But before I hand it over to Alex, I just want to say thank you to Alex for writing this piece for the tour and thank you to Kerry for organising this tour - and thank you for including me! Am quite honoured to be involved.
Now, without any more delay, here's Alex...
Thanks for having me Andrew! I’m made up to be a part of Nottingham’s UKYA Extravaganza – it’s incredibly exciting, and all possible because of two brilliant writers and all-round life-givers, Emma Pass and Kerry Drewery. Gushing and glowing over, now onto me, me, me (I can only apologise). So you asked me about why I like to write about big issues in my novels LAND and CLOUD 9.
In truth they often don’t start off that way. LAND and CLOUD 9 both emerged from what I think of as Big Questions – a personal choice I will probably never get tested on – the larger of the what-would-I-do-ifs . . .
The question that sparked Land was: would I risk my life to save strangers, if it put my loved ones at risk? It’s a question I’ve liked to torture myself with for years (masochist). It always bothers me there’s a huge part of me I might never know. I mean, I can think myself a good person, I might do every day good acts, but really, when pushed, if the lives of strangers were at risk, would I stand up? Would I sacrifice my own safety and that of my family for the lives of others? I’ve always wanted to know the answer. Just like I want to know what I’d have done had I been on the Titantic (would I have stayed behind with my man or leapt double-quick onto the first lifeboat?) Or whether I would eat human flesh to survive? Or if I stumbled across an unpublished manuscript that was blummin’ brilliant, would I nick it and claim it as my own?! Or try this one:
You find a suitcase filled with millions of pounds . . .
Do you take it? No?
What if you’re in dire need of money – then?
Or your brother needs an expensive life-saving treatment – then?
What if I can tell you – you will never ever be found out. Now do you take it? Yes?
But then what if you find out it belonged to someone who needs it more? And you’ve already spent it?
Or what if some criminal faces death because they lost their drugs warlord’s money? Do you seek them out? Or stay quiet?
And we haven’t even got started on how the money might affect you, your life. For better, for worse?
Writing a story can help you delve deeper and darker into the what ifs of your subconscious, but to truly answer them I believe you need to broaden your questions out into the big bad world – because let’s face it, that’s what’s made you . . .and so I suppose that’s when the bigger issues in society come into my stories like they have in CLOUD 9 and LAND.
In CLOUD 9 my personal big question was: if there was a harmless happy pill that everyone was taking – would I? To properly test my personal choice, I had to journey into the environment I live in. I needed to take a good look at society and its influences, our culture, our beliefs, all of which have a bearing on my life and the lives of others.
I soon found myself digging away at this emerging culture towards instant happiness and positivity – from celebrity vloggers preaching about being positive and ways to banish ‘bad thoughts’, to Big Pharma and the millions they make from pills that adjust people’s moods, including children’s.
I started examining the ‘what ifs’ of society. Questions grew. What if we do turn increasingly to pills to get us through any painful moment, to banish hard memories, to stay appearing ‘normal’, happy, positive? What happens to the spectrum of human emotion – if melancholy is kicked out? What happens to poetry, to stories that are dark, to music that can tap into human pain?
If we start to self-censor negativity by ‘banishing bad thoughts’, how soon will society start to censor material that incites bad thoughts? And what about those who can never forget or bury pain no matter what? Do they get pushed to the periphery of society?
Questions grow branch-like, before you journey back down to the roots again, to the something simple that knits your story together: What’s so wrong about being sad?
Whether it’s personal issues or public ones, delving deeper and writing a story always helps to remind me that at the end of the day it’s just so important to question – yourself, others, society . . . and never stop questioning, even if the answers allude you. What if, what if, what if.