Alan Baxter is a multi-award-winning author and martial arts expert. He is famous for writing novels based on horror, supernatural thrillers, and dark fantasy liberally mixed with crime, mystery, and noir. Baxter is the author of the bestselling books Primordial and Blood Codex: A Jake Crowley Adventure.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I was born and raised in the south of England, then moved to Australia in my mid-to-late-20s. I had a good childhood all things considered. We were very poor when I was young, and I remember that well. But my family soon started to do better. My brother, 2 years older than me, had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, so he had a hard time of it and was profoundly disabled by his teens. He died when he was 18 (I was 16) and there’s no doubt that his life and untimely death shaped me a lot as a person. But my parents were good to me and I can’t really say I wanted for anything that was in their power to give. They always tried to ensure I grew up as a good person, and I try to do the same with my son now.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That I wanted to take writing seriously! I didn’t consider it a worthy pastime and therefore seek publication until I was around 30. I wish I’d started that path 10 years earlier. Of course, being 10 years younger I might have been crap at it and quit!
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Oh, so many! Don’t get me started. I have a real problem writing “rules”. Rule one: You must write. Rule two: There isn’t one. That’s it. You gotta write. Everything else is advice at best, often bad advice, but take what you think will work for you and roll with it. So many people say stuff like “You have to write every day” or “You have to outline in detail” or “You should never outline in detail”. There are no rules beyond actually writing.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
While I have a lot of privilege in my life, I’ve also experienced a fair amount of trauma in various ways. Death seems to be a constant companion. I mentioned earlier that my brother died young. I also lost a best friend, and both my parents died in their sixties, so I was the only surviving family member by the age of 36. Not surprisingly, a lot of my work looks at death and the justice or injustice of it. I’ve learned resilience, I suppose.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I work my arse off. Honestly, that’s really all that matters. Success in writing comes from three things: talent, perseverance, and luck. Luck is a massive factor, and there’s nothing we can do about that, so you just have to wait for it and then grab every bit of luck that comes along. The other two things? That’s where hard work pays off. Talent is innate to some degree, but it can be nurtured. Study hard, always try to improve, and your talent will increase. Perseverance is simply not giving up. Remember that thing above about the opposite of success? I’ve always maintained that if anything of mine doesn’t succeed, it won’t be because I didn’t work hard enough. I do the best job I can every time and I refuse to quit. And I wait for every bit of luck, then grab it. I find that the harder I work, the luckier I get.
What is your morning routine?
I normally get woken at 7 am by my son landing on me. He knows not to disturb us until 7, so he usually wakes up early and then reads until 7 am. He’s been doing that since he was 4 or 5 and he’s 7 years old now. As for my routine, that depends on the morning. Some days I get my son ready for school and drop him off, some days my wife does it. Some days I have a morning class to teach (I’m a kung fu and chi kung instructor too) and some mornings I don’t. On the days when I don’t have to drop my son off or teach a class, I’m at my desk by 8.30 or 9 am and working on whatever writing project I have on the go.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Saying no! I mentioned how I believe in always working hard. So I used to say yes to everything. But more recently, the last couple of years or so, I’ve been a lot more discerning in what I say yes to. I found myself burning out trying to do too much, so I would select things that I saw real value in and politely refuse others. Or sometimes I’ll see something I would really like to do, but recognise I have too much other stuff on and therefore say no. It’s been genuinely liberating to exercise that act of saying no, and it’s been a massive benefit to my mental health.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Focus and discipline. These are things that carry over from my life in martial arts. I make time to write, I guard it and treat it with equal importance to the other thing in my life, and when I’m writing I focus on writing. Whether I feel like it or not, I do it. A plumber can’t decide not to turn up to a job because his or her “muse” isn’t on board that day. The muse is bullshit. It’s a job and you turn up to work. You sit in the chair and you do your job. Some days will be easier than others, but regardless, you go to work. BUT! It’s also imperative to recognise the need for downtime. Like rest being an active part of physical health, so time away from writing is an active part of being a good writer. I take weekends off usually. If I’m feeling burned out, I’ll take a mental health day. But otherwise, I focus on the job at hand and I’m disciplined about getting it done. It’s hard at first, of course, but the practice of doing it makes you better at doing it, just like the writing itself. Or martial arts. Or anything else in life.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
This is a tough question because so many books have influenced me in so many ways. Probably my all-time favourite book is The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. I love Barker’s dark fantastique vibe and I think that’s his best. Also, books by James Herbert, Stephen King, Peter Straub, and more, transported me when I discovered horror in my early teens.
I’m also a huge fan of old fantasy, and the books of Michael Moorcock had a massive influence on me with their dark fantasy anti-hero storylines. Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea books I go back to time and again. Wonderful stories and her command of language is sublime.
Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults had a profound effect on teenage me and I’ll always hold them dear.
Subsequently, so many amazing contemporary authors inspire me every day, that I won’t name any for fear of missing so many out!
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“The opposite of success isn’t failure. Failure is part of success. The opposite of success is quitting.”