Interview With an Author: Alexis Hall

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Novels Boyfriend Material and Husband Material by Alexis Hall
Novels Boyfriend Material and Husband Material by Alexis Hall

Alexis Hall writes books in the southeast of England, where he lives entirely on a diet of tea and Jaffa Cakes. His latest book, Husband Material, is a sequel to 2020’s Boyfriend Material, and he recently talked about both books with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Boyfriend Material?

The very specific kind of romantic comedy that Britain exported in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It’s very explicitly, and Husband Material is even more explicitly, inspired by everything Richard Curtis and Hugh Grant worked on between about 1995 and 2004.

What prompted you to return to Luc and Oliver’s story in Husband Material?

I have a tendency to write "Happy For Now" endings—it’s not a hard rule but I’m a big believer in the idea that a relationship doesn’t need to last literally forever to be important or meaningful. And as a result, Luc and Oliver’s story ended with both characters having a certain amount that they still needed to work on and so while I’m often very much an “I’ve told that story and it’s over now” writer, when I had the opportunity to work on a sequel for Luc and Oliver, I felt there was definitely more to tell.

Are Luc, Oliver, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

I’m afraid that this is a rather boring answer but no, not really. About the closest to Alex Twaddle who, while he isn’t based on a real person exactly, is based on a specific run of fictional characters played a particular actor in the 90s: for whatever reason, he always ended up playing the posh silly one and Alex is a contribution to the posh silly one tradition.

Who are your favorite bands/recording artists from the 80s? Favorite song or album?

This is going to vary hugely depending on mood. I feel bad about it, but I based Jon Fleming very very loosely on Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. Not, I hasten to add, because Ian Anderson is anything like Jon Fleming personally (Ian Anderson seems like a very nice man) but Jethro Tull represents a very specific sort of British music to me. Like, they’ve been consistently producing albums for forty years, and have run a gamut from blues to folk to prog rock. They also famously took a Grammy for best hard rock / metal performance from Metallic in 1989.

But some of my favourite eighties bands in general, some of which went into creating Jon Fleming and Odile O’Donnell: Jethro Tull obviously, Tears for Fears, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Kate Bush (although, obviously, she’s had a revival of her own recently), Dire Straits, Steeleye Span (who Jon Fleming is confused with in the first chapter of Boyfriend Material) and the Sex Pistols.

Do you cook your bacon using water? How did you learn about this method and does it really work as well as it does for Luc?

This is a real-life life hack that I genuinely picked up, and I do actually use it. It works pretty well. The principle is that water keeps the pan and the bacon at a consistent temperature, so the fat has a chance to render before the rest of the bacon turns to charcoal. As a consequence, you get crispy bacon without charring.

I feel like Oliver is the only person that can call Luc Lucien (even his mother calls him Luc). When you are writing/thinking about Luc, how do you refer to him?

I agree that Oliver is the only person who can call him Lucien, so I call him Luc myself.

Have you ever been a bridesmaid or best man at someone’s wedding? Do you have any stories to tell?

I think everyone has some wedding stories but since then I’d be talking about my friends’ weddings that feels like it would be a bit invasive.

If you were planning a wedding, are you a rainbow balloon arch/DJ or a Victorian banquet hall/live music kind of person?

This sounds like a cop-out but I think I’m a Victorian banquet hall/DJ type of person. Like I think live bands are genuinely not a good idea unless you know somebody because you’re just inviting a bunch of strangers to come and hang out with you. Although I think I’m mostly just an “under no circumstances ask me to plan your wedding” person. I think I’d be extremely bad at it.

Will readers get the chance to join Luc and Oliver again on their journey in the future?

Yes. The next entry in the London Calling series will actually be a spinoff with different characters, but I’ll be coming back to Luc and Oliver after that. They might even get a dog in the next one, although I’m making no promises.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

I read mostly in ebook format these days, so the literal answer is “my kindle” (other e-readers are available) but assuming you mean what am I reading at the moment…honestly, the best way to keep up with that is to check out my Goodreads page because I post reviews there fairly regularly.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

This is a bit complicated because favourite and influential mean different things to me, and neither are them are really things I like talking about (although not necessarily for the same reason). Picking my five favourite anything just feels like a nightmare of politics and exclusion. And thinking about influences is … complex because I don’t want to be making claims about my own work that other people may feel the work doesn’t merit.

Some writers I love a lot though are: KJ Charles, Kris Ripper, EE/Elijah Ottoman, Sarah Gailey, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Akwaeke Emezi, Claire Kann, Sonali Dev, Nalini Singh, Olivie Blake / Alexene Farol Follmuth, and, honestly, too many others to list or count.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

See above re favourites. Something I read a lot during my adolescence, though, was Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods. Pratchett is kind of a British institution and is still probably the celebrity death I’ve felt more personally affected by (even though I had no connection with him whatsoever). His work meant a lot to me when I was growing up.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Um, not really?

Is there a book you've faked reading?

Never. I’m a big believer in admitting ignorance.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I mostly buy ebooks these days, so covers mean much less to me than I think they would if I was working in a physical store. Hell, half the books I’ve read recently have been ARCs, so the cover has been “This is an advanced reader copy. Please be aware the text may change between now and publication.”

Is there a book that changed your life?

I’m aware I’m answering a lot of these questions with a straight “no” which makes me feel a bit bad. But, um, no? I mean, obviously, there have been books that have meant (and mean) a tremendous amount, but I think “changed my life” is a way of thinking about things that don’t really match with the way I think about things. Like, sort of everything changes your life to some extent and, to me, over emphasising the significance of single things is actually not a great way to view, well, anything. It’s like I’m not a big fan of the Great Man model of history for similar reasons.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Loads and none. Again, if people check out my Goodreads, it’s full of recommendations, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable suggesting that any books for everybody. I think reading is very personal, and I think it’s important to recognise that different people can want different things out of a book or, indeed, from reading in general. And that’s okay.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett because it’s so sad and surprising and beautiful. It’s one of those books that won loads of prizes and acclaim when it first came out and now doesn’t get talked about enough (at least, I don’t think it is). Like, I actually got my agent to write to the author’s agent and to the publisher to suggest it would benefit from an e-edition being available (especially since it’s hard for people not based in the UK to get physical copies), and they’ve spectacularly ignored me because I’m basically nobody.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I take a very broad definition of art and, for that matter, of impact, so the last piece of art I experienced was the last piece of media I consumed. Which, at time of writing, happens to be the original Jurassic Park (which I watched to try and cleanse my palate after watching the latest Jurassic World movie). I know it’s thirty years old, but honestly, I will stand by this movie. I think it’s a genuinely brilliant piece of cinema on so many levels, most of which I’m not at all qualified to actually judge.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

I’m kind of a neurotic introvert, so I think my perfect day might be, um, spent at home with nothing to do. I’d probably wake up late, read in bed until mid-afternoon, then order a takeaway and watch the original Jurassic Park with my partner.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?

The answer to this one will vary because I feel obliged to make up a new one every time. So, for today, I think I’ll say the question is, what is your favourite historical anecdote? And the answer is this:

The Earl of Rochester (an English libertine poet and playwright), before he died of syphilis aged 33, spent the majority of his twenties in a state of severe and absolute drunkenness. During this period, his patron, the recently restored King Charles II, commissioned the building of a new sundial on the grounds of St James’ Palace. No existing diagrams of this sundial exist, but from what descriptions remain, it was to be a remarkable and extravagant piece of work that would mark not only the passage of time as the sun traversed the sky but the positions of the planets in the cosmos. It basically consisted of an upright cylindrical structure based upon two large spheres.

Late at night, pissed off his head, as usual, the Earl of Rochester came across this…this…wonder of the Restoration age, fell into a blind rage, and attacked it with his sword, screaming “Dost thou stand there to fuck time.”

What can I say? Big mood.

What are you working on now?

Far too many things. There’s the next London Calling, the follow up to Something Fabulous, there’s a fantasy-regency thing and another baking book, so I have really rather a lot on.

Book cover for Boyfriend Material
Boyfriend Material
Hall, Alexis J

Book cover for Husband Material
Husband Material
Hall, Alexis J.