Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today, we’re here to celebrate the launch of Gail Alwin’s new book This Much Huxley Knows. Gail is a novelist, poet and scriptwriter, and her debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. When she’s not gallivanting around, Gail writes at her home overlooking water meadows in Dorset. Welcome back to the clubhouse tearoom, Gail.
Thank you for having me, Paula. It’s lovely to sit outside, and enjoy the sunshine.
It is. I’m sure the plants loved having all the rain, but it’s nice to have a few dry days too. Let’s start by asking you what type of books/genre do you write?
I write all sorts of things, from short fiction and poetry to novels and scripts. My books fall under the genre of contemporary fiction and in both my debut The String Games and my second novel This Much Huxley Knows child characters play key roles.
What was your inspiration behind your book?
The idea for This Much Huxley Knows came from my debut novel The String Games. The catalyst for that story involves the disappearance of four-year-old Josh who goes missing during a family holiday in France. It was because I enjoyed including a child character, that I decided to explore writing with a young narrator. When I read the early chapters of This Much Huxley Knows to my writing group, they were sceptical that I’d be able to sustain a child’s voice for the length of a novel. This proved to be a motivating factor – tell me I can’t do something and I’ll always want to give it a try.
Please give us a short taster of your plotline and introduce us to your main character.
The novel uses a young narrator to shine a light on adult experiences. Huxley is seven years old and knows a lot about life but is particularly concerned about friendships. Ben is only his friend outside school, because he likes football and Huxley doesn’t. Samira is friendly, but she’s a girl. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?
How did you choose the name of your protagonist?
Huxley started life as Mikey. It was during a redraft that I decided to move the timeframe from 2014 to 2016, just after the Brexit referendum. It seemed a more appropriate period to capitalise on community tension and provided an opportunity to build more jeopardy into the novel. At the same time, I started to think of my narrator as Huxley. The popularity of this name was on the increase in 2016 and I decided to stick with Huxley because it also represented the family’s middle-class status.
Do you think your readers will find your MC character likeable or not?
In a recent review, book blogger Julie at A Little Book Problem wrote: ‘Huxley is a totally lovable character that I defy anyone not to adore by the end [of the story].’ I hope she’s right!
How did you choose the title for your book? Had you chosen the title before writing the book, or on completion?
Following a few variations, I decided to stick with the title This Much Huxley Knows quite early in the process. It’s a play on the phrase ‘I love you this much’ and when the cover was produced using the photo of a young boy with outstretched arms, it seemed totally appropriate.
How did you choose the cover picture? Did you have an idea of what you would like?
I wanted the cover image to reflect the exuberance of my young narrator. I looked through many istock photos until I came upon the right one. The cover designer at Black Rose Writing then added all the written details. I like the font he used as the title is easy to read even as a thumbnail.
If a film maker chose your book to adapt, would you be happy with a based on version film or series, or would you want them to stick as closely as possible to your original idea? What wouldn’t you be happy with .i.e. too much violence, complete change of character etc.?
I’d take matters into my own hands and write the screenplay myself! At least that way I could attempt to keep the film true to the original story.
Have you started writing your next book? Is it something original or a follow on novel?
My work in progress is called Little Swot and it’s a departure from contemporary fiction. It’s a dual timeline novel initially told from the viewpoint of a menopausal and redundant journalist in 2010. Stephanie decides to create a podcast which looks into the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Carolyn in 1978. Through the alternating structure of the two viewpoints, readers engage with Stephanie’s investigation and also connect with Carolyn’s experience of infatuation for a teacher and exploitation.
While writing the book did you have a light bulb moment when everything came together, and what triggered it?
When I decided that Huxley would corrupt words to make silly jokes, his voice was cemented. He did this in order to avoid loneliness and make friends. After that, further ideas began to snowball. The themes of the novel around bullying and isolation became important and then everything else fell into place.
About This Much Huxley Knows
I’m seven years old and I’ve never had a best mate. Trouble is, no one gets my jokes. And Breaks-it isn’t helping. Ha! You get it, don’t you? Brexit means everyone’s falling out and breaking up.
Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?
Funny and compassionate, this contemporary novel for adults explores issues of belonging, friendship and what it means to trust.
‘Read this and feel young again’ – Joe Siple, author of The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride
‘Moving and ultimately upbeat’ – Christopher Wakling, author of What I Did
‘A joyous novel with the wonderfully exuberant character of Huxley’ – Sara Gethin, author of Not Thomas
Social Media Links
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Members’ Books, don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.