Alexander Gordon Smith

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Solitary Review

Laura at Faber has just sent me this review of Solitary from Bookbag. It’s the first review I’ve seen for it, and I was a bit nervous about how the book would be received, but this review has certainly put me at ease! Thanks!

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST BOOK

In this second instalment of Smith’s Furnace series Alex Sawyer and his companions continue their bid for freedom, desperate to escape the hell on Earth that is Furnace Penitentiary.

Filled with hope, Alex and his cohorts battle their way through the underbelly of Furnace, convinced that they have found the way out, the path to the daylight they never thought they’d see again. But Furnace isn’t done with them yet and their hopes come crashing down as they are recaptured and put into solitary confinement, deep below the ground and at the mercy of the Blacksuits, the Wheezers and the warden.

Alex soon discovers that there are other things down in solitary confinement that are far scarier than anything he’s ever come across before and he knows that if he doesn’t find a way to escape quickly he’ll go mad, or worse. Divided by his need to escape and his sense of loyalty to his companions, Alex’s struggle continues as he is forced to restart his bid for freedom even further away from the surface than before.

Smith’s writing style instantly grabs you by the throat and drags you into the alternate reality where Furnace Prison exists. His well crafted writing keeps your attention and relentlessly drags you through the story regardless of whether or not you are familiar with Furnace: Lockdown, the first part of Alex Sawyer’s adventures.

Fast paced and punchy, Smith barely gives you time to breathe between the action sequences of the book from the moment it begins to the moment it ends. Even when you are alone with Alex in his tiny, pitch black cell, Smith refuses to let you relax and his urgent narrative keeps your mind racing, trying to figure out Alex’s next move before he does it.

The characters in Furnace: Solitary are as intriguing as the prison itself and the journey through Furnace is enhanced spectacularly by the teetering friendships formed between them as their sanity is stretched and tested in ways they’d never dared to imagine, not even in their darkest nightmares.

Personally, I found the non-stop pace tiring and by the time I was nearing the end of the novel I was almost wishing for a moment or two of calm because the constant tension seemed to become a little stale as it went on. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it, just that reading it became a bit like hard work in parts. Towards the end there were moments of sheer brilliance, Alex’s character developing brilliantly in a way that made the whole situation feel much more horrific than it already did. It certainly made me think about some of the darker nuances of human nature and highlights many of mankind’s flaws that we so often overlook.

Despite my issues with the pacing, I imagine that if I were fourteen and male I’d have lapped up every word and reached the end desperate for more. Well written, gripping and bursting with excellent characters I’d give Furnace: Solitary three and a half stars and recommend it to anyone who wants a blood-thirsty, mind-twisting romp set in a world hauntingly similar to our own.

I’d like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

It’s been so long!!!

First, I’d just like to apologise for not writing for so long. It’s been ages! The main reason for this is editing (yes, more editing, more of that truly wonderful, engaging, creative process that is editing, and no, I’m not being sarcastic at all, not one tiny little bit, there isn’t one iota of sarcasm in my entire body). But the final edit of Furnace 3 is now done and dusted (er… again…) and off to the printers, which is amazing!

So this is just a brief catch-up blog – I’ll write about everything in more detail over the upcoming few days!

Furnace Solitary
There’s been some very exciting news lately. To start with, last Thursday saw the launch of Furnace: Solitary, the second book in the Furnace series, which is soooooo cool! And because it was such an important day, Faber threw a huge party to celebrate it – everybody from the company was there, and loads of agents and writers and other publisher, and even some celebrities, and it was all hosted in a wonderful leafy garden in the middle of London. I was so thrilled and… what’s that? It was actually the Faber and Faber 80th Birthday Party? So it had nothing to do with my book then? Oh… Well… Um, that’s a bit embarrassing. I thought I was getting some funny looks when I climbed onto the table and thanked everybody for coming…

But seriously, it was a wonderful night, and so good to be able to celebrate the Furnace series with everybody who has made it possible, including Julia, Emily and the rest of the team from Faber, and of course my wonderful agent Sophie. Thanks guys!

I’ve also got three copies of Solitary to give away to the first three people to comment below!

The Booktrust Teenage Prize
But even more amazing than the launch of Solitary is the fact that Furnace: Lockdown has been longlisted for the Booktust Teenage Prize, which is one of the best awards for children’s books in the country! I can’t tell you how utterly thrilled I am to be on the list, and to be longlisted along with some of my favourite authors! The list is as follows:

Auslander by Paul Dowswell (Bloomsbury)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury)

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley (Bloomsbury)

Numbers by Rachel Ward (Chicken House)

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray (Definitions)

Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith (Faber) Woo Hoo!

Three Ways to Snog an Alien by Graham Joyce (Faber)

The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins)

Bloodchild by Tim Bowler (Oxford University Press)

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant (Puffin)

Solitaire by Bernard Ashley (Usborne)

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (Walker)

Exposure by Mal Peet (Walker)

The great thing about this longlist is that it’s actually quite a short list, although the shortlist itself, announced in September, will be six books long. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I make it, but there are so many wonderful books here that I won’t be holding my breath! And being there on the longlist is so awesome in its own right. Thanks to everyone at Booktrust!

Events
I’ve done a few events over the last couple of weeks, and they were all brilliant fun! The first was at the Sutton Central Library, and was something I’ve never done before – a T-shirt-making evening! It was actually the idea of Rachel Levy, who is running a series of evening events for teenagers at the library, and what a fantastic idea it was! I started off doing a talk, as usual, then we all sat down with orange prison-style T-shirts and fabric paint and stencils and made up our own Furnace-style uniforms. I had already made up my ‘Skulls Rule’ T-shirt, but I was so impressed with everybody else’s – especially the girls who combined Mario Kart with Furnace to make up some extremely weird but incredibly cool designs. Thanks to everybody for making it such a cool day, and thanks to Rachel too for organising it, and for taking me out for pizza afterwards! It was such a fun evening!

The next event was a little different too, as it was for grown-ups! Strangely enough it was also in Sutton, but this time at Heath Books, which is a huge bookstore designed for school librarians. And that’s exactly who I was giving a talk to – 30 lovely librarians from schools around London. I had a wonderful time talking about Jamie and me, and The Inventors and Furnace, and writing and reading, and loads of other stuff too. Hopefully they all enjoyed it! Afterwards I chatted to them all over a HUGE buffet – complete with a whole fish, head and all, that looked big enough to be a shark! I’m going to visit a few of their schools in October during my Death Sentence book tour, and I’m really looking forward to it! Thanks to all the librarians, and to Jackie from Heath’s for making me feel so welcome!

Last, but certainly not least, I got to do a very special show – special because it took place in MY OLD SCHOOL!!! I was invited in by the librarian, Leif Ahnland, who also runs the fantastic creative writing club. It was so cool being able to go back to my old school, the Hewett in Norwich. I was there for seven years, and it’s really where I started writing properly, so to visit again to talk about my life as a writer, and my books, was just amazing! Although most of the teachers I had have now left, I did see some familiar faces, and the school itself looked the same as I remember it (although smaller).

I started off with a talk at lunchtime, and it was great to see so many people there – especially as it was a gloriously sunny day and they could have been outside playing! They were a really chatty, responsive and entertaining group, and many of them were writers, so I thoroughly enjoyed the session. Then, after school, I did a horror writing workshop with the creative writing club, which was a fascinating experience. The members were all ages – from year seven right through to upper sixth – and they were all positively bursting with ideas, which was so good to see. And they were so much fun to work with. I have absolutely no doubt that plenty of these students will have books published in the future – some are already better writers than I am! I’ll look forward to getting signed copies of their books in years to come. You can check out their brilliant writing on the creative writing club’s blog here. It’s definitely worth checking out as they’re putting together a fascinating anthology which is totally unique and looks like it might be a big deal!

It was a great day, made even better by the fact that I didn’t have to travel across the country to get there and back – in fact it was a two-minute walk away! But a huge thanks to Leif and all the students for making it such fun, and the best of luck to you all with your writing! Here are some pics (and that’s my ‘Skulls Rule’ T-shirt from Sutton):


I love that reaction to the Wheezer!

There aren’t too many events planned for the next few weeks as I really, really, really have to do some writing! But I’m always open to invitations, and have a new events page on my website for anybody who is interested in booking me.

The Gang
I’m getting a bit blogged out now but I’ll just give you a quick update on the other stuff we’ve been up to. I haven’t seen much of Lynsey for the last few weeks because she’s been furiously writing a story to make the deadline for the Bridport Competition. She won it before, a few years ago, and fingers crossed she’ll win it again this year! It’s great to see her writing again, anyway.

We have been doing lots of sporty stuff, however, mainly so that I can shift this bulbous jellyfish that seems to have settled around my midriff. Kung Fu is going very well – we all took our first grading a couple of weeks ago and now have an official white fringe on our sashes, which is awesome! As well as this we’ve all been playing badminton, which I thought was a slow sport that grannies played in the garden over summer, but which turns out to be lightning quick and extremely knackering! Hopefully with all this exercise I’ll have a six-pack in no time, which is actually pretty important because I keep making bets with Jamie for stupid amounts of money that I’ll have one soon. I already owe him a small fortune! But I’ll definitely have one by Christmas… :-)

Anyway, that’s all for now, I’m sure there’s more news but I’ll post again soon with another update!