Do you remember the times when libraries were full of people renting actual hard copies out or reading them there? Or have you have walked by for example at Waterloo Station, London and looked for some rarities at the stands (it’s right in front of the cinema)? So, before all these Machine Learning and coming AIs, before all these short and rapid responses in the virtual space, there were times, actually, thousands of years in human history, when people could think of their desires, dreams and fears, hopes and sorrows and could put their joy into artistic writings. For some, it’s still the present and the future. Enter Alex Birch (A.J. Birch at libraries…), writer, artist.
And while you are at it, listen to one of his favourite song here:
Music Authentic: We shall begin with our “site-traditional” first question: How did you sleep last night?
Alex Birch: I slept pretty well, thank you! It took me a little while to get to sleep because, believe it or not, I was actually really cold! It’s supposed to be colder this Bank Holiday weekend than last Christmas…
Music Authentic: Like or not we all face now with adversities in different levels. Where do you usually gain strength during these changing and challenging times?
Alex Birch: The three Fs – my faith, my family, and my friends.
Music Authentic: As I read and listen to people a lot of them are truly scared of what future might hold. How do you think your life will be in a few years from now on?
Alex Birch: Hopefully, things will have gone back to normal in a few years’ time, so I intend to be living and working in London with the company I recently joined.
Music Authentic: Do you consider yourself an artist or a writer?
Alex Birch: I consider myself a creative person rather than as an artist. I don’t really know why – the word just seems a bit grand.
Music Authentic: A lot of writers say, for them it’s like hard work, excruciating, minisculous, tenacious and scared from deadlines. Others feel it’s more of a freedom, a time and space travel discovering and creating new worlds or alternative realities that help them to get on by in everyday life. What about you?
Alex Birch: It’s a bit of both to be honest! It’s so thrilling to create worlds and create characters and tell stories – there is nothing more exciting than when an idea pops into my head or when I solve a problem I’m having in the storytelling and it all comes together. At the same time, there are definitely times when I’m banging my head against a wall and wondering why I do this to myself when I don’t have to. But I do kind of have to.
Music Authentic: Do you think there are firm lines one needs to draw between what and how to do and be a self-made man as an artist?
Alex Birch: I’m a writer, proof-reader, and editor of my own works, so I have to be very hard on myself and put myself into the reader’s shoes and remove or change anything that doesn’t really work.
Music Authentic: A little while ago it turned out in the USA the actual books gained a newly found popularity. However, the most books sold were YA (young adult) and series. We really cannot say these are fine arts but not pulp either. Should we be happy that people at least read?
Alex Birch: Yes, absolutely. I’m not too snobby about which books people read as long as they are just reading books. There was definitely a time when physical books seemed to be falling out of favour and eBooks were doing really well, but that has reversed now. I think it’s better to read physical books – unless you’re going on holiday, when I can understand if people don’t want to lug books around with them.
Music Authentic: I was astonished when long ago met novels in simplified versions. What’s the point of them? Do you think this way readers really will improve their mind and understanding?
Alex Birch: If it gets people reading classic novels, or novels of any kind, then that is a good thing. If it is something like War and Peace, it is good to encourage people to get a flavour of it rather than commit to reading the whole thing.
Music Authentic: Here is a fun but lately surprisingly close to real question, one once was fantasy then science-fiction, soon a documentary novel: Would you rather live in the Earth in 20 years or be the part of the first Mars colony?
Alex Birch: I love the beauty of this planet – the fields, rolling hills, mountains, and lakes, so I definitely want to stay on Earth!
Music Authentic: Have you ever felt promoting your book become almost like a door-to-door selling?
Alex Birch: I do often feel like I’m bothering people when I’m trying to sell copies of my book – I do fear that my social media posts are like that annoying knock on the door.
Music Authentic: Artists have always suffered in each and every area from lack of incomes, either they had paid gigs or sponsors, however, most of them were just neglected and either they could find their own ways and got lucky or they become forgotten for long. In the era of indies and self-publishing when seemingly everything is easy and at hand, do you think it is a straighter path to get to the people and cut through the noise?
Alex Birch: I’ve always said that self-publishing means anything can get published – for good or bad. It does mean that you don’t have to subject yourself to rejection by publishers – that is the reason I decided to self-publish my novel – but it does mean that things don’t get proof-read or edited by professionals. So it is a double-edged sword really. I think it is ultimately a good thing that authors can get their work out there without having to go through the whole process of submitting work to publishers who either take ages to get back to you, never give any verdict or feedback, or reject you, which can really damage self-esteem and mental health, both of which are really difficult for writers anyway.
(the interview continues below the photo of Alex Birch’s first book, so, be brave and read on!)
Music Authentic: Nations, especially the welfare societies are in a numb and somewhat ignorant state these days. What roles a writer should take on to change this? Can at all?
Alex Birch: I think that all a writer can do is write about the world around them and give their take on it, and if that changes things or changes someone’s mind about something, then that is a positive use of a writer’s platform.
Music Authentic: You live in the UK, one of the places on Earth where past and present generations are clashing over the future with fundamentally ideas in their mind. Right now short-sightedness and arrogance with tremendous lack of proper education seem to be winning. Will the “now” people ever get their future?
Alex Birch: I really just want our society to be united and an end to all this talk about intergenerational differences and culture wars. If we come together as a country – especially after the pandemic – and commit to unity, we could really have a great future as a country.
Music Authentic: You love music and you like taking your time to immerse yourself in it. Do you think concept albums are over or storytelling is still important?
Alex Birch: One of my favourite albums of the last five years was “Drones” by Muse – that was a really structured and intricate concept album which told a really compelling story, so I do believe storytelling in music is really important.
Music Authentic: Let’s have another upbeat question: If you had a chance to play a superhero character in a movie or a series, whom would you choose?
Alex Birch: I always wanted to be Spider-Man – the way he shoots webs and swings from them all around New York is really cool and the best way to travel!
Music Authentic: Movies have blockbusters, for many a dumbing down version of moving images. Books tend to have endless and crazy expensive newer and newer series basically not giving too much to the story just enough suspense and twist to buy the next one. And very much it feels, the ones who like reading a poem or a novel just like visiting an old friend do not have enough consumption power to change this. How can a writer bear this?
Alex Birch: Again, I think it’s just important that people are reading books of any kind. I tend to write fiction which would be called “popular fiction” rather than literary fiction, but I can understand that if you write literary fiction it can be frustrating that the most commercially successful books are popular fiction, or genre fiction.
Music Authentic: Nowadays we have Wattpad, we have NaNoWriMo and basically anyone can publish anything on Amazon, IBooks, or so. On the one hand it suggests larger than ever freedom on the other hand it brings a readers’ burnout finding hard to trust anything valuable for them since most hobby writers do not have basic knowledge on how, why, what, when, who, to whom – and they don’t walk the extra mile. Don’t you feel it’s unrighteous in a way? Or you have more issues with the ghost-written stories?
Alex Birch: Like I said in the previous answer, the fact that anyone can self-publish anything is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s very liberating to writers like me that I can bypass the traditional channels and just get my work out there, but you’re right to say that it’s difficult for readers to know what is actually going to be any good because a lot of books haven’t gone through the normal processes. It’s really in the reader’s hands to discern what they think is worth reading and what is not. As for ghost writing, it depends on the circumstances. If someone has a really interesting story to tell – whether it’s their life story or a work of fiction – but they can’t write very well, then I can really understand why they would approach a ghost writer. But without mentioning any names – because I don’t want to get sued for libel – I know there is a very famous and successful American novelist whose books are written by lots of other people but he gets all of the credit, which I think is completely wrong.
Music Authentic: What is your take on the changing traditions and values?
Alex Birch: I think faithfulness and loyalty to one another is really important, in all contexts. You should be faithful and loyal to your family, your partner, your friends, your colleagues, and your boss. Then again, those characteristics have to be earned – it’s a two-way street.
Music Authentic: Are you striving or thriving these days?
Alex Birch: A bit of both, definitely – I’m in a day job that I really, really like, in a company I love, so I feel like I’m thriving in that sense, but I’m striving to become a more well-known and successful writer.
Music Authentic: What things would be the greatest achievements for you through your art?
Alex Birch: If a child or young person came up to me in the street and said that they loved my book or it really helped them overcome something going on in their life, that would be amazing. Just one! The other thing would be if I got to write the screenplay of the film adaptation of my book.
Music Authentic: Which artist do you recommend to listen to from the past or the contemporary era and why?
Alex Birch: I would have to recommend listening to Muse. Particularly in their earlier albums, there was so much emotion and their music has really helped me to put words to how I’m feeling and what I’m experiencing. I find that listening to their music is really cathartic.
Music Authentic: Let’s go to real-life fantasy: If you were the Prime Minister, what would be the most crucial to begin a change with?
Alex Birch: The fact that there is poverty, homelessness, and rough sleeping in 21st Century Britain is a scandal and really shameful. If I were Prime Minister, I would hope to completely change the economy so that people were never left in these horrible situations.
Music Authentic: What are you working on?
Alex Birch: I’m working on the sequel to my novel – I wrote it during lockdown, when I was furloughed, and it’s in the proof-reading stage at the moment. It’s precious because it’s set in a fantasy world which I’ve created – nobody else has created this world, it’s mine. This second book explores more of the fantasy world – it travels much further than the first one, so it’s really exciting to write.
Music Authentic: Whose story had a great effect on your life?
Alex Birch: I don’t think I actually have an answer to this question! There are a lot of people whose work has had a great effect on my life, but I can’t think of anybody whose life story has had such an effect.
Music Authentic: You have a great opportunity as an artist, a platform to help out the ones in need. Have you ever used it?
Alex Birch: I must say that, to my shame, I never have! But I will try to do that more from now on!
Music Authentic: What are the hardest challenges in society these days?
Alex Birch: Well, apart from the obvious thing of the coronavirus – I think that the hardest challenges in society are inequality – racial, gender, regional, etc – and struggles with mental health.
Music Authentic: What about your free time? What are your favourite doings?
Alex Birch: Reading books and watching films and TV series! For entertainment mostly, but also for inspiration. Listening to music is also really important to me of course.
Music Authentic: Let’s close it today with your message to encourage others!
Alex Birch: In this day and age, there is always a way to get your work out there! Whether it’s a book, or a short film, or music, there are loads of ways to release it yourself rather than going through the traditional channels. And stay safe and well as we go into autumn and the ‘new normal’.