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DJ: Hi Alex! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Alex Thomson: I’m a French and Spanish teacher at a secondary school in Luton, and this is my first novel. I came to sci-fi/fantasy relatively late – someone lent me a copy of Foundation when I was in my late twenties – and have spent the last decade making up for lost time and reading as many different authors and sub-genres as I can. I love how sci-fi gives authors so much scope to explore ideas about what it is to be human.
DJ: What is Death of a Clone about?
Alex: Death of a Clone is a sci-fi/crime mash-up – a murder mystery set on a mining asteroid called Hell, populated by a small community of clones. The main character, Leila, is a Miss Marple buff, and when her clone sister is killed, she tries to investigate the murder herself, using Miss Marple’s methods. However, it turns out there are plenty of secrets on Hell, and someone is prepared to kill to make sure those secrets stay hidden.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Death of a Clone?
Alex: It was influenced by a lot of classic “soft sci-fi”, for example the short stories of Isaac Asimov and Philip K Dick. More recently, by Adam Roberts, who is one of my favourite contemporary sci-fi authors, and always manages to make extraordinary ideas seem completely natural. And in particular, I first started writing Death of a Clone after reading Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things; I had always been a bit too intimidated to attempt to write sci-fi myself, but Faber (who doesn’t normally write sci-fi) reminded me that all you need is a good story and characters you care about – the rest will follow.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them? (aka What makes them compelling?)
Alex: Leila is a book-lover, and has an obsession with cozy mysteries, especially those featuring Miss Marple. All she knows of Earth she has read in books on a e-reader (mainly from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), so she has a rather warped, child-like view of society and the people that are responsible for her creation. She is quite naïve and a bit of a dreamer, but also stubborn and not cowed by the overseers.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Death of a Clone like? ((the environment, weather, people, religion, technology, architecture, government, etc; is it violent, peaceful, patriarch/matriarch, etc.))
Alex: Hell is the colloquial name for Mizushima-00109, a lonely mining asteroid in the Asteroid Belt. Metals are a scarce resource on Earth, and so M-type asteroids like Hell are being stripped clean of their metals. Three human overseers are in charge, and the mining is done by four families of clones (Ays, Bees, Jays and Ells), who have different functions and skills. The asteroid is cold, grey and sparse, and life is spent either on work shifts, or on sleep and leisure shifts in the small base. The clone sometimes clash with the overseers, but their main priority is finishing their seven-year term and collecting enough ore, so they can get on the Collection ship that will take them to Earth.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Death of a Clone?
Alex: I always enjoy writing dialogue, and this was no exception – I could hear the conversations fully formed in my head and just had to transcribe them. Especially arguments – there’s something very satisfying about writing a tense conversation that is on the verge of spilling over into actual violence! The ending was also a lot of fun to write, after I had spent so much time building up to it. Some of the other scenes, on the other hand, were hard work, it felt like I was gouging it out word by word.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Alex: The ending, which will hopefully take them by surprise. I’m a sucker for twists that make you re-evaluate everything you’ve read so far – in sci-fi, my favourites would be Non-Stop, and pretty much anything by Christopher Priest.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing Death of a Clone? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Alex: I wanted to explore themes of identity (which is inevitable when you’re writing about clones), but also power, and the kind of dynamics that develop in small communities. I didn’t plan for one explicit message beforehand, but it grew as I was writing. And as always with a murder mystery, the goal was to keep readers guessing, without working out who the killer was!
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Death of a Clone that you can share with us?
Alex: ‘Fiction. I swear, it turns you into a cynic.’
And a colourful one that a reviewer picked up but I had forgotten writing, from a character who thinks he has uncovered a conspiracy: “I don’t need to see the skid marks to tell me when someone’s taken a dump.”
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Death of a Clone that we haven’t talked about yet?
Alex: I wrote the whole book in longhand in several tiny notebooks (eight or nine words a line – I have no idea why I didn’t just buy some bigger notebooks), before typing it out as a first draft. It sounds a bit Luddite and pretentious, but the writing flowed out much easier that way. I heartily recommend it to any writers, as now I find it fascinating looking back at the notebooks – all the terrible ideas that were mercifully jettisoned, random jottings in the margin (IS THIS A STUPID NAME??), and moments where I was falling asleep and the writing is just a globby mess.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** Death of a Clone is published by Abaddon and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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An Agatha Christie thriller in space!
The Overseers may call it Hell, but for Leila and the other clones, the mining base on asteroid Mizushima-00109 is the only home they’ve ever known. But then Leila’s sister Lily is murdered, and the Overseers seem less interested in solving the crime than in making their mining quota and returning to Earth.
Leila decides to find the murderer, just like the heroes of her old detective novels would. But Hell is a place of terrible secrets, and a love of cozy mysteries may not be enough to keep Leila from ending up like her sister.
About the Author:
Alex Thomson worked in the publishing industry for the last twelve years selling translation rights. A recent change in career now finds him teaching. He wrote Death of a Clone on the train during his daily commute to London, scribbling away in biro in a notebook, surrounded by sweaty commuters. He has two small and lively boys, which explains why trying to write at home is not always a realistic option. His short fiction has been published in the Nocturne anthologies. When not writing, he can be found whiling away the hours in board game cafés or playing the bongos.