Since Lex Trent came out I seem to have done loads of interviews for it. Or maybe it just feels that way to me because a lot of the questions I’ve answered have been replicated and so I find myself trying to think of new ways to answer the same question. I enjoy talking about Lex, so I’m not complaining. Taking time to do your bit to promote a book is a necessary part of a published author’s life.
But there are two questions that have come up a few times now, which I want to set the record completely straight on, and so I’m going to answer those two FAQ’s here on my site as well.
The first one has to do with the fact that Lex’s grandfather in the book suffers from a disease called the Soulless Wake. This is, essentially, a fantasy world version of Alzheimer’s. In almost every interview I’ve done about Lex, I’ve been asked where this came from and, more than once, people have suggested that perhaps it was because of Terry Pratchett’s diagnosis. I want to be completely clear about this: the inclusion of an Alzheimer’s type disease in Lex Trent has nothing whatsoever to do with Terry Pratchett. I have not – and will never – exploit another writer’s illness as a plot point in one of my books. In fact, at the time that I wrote the first draft of Lex Trent – back in my second year of university – Terry Pratchett had not even received his diagnosis yet. My grandfather, though, had been diagnosed with the disease two years previously. This is the reason that it features in the book.
I usually try quite hard to avoid allowing my own life to seep into my novels, but I suppose to some extent it is unavoidable. Everything – both good and bad – that happens to a writer, contributes to who they are. As Dan Simmons has his Wilkie Collins character state in his excellent book Drood: ‘I was a novelist. Everything and everyone in my life was material.’
It was not a conscious decision of mine to address the very serious issue of Alzheimer’s in what is, after all, meant to be a light comic fantasy novel. It crept in, somehow, on its own – I suppose because it was something that was very much on my mind at the time. However, once it was there, I decided to keep it, because it seemed to fit with Lex’s back story very well, and I don’t think that the odd serious scene detracts from the overall light-hearted nature of the book. If anything, I think such moments compliment the rest of it.
I did not react to my grandfather’s illness in the cowardly way that Lex does in the book. I did not abandon him because he had Alzheimer’s – but I understand the temptation. It is not easy to visit someone you love very much indeed only to have them not really know who you are. My grandfather was still alive when I got my first publishing deal, but although he was told about it, I don’t think he really took it in. If his reaction when I won a short story competition at the age of thirteen is anything to go by, I know he would have been absurdly proud, and if I had signed my deal even one year earlier, then I would have been able to tell him about it properly. This remains one of the few real regrets that I have so far in my life.
My grandparents lived several hours away from us so when we went to visit, the trip involved a full day’s outing. We tried to make it there every six weeks. I went, but I had to force myself to go. My grandmother, on the other hand, cared for my grandfather day after day almost for the rest of his life, and however difficult it was for me to see him every six weeks for a few hours, for my grandmother this was a reality that she lived with permanently. She became his full time carer, despite suffering from health problems herself. The way that she was with him was one of the most brave, loyal, devoted things I have ever seen in my life. I would like to think I would conduct myself with the same grace and dignity if I were ever in her position but I seriously doubt I would be capable of that kind of selflessness. The point I wanted to hint at with Lex was that there are different kinds of bravery. Lucius, who is Lex’s wimpy, weedy, gentle twin brother, could not cope with the thrilling adventures Lex takes on, but he willingly stayed behind to look after their grandfather when he became ill – something that Lex simply could not do.
That is where the Soulless Wake comes from. It is a direct result of my own experience – not an insensitive exploitation of someone else’s suffering.
The second – and far less important FAQ – is people believing that I decided to call the main character Lex because that name is a variation of mine. This is not the case either. It is true that Lex and I share some similarities in that we were both law students; we both share a sort of dread of the idea of working as lawyers; and we both had grandfathers who had Alzheimer’s. But the reason I gave Lex his name was because of this man:
This, as any Smallville viewer will recognise, is Lex Luthor, as played by Michael Rosenbaum. I was watching a lot of Smallville at the time, and I loved Lex as a character – I thought he was far more interesting than Clark. I also liked the fact that the name ‘Lex’ has instantly notorious connotations. That was the reason that I took it. Lex is therefore named for super-villain Lex Luthor. He is not named after me.