Alex Latimer is a respected children's book writer and illustrator and novelist. His short story, 'A Fierce Symmetry', is published in Water: New Short Fiction from Africa.
Tiah: Your story, A Fierce Symmetry centres around boiling down dead tiger in an attempt to preserve the bones. I've read it seven times and, with each reading, another detail opens up. How did this poignant story come to be?
ALEX: My mother died when I was eleven and since then I’ve been trying to find a way of writing about it. So it’s only taken me twenty-something years to put these three thousand words down. For me 'A Fierce Symmetry' is about the gradual second loss of my mom as my life moved on and I began to forget details about her. That’s such a difficult part of grieving – and it never ends. And the tiger-boiling had these weird and often visceral parallels of process that fitted perfectly.
I ended up writing the first two thousand words of this story over two days about a year ago. Somehow it all fell into place in my mind. The next thousand words came in bits and pieces over a few months – but there was no pressure since I wasn’t sure I even wanted to publish this story. I just wanted it to be as good as I could make it.
Tiah: You are both an illustrator and a writer. Does one art form come easier for you than the other?
ALEX: I’ve worked much harder to be a writer – illustration was in my blood from the beginning. But I love doing both. For me it feels as though writing and drawing use different halves of my brain – and so if I need a break from one, I simply switch to the other. It’s a great way of avoiding both writers-block and drawers-cramp.
Tiah: Rumour has it that you and Diane Awerbuck have co-written a new novel, under the pen name Frank Owen. Please tell us a bit about it?
ALEX: Yes! It’s an American viral-apocalypse frontier fiction novel in two parts. Book one is South and book two is North. We’ve sold the Commonwealth rights for them with South due out in September 2016 and North in 2017. But I think what’s really special about them is that they combine a fast-paced, gritty plot with a literary feel – which you don’t see a lot of. It’s difficult to describe them really, but Sarah Lotz gave us this incredible cover shout: SOUTH is an absolute blinder of a book. With its cracking pace, unforgettable characters, deliciously gruesome premise and you-won't-see-them-coming twists, if this doesn't make 'book of the year' shortlists, I will eat my stetson. The Sisters Brothers meets The Stand, it's a post-apocalyptic genre game-changer.
I hope she’s right.
Tiah: This novel isn't the first time you've written with Diane. (There's a Youtube video of you both discussing the creation of your story 'Sweet Water' for FunDza.) What is it like working as co-writers?
ALEX: I found writing my first novel – The Space Race – a very isolating experience. There was no one to high-five when I cracked a plot twist. Co-writing makes the process more fun and interactive. It also makes the end product less predictable. I know how I write and I know how Diane writes, but Frank Owen (our pen name) has a different style altogether – and that’s exciting.
Tiah: Lastly, in an interview with Aerodrome you answered the question "What are you afraid of?" with "Kloofing at night through spider webs." I'm assuming this was a personal experience. What on earth were you doing?
ALEX: I know myself better than to have gone kloofing at night. Heights and deep, dark water are my two fears. I actually don’t mind spiders – so I’d change it to “Kloofing at night through shark webs”. That sounds scarier.
On Alex's Bedside Table
Alex Latimer has written and illustrated five picture books, including the Hampshire Picture Book Award-winning Lion vs Rabbit. His books have been translated into German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean. He has a degree in Philosophy and English, and is also the co-creator of the award-winning niche comic strip, The Western Nostril. Alex’s fast-paced debut novel The Space Race was published by Umuzi in 2013. His next novel, South - co-written with Diane Awerbuck - will be published by Corvus in September 2016 under the pen name Frank Owen.