James Phelan, author of Chasers, has hopped over to our site from Australia to chat about his writing! Read on to find out about the Alone series that begins with Chasers - and click here if you'd like to read an extract.
How did the ALONE trilogy come about?
My third adult thriller in the Lachlan Fox series, titled BLOOD OIL, was a dark and angry book because of where the protagonist’s headspace was at, and the circumstances he found himself in. So, having lived through that creative space for a year, I wanted to write something completely different – something that would appeal to younger readers, something I could still go and talk to school groups about, something with a bit more hope. I had some meeting with publishers and decided that what they all wanted was not something I had any interest in writing. So I wrote the story of ALONE: CHASERS, shaping it from the get-go as a trilogy (although there was a point somewhere along the way where I was tempted to write more of the character and situation, perhaps even the same time frame of Jesse’s story but from another character’s point of view – but I’ve decided to leave it be while I still like it) and thankfully it’s been well received.
What was the writing process like?
Intense! I wrote the first draft of CHASERS in 16 days – it literally just poured out, being a story that I’d long wanted to tell. By the end I knew I’d written something completely different to what my publisher was expecting, so with some trepidation I sent it to my agent to get her feedback… luckily, she loved it, and my publishers took it on. I must admit, when I wrote CHASERS I was worried that the themes (and the ending) might be perceived as too bleak for a teen audience, but both young and adult readers have embraced the book.
What novels were you reading as a teenager?
As a teen I was reading what we’d term adult thrillers, and some of my fav authors inc: Clancy, Crichton, Cussler, Archer, Ludlum, Deaver, le Carre, Fleming, MacLean, Higgins, Follett. As a younger reader I particularly liked such novels as: The Jungle Book, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, King Solomon’s Mines, Treasure Island, The Little Prince, Round the Twist, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Danny the Champion of the World, and Taronga. Somewhere among all those authors and novels I read Anne Frank’s DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL, and Herman Hesse’s SIDDHARTHA, two books that had such a lasting impact on me as a young person, speaking to me about survival and identity, that I knew one day I’d attempt to put some of how I felt as a reader of those books into a book of my own.
Are you a big paranormal or zombie film fan?
Kinda. I liked the Romero films when I’d seen them as a teen, and then more recently the comedic ones like SHAWN OF THE DEAD and Zac Snider’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, oh and ZOMBIELAND, they’re all very entertaining. What I do love are dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels, like THE ROAD, THE TIME MACHINE, BRAVE NEW WORLD, FAHRENHEIT 451, FATHERLAND, THE CHILDREN OF MEN… I could go on and on! Then there’s all the killer-virus books and films, like 28 DAYS LATER, ANDROMEDA STRAIN, etc. Originally I wanted to write the ALONE trilogy as a cross between SHAWN OF THE DEAD meets 28 DAYS LATER – funny and scary while steeped in a world that we knew… but what I ended up with was more a narrative interested in Jesse’s journey through grief. All that while outrunning Chasers…
Describe a typical writing day?
Well, it starts with me getting up at the crack of noon and taking it from there… I have no set routine other than writing every day. I’ve been a full-time novelist for five or so years, and have not set an alarm in that time (though on book tour I am forced to organise wakeup calls), so I just wake when I’m meant to, go to a local café with my computer or notebook, and work through a few coffees, and I always start by reading what I’d done the previous day, giving that a little tidy-up, then I’m in the voice and headspace and I’ll spend an hour or two there writing away freshly while my mind-grape juices are flowing (yes, I love the TV show “30 Rock"). I then walk home, go through the overnight correspondence, then do some more work, have a dinner break and maybe watch a little TV or hang with friends/family, then I’ll do a little more writing late at night and that’s it. I probably average 3000 good words per day, but if pushed on deadline or if I’m really in the zone it’s closer to 5,000.
What are you reading at the moment?
At the moment I’m reading GRAFFITI MOON by Cath Crowley, Michael Connelly’s THE POET, and a few novels that publishers have sent me asking me to give a quote to put on the covers or I'm appearing at festivals with the authors, and I'm always flicking through a stack of magazines (my fav’s being Esquire, Vanity Fair, and National Geographic). I find it hard to read fiction while writing it, whereas when I’m not deep in the creative zone I usually have several novels on the go and get through them quickly – for me, anyway… I like to take my time with a good book!
What did writing ALONE mean to you?
I’m the eldest of five boys, and when I wrote the first book they were still all teenagers, so I guess I had them in mind as an audience. Thematically, I wanted to explore a lot of things with this trilogy, predominately the sense of isolation and feeling alone when you’re a teen, and also one’s search for identity. Through that, I feel I’ve created a nice three-book arc that covers a lot of ground, but of course I’m still a little too close to the point of creation to appreciate the full end result. When I finish a book and before I’m just about to send it to my agents and publisher, I send it to a good friend of mine from high school. He works in the building industry – he’s not a writer, nor an editor. He’s just a guy will go through the airport and buy a paperback book to take on holiday. So I send him the early draft manuscripts and I say, “Tell me what you think.” I’m not looking for literary criticism from him – I want to know if he’s having a good time. And, so far, he’s come back and said: “That was great!”
Will you write more YA novels/series?
Yes, I’ve already started on a new series, and I also owe an adult novel to my publisher. As someone who spends a lot of time trying to get better with my work, I’ll keep writing until I’m not improving in the ways that I think will result in me making something as extraordinary as I think things ought to be or as things that I’ve seen. I love writing YA fiction because at that moment where the story comes to life on the page, when it all makes sense and you know what it's about and why you're doing it and what these people are saying and doing, you get to feel like both the creator and 16-year-old reader. I figure I've got multiple decades of work to improve at writing fiction, so I do look forward to what’s ahead.