This month one author in particular has kept my 9 year old busy.
Busy ensconced under her duvet on the sofa.
But also busy bounding around the kitchen and garden doing dare-devil acrobatics.
The author that’s kept her so busy is Marcus Alexander. Marcus is the author of a three book fantasy adventure series, Keeper of the Realms, a set of books which exude energy like few others I’ve read. I swear, if I turn off the lights, the books glow and pulse in the dark (which, thinking about it, is probably another reason why M has been sneakily reading them past her bedtime).
Charlie Keeper has discovered that under her family home there is a gateway to the mythical, magical realm that is Bellania. But Bellania’s fate hangs in the balance, and Charlie Keeper holds the key. She’s a blinder of a lead character, with an adventurous, courageous spirit, and her exploits left me and M with our eyes the size of small plates, holding our breath and really rooting for her as she battles against evil.
Marcus’s love of extreme sports has informed some of the action in the series; Charlie learns to play K’Changa, a game with elements of Capoeira, Chinlone and Tekraw and M hasn’t stopped player her solo version this Easter holiday (in the books it’s a sport played by two players, against each other) – a sort of competititve crazy keepy-uppy with all the outrageous moves you can muster.
With so much “playing by the book” going on, I was really delighted to be able to interview Marcus recently, with a little bit of help from my 9 year old M. Here’s how our conversation went:
Zoe: Where does this adrenalin and passion which informs so much of what you do come from?
Marcus: Books! I guess you could say it was jealousy of the life the heroes were living in all the novels that I devoured as a teenager that inspired me to go out and get something fresh and wild of my own.
Zoe: And how does this buzzing inside you, this energy marry with being an author, which at a very basic level has to involve sitting down and working quietly on your own?
Marcus: It’s an odd cycle. Books cause me to go out and taste the extreme but in return, once I’ve temporarily sated my thirst I’ve an urge to write. It ebbs and flows but each urge seems to compliment the other.
Zoe: Or maybe you don’t sit down to write? Where do you write best? With hubbub around you? Music on?
Marcus: I can’t write at home! It’s too easy to procrastinate so I do my best writing elsewhere. (If there’s music on you know I’m going to have to dance, right? jeje)
Zoe: Or does writing offer you an opportunity for quiet and solitude which allows you to refuel for other parts of your life?
Marcus: A period of quiet is always necessary. It’s a great way to recharge before going out and chasing the ‘X’ again.
Zoe: You’re a big believer in thinking outside the box – is this something which fed into the approach you took to getting published?
Marcus: Thinking outside the box is a must. It’s helped me to overcome all the obstacles in my life. Particularly getting published. I wasn’t rich, famous or had any industry hook ups and I wasn’t keen on the idea of giving an agent 15% of my cut so I was left with no option other than to look for different path. I know most authors get captivated with the story but books are products and publishing houses need to make profit so I approached the issue from a business point of view. I self published 2000 units with an intent to prove the commercial validity of my product. I sold 1,500 and gave away 500 for marketing and reviews. Finally armed with my sales figures, reviews and fan following (and Charlie Keeper inspired graffiti artwork that had boomed across London) I went straight to Puffin without the need for an agent.
Zoe: You’ve described yourself as “a complete and utter bookworm” as a child – what fantasy books and comics/graphic novels did you particularly enjoy?
Marcus: Being a Brit kid I was hooked on 2000AD and Judge Dredd (Yeah, I know, typical 80s brat, right? Lol) But I started reading furiously at ages 3-4 and it was (don’t laugh!) ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and anything Dr. Seuss that really opened that window in my brain to other worlds and fantasy. It was these in particular that cranked my imagination and kindled that flame within my heart.
Zoe: What’s the most recent book you’ve read which you really loved?
Marcus: I’m a fan of Steph Swainston and her ‘The Year of Our War’ with the winged messenger Jant. I can’t stand first person books but she does it with so much flavour and style that she’s completely changed my opinion. Awesome prose and storytelling! (And Steph, if you’re reading this, dude, please put pen to paper and bring out some more books sooooooon!)
Zoe: The Keeper of the Realms series has fantastic artwork by Zul Kamarrudin – how do you work with Zul? Does he show drafts on which you get some input? Is he someone Puffin teamed you up with or someone you knew already?
Marcus: Zul has been with me since my self published book ‘Who is Charlie Keeper?’ I sourced him off Deviantart.com and he’s been epic ever since. I’ll send him a storyboard layout for each character with researched imagery of clothing, pose, hair, jewellery and he’ll get to work. He’ll ping back (he’s based in Malaysia!) some rough drafts and I’ll okay it or suggest changes and after several initial sketches we’ll agree on a final at which point it’ll be taken to completion. Zul, without a doubt, rocks with his graphic floetry.
Zoe: The third volume of the Keeper of the Realms series came out earlier this year. Will there be a fourth volume? Or have you started work on something completely new?
Marcus: Blood & Fire is the last in this instalment of Charlie’s adventures. There will always be more Charlie Keeper coming but for the time being I need a break from the realm of Bellania. It’s simply been too many years and I need to build something new. It’s been a hectic year with tours but with some downtime booked over Easter (going to Sri Lanka, whoop-whoop!) I’d like to start planning a new fantasy series in a different realm.
M (Zoe’s 9 year old daughter): Which character in the series would you most like to be?
Marcus: A Winged One! The idea of living an extra couple of hundred years sounds amazing (c’mon now, think of all the travel and experience you could pack into those years!) and being able to fly would be a big plus too lol.
I’m looking to complete my skydiving licence this summer so while I might not be flying like a Winged One at least I’ll be getting the experience of falling 🙂
M (Zoe’s 9 year old daughter): What turned Narcissa evil?
Marcus: A lack of early morning coffee. (Seriously, you should see me first thing on a Monday morning without a cup of the black stuff in my hand – the word grumpy doesn’t do the experience justice.)
M (Zoe’s 9 year old daughter): Where do the shades come from?
Marcus: Bane and his Dark God twisted the beauty of the Chiming Grounds (Book 3, Blood & Fire) and it’s there that they created the Shades.
Zoe: You’ve recently taken up skydiving – I guess partly because of your belief that when you’re not writing it’s important to keep learning new skills to keep the imagination flowing. What parallels do you see between writing and skydiving? The need to have faith? The need to commit?
Marcus: The need to overcome my fear. I used to fight because it terrified me but as the years passed I grew more confident and no longer felt the need to jump into the ring. Skydiving however terrifies me. Not the free fall or deploying the ‘chute but having to suck up the guts for that initial jump out the plane. For me, facing and overcoming your fear is a true source of strength. Adrenaline sports gives a lot to writers, the rush, the joy and that taste of fear and for a fantasy writer that fixates on action it’s a great boon.
Zoe: Reading between the lines in various interviews and comments you’ve made on videos on your youtube channel, I get the sense you like your food. In a ideal world, what would you put on your hospitality rider in terms of snacks to eat / lunch to share with kids at school visits?
Marcus: Seared kangaroo with homemade sweet chilli sauce?
Caramelised duck breast with a honey and ginger jus?
Or that old school classic of salt and pepper ice cream?
Zoe: Travel has always been a large part of your life. What locations are still on your dream list for the future?
Marcus: Africa! The largest continent with the most countries. I’ve got to get that done. (I’ve done Morocco and the Sahara but I don’t think that that really counts.)
South America with the tequila, history and amazing dance styles.
China for its landscapes.
Japan for its deep powder, beautiful gardens, fashion and style.
Zoe: And finally, have you any advice for supporting and encouraging bookworms?
Marcus: Bookworms rock! With your powerful imagination and your ability to think outside the box you’re already one-up on everyone else. Just don’t get so stuck between the pages that you forget to live your life to the max.
Those heroes and heroines that you love reading about and that inspire you so much? They’re the reflection of what you can and should be. Take their essence and apply it to yourself. Want to move like a hero? Go to capoeira or parkour class. Want to learn how to defend yourself? Go to MMA or Muay Thai class. Need adventure in your life? Go and travel during your school holidays and see new horizons and cultures. Too scared to do any of these or too timid to consider starting something new? Remember the determination and drive your heroes and heroines have in those books you love? That’s you!
Take that urge to overcome all obstacles and hurdles and apply it to your life. Bookworms, if you’ve got the courage and the imagination, you can master your life in a way that those who don’t read will never be able to match.
Playing by the Book – a huuuuuuuge thanks for all the funky fresh questions. Super appreciated!
Zoe and M: Thank YOU Marcus!
An slightly different version of this interview also appears today on the blog of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. If you want to find out what schools can expect from Marcus should he be invited to pay them a visit, or what are the strangest questions he’s ever been asked on a school visit, do head on over to find out.