An Interview with Alex Robins, author of The Broken Heart of Arelium
Alex Robins hails from the sunny Loire Valley in western France, surrounded by imposing castles and sprawling vineyards. The Broken Heart of Arelium is his first novel. He’s generously offered to answer some review questions
What is your favourite dragon in literature?
Hi there, Rose, and thank you for putting these questions together!
This is going to sound terribly cliché so I apologise in advance, but probably Smaug. The Hobbit was the first fantasy novel I ever read, drawn to John Howe’s brilliant depiction of the dragon on the cover.
For a more unconventional answer, my second favourite is Silvara, a silver dragon in Weis & Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Silvara’s tragic romance with Gilthanas is truly heart-breaking and it was probably the first time I realised that fantasy novels could tell character-focussed stories that are just as deep and meaningful as any other genre.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external hard drive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
I do have a couple of false starts sitting on a hard drive, yes! Neither has been abandoned nor are they anywhere close to being presentable.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
It’s only been two years since I started writing regularly, but already in that time, I feel I’ve improved in leaps and bounds. In fact, I was rereading part of my first novel with my editor recently and we both remarked that it almost seemed like it had been written by a different person compared to the subsequent books in the series!
I think the most important thing that’s changed is that I’ve managed to find a style that accommodates the type of story I want to tell. I love fast-paced novels, yet when I started writing the first book in the series I was under the (false!) impression that epic fantasy had to be at least 800 pages and full of long, descriptive paragraphs. It doesn’t. Epic refers to the story being told not the length of the book! My later novels flow a lot faster and, in my opinion, make for better reading.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
A bit of both. The idea for this series of novels has been percolating for a while, which means that now I’m finally ready, writing it down comes fairly easily.
I think it also depends on the type of prose. My prose is, by choice, the opposite of lyrical. I want it to be fast and snappy. This style of writing is generally easier than a more poetic, deeply descriptive style.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
Definitely digital. What’s great about having a laptop is that you can write almost anywhere. My favourite place by far is in a comfy armchair by the fire, my feet propped up on a stool and my laptop on my knees.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
I am exceedingly lucky! I have loving family members who not only read my books but also seem to really enjoy them (or they are amazing actors). That was especially important for my first novel when I hadn’t yet established a fanbase of any sort.
I now have 4 or 5 readers who have been following me from the first novel and who are the first to read my latest efforts.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I never, ever read digital. Unfortunately, living in France means I don’t really go into bookshops any more (unless travelling to the UK), but I order physical copies of everything I read. It’s also why I’m adamant that all of my books should be available in paperback as well as digital, despite the additional cost and hassle that involves. Some readers may not know this, but an indie author like myself will probably make more money from the digital version of their novel than the paperback, and this is more likely to be true the longer the novel (more pages mean higher printing costs). But not having a physical version at all just doesn’t feel right to me.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
Absolutely. Fantasy was my first love and will probably always be my favourite. But it would be crazy to close yourself off from all other genres, wouldn’t it? There’s so much great stuff out there! Over the years, I’ve been reading more and more sci-fi, historical fiction, and horror.
Historical fiction in particular fascinates me. The time authors must spend on research to make sure everything is correct (or what most historians believe to be correct) is mind-boggling. And some real-life historical events are far more epic than a great deal of fantasy!
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
I think that makes two of us! I’m very bad at social media in general (probably because I’m over forty), something not helped by the fact that living in France means I’m in a different time zone from a large part of my reader base. I use social media very sparingly and mostly to promote current and upcoming projects, not to post pictures of my Christmas tree or my garden …
Strangely enough, the most fun I have is writing and sending out my monthly newsletter (which you can subscribe to from my website at http://warofthetwelve.com). I feel it’s easier to engage with people who like your work enough to sign up to receive information about it. The newsletter allows me to talk a bit about my personal life on top of the obligatory promotions.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
Hah! Great question! Not necessarily recycle word for word, but some answers will of course be similar. The book that drew me into reading will never change, neither will my difficulty at mastering social media 😊