The Writing Life of: Alex Day
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Alex Day. Alex will be sharing with us details of her writing life, telling us all about her new book ‘The Best of Friends‘, which will be released on 9th April 2021, and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Alex Day is a writer, mother and dreamer who has been putting pen to paper to weave stories for as long as she can remember. Her actual job roles, like her plotlines, have ranged far and wide – from melon-picker to secondary school English teacher by way of video journalist and TV director. Her subject matter varies from the international to the domestic but whichever it is, her books are designed to keep readers guessing.
Alex Day is based in North London and, when she’s not teaching or writing, can usually be found slogging up and haring down the hills of Hampstead Heath where she regularly works out with her military fitness class buddies. She also is on a mission to have a 100% handmade wardrobe, though this aim has taken a diversion whilst she’s been putting her sewing skills to good effect making face masks for friends, family and colleagues.
1) Did you enjoy writing when you were a child?
As a child, I wrote all the time. One of my earliest memories is of nursery school and having a story I’d written about a giant being read out to the class. Far being proud, I was terribly embarrassed because I was very shy and hated being the centre of attention.
I sent my first book off to a publisher when I was about fourteen. It was about a hunted fox and told from the fox’s point of view – I think I’d recently read Jack London’s Call of the Wild and was influenced by that! Needless to say, it did not get published but the company did send me a letter telling me to carry on writing. Sadly, over the years as depression took hold, I lost all self-esteem and self-confidence and only wrote in fits and starts for a couple of decades.
2) Which author shaped your childhood?
Because I lived in the country and was never that bothered about TV watching, I read all the time I wasn’t at school or, as I grew older, working my Saturday and Sunday jobs. It’s so deeply unfashionable to say so now, but my early childhood reading was probably about 50% Enid Blyton – I think that’s the case for many people my age. Despite all the problems that surround her, the stories were cracking adventures. I loved both The Secret Seven and The Famous Five.
Apart from the ubiquitous Blyton, as a younger child I read pony books by the Pullein-Thompsons and Ruby Ferguson at the speed of one a day, and I adored Noel Streatfeild. I must have read Ballet Shoes ten times. Also gripping was the Lone Pine series by Malcolm Saville; The Secret of Grey Walls is one I clearly remember. They are all set in real places, each and every one of which fascinated me – Shropshire and the Long Mynd, Rye, London, Dartmoor.
As I grew up, I became somewhat obsessed with K M Peyton – not so much Flambards, but more the Ruth Hollis books. Fly-by-Night made a deep impression on me, covering my favourite topics of horses as well as the unknown and unfamiliar territory of boys….
3) What motivated you to begin your first novel?
I have always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t believe it was a career that someone like me could have. My parents were not writers, I didn’t know any writers and, above all else, I had to earn my living, pay my rent etc etc and writing was never something that would offer that. It still isn’t, to be honest! I’m reliant on my teaching income to keep the roof over my family’s head.
I fell into working in TV when I had my sights set on journalism and that distracted me for a while. I battled undiagnosed depression for many years, knowing there was something wrong but not knowing what it was and believing anyway that not being ‘OK’ was an unacceptable form of weakness. I also had three children and, as we all know, there is no enemy of creativity like the pram in the hall.
Eventually, I got help with the depression and that changed everything. I realised that if I wanted to be a writer, I’d have to actually get down to writing something. And so I did. By June 2021, I will have six published novels in my two pseudonyms, Rose Alexander and Alex Day.
4) Do you plot your book, or are you a pantser?
The first book was a pantser and then each subsequent one has been more and more planned. It’s just easier that way.
5) What is your average writing day?
There is no such thing as an average writing day! I work full time as an English teacher at an inner London comprehensive, and I have the aforementioned three children so even on a day set aside for writing, at the weekend or in the holidays, I have more or less non-stop interruptions. I have so little time that I’ve stood at the bus stop writing as I wait for the bus to come, and I once edited a manuscript at a party. I just have to write wherever and whenever I can, or it would never get done.
For a brief period I had a writing and sewing room in the house. Then the oldest daughter went to uni and I realised that the government loan does not in any way cover living costs so I would have to help her out on that, so I converted the writing/sewing room into an Airbnb. Now my desk is in my bedroom but the good part of it is that I can see everyone walking up and down my tiny street in Kentish Town so I know what all my neighbours are up to!
6) What is the best thing about being an author?
The best thing about being an author is having actually having done it! And now my books are paperbacks as well as ebooks, it’s amazing to have something physical to put on the bookshelf.
I love it when people write lovely reviews or send me messages saying how much they’ve enjoyed reading something. Anyone who reads knows the pleasure that can be derived from it and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to be the provider of that pleasure. Covid has made reading even more important than it ever was and perhaps one good thing to come out of such a terrible event is the increase in book buying that’s been going on, and especially the support of independent bookstores.
Publisher – One More Chapter
Pages – 271
Release Date – 9th April 2021
ISBN 13 – 978-0008455132
Format – ebook, paperback
Susannah is rebuilding her life…
Susannah has had a tough year. After a knotty divorce, moving to a small town in the south of England with her two sons is exactly the fresh start she needs.
Charlotte seems to have it all…
Charlotte is delighted when Susannah arrives in town. Charlotte may appear to have the perfect husband, the perfect family, the perfect house, but she needs someone to confide in.
But one of them is not who they pretend to be…
The two women instantly become best friends. But underneath the surface, secrets, lies and betrayals are all hiding. And when the truth comes out, not everyone will live to tell the tale…
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7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
This book has been bubbling along at the back of my mind for ages. It’s partly based on a true story of something that occurred with the flatmate of a friend of mine when we were all students. The rest of it is entirely made up but I love the whole idea of unreliable narrators and toxic friendships….
8) How long did it take to go from the ideas stage to writing the last word?
This book has taken absolutely ages to get right. Its current form emerged after the third complete rewrite, and I have to thank my agent, Megan Carroll at Watson, Little, for sticking with it and gently sending it back to me until it was right.
9) What made you choose the genre you write in?
I read a lot of psychological thrillers and had a lot of ideas jumping around in my head so I decided to go for it with my first one in this genre, The Missing Twin, and then The Best of Friends was a natural successor. I’m planning number three, The Family, as we speak….
10) How did you come up with the name(s) for your lead character(s)?
Ooh, names are so important, aren’t they? They say so much about the characters; their backgrounds and their personalities. Things as simple as whether they use a full name or a shortened version tell the reader so much. Both the women in The Best of Friends are rather well off, even though one has fallen on hard times, and they’re quite posh so Susannah (not Sue) and Charlotte (not Charlie) seemed quite perfect for them.
11) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
The most I can tell you about the characters in The Best of Friends is that none of them is exactly what they seem.
12) How did you feel when you had completed your book?
As it took three full renditions to get this book right, my feeling on completion was one of relief! When the editor from One More Chapter said she really loved it, I could hardly believe it. After all the hard work, I’d lost perspective and I still wasn’t sure it was any good. It was a fantastic feeling to have her believe in it so strongly.
1) Do you have a favourite quote you live by?
I actually really love my school’s motto which is from the book of James in the Bible: Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
It reminds me of one of my wedding readings, which I also try to live by, and which is from an Apache blessing: ‘May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty.’
2) Do you have any pets?
We have a cat called Sally that the whole family loves, apart from my oldest daughter who has a problem with jealousy. (Just kidding, M). Sadly, Sally makes it quite obvious on a daily basis that she could quite easily do without any of us.
3) What’s on your current reading list?
My current reading list is ridiculously long. I always read in bed before going to sleep, a habit I developed in childhood and cannot shake. Anything remotely challenging or difficult has to wait until the holidays as I’m too tired and brain-frazzled during term time. I’m currently reading a Liane Moriaty, which I am enjoying but there are so many characters I keep forgetting who is who and having to re-read bits.
4) Your book has been made into a feature film, you’ve been offered a cameo role, what would you be doing?
I’ll be the mad neighbour wearing a woolly hat in the middle of summer, who’s always popping in on people. No one thinks anything of her except that she’s an eccentric gossip but, as we all know, appearances are deceptive.
5) If you could travel to the fictional world of any book for the day, which would you choose?
The fictional world I would visit if I could would be that of Ballet Shoes. I would love spending my days with Pauline, Petrova and Posy, who are so like my three girls in temperament and character differences, and with lovely, kind Sylvia. I’d enjoy ‘saving the penny and walking’ along the Cromwell Road to the museums and taking lessons from the professors. The ballet dancing could be problematic, however. I was asked to leave the ballet class I briefly attended aged four due to being utterly devoid of any semblance of talent.
6) There’s a penguin sitting in your writing chair, what is the first thing he says to you?
He doesn’t say anything. Penguins can’t talk.
I would like to say a big thank you to Alex Day for sharing with us details of her writing life and for a wonderful interview.