Alex Preston, author of In Love and War, spoke to me about his writing process.
Born in 1979, Preston is an award-winning author and journalist who appears regularly on BBC television and radio. He writes for GQ, Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country Magazine as well as for the Observer’s New Review. He also teaches Creative Writing at the University of Kent and regular Guardian Masterclasses.
Photo © Marianne I. van Abbe
His first novel, This Bleeding City, was published in 2010, and won the Spear’s Best First Novel Prize, the Edinburgh International Book Festival Readers’ First Book Award, and was chosen as one of Waterstone’s New Voices 2010. The Revelations, Preston’s second novel, was published in 2012, and In Love and War was published in June 2014.
In Love and War transports you back to 1930’s Florence, a beautiful city, under the shadow of war. Told through the eyes of Esmond Lowndes, this novel is full of elegance and history, vividly described and powerfully affecting. Described as both epic and intimate, harrowing and heartwarming, In Love and War is one of those novels you really don’t want to miss.
Preston’s grandfather, the Princeton academic Samuel Hynes, inspired him to become a writer.
My grandfather is a writer, and was always the model for me growing up. An amazing man and a beautiful prose stylist.. If I achieve half what he has, I’ll feel like it’s been a life worth living.
Coming up with ideas isn’t the problem, according to Preston – it’s knowing which of the many thousands will be able to sustain a whole novel.
It’s why I love long form journalism so much – I use the essays and articles I write as places to audition material for novels.
As a book critic himself, I wanted to know if this line of work affected Preston’s ability to put his creative writing out into the world:
You can’t worry too much about reviews as an author, nor as a reviewer can you afford to think too much of the poor author dreaming of taking an ice-pick to your head. I try to keep the two entirely separate, and remember how often I’ve loathed a book that everyone else loved and vice versa.
But his advice to aspiring writers is perhaps a little unconventional..
Perhaps the best piece of advice is something Richard Ford once said to his Creative Writing students: If you can give up writing, do. It’s such a tough life and so relentless that, if there’s any other way you might be able to make a living, you should probably go for that instead. Only those who simply can’t not write will have what it takes to make it.
Prior to being published, Preston wishes he’d had more confidence in himself.
I wish I’d known how to take criticism and praise better, I wish I’d been able to see five years ahead in those difficult early days, to know that it was all going to work out OK.
“OK” is a bit of an understatement, in my humble opinion. In Love and War has been extremely well-received, and Preston’s writing style has been applauded by many. I for one believe that Preston has a lot to be proud of.
He’s currently working on a novel and a non-fiction book, both of which are in the absolute earliest stages, and is reading and adoring two novels – Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer and Paris by Julian Green.
Preston is ‘all over the place between now and the end of the year’, but he will be appearing in Charleston with Joseph O’Neill, an author he admires enormously. For more information, visit hiswebsite.
In Love and War is available on Lovereading.co.uk, the UK’s No.1 book recommendation site.