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Surrealistic Planet

Meet the Bloggers: Alex from Spells and Spaceships

In this series of interviews, I’m talking to a bunch of people who are the lifeblood of the #indieauthor. Their hard work and time, their enthusiasm and commitment, enables the #selfpublishing community to thrive. Simply put, if they didn’t review and promote our books, no one would know about us. Which is why I thought it was time to turn the tables and ask them the questions.

My guest is Alex from the Spells and Spaceships. Alex is a great reviewer of all things fantasy and science fiction related. Like me, he conducts interviews and other writing-related items as well such as Norsevember and reading events like Monster Week, Pirate Week and the SFF Badge Collection. Look out for his upcoming pirate story, courtesy of Jenny Hannaford. Let’s find out more about him.

1. Tell us about yourself, Alex.

Hi Phil and thanks so much for having me! I'm 32 and live almost right in the centre of England with my other half, little boy and cocker spaniel (and now some fish and a shrimp too…). I enjoy nature, history, and of course reading.

2. What prompted you to start blogging and reviewing?

None of my friends are into reading and my siblings and parents don't read the same books as me, so I had nobody to talk to about my books. I always enjoyed writing and this gave me the opportunity to do it in a laid back way.

3. In a typical week, how much time do you spend reading and blogging?

Probably not as much as people who follow me on twitter might think! I tend to sacrifice sleep if I want to spend a chunk of time reading because I'm with my son in the daytime and work shifts. If I'm in a big reading phase I could maybe finish a couple of books within 3 weeks but in general it's 1 book over that sort of period! I like to do a bit of gaming and force myself to the gym so not all free time ends up being reading time. Reviews generally take me 2 hours as I like to put thought into them.

4. Do you have a favourite type of book? Or genre? Can we tempt you to list some favourite authors?

Generally I prefer books around 400 pages, fantasy being my no. 1 favourite genre. And I tend to like it set at a time reminiscent of the middle ages. Things start to get more civilised after that and civilised isn't always as fun!

5. Reviewing and blogging requires energy and commitment. What sustains you?

If I'm being honest, I think it's the engagement. Having people interact with the blog features I create gives me that same sort of happy feeling as when you see a parcel making its way to your house. Norsevember for example being as unexpectedly popular as it was really made me want to try and be a force for fun in the community and create stuff that energises people. It also just feels good to be involved, if that makes any sense. When it comes to reviews, which is the majority of my blog, I genuinely enjoy helping authors. It's a great feeling to know your review really understood what they were trying to capture, or if another reader says it encouraged them to buy the book.

6. Conversely, what annoys you about this job?

Gotta be all the whining and moaning and overreactions in the book (and probably wider twitter) community. I'm the first to admit that I like to have a moan from time to time, but it's more of a grumpy observation level moan. People on twitter get absolutely outraged every single day about things that don't really matter. People will argue anything. People are waiting to catch other out and tell them they're wrong. Hands are poised over keyboards with what about-isms and how something someone likes or something they said has a fainter than faint relation to something vaguely offensive. People just need to give others the benefit of the doubt more often and chill TF out.

7. What “ingredients” does a book need to have to really get you excited. I’m not talking generic things like world building or character either. More specific things.

I won't only read books with these things in them, but to turn those excitement levels up:

A great castle is a must. With a dark history. The more castles the better!

In general I like swords, battle axes, shields, heraldry, noble houses. Wars of the Roses era sort of inspired settings, the age of chivalry and stereotypical medieval warfare. That doesn't mean the setting has to be like Northern Europe though. If I could plan out my perfect fantasy book, it would still be loosely inspired by the middle ages or earlier, but including loads of made up factions taking inspiration from real world cultures, nations, empires, climates etc. so that we can get an authentically diverse cast of characters and cultures.

I also tend to like low fantasy where the setting feels like real history but with a bit of magic thrown in. Grimdark and gritty with political backstabbing, big battles, shocking twists. And then just to throw in some high fantasy, a dragon is always a good idea. Of course, I enjoy sci-fi a lot too but tend to be more picky. I love anything that captures the same bleak desolation of space that the film Alien does.

8. If you were a character in a fantasy story, what kind of role would you play? And would you survive to the final page?!

I think I'd be a swordsman who didn't put in as much effort into training as he should have when he was younger, so is still good but never quite lived up to his potential. He's fond of exploring taverns as much as he is the wilderness and so instead of being a great warrior, he's more of a sword for hire. He either settles down and starts a family business or dies defending a good cause.

9. You’re going on holiday and you’re going to have lots of time to relax (so without the family!) What five books would you take with you?

I'm going to choose the 5 self published books I'd take, so these are ones I either own or I'm really curious about that I'd like to read sometime soon:

● Hall of Bones - Tim Hardie

● The Blood Tainted Winter - T. L. Greylock

● Sea of Souls - N. C. Scrimgeour

● The Skin - J. E. Hannaford

● Conspiracy - A. C. Cobble

I don't really re-read books as there are so many! So these would be the self published books I'd take with me.

10. You help authors in lots of ways. Tell us how.

Interviews are one major way I like to help authors. Because right now I don't have much time to read and have such a backlog, I unfortunately have to politely decline the majority of review requests. The alternative of an interview if I have a bit of time, in my view can often provoke just as much interest for an author's work as a review. The difference being I'll write the interview questions in an hour or two and put the blog post together in half an hour; reading the book and reviewing might take me 10 or 12 hours. I put a lot of effort into my interview questions to make them:

A. Something the author will enjoy speaking about.

B. Something readers will enjoy reading the answer to.

C. Personalised to the author, not mostly generic.

Favourite food questions or what time of day the author writes are fine, but are they the main sort of questions that will keep potential readers reading the rest of the interview - or to go and buy the book?

11. Tell us what qualities matter when you write a book review. Not everyone finds them easy to do so what do you comment on and why?

I honestly just write about the biggest strength or the main thing that comes to my mind and write passionately about it. I don't have a formula where I'll first talk about setting and then characters, plot etc. Sometimes I will barely mention the plot and other times I'll talk about it in depth.

I've written others more like a scholarly essay when I first started reviewing because that's what I was sort of used to, but I've found the length of a review and how in depth you go matters less than showing potential readers whether they will love it or not. For me, going in on the most memorable aspects is a good way to do that.

12. You’ve always been an active supporter of #indieauthors. Why?

Every book no matter how it is published, starts with a person coming up with an idea and writing it. It goes through edits and rewrites and all the rest of it. Some of those finished stories are then chosen by agents and publishers. Those agents and publishers are still just people with opinions - they don't have to be right or wrong - it's literally just their opinion. Multiple very famous authors were turned down by many publishers before they got the deal that made them household names, and again all due to someone's opinion.

So for me, although many trad published books you expect have some level of polish, it is perfectly plausible (and has been proven so many times) that many self published books are a lot better than many trad published books!

You've also got to consider the market and how a publisher will choose what they think will be most successful on the market; I believe those special books that really speak into someone's soul, that take bigger risks for potentially an incredibly unique and amazing story, are more likely to be found in self-publishing. It is also not always a gauge of an author's ability or skill as a storyteller - many authors prefer to be self-published. So people who don't read self-published books are really limiting themselves to those books that publishers think the market wants (in many respects the safe bets) and are missing the chance to find that book that could speak directly to them more than anything they've ever read. Self-published authors work just as hard, so they deserve a chance too.

13. Which superhero would you be? (Marvel or DC!)

I think Batman is the coolest and I also almost went with Thor. Wielding Mjölnir and feasting in Asgard was nearly too hard to turn down.

My answer though is The Punisher. I absolutely love revenge stories and I like to see bad guys get justice served in a brutal fashion. Hard to think of anyone else this would be done better with. Then again, I wouldn't like to have his backstory. Maybe I should choose Venom instead where I can destroy the bad guys with less conscience than Spiderman?

14. When you read, do you listen to music? If so, what kind?

I try to match the music to the genre I'm reading, but it usually has to be without lyrics. If I'm reading a space opera I might listen to the Interstellar soundtrack or for fantasy there are some brilliant YouTube ambience channels, with names like fantasy tavern ambience etc.

For me the Witcher 3 has an incredible soundtrack and I'll put that on if I'm reading Witcher books or anything with those vibes.

15. Finally, if our readers want to discover more reviewers/bloggers, who would you recommend?

Ooh that's a really nice but also horrible question because I know for a fact I'm going to miss out some amazing people! I'm going to force myself just to list 10 and I'm so sorry to anyone I didn't include. For this I'm going on just those bloggers who I take book recommendations from, so any of my friends who I don't talk books with as much don't be offended ;-)

Nick Borelli (obviously) @NickRevws

Petrik Leo @petrikreads

Cassidee @sassideeee

Thanks Alex!

ThankYOU Phil!


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