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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed author Alex Wolf about her life and career, what inspires her, and the creative process behind her new book, Élan.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

By day, I am a project manager for a pubs & restaurants company, and at any other time, I am an author who writes fantasy novels. I have two fur babies, a white cat called Atticus and a dog I adopted from Romania called Freddie. I am pretty introverted as a person who is creative and always seems to have new ideas for books. It was only this year that I debuted in my first actual published novel – though it had been brewing for many years prior.

My life changed in Dec 2019 when I was due to be married and was Jilted three days before the wedding (hence the non fic book!) and since then I have prioritised my dreams and moved in a direction that had previously always taken a back seat.

Alex Wolf, author of Élan, interview on The Table Read
Alex Wolf, author of Élan

I love doing things myself and learning new things which is why self publishing made the most sense to me. As well as being creative I am also strongly organized – almost painfully so which can be interesting for my creativity.

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When did you first WANT to write a book?

I have been writing stories since school. It was something that I loved instantaneously as a way to creatively express myself without tiring as an introvert. I have such a wild imagination that as an adult – I am only just starting to appreciate it. Suffering from social anxiety, I didn’t realise that I held on to my creativity in creating scenarios and spaces that felt safer to me than the real world.

I had written and published a novel back in 2016 but felt like I didn’t do it properly and wanted to improve from that. My book Élan was my first novel I had finished since then and in 2020 I was furloughed. I used this time to fully focus on getting this into an actual book that I would be proud of.

When did you take a step to start writing?

It’s a hard step to define as it feels like I have always been writing. I have piles of notebooks of random stories I used to write through high school and college –  during shy moments when others would socialise. I did Art at college and I actually used to write backstories for characters I illustrated as part of my studies.

I believe when the first part of Élan’s draft was done (in Jan 2020) – that is when I fully decided to start studying more on the writing process, the science behind reading and how to self publish. I feel since then… try and stop me! I am addicted! Now it feels like a reflex for processing things and getting down every time an idea comes to mind.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I like to do this thing where when I start a draft, I time stamp it then add it to the end of the book to show how long a story took. From the first words to the final draft Élan took almost two years exactly (October 2018 – October 2020). Then it got published in August 2021. I am intrigued to see if my next one can be sooner knowing all I know now.

Alex Wolf, author of Élan, interview on The Table Read
Élan by Alex Wolf

What made you want to write Élan?

Élan as a character seemed to be in my thoughts constantly. Living a life alongside my own. It was driving me crazy where the only obvious thing to do was write his story – share what he went through. It’s a nice debut too as it’s Young Adult Fantasy with coming of age themes, whereas a lot of my other ideas are certainly more for an older range.

I felt Élan’s story correlated my writer journey in that we were both entering unknown territory and it was a nice debut to have. His story is a lot about finding your own voice, finding your way in a grown up world and in a way – I was dealing a lot with that at the same time. I felt that this is what will connect with the reader too.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Élan?

I started writing Élan in October 2018 and then took a year-long break after writing the first part. I think it was hard trying to reconnect and not make the gap so obvious in my writing the 2nd and final part of the story.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

I had a dream about a forest spirit with pale green eyes and dark hair when I was around 14 years old. The concept was so random and intriguing to me that I immediately wanted to learn more. It wasn’t until years later when my favourite band ‘Nightwish’ released a song called ‘Élan’ where it reawakened that inspiration. The chorus goes ‘come taste the wine,’ and my curiosity got onto this notion of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if that was a fae singing to a vampire, referring to their blood?’ and it went off from there.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

This is a vampire called Merlough. I believe he was inspired by classic vampires that I had seen in my teen years in films and tv shows at the time (not Twilight though). I was very into Anne Rice and her vampire style. I wanted someone who was a victim of their own needs.

What is the inciting incident in Élan?

Élan grows up feeling different and wanting something more with his life. His grandfather convinces him to leave home in order to pursue his love for music but due to his trusting nature and curiosity – he falls into the wrong hands.

What is the main conflict of Élan?

Élan was tricked into slavery by his grandfather, a family member that he trusted and seemed to have his best interests at heart. Secrets and truths are hidden from Élan and it ends up being up to him to save himself from a situation he did not expect to be put in by trusting a family member.

Did you plot Élan in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

Alex Wolf, author of Élan, interview on The Table Read
Alex Wolf, author of Élan

I mainly plot the majority of the outline – at least the 1st act. 90% of the time my outline does change by the 2nd and 3rd act but I always start with a guideline on how I want it to go before actually writing.

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Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Élan need?

Yes I have a professional editor that edits my writing. I focus mainly on the developmental elements and final polish as I blind to grammar issues! It’s great to have someone to support your writing this way, it’s a nice self esteem boost before the nervy move of having it out there into the world.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

It sounds obvious but WRITE IT. Ideas don’t stick around and fade, you have that idea sitting there, bugging the heck out of you for a reason. It was meant to be written. I always think that with an idea no matter how dumb or dull, it can be worked on – but if its never written in the first place – it can be such a loss to make this world more fun and interesting for people. I just think its better having the potential for something great written than regretting it later.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Of course, I currently have two battling for my attention. At the end of Élan a new character emerges (not planned at all) and he intrigued me so much I am working on his story next, its a fantasy Gay romance with a strong hate to love trope. Alternatively, since as early as my first draft of Élan I have had it in my head to do an Arthurian novel on Merlyn which I have started.

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And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Wow. I am still struggling to even comprehend that I did it. I actually finished Élan and it is a physical book! I absolutely love it. It is a dream come true and definitely worth the effort. I went through so much change in my life during the writing of Élan –  things happened that I will never forget. Élan started this amazing journey and I will always be grateful for taking this step.

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