After such fabulous response to his last visit I’m pleased to welcome back Nick Alexander to the blog. Here Nick answers some of my questions.
1. Your latest book Other Halves was released on 12 December 2013 on ebook (paperback will be available from 5 June 2014). What is it about?
I sometimes think that if you go to the heart of anything, then it becomes about everything.
While Other Halves is, on the surface, at least, a fairly simple tale about what happens when a couple of fifteen years (with an eleven year old son) divorce, it’s also meant to be a novel about the relative nature of truth. We generally know one side of most stories, one aspect of most relationships: for our own relationships, our personal point of view (our partners remain mysterious), and for those of our friends, only what the person we talk to decides to tell us.
Very occasionally, we end up with both partners on the phone, each telling us entirely different versions of the story (this often happens with parents!) and at this point we realise that for every situation, for every argument, there are two, often shockingly different versions of truth.
Because Other Halves swaps back and forth between Hannah and Cliff’s points of view, we’re able to see this in all it’s glory, and hopefully have our hearts and allegiances wrenched back and forth from one to the other as the book proceeds. It’s hopefully a novel experience to find ourselves feeling compassion for someone who only minutes before, we were cursing.
Finally, beyond endings lie new beginnings, so Other Halves is also a story that asks, who are we beyond the scope of our major relationships, and what do we want from our lives? If the chance to start afresh came, who would we really want to be? Many marriages began before people even knew who they wanted to be, so a mid-life divorce might not only be cause for regret. It might also be a chance to reinvent one’s self completely, and the story follows that process on both sides of the divorce, follows both Hannah and Cliff as they head towards very different experiences of fulfillment.
2. Other Halves is a follow-on to The Half-Life of Hannah. How different is it to write a sequel rather than the first book?
In one way, it’s easier because so much has already been defined by the first book. The start point will be (pretty much) the end of the previous novel, and the characters and their backstory will be a known quantity. Sometimes it turns out to be challenging getting every detail from previous volumes right and remembering every birthday and every food preference for every character can involve a lot of bits of paper pinned to the cork board! But because all of that legwork has already been done (and hopefully, seeing as you’ve decided to write a sequel, has been successful with readers) you get more time and space to develop the characters. So I think that sequels tend to also be more intimate, which generally proves to be more satisfying both to write, and for readers too!
3. Are you a plan-it-all-first kind of writer or do you just sit down and see where the story takes you?
I’m very much a plan-it-all-first person. I look at maps before I set out in the car, and I work out where I’m going and how I’m going to get there before I start to write as well. Otherwise I generally find myself lost in some labyrinth or trying to turn around in a cul-de-sac. Sometimes I get to the middle of a novel and realise that one of the characters simply wouldn’t do or say what I had planned for them. It’s always a little spooky to realise that they have their own lives and desires which simply won’t meld to my original plan. So then I have to stop writing and change the second half of the plan before I can continue!
4. What sort of books do you read, can you give an idea of favourite authors or genres?
I’m a big fan of American fiction, Michael Cunningham, T.C. Boyle, Jonathan Franzen… There’s an energy in American fiction that I enjoy. But I also love Iris Murdoch, Lynne Reid Banks, Iain Banks, Fay Weldon, Jenny Eclair, Virginia Woolf… I tend to hop around from one genre to another.
5. Can you tell us anything about your next novel – or is it all top secret for now?
I’m about halfway through writing a family drama which revolves around a series of long hidden secrets. The idea is to explore how we view our parents and compare that with their own ideas of who they are. Again, as in Other Halves, I’ll be using multiple points of view to explore how we imagine their lives to have been versus their own experience of all of this (including some major skeletons in the closet they may have decided to hide from their offspring!).
6. You must have answered a few of these Q&As. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been and what is the answer?
Perhaps it would be, “What’s the most difficult thing about writing novels?”
Most people seem to assume that it’s coming up with a good idea (which leads many people to state that they have a novel “in them”.) In fact, good ideas for a novel seem to pop up fairly often. What’s hardest of all is finding the determination to sit down, alone, day after day, and concentrate on writing for the 5,000 hours or so that it takes to plan, write and edit a 100,000 word novel.
The willpower involved is surprisingly like going to the gym and I reckon there are as many unused gym membership cards out there as there are unwritten novels. We can all come up with a vision of the kind of body we’d like to have, but getting it requires more than vision. It requires hours and hours and years and years of simply “doing it” which is why I sadly don’t look like an Olympic athlete. I think we maybe do all have a novel “in us” just as we all perhaps have a gymnast “in us.” But choosing to actually do either takes a certain kind of madness.
About Nick Alexander:
Nick Alexander is the bestselling author of ten novels, including The French House and The Case of the Missing Boyfriend. He lives in the southern French Alps with two mogs (Paloma-Paquita & Leon-Pedro), three (nameless) goldfish and a complete set of Almodóvar films.