We spoke to Alex Lester, painter and writer, whose Bush War novel When All the Men Are Wounded won the Pageturner Prize 2015, an annual novel competition held by Brixton literary agency Tibor Jones.
How did it feel to be shortlisted, and then win the prize?
To be honest, I took the shortlist with a pinch of salt. Wonderful of course, but like all aspiring writers I have learned to be brutally realistic. Winning was different altogether. I walked on air for days.
Suddenly, from nothing, the entire dynamic of this long cherished dream changed, no that’s too small a word: it convulsed. I had an agent at last! And a good one. Man, I was living the dream and still am.
Are you hoping to secure a publishing deal for your novel soon?
I sure am. Laura Macdougall is my agent and editor and tells me the book really stands a chance. I’ll take that, thanks. She has already sent me comprehensive (and slightly daunting) editorial notes which I’m working on as we speak.
I don’t intend to hang about. When we’re both happy our manuscript is in really good shape, she will begin submitting. Hopefully sometime in June.
Please describe When All the Men Are Wounded for our readers.
Two brothers grow up on a farm in Rhodesia during the ‘70’s. Their relationships with each other, their parents and their different roles as they are drawn into the civil war is complex and often cruel. Both take very different stances with respect to race and politics, and this leads to consequences neither could have ever foreseen.
Why did you choose to write about the Bush War?
I grew up in Rhodesia, a cosseted white kid, oblivious to the injustices of the Rhodesian regime or the human cost to all races involved. The war, whilst small in world terms, became a vicious contest of will between implacable enemies.
The racial complexities were both fascinating and heart-breaking and even now I can’t say I understand them completely. It is a story I believe worth telling.
Do you have any tips for budding writers looking to get published?
Get someone professional to read your stuff. It’s all very well plugging on against the odds, but you need to know if you are wasting your time or just require some help. Don’t write for yourself; if a sentence, no matter how much you love it, does not drive the story on, kill it.
Think of writing as a job of work, and edit without mercy. You have never felt true liberation until you chop out an entire chapter as though it never existed. Read Cormac Mccarthy, Howard Spring, James Jones and Michael Herr. Then just read.
As well as a soon-to-be-published author (fingers crossed) Alex is a painter – check out his artwork on his website.