Indie Author Interviews is a series of interviews featuring indie authors. These interviews will drop once a week. If you’d like to be part of this series, please contact me at Sarah (at) bookwormblues (dot) net. Please support the authors by clicking on the affiliate links in the interview, spread the word, and, of course, buy their books.
We’re all in this together, you know?
Alex grew up in Kent in the UK and spent much of his childhood hiding away and reading a book (seriously, he used to hide under the table and read when the other kids were playing).
He’s always been a fan of myths and legends, epic stories in general, and of course… dinosaurs. It came as no surprise to anyone that he went on to study Classics and Ancient History at university.
Now, Alex works in publishing and writes fantasy stories.
If you’ve not already signed up to his author newsletter to get the latest news and updates then head over to this page!
Describe yourself in six words or fewer.
Dinosaur loving storyteller and baker
Tell me about your book.
Edda Gretasdottir is a raider, a fell-handed shield-maiden, feared along every coast. Hers is a life woven in battle scars.
But she never wanted to walk the warrior’s path. All she wanted was freedom, to earn enough gold to buy her family their own remote farm, and to escape their oppressive chieftain. Now, she has enough plunder so that she can finally hang up her shield and live in peace.
That peace is stolen from Edda, however, when raiders burn her home, destroy all that she loves, and toss her, wounded and bleeding, into the ravenous ocean.
But the fates are cruel and this is not the end for Edda: she rises from the bloody surf as a Windborn, a cursed warrior whose supernatural gifts are a poor exchange for everything she has lost.
Fuelled by rage and armed with strange new powers Edda will hunt for whoever sent the raiders, for whoever is responsible for taking everything from her. She will show them the sharp edge of her axe… or die trying.
Windborn is a dark, character-driven Norse fantasy packed with emotion, deadly foes, and vicious battles.
What makes you and your books unique? Shine for me, you diamond.
With my stories, I try to look at a conflict through a personal lense. Whilst there is a larger problem that needs facing in Windborn, it is very much viewed through the lens of the narrator and it is their personal stakes that are at the forefront of the story. I also like to think that I have a knack for twisting the emotional knife and really making my characters regret being in one of my stories (not that they had much of a choice…).
For me, I like to think that (contrary to how I treat my characters…) I’m a friendly person who’s always happy to help if someone needs anything or just generally help out the community (I did a whole blog series on publishing contracts which is up on my website). That’s not super unique though… so I’m hoping that the melding of interest in mythology, dinosaurs, baking, and storytelling in my soul makes me a pretty unique guy.
What are you working on now/any future projects you want to talk about?
I’m deep in the planning stages of another book set in the world of Windborn, following someone completely new who has the bad luck of being one of my protagonists. The working title is Trollgrave and it’s going to take place in a big ol’ creepy forest with cults, rune magic, kidnapping. All the good stuff. I’m pretty excited about it.
I’ve also got a fantasy setting that’s perpetually on the back-burner that I’m tentatively calling Gifts of the Endless and all I’ve got at the moment are broad strokes plans for the setting as well as a few nebulous character ideas. But what I can tell you right now is that it’s loosely inspired by the ancient world–think ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt–and will have dinosaurs in it.
Let’s celebrate. What’s one of the best things that’s happened to you as an author? Don’t be shy.
I’ve been blown away by the amazing comments and reception that I’ve received from everyone online so far with my debut, but if I had to pinpoint one particular moment it would be when I got my editorial comments back from you, Sarah.
(Sarah’s note: Insert blush here.)
Despite having some positive feedback from trusted friends and family, I was still unsure about whether Windborn was any good and getting that honest feedback from you and the positive, lovely things you said about the book absolutely rocked me. It definitely put me on a high that lasted the whole week.
Let’s talk CRAFT
What about self-publishing appeals to you? Why did you choose this particular path to publication?
There are a couple of reasons, really, why I picked self-publishing.
The first is that I like being able to understand each part of the process and have a hand in all the elements that go into making a book. It can certainly be frustrating at the beginning and you don’t know what you’re doing but I find once I’ve untangled and can understand the process then I enjoy it. One example is that I got quite vexed when I formatted the ebook, but bit by bit I got there and even when I got some errors at the last hurdle (and it took me ages to figure out why!) it was very satisfying to be able to open the ebook on my kindle and see the fruits of my labour.
The other reason is that I am lucky enough to work in the publishing industry. That has given me a broad understanding of the publishing process and has helped me to find out what goes into a book. So when I came to self-publishing I had a good idea of what stages a book needs to go through and what the costs might be. You know, all the good stuff. Given that publishers only have so many spaces available in their publishing schedules I would rather someone else—who doesn’t necessarily have the knowledge or means to self-publish—was given that slot instead of me.
Tell me about something odd you do when you write? Something about your particular process that is distinctly YOU.
I sometimes pull the faces along with dialogue. If I wrote something like ‘“Fuck you,” he snarled.’ I might curl my lip as I’m writing it. I don’t always catch myself or realise what face I’m pulling so who knows what other weird expressions I might make when I’m writing!
What does your writing space look like (If you’d like, attach a picture of your desk, chair, tree, hammock, coffee shop, whatever…)
In the Before Times™ I would have told you it was a seat on a crowded train to and from work, but thankfully I don’t have to make that journey anymore. I’ll either use my little laptop on the table or reading chair, or I’ll be at my desk.
If I’m at my desk, I’ll have my word processor on one screen and on the other I’ll pop up a video of some ambient video. For Windborn I found a video of crashing waves to put me into the right mindset and for my current WIP I’ve been putting forest walks on that screen.
(Obviously the desk and chair are usually much messier than they are in these pictures…)
How do you build your world/characters? What does your process of creation look like?
For Windborn, building the world was relatively straightforward as it’s pretty analogous to our own world in the Viking age, but I like to sit and mull on the elements that make the world different:
- If we did have superheroes in the Viking age, what would be different?
- How would they get their powers?
- How would the law deal with them?
That usually sparks ideas of where conflict would arise and suggests interesting (I hope!) characters.
For the characters I try to create a few core driving forces for each one that will mix their personality and their purpose within the book (the obvious ones being the protagonist or the antagonist, but I also like to see if I can have some characters act as mirrors for what the protagonist’s life could have been if I wasn’t there to ruin it). For example, I have one character in Windbon who has ‘to befriend’ as one of her driving forces. She’s lonely and just wants somewhere to belong, to have friends, and to feel like she’s part of something. I find that by having this small list of core driving forces it helps me to keep the characters centered and consistent.
Plotter or pantser, and why?
I’m a learned plotter.
I have tried pansting stories a few times and I always peter out when I realise that something isn’t working, or I’ve been trying to force something to work when it shouldn’t be. A couple of times I’ve had to chuck out 30,000 to 50,000 words of a story because I was trying to force something that wasn’t working or I’d taken a wrong turn early on and it didn’t become apparent until I was deep in the story-forest.
By plotting out the story I can try and head off those problems before they happen. And as a bonus I find plotting also gives my subconscious more time to work the story in the background so when I do come to write it I might make some tweaks to it that can ratchet up the tension or make the story deeper.
Do you listen to music when you write? What kind?
I do listen to music! It needs to either be something that I’ve listened to so many times that it fades into the background, or something instrumental so that I don’t end up singing along. If it fits those two criteria then I’ll sometimes also try to find a piece of music that fits the mood of what I’m writing as well.
Sometimes I find that music can also help with brainstorming ideas. For example, when I was trying to find new Norse-themed music for my WIP I found ‘Valhalla’ by Rok Nardin and listening to it sparked an epic scene for the WIP in my mind and now I can go back and listen to that track and it all comes back to me.
What are some of the most interesting rabbit holes you’ve found yourself lost down?
Every so often I do some reading about dinosaurs (shock horror, I know), and there’s just so much information about dinosaurs that I would happily devour. There are such tiny details in fossils that can tell us so much about how dinosaurs lived and what their habits are like.
For example, the T. Rex has a compressed middle metatarsal bone in its foot (called an arctometatarsal) which means that it was good at running because (if I’m remembering this right!) the compressed bone gives the foot a bit of bounce, meaning that it doesn’t use as much energy to lift the foot up and so makes running more energy efficient. It’s crazy to me that a small detail like that, which you wouldn’t really think twice about, can tell us how the T. Rex lived and what it was adapted for.
Tell me about an unexpected thing you’ve learned, and how you’ve worked it into your book.
I had been looking for some part of Norse folklore and mythology to work into the setting of my next book to help make the setting like a character in its own right and putting a landvættir into the story works perfectly!
It’s not Windborn, so I hope this isn’t cheating, but I was doing some research for my next book and came across the landvættir, or land-wights. They are in essence land spirits that protect and live in a certain area, which could be a huge area or could be a small one. There’s actually four of them on the flag of Iceland: a dragon (Dreki) who protects the east of Iceland, an eagle (Gammur) who protects northern Iceland, a bull (Griðungur) who protects the west of Iceland, and a giant (Bergrisi) who protects southern Iceland.
All Things BOOKISH
Tell me about the most recent book you’ve read.
Most recently I finished Wilding by Isabella Tree. It’s a non-fiction book about a project at Knepp which is a farming estate in West Sussex in the UK. The author and their husband have a massive 3,500 acres of land which they have farmed quite intensively due to the quality of the land and the tightening of budgets so with a little help from some EU funding they decide to give it back to nature and let it ‘re-wild’. First they let the land grow over however it wanted, then they introduced free-roaming cattle, pigs, horses, deer, and over the years they have essentially let nature do its thing and only interfered when absolutely necessary.
It’s a wonderful, fascinating read about changes we could make to the way we farm and the effects it has on local wildlife. It also touches on the impact this kind of farming could have on the climate if we rolled it out. Honestly, it made me want to re-wild my own little patch of earth but I think I need to get a bigger garden… for the moment I’ll have to settle for plenty of wildflowers!
Tell me about an underappreciated book, and why everyone should read it.
Queens of the Wyrd by Timandra Whitecastle.
It’s a Norse-inspired story stuffed full of great female characters, fantasy mothers, shield-maidens, monsters (is it any wonder I’m a fan?). I loved it and think that this book deserves more love! The author’s just run a Kickstarter to get an amazing new cover so that new edition is coming soon, so what better time to get the book?!
What book would you like to see turned into a movie, and who should play the leading roles?
I would love to see Where the Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick turned into a movie, especially if it was picked up by the animation studio Laika and done in the same style as Kubo and the Two Strings.
It’s inspired by Polynesian folklore and the story is chock full of strange monsters and moments that would make for amazing visuals. I think that Laika’s stop-motion animation style would be amazing. It would just fit the world and the story down to a tee.
Let’s throw some light on diversity. What are some books you love that feature diverse characters, diverse authors, etc.
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy is made up of The Ninth Rain, The Bitter Twins, and The Poison Song. It’s an absolutely phenomenal epic fantasy trilogy with a huge range of characters (which is really where these books shine) from fell-witches who can summon the winnow fire, to Eborans who are kind of like vampire elves, to the war-beasts who have fantastic personalities of their own. When I was reading the first book the setting reminded me of something like Dark Souls (with a crumbling, once-great civilisation now overgrown and a shadow of its former self) with a pinch of Studio Ghibli (with the wild spirits out in the mutated Wilds). It’s a wonderful series (The Ninth Rain won the British Fantasy Award for Best Fantasy) and I highly recommend it.
For Rage of Dragons, it’s an African (Xhosa) inspired epic fantasy set in a place where there has been war for two hundred years and if you’re not Gifted, then you’re sword-fodder. The main character, Tau, is not Gifted… but he is incredibly driven and claws whatever advantage he can get. The fight scenes are brilliant and had me on the edge of my seat. It’s so gripping, it really drags you forward so that you absolutely cannot put it down. The sequel was released last year, although I’ve not gotten around to it yet it is absolutely on my list and I will be searching out other African inspired fantasy!
Hobbies & All Things WEIRD
When you aren’t writing, what can you typically be found doing?
We recently added a new small and furry member to the family so often I can be found running around after, or trying to avoid the teeth of, our Springer Spaniel puppy, Pippin. He keeps us pretty busy, but he’s also adorable so it’s absolutely worth it.
Other than that, I will spend some of my spare time planning and running Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve got a (mostly) weekly game that I run online with some friends so I’ll try and keep some idle time to brainstorm new plotlines or cool things for their characters to do and have. Or else I’ll be trying to figure my way out whatever crazy situation the players have forced on me (if you guys are reading this, I love you really).
What’s something you want to learn how to do? Why?
I would like to learn how to paint. I’ve got some oil paints and watercolours sitting in the back of a cupboard and I think it would be a lovely thing to do to wander out into the countryside for a couple of hours and paint something. I think it would also help me appreciate a different way of looking at the world and make me examine colour and texture a bit more which I would hope would help my writing and help me to write more vivid scenes. (Because you can’t have a hobby just be a hobby… it has to relate to writing somehow…)
How do your non-writerly hobbies influence your writing?
Running Dungeons and Dragons has helped me to understand and character agency and really drive home to me how important it is.
When you’ve got four people sat around a table (or on the other end of a webcam) and all of them want to be part of the story where they’re the protagonist, then you learn pretty quickly not to dump exposition on them or force them to do something they don’t want to do or else you’re going to lose them.
I try to bring that into my writing by throwing up obstacles for my characters but simultaneously making sure they are always moving forward with gusto. I like to think of the journey of a protagonist as a zig-zag. Always progressing, but having to recalibrate and figure their way around a problem that I’ve thrown in their path.
Tell me about something in your life that brings you joy. What is it, and why?
This will not come as a shock to anyone, I’m sure, but I bloody love dinosaurs. I love the sheer variety of them and how removed they are from us in time. It is absolutely fascinating and absolutely amazing to me how much we know about them from their bones. Not even their bones in a lot of cases, just the holes they left behind in the world.
We can find out about their eating habits from scratches made in the bones of their prey, the way they walked from footprints, the way they moved from how their bones are put together. These can be absolutely tiny details on fossils but they impart an amazing amount of insight into how these animals lived. And all this on top of the fact that the dinosaurs lived millions upon millions of years removed from our own time is just mind-boggling to me. And that’s not even to touch on how beautiful some fossils are, especially the ones like the archaeopteryx fossils that capture its feathers in the impressions of the rocks or the dinosaur feathers caught in amber.
I find dinosaurs beautiful, fascinating and also strangely comforting. There was such a vibrant, dizzying array of life aeons before anything even approaching something human was around that it makes me appreciate that long after we’re gone there will be some new, beautiful form of life to wander the world.
Tell me a strange, random fact.
No matter their size, all mammals urinate—on average—for twenty-one seconds.
What’s your favorite swear word and why?
This is a tough one, I think that the beauty of swear words is that you can make them up and the unexpectedness of the curse word adds an extra dimension of joy to it. My favourite way to do this is to smash a couple of words together, like cockwomble.
And the beauty of this is that you can shove a couple of words together that aren’t rude on their own but really sound like they should be, like waffle and mortar and suddenly you have a word that’s kind of rude but just enough to use with a creative insult. (e.g. Shove that up your waffle-mortar!).
Any final thoughts?
Thanks so much for this interview, and everything you do for the indie community! I’m sure you get told this all the time but thank you for all your hard work to support your fellow authors and being a generally upstanding, badass lady.
(Sarah’s note: I don’t, and thank you. I’m seriously flattered.)
Oh yeah, I suppose I should also say that Windborn is only 99c/p whilst it’s on pre-order and for a little while after release on 28th April so if anyone out there fancies trying it out, now’s the time!