We're pleased to welcome Alan Baxter, the prolific writer of horror/dark fantasy/crime novels to Interview Corner. British-Australian author who writes horror, supernatural thrillers, and dark fantasy, liberally mixed with crime and noir. He rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog, and a lizard.
1. Tell us about a great book you've read recently!
You know, I just read Treasure Island for the first time. I know the story, of course, from dozens of different adaptations, and I absolutely adore the TV show, Black Sails, which is essentially the prequel story to Treasure Island. But I’d never read the book before. It’s absolutely brilliant. The characters are so well developed and the story is superbly put together. For something written so long ago, it’s actually pretty ageless for the most part.
2. How long have you been a writer and why did you begin writing?
For as long as I can remember. I’ve always made shit up, basically. I don’t know why, I simply have a compulsion to tell stories and I’m uncomfortable until a story that’s inside me gets out. Plus, of course, the vain validation of other people enjoying what I create. There is a powerful joy in that. The thought of making a difference in someone else’s life is quite something.
3. Have you had any evidence of that?
I have here and there. It’s amazing to hear from readers when they write and say how much they enjoyed something or how much something resonated with them. My favourite so far is from a mother who told me she has a mostly non-verbal son, but he loves my books and insists she read them too, then they talk about them. She wrote to me to say “thank you for the conversations”. Nothing compares to that.
4. Where did you get the inspiration for your books?
Man, all over the place. The world is full of inspiration. Turning those things into compelling stories can be a challenge, but I’m never short of ideas. As my stuff is often horror, albeit fantasy as well, the world only seems to provide more and more fodder lately.
5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your writing career, so far?
Building a decent readership, I think. And it’s an ongoing challenge. I’m lucky to have a core readership of people who really dig my stuff, and I’m more grateful than I can say for that. My stuff is always really well received. The challenge is spreading that enjoyment to more people. It’s a slow and nebulous thing, but I think I’m gradually heading in the right direction!
6. If you could go back and give your younger self a single piece of writing advice, what would it be?
Start now! I didn’t take writing seriously as a career choice until my late 20s/early 30s. I wish I’d made that decision ten years earlier.
7. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Both and neither. I don’t believe in the distinction. To my mind, we’re all both to varying degrees. Sure, some people simply don’t plan at all and others plan in meticulous detail first, but most people I talk to (and I’m certainly in this camp) plan some and pants some. For me it also varies from project to project. Sometimes I dive in headlong with a handful of notes, other times I might need to plan out a timeline or something first.
8. How do you develop your plots and characters?
I let them grow organically. Characters come into themselves if you have a sort of skeletal framework in place, an idea of the kind of person they are. Then it’s a case of thinking like them while writing them. Plots are organic too – I usually start with a few signposts in mind, key beats I want to hit through the process of writing, then let the plot take itself there. Which often results in tangents, but that’s okay. The story always knows best.
9. What do you think the biggest challenges are for aspiring or up and coming writers, right now?
To be honest, it’s the same as for established writers – getting noticed. There’s never been a better time to be a writer in terms of opportunity, but that also means there’s so much noise out there, and being noticed is hard. Carving out a readership and keeping them with you, while growing them into something sustainable, is a hell of a challenge. And I’m not suggesting I’ve nailed it yet! I think all we can really do is keep producing our best work and hope that readers stay with us and tell their friends.
10. Do you believe that having a strong social media presence leads to more book sales?
Related to the answer above, yes I think it definitely does. I know I’ve directly sold books by talking about them on social media. But it’s only a tiny part and not enough on its own. While it’s a powerful tool, we need the enthusiasm of lots of other people spreading their love of our work on social media to make an impact. I can only reach a finite number of people, but if all of those people share their enthusiasm too, and then all of them and so on, that’s when you get a wave of appreciation that grows into a career. So yes, it’s important for us, I think, to have a good social media presence, but it’s more important that we encourage others to share the love.
11. How do you deal with writer’s block?
I don’t believe in it! It usually means I’m boring myself, so I go back to when I was still interested in the book and try again.
12. What is your favourite part of the writing process?
It’s funny, but I love it all. The writing, the rewriting, the editing, it all thrills me. But honestly, probably the single best bit is writing THE END on a big project. Few things feel quite as good as finishing a novel. Selling that novel to a publisher feels much better, of course, but that’s the publishing process, not the writing process.
13. If you could collaborate with any other author on a project, who would it be and why?
Clive Barker on whatever the fuck he wants. He’s my favourite author, and by far the biggest influence on my work. I’d love to work with him on something.
14. Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?
I’ve got a couple of things on the go, actually. My agent has a new novel out on submission right now, so cross your fingers for me there. I’m now writing the first draft on a new Jake Crowley book (one of the series I co-write with David Wood) and when that’s done, I’ll go back to a redraft of another new horror novel that I finished in first draft at the end of last year.
15. Where do you see your writing career in 5 years?
Realistically or aspirationally? I’d like to see it like it is now, but with more books out, a much wider readership, and therefore a much more sustainable income. Plus a couple of movie or TV options in the works. That’s what I’m striving towards, at least.
16. Have you ever considered writing in another genre?
I tend to mash horror, fantasy, and crime now in most everything I write. My fantasy stuff is contemporary, the kind of dark fantastique that Barker is famous for. But I do have plans for an epic fantasy trilogy, in a different world setting. It’ll still have those horror and crime elements, but I’ll get to play with new worlds, races, magic, and so on. I keep putting it off, but I need to decide on a year to put aside other projects and get that written, I think.
17. Pen names – yay or nay?
Sure, why not? But only with good reason. Name recognition is important and readers will follow authors across genres, I think. But I’d love to write something middle grade (my son is 6 now and I’d like to write something he could enjoy) and I might use a pen name for that.
Or at least a variation like A R Baxter or something. But that’s more to protect innocent young minds from my adult stuff.
18. What marketing tips would you give to someone starting out in their career?
Man, marketing is a horrible beast. Honestly the best marketing is to write another book. Write the best book you can, and then do it again. Then keep doing it. Everything else is garnish.
19. What (or who) are your most significant influences?
Like I mentioned above, Clive Barker. His blend of horror and fantasy is my jam all the way. I’m also a huge fan of Stephen King, especially his characterisation. And I adore the way Ursula K Le Guin weaves stories, so she’s always been a big influence too. Beyond that, I have so many influences for different reasons. I take inspiration from all over the place.
20. Would you be so kind as to give us an elevator pitch for one of your books? Why should readers check out your work?
Sure, what about for Devouring Dark, which is my most recent novel? It’s the story of a young man, Matt McLeod, who’s being consumed by an internal darkness, but he’s learned to wield it like a weapon, and he’s taking out as many bad guys as he can before it finishes him off. Then he comes to the attention of a nasty gangster who wants to use Matt for his own ends. And Matt discovers a woman with a power like his, but hers isn’t killing her. Set in London, it’s like if Clive Barker and Quentin Tarantino collaborated on Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Why should people read my work? Because I write the most entertaining and exciting books I can, that have a lot more depth than simple action.
21. Of all the books you have written, which is your favourite and why?
I can’t choose a favourite child! I love all my books, sometimes for different reasons. Devouring Dark I love because I got to write the horror/fantasy London crime novel I’d always wanted to write; Hidden City I love because it’s an ode to city life and dark magic, plus cosmic horror; the Alex Caine Series because it’s an epic trilogy of martial arts and magic; The Roo because it’s an absolutely bonkers creature feature novella… I could go on and on. I love them all and I refuse to pick a favourite!
22. What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
My website is a central hub where you’ll find everything. That’s at www.alanbaxteronline.com I’m most active on Twitter @AlanBaxter To find out about my books, probably best to check out this page on my site and go from there: https://www.alanbaxteronline.com/books/
We're grateful to Alan for spending time with us and wish him lots of luck in the future - especially with any TV/film deal!