This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Keir Alexander's debut novel, The Ruby Slippers, is out today. A moving fantasia of hidden treasures, forgotten histories, lost connections, and our search for true meaning, Keir joins us to talk about the series of serendipitous events and encounters that led to the book's creation.
There isn’t such a thing for me at the moment. I work as a teacher, which has its own demands in and out of school. I have Fridays off, but these often get encroached on. If there’s a family issue to deal with it gets even more hairy. I’m not writing substantially at present, simply sifting ideas for my next book, but when it does get going, I’ve got a bit of a headache ahead.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
People I know are inspirational, undoubtedly. Celebs on the whole are not. I’d be more likely to be inspired by people in the news, rather than in the hall of mirrors that so much of the media has become.What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I can’t comment with any confidence on women’s fiction per se, but I do read women writers. Interestingly, the best of these have strong male characters. Mantel, Holmes and Tartt successfully do it. Jane Gardam has all this plus wicked humour and a great natural style. But, if pressed, I’d go back a bit and plump for The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark – searingly witty, dark and truthful. Like all the above, she dealt unflinchingly with the dodgier parts of human nature, but with compassion and insight to counterbalance the satire.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I plan first – fiddle and fuss the life out of it before I start. Then, when I’ve got my structure, I go for it and take off at tangents when they present themselves. I did 11 drafts of The Ruby Slippers.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I hope you’re ready for this. It started with a dream I had in 1988; an actual dream, I mean one you have when you are asleep. I was at home and nearly asleep one night, when I heard a man’s voice say, as clear as day: ‘Do the red shoes’. It was as if someone was in the room speaking loud and clear. I later found out that it’s called a hypnagogic hallucination and is quite common. The experience stayed with me and I remained curious about it from then on.
The first thing I did was to get hold of Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Red Shoes. It’s a story with a vicious moral, so I wasn’t drawn to it at all. Next, I had a look at the Powell and Pressburger film of 1947 of the same name. Although the film is adored by many and is quite a feat artistically, once more it didn’t do much for me. Then, in 1992, I heard that Kate Bush was bringing out an album called The Red Shoes. At the time she could do no wrong as far as I was concerned, and her two previous albums were touched by genius. When I finally got hold of it, it came as a disappointment – inferior to her earlier stuff and containing nothing meaningful for me, so I carried on none the wiser.
Then, in 2000, I quit teaching in order to become a film-maker and set about making short films, which is a way of getting noticed by producers. I was lucky enough to get funding to make a short film that won the top short film award in Wales, where I was living. I spent two years drumming up funding to develop my first feature length film. It wasn’t much, but it got me and my producer to within three weeks of filming, only for it all to fall apart when one of our backers failed to put the cash on the table at the vital moment. The one saving grace to this chequered tale is that shortly after this, something came up.I went to visit my son who had just moved to a flat in Cardiff, and by chance met my eldest daughter on the doorstep. She was wearing a badge, which had an image on it of the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and I just felt that my question had found its answer. I actually said, out loud, ‘That’s it’. I had no idea why, but I knew absolutely that this dream-voice and these slippers were linked. I hasten to add that The Wizard of Oz held no special meaning for me. My mother took me to see it when I was five, in the little cinema that used to be at Oxford Circus. I remember watching it up to the point where the wicked Witch of the West appears, then shot out of my seat and ran out of the door and into the street, never to return! I certainly didn’t feel sentimental about it.
Notwithstanding the childhood trauma, I decided to check the ruby slippers out on the internet and so discovered some intriguing facts about them and their iconography. The ones in the Smithsonian, the ones that were stolen or sold for fortunes, all of the replicas you can buy cheap and wear in your own home, that kind of thing. I was particularly interested that the gay community had such strong affection for the movie, the slippers and Judy Garland herself of course. I sat down and wrote a synopsis, as simple as that. It kind of assembled itself spontaneously. I was used to writing film treatments, so it was natural I would choose the form, and I soon had a treatment that I thought could stand up. However, this was when my feature film collapsed and I was in no position to propose a new project.
It wasn’t until five years later that I dusted off The Ruby Slippers synopsis again. I’d got out of writing of any kind by then. I knew what with rights issues and the ownership of the original film, I wouldn’t stand any chance of getting a feature done outside Hollywood, so I decided I would write it as a novel – another simple decision, but at the end of such an extraordinarily long and meandering inception. I can’t help but feel that if the book ends up a success, this could all add up to a strange but ultimately meaningful story. If it doesn’t, it might be just a bizarre but disconnected series of events that happened for no explicable reason.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That you’ve got all the time in the world. I started late in life and there just isn’t enough time left to me to write all the stuff I’d like to. That’s not being morbid, just realistic.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Just do it. But don’t be put off if it’s painful to do at first. It doesn’t mean it’s not meant to be; the rarest gems are mined in dark, hard, dirty places.
What are you working on at the moment?
Deciding on my next book – agonising over it – which of three to go for.