Things Gavin Knows

The universe versus Alex WoodsAn evening with Gavin Extence, author of ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods’

 Author Gavin Extence came to Central Library last night as part of the Read Regional campaign to connect readers and authors. What a treat it turned out to be. I am a veteran of author events and this one stood out with fascinating questions and insights from Gavin on the craft of authorship, how and why he got started, the road to getting published and his ‘champagne’ moments along the way.

Gavin’s debut novel, The Universe Versus Alex Woods, which has a 5 star rating from Leeds readers has been described as Mark Haddon meets Kurt Vonnegut and ‘A fairy tale for rationalists’ by the Guardian. The evening started  reading from the author giving us a flavour of the book. If you haven’t read it, here’s what it’s about:

A teenager drives off the ferry at Dover with an urn full of human ashes on the passenger seat (of his friend Vietnam veteran Isaac Peterson) and a bag of marijuana in the glove compartment. Stopped at customs, he turns up Handel’s Messiah on the stereo to try to avert an epileptic seizure and is taken away by the police. Meet 17-year-old Alex Woods, born to a clairvoyant mother who conceived him with a stranger somewhere near Stonehenge. At 10, Alex was hit by a meteorite that hurtles through the roof of his home in Somerset and leaves him with a brain injury. Alex feels chosen, rather than damaged, by his fate.

Writing the book – In response to some fantastic questions from a knowledgeable audience, we learnt Gavin started writing again (he wrote until he was 13 then stopped) to keep himself sane while looking for a job- he’d finished a PhD in film studies at Sheffield university in 2007 just as the recession hit. His wife eventually told him he should concentrate on writing full time and he did. On the plus side, recently writing up his PhD helped with the discipline of writing and the research which he did in Sheffield Libraries! Not fancying selfpublishing because he’s not someone who could ‘put himself out there’ to promote a book, he sent the manuscript off to lots of publishers, and eventually Hodder accepted it.

Champagne moments – One along the way was making it as Richard & Judy Summer Read 2013 – 100’s of books are supplied by publishers then whittled down to a long list of twenty from which Richard and Judy select. The exposure is great and it means people buy the book. Another was meeting Asa Butterfield and his mum (she has an alert set up for when his name in mentioned on the web) for a coffee. She contacted Hodder after seeing an interview in the Observer saying Asa would be ideal to play Alex. The film rights have been optioned, so here’s hoping ..

Read Regional is a promotional campaign that connects writers living in the North East and Yorkshire with their local readers. They partner with library authorities throughout the region to hold author events and to ensure brilliant books by northern authors are stocked in libraries. This is our second year working with Read Regional in Leeds and we are incredibly excited about the 11 titles on the 2014 list, which include literary and genre fiction, children’s novels, and poetry by new and established authors. You can find out more about all of the authors and their books here.

Almost 80 events are taking place this spring at libraries, festivals, and through the Read Regional book group network. Further events in Leeds:

Celia Bryce: Pudsey Library on 10 April 2014 2.00pm

Cara Brennan evening of poetry at Chapel Allerton Library 23 April 7-8.30pm

Rebecca Muddiman: Moor Allerton Library on 6 May 2014 6.00pm

Lynette Falconer – Reader Development Manager, Leeds Library and Information Service