Hi there, thanks for interviewing me on Novel Novice, it’s fantastic to be here!
Wow, great question! I managed to scare myself quite a bit when I was writing the series. I was really, really close to Alex, the main character, I felt like I was inside Furnace with him, and for me the scariest parts were the times that he lost hope, the times he almost gave up. I didn’t plan the books, so it really was Alex who drove the story forwards. I found myself relying on him to know what to do, how to survive, and when he lost hope I did too. It was a terrible feeling. In Solitary, Alex is thrown into solitary confinement – basically a cramped, lightless hole in the ground. The parts of the book where he’s locked away in there, when he is tormented by his own demons, were definitely the most terrifying to write. As for the most frightening to read, I think it has to be the Blood Watch in Lockdown – when the wheezers come for their victims…
How did you get the idea for Lockdown and the Escape from Furnace books?
The idea for the books really came from the character of Alex, who essentially was me. When I was a teenager I went through a terrible phase of getting into trouble – stealing, fighting, drinking. I was never as bad as Alex, but I was certainly in danger of becoming a criminal. Luckily, my family was great, they stopped me before it went too far and put me back on the right track. I moved on, grew older, started to do okay in life. But there was a version of me stuck in my head who never got that chance, who never got rescued, and who never got to tell his story.
I had wanted to write a scary book for ages, but I couldn’t think of an idea that worked. After a while, though, I realized that this version of me locked inside the purgatory of my head was the perfect starting place for a novel. I turned to Alex and finally let him tell his story. Fortunately for me, that story involved a nightmare prison! But the whole thing really did grow out of this one character. It was Alex’s life, red in tooth and claw, I just wrote down what happened.
The Furnace books are horror books, I never wanted them to become ‘issues’ books. I certainly didn’t want to try to teach lessons about the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Alex is a bad kid to start with, he commits some pretty awful crimes. But these crimes pale in comparison to what he is forced to do to survive when he’s locked away inside Furnace. This isn’t a story about a bad boy who goes to prison and learns the error of his ways!
But there are hopefully things that readers can take away with them. I hope the books help reinforce the immense value of friendship; I hope they teach that sometimes doing bad things for the right reasons is better than doing good things for the wrong ones, and that just because you’ve made mistakes in your life doesn’t mean you’re a bad person and that you’re beyond saving. I think the most important message, the one I’d like readers to take away, is that no matter how terrible things get, no matter how bleak life is, there is always – always – hope. Things will get better.
At the beginning of Lockdown, Alex admits he’s not a good kid. And while he definitely doesn’t deserve the punishment that’s handed down, he also isn’t completely innocent. Why is this so important to the story? How do you think the books would have been different if Alex was completely innocent?
I think the main difference is that the story wouldn’t be believable. The Furnace books do require a fairly hefty suspension of disbelief at times – as do many horror stories – but I hope that the characters, Alex especially, feel like real people. They have to, because if you don’t believe in them then how can you possibly accept the world of the story? Alex is a real person, because he is me in so many ways. I’ve done bad things – nothing too bad I have to point out! – the same way that everyone has done things they regret. There’s no such thing as somebody who is completely innocent – except for young children of course – and a character who claims to be will never feel like a living, breathing person. It would also completely change the tone of the story, because an innocent person’s experience of Furnace would be very different to Alex’s. When I was writing, the most interesting and challenging parts of the story were the ones where Alex wrestles with his own guilt, where he tries to understand the person he has become and questions whether he deserves to be inside Furnace. I don’t think the story would be anywhere near as powerful without this dynamic.
I think it’s the scariest book of the series so far, but for different reasons. Alex really is in a terrifying place – both literally and psychologically. He discovers the horrific truth of what is happening to the inmates. Worst of all, he realizes that in order to stand any chance of defeating the monsters of Furnace Penitentiary, he must become one of them …
It’s also the most action packed of the series so far as Alex and co make one last, incredible bid for freedom!
In the YA publishing world, there’s a lot of talk about “guy books” versus “girl books,” and it’s fairly clear from the style of the covers that the Escape from Furnace books are being marketed more as “guy books.” But at Novel Novice, we tend to think of them as just “books.” What sort of appeal do you think the Escape from Furnace books have for ALL readers?
I certainly never intended to write a “guy book” – other than the fact that I wrote a story that I’d want to read, and I’m a guy! I have to confess that there aren’t actually any female characters in the first three books, but my hands were tied there because there was absolutely no way that Furnace could be a mixed prison. Without wanting to give too much away, though, there is a female main character in the last two books. I just wrote Alex’s life as I saw it happening, I didn’t ever really consider who would read the books. I hope that, as a horror story and an adventure story, it will appeal to everyone, and I’ve actually had much more fan mail from girls than boys! I’d hate for anyone to think that it’s a book just for boys, because it really isn’t.
And it’s a Novel Novice tradition to ask our authors the following “flash style” questions:
What question do you always wish someone would ask you during an interview?
Hi, My name is Steven Spielberg, would you like me to make a movie of your books?
Now answer that question.
If you could trade places with one person for a single day, who would it be & why?
Wow, that’s a great question. I’d love to see the Earth from space, so possibly one of the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Or maybe Steven Spielberg so I could ask myself the above question!
What was the last movie you saw?
I watched Land of the Lost this afternoon with the family. It was quite enjoyable! The last thing I saw at the cinema was Tron, which was awesome.
Biggest TV addiction?
Everything, I’m a TV drama junkie! I’d have to say The Wire.
Meatloaf (the singer, not the food!)
Fruits or veggies?
I can’t remember if chocolate is a fruit or a vegetable.
“Bat Out Of Hell” or “I’d Do Anything For Love”
Favorite childhood toy?
It has to be a notepad and pencil, I’d sit and scribble story ideas for hours and hours. That and my teddy bear, Doggy.
Thanks again for interviewing me, it’s been great!