly Motorhead, Metallica, or Guns and Roses. It is not so much the case that I dislike listening to music when I write. Quite the contrary, I really enjoy it and can slip into the zone with ease, but, as I have already mentioned, my writing habits are unconventional and do not lend themselves to such luxuries as space and music.
Me: What and/or who inspires you?
Alex: Life inspires me. There is such wonder in the world around us, and writing allows me to open my eyes to it all, and remember how beautiful this thing called life really is. My children inspire me, they instill in me the desire to succeed. On days where my conviction feels as if it is faltering, I find in them, the reason to keep on going. To prove to them that magic exists, and that dreams can come true.
Me: Have you ever collaborated on a book? If so, who was the other author? How did you collaborate with that author? What writing process did you use?
Alex: I have not yet collaborated on a book with anybody. I have been part of several anthologies, but that is something else entirely. I did have the plan, earlier this year to write a collaborative piece, but it got shelved due to things getting in the way of it.
I made it a goal of mine for this year to co-write something even if it was just a short novella, with another author. There are several out there who I would love to collaborate with.
Julieanne Lynch, Eric. S. Brow, Paul Flewitt, C.P. Bialois, to name but a few. I will get some done, I just need to find the time to organize it properly. Being based in the Netherlands, while most of my writing friends are either in the UK or the US.
Me: Yeah. Didn’t see MY name in there anywhere. Thanks buddy.
So, if you wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?
Alex: Life: Kissing the Boundaries Goodbye
Because I have never met a rule I didn’t want to break, and think boundaries that are placed around us are only there because people are too afraid to push past them and see what delights lay in the great beyond.
Me: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview, but never have?
Alex: You know, I’ve never even thought about it. Every interview is different, and not all questions need to be in the same interview. Some people have a set list, others have list but tailor them heavily to the author or the interviewee in question, and others do them live. I have used all of the above techniques for the interviews I have done on my blog, and the results are different. The questions are different. Neither is better than the other, they are just different. Which is natural. I think the questions I have always wanted to be asked are whatever questions I am asked during said interview.
Me: What have you written? And what are you working on at the moment? What’s it about?
Alex: I have written and published 4 novels, and have three short story collections that were once published and are now with my editor for a second (and proper) round of editing. Hopefully they will be ready by the end of the year, along with my new novel which is also in the safe and trusted hands of my editor.
My most recent published novel is Blood of the Tainted. It is an old school vampire horror novel. It has drawn references to Dracula and Salem’s Lot, which is praise I take with a pinch of salt. This vampire is bad to the bone. He is a villain through and through, not the kind of love sick puppy dog we have become accustomed to with your vamps.
My current novel, the one with my editor, is a bizarre and fucked up tale about a boy who witnesses something he shouldn’t. He finds, and breaks through a barrier between dimensions. This then leads to him being arrested for his friend’s murder, and thrown into an institution. Only, there is something more to it than meets the eye. I won’t say much more, as I don’t want to give it away, but let’s just say that Jospef Mengele has nothing on some of the things going on in this place.
The next novel I am going to write is an epic spanning thousands of years and the entire globe. There is a circus made entirely of demons, and a crack addicted clown with a quest to bring them to justice.
Me: Demon circus? Okay…that’s different. I’m going to have to read it just to see where you go with it! Where can we buy or see your work?
Alex: All of my published work can be found on Amazon, and all of its country variants.
Here is the link to my Amazon author page, which will bring you all to whichever book you wish to buy (first).
Me: Excellent. I’ll be sure to point people to your Amazon Author Page. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Alex: Buy Google Stock. Seriously, what better advice could I give myself. J I think it would have been to have played harder. I worked hard, but played at the wrong moments. Looking back I wish I had realized that playing hard was fine, but that there was a time and a place for it.
Still, regrets are something I try to steer clear from, as one could get lost in the world of ‘if only I had done this…’ and I don’t want to go down that road. I have a great life, and everything that has happened has brought me to this point, to this very question.
Me: Good advice. And speaking of advice, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Alex: I think the best advice is the age old advice of keep writing. Write every day, without fail. But, my advice would also be to make sure this is what you love. If it isn’t, if you don’t wake up thinking of writing and go to bed thinking about it, and excited for the next day, then this is not the life for you. It is hard, and it is far from pretty. The image of the struggling artist is real, and while we live in an age that promises instant everything, the plight of an artist is one aspect that is not. Make sure you are committed to the cause, because there will be sacrifices, there will be times where you feel terrible, and want too jack it all in. It is those times that test you, that call on your resolve to prove you are doing this because it is who you are. Don’t write for money, write because you love to write.
I would also strong urge people to write what is true to them. Don’t be swayed by the current fad, or by those telling you that what you write is wrong. Write what you know is right for you. It will be a much better product to read for that simple reason alone.
Me: Is there anything that you would like add?
Alex: I think we have kind of covered it all. Oh yeah, please by my books.
Me: Last question, what do you consider your best accomplishment?
Alex: I can break that down into three parts. My greatest accomplishments in life are my kids. Those little monsters are the reason I do all of this.
My greatest accomplishment, out there in the real world, would probably have to be getting promoted to the job I now have. I have none of the qualifications that are normally asked for when looking for a Product Owner, but through hard work and dedication I proved myself and moved through into the position. I will admit to being quite proud of myself for it.
In terms of writing, my greatest accomplishment will have to be the time I hit the number one spot on the British Horror listing on Amazon(.com). It was only a sub listing, but hey, I was number one for a few weeks, and it was a great feeling.
Awesome. Well, sorry to stretch this out so far, but once you get on a roll, it’s hard to stop. Thanks again to Alex Laybourne for stopping by and visiting with us today. Remember to swing by his Amazon Author Page and check out his work.