Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Opposites attract in ‘glittering’ tale ... #review #interview

Tales involving mismatched couples are bound to result in hilarious results, and in Glitterland author Alexis Hall introduces readers to Ash and Darian, whose worlds are so far apart it’s sheer coincidence they ever met.

Hall elaborates: “I’m aware it’s a bit of a cliché, but, the truth is, I’ve always been a fan of opposites-attract stories. I think I’m generally into people who aren’t very much like me (which is probably a good thing, to be honest). I think there’s something quite romantic about two superficially different people finding common ground. I also like the idea that the essential, well, peopleness of people can cut through socially and culturally created barriers.

“I wasn’t deliberately setting out to write the two most apparently incompatible people ever or anything, but it just sort of panned out that way when I started thinking about who Darian was going to be, and who would make a suitable partner for him.

“Basically, Glitterland started with Darian and, once I realised I wanted to write about that sort of character, it was important to me that he could be taken seriously as a romantic lead and, for that matter, a human being. Which is why he ended up paired with someone so sharp and serious. Ash lives in a world that people like Darian are assumed to neither understand nor appreciate, and I sorted of wanted to challenge that.

“Once I knew who Ash and Darian were, and how let them have their voices, the story sort of told itself. I had a bit of trouble with the ending because my instinct was to make it much more downbeat, and compromisey than it actually wound up being. But my wonderful editor, Sarah Frantz, felt very strongly that it was too heavily skewed in favour of Ash, and denied Darian his desire for a declaration of love and a happy ending. And she was completely right. I much prefer the ending as it currently stands. I think one of the interesting things (interesting in the slightly euphemistic sense of difficult) about writing in first-person narration is you get completely sucked into the mindset of one person and, obviously, a romance is, almost by definition, about two (or more) people finding a space together.”

Part of the joy in seeing the contrasts in Ash and Darian comes across in their dialogue. Ash is quite “proper” – he speaks the Queen’s English rather beautifully – while Darian’s dialogue is unrestrained and heavily rooted in his regional dialect.  Hall says: “I honestly wasn’t sure how it was going to come across to readers until people started actually, well, reading it. I think mileage is probably going to vary considerably on this. Representing regional accents is really complex and I wouldn’t claim to do it with any kind of authority. But, given the first person narration and the pervasiveness of Ash’s perspective, it was really important to me that Darian have his own voice. I think one thing I really tried to bear in mind with Darian’s accent was that I was using dialect to represent sound rather than social class, if that makes any sense.”

As for giving his characters the breath of authenticity, Hall adds: “I watched a lot of The Only Way is Essex – which is a kind of British reality TV show set in Essex. I’m not sure that really counts as research because I’ve always quite enjoyed it. Similarly, the character of Darian was quite strongly inspired by an X-factor UK contestant called Rylan Clark, and so obviously I watched a lot of his interviews and appearances. Embarrassingly, I did rather more research on Essex than I did on bipolar depression, which makes me sound like I’ve got my priorities completely wrong, but, for various reasons, I’ve always been quite aware of mental health issues so my base-line level of knowledge was a lot higher.”

And as for who Alexis Hall, author, is, Hall adds: “I’m quite a private person so I tend not to talk about myself very much. I’ve only been Alexis Hall, author for about a year. I’m vaguely in the vicinity of thirty, I live in the south east of England, I have a full-time job that actually pays the bills, and I write books in my spare time, basically because I enjoy it. I’m kinda nerdy, so I read a lot, and play a lot of video games, and study 17th-century smallsword fencing.”

As for what we can expect next, literature-wise, Hall concludes: “I’m quite a flighty person so I tend to have several projects on the go at once. Truthfully, I’m nervous about works in progress just in case I talk loudly and publicly about something then my publisher decides they don’t want it.

“That said, I do have another book coming out with Riptide in December. It’s called Iron & Velvet, and it’s the first in an f/f paranormal detective series. I’ve always been quite into that sort of urban fantasy about arsekicking heroines surrounded by hot, supernatural creatures who all want to do her, and I thought it would adapt well to a queer framework. Basically, the idea was to take the genre convention that all your major power players want to get into the heroine’s pants and, well, be less heteronormative with it. So, yeah, it’s very different to Glitterland. It’s a high-energy romp with vampires, and werewolves, wizards and zombie nuns.”

And now, for my official review:
Title: Glitterland 
Author: Alexis Hall
Publisher: Riptide Publishing, 2013

When the Riptide review coordinator told me the editors were gushing about Glitterland, my curiosity was immediately piqued. So I requested a copy, even though this is not my usual genre. My verdict: I’m so glad I took a chance on this novel, because I was not disappointed. In fact, if I have to award any author the prize for “Best Dialogue Between Characters for 2013” it’s Alexis Hall.

Because Glitterland has it all – it’s sometimes cringe-worthy, occasionally snarky and often laugh-out-loud funny. Considering that there’s loads of dialogue written in what must possibly be the most horrendous Essex dialect, this is no mean feat, babes.

We meet Ash Winters, a reclusive manic depressive author whose love life is reduced to the occasional anonymous one-night stand with complete strangers. He doesn’t feel he deserves anything more than that and, in fact, he’s convinced himself he cannot handle anything more than that. With a botched suicide behind him, as well as stints in and out of mental institutions, he’s a bit of a basket case – to put it mildly. The only thing he has going for him is his career as a well-known writer of pulpy crime novels.

The absolute last thing he expects is to get romantically entangled with his rather fabulous “glitter pirate” as he calls Darian – one of his anonymous conquests that finds a way into his heart. Ash and Darian couldn’t be more contrasting as characters. Where Ash is reserved and somewhat aloof, Darian is a flamboyant model whose naïveté and genuine niceness wedges open a crack in Ash’s shell.

Through his contact with Darian, Ash learns to overcome his crippling depression, let his hair down and live again. This journey is, however, filled with bumps; Hall spins this tale masterfully, though at times I’d have liked to have kicked Ash hard. Darian’s honesty is, however beautiful. On the outside, he might seem like a facile creature, but he has a way of looking at the world that often allows him to make insightful observations.

Perhaps what makes this story for me is the way Hall effortlessly brings the characters to life in such a way that if we were to meet them on the street, we’d recognise them instantly (and it’s not just the way they talk). At times playful, and others quite poignant, Glitterland maintains a careful balance between its moods with a joyfully exuberant pace. And hell, I was sorry to turn the last page on this story.

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