After something of a hiatus, it’s lovely to be quizzing an author on writing tips and inspirations again. Today, I’m chatting to Jim Alexander about creative ideas, problems with desert islands, and his somewhat questionable approach to wine gums. His debut novel, GoodCopBadCop, is out now.
Hi, Jim. Tell us a little about your writing to date.
Up until the novel, I’ve predominantly been a comic book writer. My first published work was over 20 years ago. I wrote a comic strip called Calhab Justice where I created the Scottish equivalent of Judge Dredd. I’ve worked for both DC and Marvel and have been a presence in the indie comic book scene. After 20-odd years, though, I decided I needed a new challenge. I’d always wanted to write a novel and frankly had exhausted all my excuses not to do so. So for the last two years, it’s been all hands on deck and GoodCopBadCop was born.
Where does your inspiration come from?
We’re bombarded by so much information. Digitally, social, through advertising, through the need during the day to navigate past so many obstacles and demands on your time. From a creative point of view, it’s what we absorb subconsciously rather than consciously that’s of most interest. The key to finding inspiration, to form new and I hope exciting ideas, is unlocking the subconscious processes, to tease and coax them to the surface. They come at me at the most unlikeliest of times – I suppose the most obvious example is dreams, the ones you experience when you’re sleeping and when wide awake– and you have to be attuned, need to roll with them and take these ideas, reflections, wild fancies, and build them into something you can use. That’s where I think inspiration comes from. That’s the thing that gets me going. It’s a fair weather friend that I’d like to know better.
Do you plan out an entire plot before you begin, or does a story evolve as you write?
I wouldn’t say it’s strictly one or the other. I begin with a pretty firm idea of the direction I’m intending to go in, while remaining open to developments, ideas that call unannounced and send me on a different way. I’m a great believer that every problem can be solved. You can turn around a negative to a positive. This is especially the case in the earlier drafts. So, when you get to a plot or character point that doesn’t make sense; is too fantastical to the point of problematical, then you need to embrace it and strive to find a solution for it. Normally this can inform not only what you’re about to write, but what you’ve written up until that point also. I find this keeps the writing fresh, at least in my mind. It keeps me on my toes.
What advice would you give to someone mulling over the ideas for their first novel?
You need to come up with an idea that will sustain the life cycle of a novel. The first and perhaps the only person you need to convince that your idea has the necessary chops is yourself. You’re the one who has to go through with it; allow it to take over the next months and years of your life. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul. Write about something that you believe in; that you’re passionate about; that terrifies you. On your first day write a short note on your idea, your hopes for it, why you think it’s the best idea since they decided to revert from sliced bread back to a full loaf. During the tough periods, the really hard parts when things aren’t happening for you (this will happen; it’s all part of the journey) then at least you’ll have your wee note to look back on and gee you up.
Excellent advice. What is the best part of being an author? And the worst?
The best part of writing is doing interviews like this. The worst part of writing is doing interview like this…
I really like the change of pace of being an author. I started writing GoodCopBadCop the novel two years ago and a lot has happened to the world outside since then…Trump, Brexit, Gordon Strachan … never mind what’s happened in my own life. It’s like a constant in an ever-changeable, malleable world. I like that. The worst is the writing. In particular the bad days when you’ve not had enough sleep and life is really getting you down and you’re questioning everything. Where you have to force yourself to write and every piece of prose is ugly; every word is like a sharp thing poking you in the eye. But you get through these days – and the fact you get through them makes you feel all the better for doing so.
Who are your writing heroes?
Kurt Vonnegut, Iain Banks, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis. The last great book I read was American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which is the most remarkable piece of world building, more so because it’s a world we already know and love (and sometimes dread) in the United States of America.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose, and why?
I appreciate the point of this exercise, but perhaps it’s a failing in me that all I can obsess on is the fact I’d be stuck on a desert island. I’d turn bonkers within the day. So I’d only have one, which would be Superman, who could fly off the thing and take me with him. That’s cheating.
Ok, I’ll try and play fair. They’d obviously have to be full of the crack, capable of interesting conversations, tales of exotic and lurid landscapes and of other worlds. They’d be able to look into a person’s soul and be in a fit enough state to report back on it. I’d have Wednesday from American Gods, John Constantine, and Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea
Good choices. Now, a very serious question: wine gums or chocolate as your preferred snack of choice when immersed in writing?
Oh, wine gums most definitely. I like sweets that aren’t too sweet; have a wee bit of a kick about them. Mind you, you take a wine gum; you open yourself up to the perils of the wine gum challenge. How long can you keep sucking at a wine gum before the walls cave in and you lose all hope and start biting into it? For me, I’m deeply ashamed to say, it can be absolutely no time at all.
Hmm. What’s next?
I’m working on my new novel called the Light. the Light explores a world where you wake up and know this is the day you will die. This is a global phenomenon. It is a global phenomenon. How would such a world shape the way we think? Our views on each other and society? How we conduct our personal and financial affairs? How we live and how we die? I’m hoping the book will be out this time next year (or thereabouts).
This sounds an intriguing prospect! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Jim, and good luck with GoodCopBadCop.
GoodCopBadCop is a crime novel with a twist. It is a modern crime take on Jekyll and Hyde where both ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ are the same person. This is not a story about a good man turned bad, or a bad man turned good. Both good and bad arrived at the same time. The novel delves deep into the psychological trappings, black humour and surrealist overtones of the crime novel. Tartan noir with a delicious twist.
Jim Alexander is an award-winning writer who has worked for TV (Metal Hurlant Chronicles) and for DC (Batman 80-Page Giant, Birds of Prey) and Marvel (Uncanny Origins, Spectacular Spider-Man). GoodCopBadCop is his debut novel.
Amazon (print & digital): https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1916453503
Blackwell’s (print): https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/9781916453500
Kobo (digital): https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/goodcopbadcop
Amazon (print & digital): https://www.amazon.com/dp/1916453503
Barnes & Noble (print & digital): https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/1129823698
Kobo (digital): https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/goodcopbadcop