Monday 1 December 2014

An Interview with Alex Wheatle

I was lucky enough recently to win a proof copy of Alex Wheatle's new novel Liccle Bit. I've read other novels by Alex and enjoyed them all. This book is aimed at the YA market. I was intrigued to see how he would write for teenagers. Almost from the very first sentence, I found myself hooked. The more I read, the more I cared about what happened to Lemar called Liccle Bit because of his height. The whole time I was reading, I felt like a mother does for her child, worry, worry, worry, and hoped I wasn't headed for an unhappy ending. It wasn't all edge of the seat reading though, the young  characters have their own language and boy is it funny, the humour is relentless and had me falling off my chair. No spoilers from me, you will have to read it yourself. What I will say is that this is possibly Alex's best book yet (though I am a bit biased), and it is a masterpiece of emotion, comedy and language.

Bookblurb: What's worse than hiding a secret? Liccle Bit's about to find out...Venetia King is the hottest girl at school. Too bad Lemar is the second shortest guy in his year. Everyone calls him Liccle Bit, and his two best friends, McKay and Jonah, never tire of telling him he has no chance with girls. Things aren't much better at home. His mum is permanently hassled, his sister a frustrated single mum and his dad moved out years ago. Liccle Bit wishes he could do something - anything! - to make life better. A new phone would be a start...When Venetia starts paying Liccle Bit attention, he secretly hopes he's on a fast track to a first date. Unfortunately, as a new gang war breaks out, he finds himself on a fast track to something much more sinister. South Crongton's notorious gang leader has taken an interest in Liccle Bit. Before he knows what's happening, he finds himself running errands. But when he hears about a killing on the estate, Liccle Bit is forced to question his choices. How can he possibly put things right?

Alex kindly agreed to be interrogated by me and here is what he said:

Can you sum up the novel in one sentence?

One line to describe the novel?  Gosh!  That's difficult.
Hope, friendship, adventurous, funny, dangerous, family, friends, loyalty, thrilling and readable!

Was it difficult writing a novel for the YA market? How did you manage the switch from adult to teenager?

I think the main difference from adult fiction to Y/A teen fiction is that the plot has to keep on rattling along - something is always happening.

Do you have children? Have they read the Liccle Bit yet?
No, my children haven't read LICCLE BIT yet but I'm sure they will do when it is officially published.

South Crongton where Lemar lives, is a fabulous dingy name; is it based on a real place?

I guess South Crongton was inspired by many places I have visited in my work as a writer including Portsmouth, Manchester, Birminham, Leicester and of course Brixton.

At the heart of the novel is the real life problem of gangs, knife and gun culture. What made you choose this subject?

Yes, the story is about the issues living on an inner-city estate but the spine of the narrative is about the dynamics within a family under strain, first love and friendship - and for me those themes are universal.

The language used by Lemar and his friends is very, very funny in places. Did you eavesdrop on real teenagers?
I did eavesdrop on teenagers a bit but also I invented some terms and new phrases.

Did you have an alternative ending?

I think most writers have alternative endings and I can reveal I had a number of discussions about the ending with my brilliant editor.

What advice do you have for would-be-novelists?
Advice?  Never be satisfied with a first draft - always look to improve a chapter, a paragraph and a sentence.  If you have thought of a good metaphor, try and think of a better one.  Be bold, be creative, be daring.  Try not to write like your favourite writer or another writer who you admire.  Develop your own style.  If you can, try and get someone professional to look over your manuscript before submitting it to a literary agent or publisher.  Write the book you would like to buy.  Make those first 10 pages compelling.  Never say in your synopsis, 'the action really gets going in the middle of the story.'

As part of the Finchley Literary Festival, Alex Wheatle talks about his acclaimed new YA novel Liccle Bit. He is joined by local authors Savita Kalhan and Ellie Daines. Turn up to meet the authors and hear some extracts from their books.

Waterstones hosts the 'Meet the Young Adult writers'
Waterstones, 782 High Road, Finchley N12 8JY
Saturday 23rd May at 12.30 - 1.30pm

Liccle Bit is due for release 5th March 2015. You can pre-order here
You can follow Alex on Twitter @BrixtonBard

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