Author Interview – Marcus Alexis – Thomas The Baker
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I am very visual person, working as a graphic designer. I’m a history lover, and found that real world has never lived-up to being read Tintin as a child!
When did you first WANT to write a book?
In 2013 because I couldn’t believe that wasn’t a storybook about the topic.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I started work in 2013, but had to deal with interruptions and other books! As I wrote, I discovered it’s more complicated than I expected.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Nine years because I have a day job.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Thomas The Baker?
Storybooks can deal with dark, dangerous themes. I have two sons who dress up by grabbing a sword, and their favorite part of the BFG cartoon is the arrival of the soldiers and the helicopters, so I wanted to write a children’s book with elements like that, and The Fire of London offered the opportunity.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Thomas The Baker?
Being true to the real life event while creating a 32-page picture book. Choosing to make it rhyme didn’t make it easier, but it gives the story pace and I enjoy the discipline.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
While I’ve been advised that the prerequisite of a successful children’s book is to have a child or animal as the Protagonist, I find a hapless adult character compelling. Although the Great Fire offers a rich cast of real characters to choose from, such as King Charles II, Samuel Pepys, the Mayor of London and Christopher Wren, I chose to write about Thomas Farriner, a poor baker who wouldn’t usually get even a footnote in history if not for his bad luck that late summer’s night.
What is the inciting incident of Thomas The Baker?
The fire is both the drama and the villain of the story, with its own story arc as it grows from a tiny spark on page six to being all-consuming, ever-increasing over the following twenty pages. The exciting climax to the story is when the fire was finally stopped by using explosives to blow up houses and create fire breaks. My favourite and most exciting part of the story is the soldiers rolling barrels of gunpowder from the Tower ‘as if for war’.
What is the main conflict of Thomas The Baker?
Really its moral. Most people’s immediate reaction, and in most cases the only practical thing, was to run away. But some people did stay and fight the fire, sacrificing effort and property in the process. Spectators watched the fire from the safety of the south bank of the Thames, and history allows us to do that ourselves, but I think you inevitably wonder what you would have done if you’d been there.
Did you plot Thomas The Baker in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
You have to have a strict plan because children’s picture books have to conform to a strict 32-page format. It never works first time, so with each revision you must restructure: one page in and one page out!
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Thomas The Baker need?
Yes. I relied on ‘listeners’ for the many revisions who argued over rhymes. The final professional edit was by Victoria Richards at Cranthorpe Millner, who was kindly advised that it did not need too many edits by that stage; but her fresh eyes were able finesse a few unresolved issues I had.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
My advice for children’s picture books is to think very carefully before you choose to write in rhyme! It can be quite maddening.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you are planning to write?
I have finished a companion manuscript because other stories from history can be treated similarly. Colonel Blood & the Crown Jewels is the follow up. It’s a dramatic true story from Restoration period at the Tower of London.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment?
Yes. All the redrafts and rewrites were often exasperating, but ultimately it was a hugely satisfying experience.
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