Once again, the start of another working week beckons, with reams of research to be done on the local history surrounding Kielder Forest in Northumberland, which will form the setting for my next book: Dark Skies. Mind you, to offset the computer glare I’m going to be celebrating my sister’s birthday in Florence, so life ain’t all bad!
Another reason to be cheerful comes in the form of our next weekly Author Introduction. As you know, every Monday I am featuring a different author (all kinds of genres and backgrounds) and, after a string of fiction writers, I thought it would be interesting to mix it up and hear from a mega-successful non-fiction writer and entrepreneur.
Without further ado, let me introduce you to Joseph Alexander, who has been a guitarist and expert music tutor for over twenty years. He is a prolific author of over thirty guitar guides which have been published in four languages and have sold more than 200,000 copies to critical acclaim.
As well as being an author, Joseph is also a publisher of up-and-coming music writers through his label, Fundamental Changes. I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with Joseph at this year’s London Books Fair alongside fellow authors Mark Dawson, Rachel Abbott and Keith Houghton and it was really interesting to hear about his experiences publishing non-fiction.
Now, to give us a bit more insight into what motivates Joseph to write, I set him a list of ten short questions which he kindly agreed to answer…
- Tell us a little about yourself – don’t be shy!
Hi! I’m Joseph and I play the guitar… well I used to. I don’t seem to have much time to devote to it these days. I was always more gifted as a teacher than a performer, which is lucky because I love teaching and passing on music to a new generation of players.
I get bored easily, especially as musicians tend to work evenings! In past incarnations, I’ve built (with my own bare hands-ish) a successful bar which I then sold immediately to fund my wanderlust. That led me to becoming a SCUBA instructor in Thailand and then I worked on Cruise ships sailing from New York to The Caribbean.
When I got home, I started teaching guitar again and started writing down the stuff that I was showing my students, pretty much to save me writing things out for every new pupil. That became my first book and, well… I went down the rabbit hole.
When I had written 30 books on playing the guitar, sold a few hundred thousand copies, I realised there was some music that I wasn’t very good at playing. I put an ad out for people who could play guitar and write about it, and the wonderful Simon Pratt applied. We put his first book together and suddenly I was a publishing company.
Musicians tend to get a hard deal in terms of royalties and so do authors. I don’t want to be a part of that so I offered Simon a 50/50 share of all profits on his book. He’d supply the content and audio, I’d do the editing, graphics, production, publishing, promotion… everything else.
Now Simon has written 7 titles and is selling a lot of books. We split everything 50/50 and I have used this model to work with some incredible musicians, including jaw dropping Levi Clay and one of the most famous jazz guitarists on the planet, Martin Taylor. That book will be coming out this year. It’s surreal to sit at one of your childhood hero’s dinner tables and put a book together!
- How about your latest book – what can readers look forward to when they pick it up?
I’ve just put together a new book on Jazz Chords for beginners. It’s a minefield and there is a lot of terrible information out there. I wanted to create an easy way for guitarists to gain access to all those lovely musical colours.
I’m also working on a “100 Blues licks in the style of…” book. – I’ve taken the 20 most influential blues guitarists and written in-the-style-of licks and phrases for each of them. I’ll show the reader how to combine them into solos and actually use them as a launch pad for their own creativity.
- Who is your hero in real life and in fiction?
Frank Zappa. He died before I really got into his music (I think I was about 13 at the time). He was just so articulate and satirical and fought Tipper Gore against those Caution, Explicit Lyrics stickers they used to censor music.
In fiction… Granny Weatherwax, maybe Nigel Tufnell!
- Who are your three favourite writers – and why?
Well, I won’t name anyone we both know because we always bump into each other at those Amazon thingies and it just gets awkward…
Iain (M) Banks. What a mind. Both as a novelist and a science fiction writer… I’ve never read anything that good. Period. I don’t think I could put into words how much his works mean to me. They were always there to escape to during darker times.
Terry Pratchett. Again, such a creative force. I read every Discworld book I could growing up and just fell in love with his whimsical genius.
Haruki Murakami. Even after translation his writing is chillingly perfect. “There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”
- When you’re not writing, what is your favourite way to spend your time?
I’m always writing, or publishing. It sure feels like it. But I’m getting a lot of joy from having the freedom to travel and work overseas now. Me and my girlfriend decided to stick the dogs in the car and drive down to The South of France for a month. I’m writing this interview by the pool (with a beer) after having spent the day in St Tropez. (I’m just saying this to bug L.J., as she keeps informing me of how jealous she is!).
[Blogger’s Note: I can confirm I was very jealous to see pictures of the pair of them sunning themselves on the Cote d’Azur while we were stuck in rainy Somerset listening to back-to-back episodes of Blaze and the Monster Machines, which is my son’s new favourite thing].
I love freediving… It’s like Scuba without the air tanks. When I was training regularly I could do a 4:15 breath-hold and dive to nearly 30m on a single breath. I’m at my happiest when I’m in (or more accurately under) water.
I’m learning to box too. This means spending an hour in the gym every day getting punched in the face by a 6’6” ex British Army infantry trainer. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds.
Dogs! Yes… my dogs. Walking my dogs in Cheshire countryside. That too!
- What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I don’t really know how to answer this. People who know what I do/have done with publishing tell me it’s amazing, but to me it’s just a job that I enjoy. Apparently, I have totally disrupted the music tuition book industry, but I promise, it was by accident!
I think the fact that I’ve been able to pass on music to 250,000+ people. That means a lot.
I’m very proud that I offer a great deal to musicians and writers. Publishing and music are generally pretty shitty industries for artists. If I’m helping to change that then that’d be a lovely legacy.
- What was your favourite book as a child?
I think it was either The BFG or The Witches. Roald Dahl featured heavily, but after my mum read me The Witches, I always made sure she had closed to window before I fell asleep.
- Have you read any books recently that have really captured your imagination?
I’m actually reading something about a murder that happened somewhere called Holy Island right now, that’s pretty good so far! 😉 but I think The Quarry, by Iain Banks was quite chilling. It was his last book and seemed extremely cathartic in a way that I don’t think we’ll ever find out why.
- If the Prime Minister knocked at your front door and asked to borrow a book, which one would you recommend they read?
Something that could actually get it through their thick head that there is massive disparity in society. Due to the fact that MPs (and PMs) never see that part of society, they can never truly understand it or give empathy and understanding to the people that they believe they’re helping (with tax cuts for the rich, massive underfunding in schools, and destroying the NHS from the inside out).
Either that or the year 2000 autobiography “Britney Spears’ Heart To Heart”: A weighty and thought-provoking tome charting the dramatic rise to fame and influence of the plucky eponymous heroine… although I wouldn’t trust the PM to give it back. She’d probably sell it to a private healthcare company. You know, because it isn’t hers to sell?
[Blogger’s Note: *drops mic*]
- Finally, if you could be any character from a movie, which would it be?
Iron Man. Obviously.
…Thanks, Joseph! Great answers and I am beginning to wonder whether I could set my next series of mystery novels in a more far-flung, exotic setting which would obviously require extensive family research trips… one can dream! 🙂
I hope you all have a wonderful week!