Alex Davis / From Red Shirt to Captain
Literature Officer, QUAD, Derby
I first met Alex Davis at a small genre con ‘Alt.Fiction’ in Derby, UK around ten years ago.
Davis back then helped to organise the event held at QUAD, which grew into his established now two-day event ‘Edge Lit’, a literature event combining workshops, panels, kaffeeklatsches and ‘bar-con’ as well as a dealers’ area.
It is regularly attended by the likes of Mark Morris, Tim Lebbon, Gary McMahon, Sarah Pinborough (now the event’s patron), TTA Press, Adele Wearing (Fox Spirit Books), Danie Ware, Paul Kane, Marie O’Regan, Laura Mauro, Priya Sharma, Georgina Bruce and that’s just as regular attendees.
The last few years have seen a host of Guests of Honour including Paul Tremblay, Christopher Golden, Joanne Harris, Emma Newman, Sarah Lotza and more. It is the go-to genre event for most writers, in addition to FantasyCon.
Alex, who has organised events, taught creative writing, worked for Black Library and released his own novel plus anthologies, is a Jack of All Trades and Master of Many.
Alex’s predominant focus, now he works as Literature Officer for The Quad, is education. He has also recently been as Associate Lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing for the University of Derby.
He has delivered courses such as From Idea to Publication, How to Get Published and Let’s Write a Book, and continues to teach online workshops during lockdown.
I thought Alex was a great place to start my interview series looking at genre professionals:
Theresa: Hi Alex, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. You’ve always had a desire to push others to do better with their writing, myself included. Now we’re in lockdown, how have you approached the courses you currently deliver, and what are they?
Alex: We’ve all had to adapt in very difficult times, and I thought that providing a series of workshops online would be a good idea. I’ve run a few for organisations like Nottingham Writers’ Studio and Derbyshire Arts Services, but I wanted to run some of my own sessions on a ‘pay what you like’ basis. It’s been difficult times out there for many people, so for me ‘pay what you like’ means you can simply adjust to your own circumstances. There’s no set price and no pressure – it’s important to me for it to be open for everyone, whatever they’re experiencing during lockdown.
Theresa: I’m particularly interested in the way you edit short stories, anthologies and novels etc. What key lessons do you feel you have learnt in editing from your early days with Warhammer through to the present?
Alex; I always find copy-editing a fascinating process, and it took me a while to catch on to the most important thing – understanding what it is the author is trying to do. You’re not looking to rewrite it how you would write it, or how another author in the same genre would write it – that sensitivity to the author’s tone and intention is crucial. I’ve edited about every genre you could think of, and that runs through everything. Of course a fine eye for detail is important too, but I always ask myself: ‘Is this book/chapter/scene achieving what the writer wants it to?’ Then, if it isn’t, what can I do about it, or suggest to the writer?
Theresa: Right now, many of us are still shielding or working from home. How can we keep motivated when we have boredom mixed with distractions such as Netflix?
Alex: This current time has been really interesting in the motivational sense – personally, I have really good days and then really bad days. Lockdown has been hard on everyone psychologically to some extent, so I think it’s important to be forgiving towards yourself. Castigating yourself is actually hugely demotivating. I think one of the important things is routine – many people have lost that right now, but if you can build in an hour, half an hour, even fifteen minutes to write something that will all be hugely valuable. If it can be a fixed time or day, then all the better.
Theresa: What is your working pattern like?
Alex: Usually very intense! It’s been a bit less so during lockdown, but then there’s been home schooling to think of too. I’m honestly probably the worst example of how to do work-life balance – my typical working week is probably 50-60 hours, and some are even more than that. But I always get a great deal of enjoyment out of my work, so that helps to compensate in a way.
Theresa: When it comes to writing education, what texts or websites would you particularly recommend to those trying to improve their writing skills?
Alex: I doubt I’ll produce anything too revelatory here – the ones that usually get listed are on those lists for a reason! Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones, Stephen King’s On Writing (as well as Danse Macabre), Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat… I write a monthly piece for Writing Magazine and always find there’s a lot of good tips in that each month too.
Theresa: The Ghost Story Festival you ran last Nov/Dec with a number of well-known writers went down really well. How did you approach organising such a varied event?
Alex: It was a bit different to anything I’d done before, but it was something that I’d had in mind and wanted to do for a number of years. Ghost stories have a strong following within horror but also outside of it, and to have great authors like Adam Nevill, Laura Purcell, Andrew Michael Hurley and Martyn Waites headlining that first year was a big launch. The approach at large was to be a bit less intense than a convention, which really has stuff happening all the time every day the event runs. For the festival, some people came to a whole host of events with a pass, but some just popped into one or two, so that was a big difference. As always with the first time you do anything, you learn lessons from it, but I hope to at some point be back with an even bigger and better year two!
Theresa: What are your plans once we return to a hopefully Covid-free world?
Alex: There’s plenty to pick up on that was rather left dangling in March, so that’ll be first on the list! It’ll certainly be nice to be able to again run physical events at some point – workshops, author interviews and hopefully some bigger things too. In a way I think it’ll be fairly steady at first as we all ease back in to things. Safety has to come first, as much as I’m keen to get stuck back in.
Theresa: You’re currently running some ‘pay what you like’ workshops online. I myself am signed up for the Dialogue Workshop on 21st July. What kind of techniques will you be looking at? And why pay what you like?
Alex: In that dialogue session we’ll be exploring things like the features of dialogue, how dialogue can move story forward, how dialogue can help to develop character and how dialogue can convey mood. There’ll be some fairly rapid-fire exercises and discussions as part of that as we explore things. As I mentioned earlier, the pay what you like is pretty much a response to the times – if you’ve got a few quid, and you can contribute something for the session, then great. If not, then you’re more than welcome too.
Theresa: Finally, we all know the arts are imperative to the U.K. Hence the government agreeing to support the arts following a nationwide petition – which areas would benefit the most right now?
Alex: I’m sure there’ll be far more qualified people looking at that question than me! There are so many incredibly valuable branches to the arts, and people working in all sorts of ways – employed, freelance and all sorts of combinations of those – that would no doubt benefit from some support. But when you look at what the arts brings economically – and that’s without even mentioning the other benefits it brings – it’s great to finally have some action to help.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to me – and the Crystal Lake Patrons.
AVAILABLE NOW! Check out my host of writing workshops and author 1-2-1s, all available on a 'pay what you like' basis!
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexDavis1981 and @EdgeLitDerby