Becoming a published writer was a long-held dream for Gavin Extence, who’s proved anything is possible if you set your mind to it.
The 32-year-old, who grew up in Swineshead, has been overwhelmed by the success of his first novel – The Universe Versus Alex Woods – which was released last year.
Not only was the book selected as one of Richard and Judy’s Summer Book Club reads, it was also awarded an Amazon Rising Star accolade and gained its author a Writers Guild Award.
Gavin, who now lives in Sheffield with his wife Alix and their 18-month-old daughter Amelia, started writing as a distraction after struggling to get a job following his graduation.
“I loved reading and writing as a child, and I wrote a lot, even at the age of around five,” recalls Gavin.
“Then when I got to secondary school age I pretty much stopped and didn’t really start again until I was 26.
“I studied English at university, and I loved reading – I suppose the two go hand in hand. I always had it in the back of my mind I’d try to be a writer. I just kept putting it off.
“I graduated from university, completed a PHD and stayed in academia.
“It was right at the beginning of the recession in around 2008, I found myself fresh out of university with all the jobs disappearing.
“I applied for all sorts of things and didn’t really get anywhere, so I started writing again, partly for a distraction, and I loved it.
“Alix was the only one who knew I was doing it – I liked the idea that I could just see where it went.”
By his own admission Gavin was naïve about the book publishing world, hence his first manuscript was rejected by agents and publishers, but after some market research, and with the backing of his wife who suggested he go for it and write full-time, he fared much better with his second attempt.
“I was ultra-prepared the second time,” he said.
“I’d done four drafts before I sent it off to agents, although I still didn’t expect to hear anything back for weeks.
“However, I heard back really quickly, which caught me off guard and I eventually secured a two-book deal with Hodder.
“They liked it enough, asked me if I was writing a second book and have first refusal on the third.
“The whole thing went much better than I could ever have imagined – my biggest dream was always to make writing my full-time job.
“I’ve certainly had a much better start than I expected as I was quite prepared for the fact that it might not go anywhere.
“But it’s better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.”
Find out more about Gavin’s work at www.alex woodsbook.co.uk and on Twitter @ThingsAlexKnows
Story described as ‘one of the funniest, yet heartbreaking novels you might ever read’
The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a tale of an unexpected friendship, treading a fine line between light and dark, laughter and tears.
Described on Amazon as one of the most funniest, yet heartbreaking novels you might ever read, it tells the story of teenager Alex Woods and what happens when he meets ill-tempered, reclusive widower Mr Peterson.
“I start from character when writing,” says Gavin. “I had a very clear idea of Alex and his voice and the beginning, but very little idea of the story.
“It was intriguing – I just began writing and wanted to see what happened and where it took me.
“My second is going to be a completely different book.”
Scheduled for release next year, Gavin’s follow up book is based on an incident which happened to him when he returned to his flat one night and met a woman on the stairs who told him a neighbour had been found dead.
“It was a very surreal experience. I went up and told my wife, and that night I just couldn’t sleep.
“A couple of days later it was still there, and I had the beginning of a novel. A girl goes next door one evening to borrow a tin of tomatoes and discovers her neighbour’s dead. When I sat down and wrote the first chapter, I had no idea where the story was going to go.
“But that’s what I love about writing – ideas can come from anywhere and as long as you’ve got paper and a pen you can do it.”