Please join me in welcoming author Alexander Gordon Smith here today to Dark Faerie Tales. The first two books in his Escape From Furnace series, Lockdown and Solitary, have already been released. The third book in the series will be Death Sentence. Click on the links to read an excerpt from Lockdown and Solitary.
One lucky commenter has a chance to win a copy of Lockdown and Solitary. Details are listed at the end of the post.
Alexander Gordon Smith was born on February 27th, 1979, in the now demolished Norwich and Norfolk Hospital (the demolition had nothing to do with him, although he was a big baby). He moved houses several times while he was a kid, although never straying more than twenty miles from where he was born.
Gordon always wanted to be a writer. He wrote stories all the time when he was young, dreaming up characters as complex and emotionally engaging as Super Carrot.
After experimenting in the service and retail trades for a few years, Gordon decided to go to University. He studied English and American Literature at the University of East Anglia which, as you may have guessed, is in Norwich. More importantly, however, it was at the UEA that Gordon explored his love of publishing. Along with Luke Wright, a poet who was in the midst of setting up now-legendary performance group Aisle16, he founded the Egg Box Magazine, a groundbreaking new magazine for fiction and poetry. Funded by his student loan, the magazine was a huge success, and profits from the first three issues helped pay for the newly created Egg Box Publishing’s first poetry collection, The Zoo Keeper by Richard Evans. The following year Egg Box published Come What You Wished For by Ramona Herdman. Both of these first collections were Highly Commended by the Forward Prize and firmly secured the company’s reputation for publishing bold and talented newcomers. Several years later, Gordon stepped aside to let long-time friend, poet and publisher Nathan Hamilton into the captain’s chair. Parallel to running Egg Box, Gordon also set up an editorial company called Box of Words. Gordon wrote literally hundreds of articles, short stories and books ranging from Scooby Doo comic strips to world atlases, Midsomer Murders to X-Files. It was a tough few years of silly hours and constant writer’s cramp, but he loved it. Most importantly, the endless research led to countless book ideas germinating in his head.
It was a dream, however, which led to his big break. In the summer of 2005 he woke one morning with the striking image of two young inventors running away from an evil genius. He started writing the story that very morning, with the help of his nine-year-old brother Jamie, and some weeks later they had finished their first novel, called The Inventors. The manuscript came second in the Wow Factor competition, run by Faber and Waterstones, and Faber published it in the UK in April 2007.
The sequel, The Inventors and the City of Stolen Souls, was published in the UK in June 2008, and Gordon decided to fold up Box of Words and spend the rest of his life writing books.
It’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly where the inspiration for any book comes from. But I guess with Furnace: Lockdown it can be boiled down to one truth:
Alex Sawyer is Alexander Gordon Smith. Or at least he’s the person I could have become.
In the first draft, Alex (the main character) didn’t have the name Sawyer, he had the name Smith. And it wasn’t just my name he shared – in many ways he was me, with the same loves, the same fears, the same insecurities. I never set out to write a book with myself as the main character, but as soon as Alex took life on the page I realized that he was one version of the teenager I had been. He was me, but a me that had never been allowed to exist. And his story, his horrific ordeal in Furnace, was a parallel version of my history that, fortunately, was never written in reality.
This makes more sense when you know what kind of character Alex is. He’s no hero, not the conventional kind anyway. He’s the bad guy, a school bully who robs kids of cash so he can buy himself new trainers, new bikes, new computers. He’s a burglar too, the kind of person who would steal a wedding ring from a lonely old woman so he can play the latest computer games. He knows he’s in the wrong, but this only makes his behavior worse: there’s nothing innocent about Alex’s criminality, he does it because he consciously buries those bad feelings so deep that they can never rear their ugly heads.
Now, I was never as bad as Alex when I was a kid, but for a while I could have been. I remember all too well that lure of easy money – the desire to control at least one thing at a time when it feels as though your life is spiraling into chaos around you. I never robbed a house, but I was a thief: I stole money from my Mum and Dad, never more than ten or twenty quid at a time, but I stole other stuff too, things I could sell. Sentimental things. Things I knew I could never get back. Those same horrible feelings clawed their way through my gut every time I betrayed someone I loved, but like Alex I knew how to force them down, so deep inside me I could pretend they weren’t there at all.
And it got worse, too. I began hanging out at a biker bar, drinking lots, absorbing hours of heavy metal then letting it all out of my system in drunken scraps. I wasn’t a bully like Alex – I never picked a fight with anyone – but I was just as lost as him. And with each bloody nose and lost tooth I found my grasp on life, on myself, slipping away a little bit more. I hated it, but it was fast becoming who I was – without it, I faced the far greater fear of being nothing at all. And when you’re that age, absence is so much worse than substance, even when that substance has begun to rot.
I don’t know how bad it could have become. I’m guessing it never would have gone too far – I had the best family in the world, a safety net that was always there for me no matter how bad my behavior became. Maybe that’s why I felt I could get away with it – I knew I could never lose myself completely. After I’d failed my A-Levels (not just because of my behavior, I should say, I’d also written my first novel and assumed I wouldn’t need qualifications as a famous writer!) I calmed down. I started to uncover some of those buried emotions – the guilt, the loathing, the shame – and only by confronting them and coming to terms with what I could have become did I truly realize what I wanted to be.
The Alex in Furnace has the same realization, but in his version of history there is no escape. In his version of history there is the Furnace Penitentiary. Alex Sawyer is punished for the crimes that I committed, he suffers the worst fate that I could have imagined for myself when I was a teenager. This is why the events that take place in Furnace feel so real. When I was writing the book, Alex wasn’t just a character – he was me and I was him. I had to do everything in my power to try and find a way out, because if he couldn’t escape, then neither could I. Our lives may have taken different paths, but for as long as Alex was buried alive in the guts of the world we were one and the same again. His actions were mine, his terror was mine, the friends he made were my friends, the pain he felt was pain I felt too. And, most importantly, we were making a break for freedom together.
Being a writer sometimes means you have all the power in the world – in the world of your story, that is. But with Furnace I felt just as powerless as Alex. I didn’t plot the books, the story just unfolded, sometimes in a way that I never could have predicted. And there were many times when I had no idea how a scene would turn out, whether or not Alex would even survive. During these periods I felt that the pages of the manuscript were a mirror backed up against some impossible inter-dimensional void; the words on the page bars, through which I saw myself fighting tooth and nail just to stay alive. It was the same feeling I had when I was a teenager, wanting to be free but unable to control the chaotic world around me, unable to find a way out of the depths to the light and air on the surface.
I didn’t know what would happen to Alex over the course of the series, but I knew one thing: I would be there with him until the end. There’s no way I could abandon him in the pit of Furnace Penitentiary. Everything he went through, I went through too, and when he changed – and he does change, so much, over the course of each book – so did I. His life is mine, and mine is his. And if I ever need a reminder of that I only have to read back over this piece of writing and notice how similar it is to Alex’s. That was unintentional, but I guess it was also inevitable when you not only become close to your character, but have always been him.
Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison.Together with a bunch of inmates—some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace’s deeper, darker purpose, Alex’s actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that’s hidden from the eyes of the world.
One lucky commenter will have a chance to win a copy of Lockdown and Solitary.
To enter, leave a comment below answering the following question:
Have you ever read (or written) a character so similar to you that it changed the way you viewed yourself?
1. +1 entry for answering the question (required).
2. +2 entries for becoming a follower of this blog and Dark Faerie Tales on Twitter.
3. +3 entries for tweeting about this contest, blogging about it, linking via your sidebar etc…(please tell me where!).
4. Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada residents only.
5. Please include your email address in your comment.
6. Giveaway ends Wednesday, February 23rd at 11:59 PM EST.
7. The winner will be picked with the help of Random.org.
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