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Author Alex Wheatle

Interview by Samantha Watson @peeksawa

Renowned author Alex Wheatle is currently on a one man tour throughout the UK with his show Uprising. In his performance Alex gives his audience an intimate portrait of his life, from his time growing up in care, lyrical snippets of his life as a DJ, his experiences during the 1981 Brixton riots to his life today as a successful writer.

HopeRoad Publishing got the chance to squeeze inbetween Alex’s busy schedule to discuss his tour, find out what drives his work and his thoughts on the ebook publishing industry.

How well is the tour going at the moment?
Really well, I had a great show at the Kings Place in London, it was very well received. I was also very pleased with the response I received from my performance in Huddersfield. I now have five or six more dates to go, including one at the Redbridge Drama Centre and one in Swansea.

What inspired you to do the show?
Well I was giving talks in schools and obviously it is difficult to hold kids attention if you just read to school children so I decided to talk about my life experiences as part of these sessions and they were hooked. I felt I could develop an adult session so I discussed the idea with the poet Lemn Sissay. I wrote to Tara Arts director Jatinder Verma and worked with him to knock the show into shape, he even got me to perform songs I had done from my time as a DJ.

What do you hope people will gain from your show?
I would like to think that they will have a sense of where I come from as a writer. The audience will see that a writer can come from any background, if you’re a story teller you will emerge. Storytellers can come from all avenues of life, no matter who you are you can be a storyteller.

You recently published your book Brixton Rock as an ebook, how did that come about?
Well, that was down to Rosemarie of HopeRoad publishing. She was the first person who published me in 1999 in paperback when she ran BlackAmber Books. So when she initiated HopeRoad Publishing for ebooks I felt that this would be a natural home to publish Brixton Rock as an e-book.

What are your thoughts on the growing ebook publishing industry?
There’s no point resisting it because it is coming, two million Kindles were bought last year. The good thing about ebooks is that they will forever be available – it will always be there. Sometimes in a bookshop a book will go out of print, but with ebooks it is always there. Me personally I do like holding a book, however, when I travelled to Huddersfield I took my kindle, instead of bringing three or four books, because kindles are more convenient to carry while being on the road.

As a writer what are you intentionally trying to share with your readers?
I want to write those stories that get ignored in our bookshops. Stories about disadvantaged people, I want to continue writing about characters of social class, that’s my passion. The teachers at the schools I gave talks to gave great feedback on kids who never read but have now picked up a book to read. If they can go away and feel they can make a success of their lives then my work is done. Showing that I can affect that change, that is what Uprising is all about. Someone who was dealt a bad pack of cards but is now achieving what they he wanted to do. You can’t change everybody but if I can change the thinking of just one person then that is worth.

What are you now currently working on apart from the tour?
I’m going to work on another book around the subject matter of fostering and I’m also co-writing a draft dance circus piece with Irenosen Okojie commissioned by the Nigeria House Project. Also hopefully I can drum up interest on a film project for one of my books to hopefully secure adaptation for one of books.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
Basically try and write everyday to form discipline and keep editing work, the first draft is never the final draft. Be determined and don’t take no for an answer because someone out there will eventually like your work. Persistence is very important so keep at it.

Alex’s first book Brixton Rock is currently on special offer to buy. For more information click here