After several incident-filled years of travelling the armpits of the world Marcus Alexander decided to pack in all serious attempts at reaching maturity and instead embraced the much more suitable world of parchment scribbling for a living. Who is Charlie Keeper? is an artfully addictive novel, first in a planned trilogy involving the spirited and often outrageously blunt Charlie.
Marcus kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in February 2009.
You are male; Charlie Keeper is female. How did you manage to make Charlie behave and react in a way that is accurate and believable? Did you have a muse?
Marcus Alexander: Charlie was for me very much a design of intuition, I would struggle to say she came from just one muse rather she came from many. She’s a conglomeration of cheeky friends, quirky characters met whilst travelling, an over exposure to anime and of course as I’m constantly battling the need to accept adulthood I’d have to say there’s a little of me in her too. (Err… obviously not the girly side.)
Lobak Oren and Little Zed are responsible for the magnificent illustrations that decorate the pages on the book. How close have they come to mirroring your own imagination?
Marcus Alexander: Working on a budget the artwork was a real struggle to achieve, in fact the bulk of the production time came from sourcing an artist who could produce the manga/anime style that I required and to the tune of my rapidly shrinking piggy bank. I was fortunate enough to find Lobak online and was thrilled when he took the commission. As he was based in Malaysia it took a lot of correspondence to get things right, I’d collate images and ideas together, scan them to him and with a bit of perseverance from both sides managed to iron out the final caricatures. I think Lobak, along with Little Z, did a wonderful job of interpreting my ideas while still running true to their own design elements and inherent flair.
The reader reviews for Who is Charlie Keeper? on Amazon are incredibly positive – this must be very gratifying. How much encouragement does this bring to an author and, on the other hand, how do you cope with any negativity that comes your way?
Marcus Alexander: There are days when I’m optimistic and on the flip side there are days when I’m gnawed by doubts. I’m not sure if self-publishing was the correct step forward, I had hoped to produce a viable product which, after selling (and fingers crossed) hopefully getting favourable reviews, then approach publishers without the need for an agent and perhaps cut a deal. I’m aware that this isn’t the traditional approach to getting published but there’s so much competition nowadays and the thought of joining a publisher’s/agent’s slush pile seemed a dreary prospect. I would have to admit that self-publishing is very much an uphill struggle so positive reader’s reviews are always, always appreciated.
Who is Charlie Keeper? is a book for young-adults. There are parts in there that are quite scary; for instance, Bane, Lady Narcissa and Mr Crow are extremely threatening and cruel to Charlie. Were you ever concerned that you may have gone to far for your target audience?
Marcus Alexander: Yes, absolutely I had concerns, in fact I still do. Prior to printing I did my best to query friends, young readers and readers with children on their points of view before printing all of whom gave me the go ahead. I’m not sure if there is a future backlash awaiting me or not but in comparison to today’s media the theme of vengeance found within Who is Charlie Keeper? shouldn’t appear excessive. Indeed I would hope that Charlie’s strong sense of morals, held true even in her darkest moments should prove a balance to the some of the other characters.
Graffiti and street art has resulted from your book. What are feelings on this?
Marcus Alexander: A part of me loves the vibrancy of graffiti while a part of me hates its destructive capabilities I think it can add colour and humour to a concrete wilderness, it can also damage beautiful buildings and private property. I think graffiti artists should be offered more chances to paint legally and responsibly in order to allow talent to flourish but I also strongly believe that the younger, more immature taggers/thoughtless artists should be educated on how their scrawls damage neighbourhoods and homeowners.
Graffiti. Its a tricky debate.
In regards to artists being influenced by Charlie Keeper, I’m definitely excited; I won’t lie I have to say that the exposure helps.
(Err…don’t kick me for being honest.)
I have managed to track down one group of artists who were using my characters, ‘The Corrupt Government Crew’ by googling their tag. I’ve since got in contact with them and persuaded them to cease spraying, so far they have been my only success. If the other artists out there don’t sign their artwork they’re almost impossible to trace.
If I could get a message across to these artists it would have to be:
“STOP SPRAYING CHUMPS! I’M GETTING PROSECUTION NOTICES FROM LONDON COUNCILS FOR YOUR WORK!”
In an ideal world I’d probably say that with a raised eyebrow and a large stick.
Also if the graffiti artists in question were larger than me it’d be quite likely say that from a distance.
Possibly in a quieter voice too.
Who are your greatest literary influences?
Marcus Alexander: Dr. Zeuss.
You appear to have created an experience rather than just a book – is this where you see the fantasy genre moving to in the 21st century?
Marcus Alexander: Media is always evolving, if you look at fantasy and sci-fi novels produced in the 70’s and 80’s compared to today’s offerings you can see a marked difference. I think that whatever this century brings you can be sure that literary production will change to meet customer’s demand and change in fashion.
(Which was a long winded way for me to say I’ve got no idea where the fantasy genre is going to end up just hopefully not in Kansas.)
What feelings and emotions do you hope readers of Who Is Charlie Keeper will experience?
Marcus Alexander: Thumb burn from turning the pages too quickly.
What is next for Marcus Alexander? Is there a sequel on the way?
Marcus Alexander: Yes definitely. Who is Charlie Keeper? is the first in a planned Trilogy. Charlie has a long way to go yet and more lessons to learn before she reaches the end of her path.
‘Who is Charlie Keeper?’ is the shockingly paced fantasy novel that tells the tale of Charlie, an iron-willed, twelve year old girl suffering an unjust and unhappy fate. Forced to flee her home in the gloomy, rain-drenched landscape of London by a bloodthirsty and terrifying new foe, she escapes to the vibrant, parallel land of Bellania with nothing more than her common sense and razor-sharp wits to keep her safe. Bellania, a land of myth, magic and marauding giants with bad attitude and poor anger management.
Charlie Keeper has been forced from her home by a bloodthirsty and terrifying stranger. But in escaping she discovers her house holds the gateway to the Realm of Bellania - a place of myth, magic... and an evil Lord with a very bad attitude. Now its fate rests squarely upon Charlie's shoulders. But before she can untangle the mystery that will save Bellania, she needs the answer to a life-changing secret her guardian, the dastardly Mr Crow, has been keeping from her... Just who is Charlie Keeper?
"You simply must go out and buy Keeper of the Realms, the story and artwork are excellent and they compliment each other in the same way as Chris Riddell 's artwork and Paul Stewart's storytelling do on their wonderful Edge Chronicles. The improvements that were needed in the initial book lay in the editing department, which is of course always the most difficult and expensive problem that self-published authors face. But now that the mighty Puffin behind the book readers will find that all these issues have been ironed out and the book is better than ever! Book of the Month for 2009 and and 2012!" Fantasy Book Review