Alex Mae: Author
Here at My Little Black Book HQ, we love nothing more than a bookshelf bursting with quality new reads.
So when we were introduced to millennial author, Alex Mae, we jumped at the chance to find out what it actually takes to go from pen and paper to publication. Having devoured her debut novel, beats per minute, we quizzed the one-time actress turned author on books, beats and, errm, Backstreet Boys?! Read on to discover a protagonist who is being described as the ‘new Katniss Everdeen’, and the woman behind the must read fantasy novel of the summer.
My Little Black Book: Alex, you are the author of beats per minute, a new fantasy novel published in July. Tell us about yourself and your path to publication.
Alex Mae: I’ve always loved writing – in fact, I wrote a rather epic tale about the Backstreet Boys when I was about thirteen (oh dear)! I’m a poor sleeper and one of my favourite alternatives to counting sheep is to think about films I’ve seen or books that I’ve read and come up with alternate scenarios or plot points. So stories have always been in my head, as strange as it sounds.
With this particular story, I wrote the manuscript and worked on it with a lovely agent for some time, but we couldn’t get any traction when we sent it out to publishers – lots of nice feedback about the writing, which was heartening, but no deal. You hear a lot of talk about how hard it is for debut authors to get ‘traditional’ publishing deals now, and I’m sure the competitiveness of the market didn’t help my cause, but added to that is the fact that my book doesn’t fall easily into a category: it’s a coming-of-age, contemporary fantasy but not exactly urban, it’s not futuristic or dystopian, and there are no witches, vampires or werewolves. ‘Love the story, but difficult to break in this market’ was the feedback I kept getting.
However, I think it’s a good story and I love the characters, so I decided to publish it online. I’m a keen Kindle user myself so Amazon seemed the obvious choice, and because I’m more interested in encouraging people to read the story – rather than making moola – I decided to sell it for 99p.
MyLBB: What was the inspiration for beats per minute?
AM: I love strong female characters; I started work on this before reading the Hunger Games (which I adore) but was definitely influenced by other ballsy female characters like Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lyra in His Dark Materials.
Raegan, the protagonist, is intelligent, enquiring and mature for a girl of her young age – her life has not been easy – but at the same time she’s lost: the death of her mother and the upheaval that has followed means that she’s lost her ‘roots’, and she doesn’t know who she is or what she wants. I wanted to portray that adolescent struggle of learning about yourself and learning to live with yourself, but to give it an extra twist to do with family, history and a hint of the supernatural. Put it this way: Raegan really, really doesn’t know herself – and it’s exciting to travel with her as she learns more and more about her place in the world, the reality about that world, and what she is capable of (which is far more than she could ever have imagined).
Too many stories with young women at the centre depict their heroine’s defining relationship as being with a man, a love interest – I wanted my protagonist’s defining relationship to be with herself.
MyLBB: We love this. True girl power; pow! So why did you choose the fantasy genre for your debut novel?
AM: I’m a voracious reader, and I felt that I only knew how to write books that I wanted to read – and I love reading good fantasy. I think by bending or expanding reality, fantasy allows the reader to explore what is most basic and human about him/herself. It’s a unique perspective through which to view the world and can be a wonderful magnifying glass.
It also allows the writer a great deal of freedom; your story can be funny, dramatic, romantic and epic all at once, it’s still ‘legitimately’ a fantasy. However, you are relying on your reader suspending disbelief to a certain degree, so your writing needs to be nuanced and well-considered. It’s not an easy genre – I’m in awe of writers like Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling, who create such believable and compelling worlds.
MyLBB: The book begins in the real world, on a tiny island off the coast of Wales. Why did you choose to start the story in this setting?
AM: So much of the story is about learning to stand on your own two feet, and as such it was important for Raegan to start from a place where she felt very alone. I grew up in London, like Raegan, and living in a big city affords you both a strange sense of comfort – the familiarity of all the ‘bigness’ – and also anonymity. I wanted to take away those anchors so that the character had nowhere to hide.
There’s also the gorgeous mystical quality that the backdrop of such a rural, isolated setting affords. The island has a fierceness to it, a kind of untamed beauty – the perfect introduction to Raegan’s grandfather, Con, who is warden of the island and fairly mysterious himself.
Finally, the island functions as a useful bridge between the ‘real’ world and the ‘fantasy’ world that Raegan discovers. By virtue of its strangeness – the island is an unknown entity to Raegan as she’s just moved there – the island introduces that idea of the ‘unreal’ from a very early point, so that from the outset Raegan is testing the limits of what she thinks she knows to be true and what turns out to be the case.
MyLBB: As alluded to above, readers have fallen in love with the protagonist, Raegan O’Roarke, who has been described as a ‘refreshing female heroine’ who ‘does not spend vast quantities of time weeping/moping/sulking but actively gaining in strength as the story gathers momentum’. Would you say you relate to her and any of her characteristics?
AM: I think Raegan is a lot more serious than I am, a quality I both admire and find infuriating when writing! Sometimes I want to say ‘lighten up, dude…!’
But in all seriousness, she’s wonderful. I have a tendency to make jokes in every situation, but Raegan is the kind of person who feels things very deeply and takes every last detail to her core. This can mean that she misses the big picture, sometimes, and that she thinks a bit too much – she’s anxious to make the right decision and weigh up every bit of information before plunging in. But this is also one of her great strengths: she’s very brave, but rather than being hot-headed like Bree (another character), this passion is tempered by a sharp and analytical mind. Raegan is a great friend and will be a great warrior (not to give anything away…!): you’d certainly want her in your corner if you had to throw down.
MyLBB: The reviews on Amazon are amazing, with many already waiting in suspense for the sequel and comparing your debut novel to the likes of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Mortal Instruments. How do you feel about this?
AM: It’s wonderful, and so kind. Just to think of someone reading my book is amazing enough, but to hear that he/she enjoyed it… wow. I never really thought about being a ‘good’ writer, I just wanted to tell a gripping story – so if it keeps people turning the page, I’m thrilled, and really couldn’t ask for more than that.
MyLBB: Well we can confirm it’s a page turner! Thinking about yourself for a moment, who is your favourite author and why?
AM: Ooh, that’s so hard. J.K Rowling has a special place in my heart – I grew up with the Harry Potter series and must’ve read the books about a hundred times. They really are magic to me.
If I’m being ‘grown-up’, I adore Sebastian Faulkes: such evocative, beautiful writing. And my guilty pleasure is definitely Jilly Cooper. RC-B forever.
MyLBB: We concur! When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
AM: Eating lots or watching lots. Occasionally sleeping lots. My boyfriend and I love trying new restaurants, when we have the pennies; when we’re saving money, we devour box sets like there’s no tomorrow.
MyLBB: Nice. And what books are you reading at the moment?
AM: I’ve just finished the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. I find dystopian, futuristic fantasy really exciting, and I loved the first book in particular.
MyLBB: Prior to picking up your pen, you were an actress. What would you say is your favourite film adaptation of a book you’ve read?
AM: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, without a doubt. Incredible detail and such tangible respect for the source material. I could watch these films over and over again and discover new things about Middle Earth each time. The soundtrack is fantastic, too.
MyLBB: In beats per minute, there are characters that have the ability to shape shift and take on an animal form. If you had this power, which animal would you turn into and why?
AM: Great question! I’d love to think that it was something sleek and sexy, like a panther, but it’d probably be something much slower and more ponderous. Toss-up between an elephant and an owl, I think: I’m quite clumsy (elephant) but have also been working hard on my piercing gaze (owl).
MyLBB: Let us know when you’ve mastered it! So what is next for Alex Mae?
AM: I’ve just finished the draft of my second book, which is another fantasy novel but set in a different world to beats per minute: it’s much more urban in feel with an edgier, sci-fi vibe. It was really fun to write so I’m quite excited about it. I’m also looking forward to returning to the beats per minute characters – I’ve got the second book plotted out now so watch this space…
We certainly will, Alex! As far as we’re concerned, a return to Ragean and the Regents cannot come soon enough.