Thursday, January 13, 2011

Guest Post/Giveaway: Alexander Gordon Smith

Hi there, thanks so much for letting me write a guest post for your blog! I wanted to talk a little bit about Furnace Penitentiary. It’s the Furnace of the series title, but it’s more than just a place – it’s also one of the most important characters in the book.

The idea for Lockdown began with Alex, this character in my head who was a version of me as a teenager. He was a bad kid who got into trouble – a lot worse trouble than I ever did, I should say. And I knew that the story would be about him being sent to prison. But I wanted the book to be a horror book, not an issues book, so really the first character I spent time thinking about, other than Alex, was Furnace, the prison itself.

I say it’s a character rather than a place because it always felt that way in my head. There are bad guys in the prison – the hellish Warden, the awful Wheezers, the sadistic Blacksuits – but I wanted the prison itself to be the true villain, to be the ultimate evil that needed to be overcome. And a villain is exactly what Furnace is. It is soulless, it is immortal, it devours children, and once it has you it never lets you go. It is the thing that Alex and his friends have to fight, it is the force that they must defeat if they stand any chance of survival. As terrifying as the human faces of Furnace are, at least they have faces – even if they’re covered with gas masks. Furnace Penitentiary is a faceless monster, which makes it so much worse. It is a villain which cannot be reasoned with or understood, which cannot bleed, which cannot be killed.

The majority of the planning I did for the books was trying to work out what this prison looked like. Surprisingly, it wasn’t always underground. When I first came up with the idea of Furnace I assumed it would be a normal prison, the kind you get in pretty much every major city in the world. It was actually my little brother Jamie who made me think of the place as a subterranean dungeon. Jamie, who was eleven when I started writing Lockdown, helped me write my previous series of books, The Inventors. He is a great source of inspiration, and especially loves the research that goes with writing a book (when we were working on The Inventors he built dozens of gadgets and traps, testing them all out on me)! It was Jamie who suggested going to visit a prison to see what the atmosphere was like.

I have to confess I’d never actually been to a prison before, and I thought it was a great piece of advice. So one day Jamie and I tried to get into the prison in Norwich, which is where we live. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t have much luck! So Jamie said that we should visit a medieval dungeon instead. Norwich is a very old city, and it’s full of these ancient buildings, many of which have cellars or vaults or creepy subterranean passageways. There’s one building in particular, called the Guildhall, which used to be the city’s law court hundreds of years ago. Underneath the Guildhall, buried deep beneath the ground, are the old dungeons. Jamie and I got permission to go down there, and it was terrifying! There were no windows, hardly any of the lights worked, and it was full of these cramped, rock-walled cells covered in centuries-old graffiti.

I was totally freaked out. I saw the place as this heartless, faceless entity in which people had suffered and probably died. Even though it was made of stone I imagined that it was alive, that it fed on misery and pain, that we’d be stuck there forever in some kind of horrific ghostly purgatory – along with all the other poor spirits down there. Needless to say, I didn’t want to stay any longer than I had to. I thought Jamie was scared as well, because he told me to pop inside a cell and see what it was like. ‘Five seconds and then we can get out of here,’ he said. That sounded good to me, so I ducked into the nearest cell, took a deep breath of the atmosphere, turned to go…

Only to see the cell door slamming shut. Jamie had locked me in! It was pitch black in that cell – they had solid oak doors rather than more modern barred ones – and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I knew the cell was empty, but I swear I could feel ghosts running cold fingers down my spine, whispering in my ear. I kept thinking about the prison as this soulless, ageless evil, how it had grown out of the earth like a tumour, how there was absolutely no way for me to get out. And I was banging on the door screaming for Jamie to open it.

Fifteen minutes later, he did. I bolted up the stairs and into the sunshine, more relieved than I’ve ever been in my life! I was angry with Jamie for pulling a stunt like that, but I was really grateful to him as well. As soon as I’d left the Guildhall I knew that I wanted Furnace Penitentiary to be more like a medieval dungeon – buried beneath the ground, no natural light, hardly any air, with these solid rock walls that go on for miles. Being trapped inside that cell – those fifteen minutes that felt like fifteen years – allowed the idea of this monstrous prison to develop. It’s where Furnace was born.

Of course the prison isn’t really alive, it isn’t an entity at all, but I wanted it to feel that way to Alex and to the other kids who were locked inside. I wanted it to feel that way to the reader, too. I wanted the prison to be the beast which seemed to creep from the book, the real horror which haunted their dreams, the true villain of the story.

And hopefully it is!

Thank you for the awesome guest post and insight into Furnace Penitentiary! I love how you got your inspiration and that your brother was a part of that.

1 copy of Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith
Open to US and Canada ONLY
ends January 20 at 11:59 pm EST

To enter, leave a meaningful comment about this guest post or the books. You DO NOT have to be a follower to enter.


Vivien said...

I am completely fascinated with this genre. I also adore every single one I read. I've had this on my wishlist for such a long time it would be wonderful to win. Thanks!

deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

Beverly said...

Absolutely loved this interview! I work in a high school media center and we have Lockdown and will get Solitary FOR SURE! Could I share your interview? Please enter me in the giveaway! I am an old follower.

Jessica ( frellathon ) said...

I love the sound of this so much. I'm also a cover fan, a lot of books will grab me when I see a cover this one totally does that to me. It says pick me up and read me now lol

rubymoon said...

I went from reading your guest post to hopping over to Amazon to see what people said and I am blown away. This book sounds both amazing and creepy at the same time. I'd love to read it.I think th cover is incredibly dark and brooding. Kudos to the author!

rubymoonstone at gmail dot com

SandyG265 said...

This sounds like a really creepy book. It should be a good read.

sgiden at

Ricki said...

This series sounds truly original. I know I have never read anything like this.

A Musing Mother said...

This is not the kind of prison I would like to visit. Come to think of it, I don't want to go to any prison. But I'd like to reAD this book.

ntaylor228 at yahoo do tcom

Dan K said...

I like to read who authors get their ideas and Mr. Smith certainly comes through explaining how this book became 'alive' Kudos to his brother.

Thanks for the giveaway.

grumpydannyboy [at] gmail [dot] come

Meredith said...

I love that the author's younger brother likes getting so involved with his research! Someday it may be the other way around!

meredithfl at gmail dot com

Michelle said...

Being in a dungeon, even for research purposes, would freak me out...though the concept of underground worlds fascinates me, I have a feeling if I were in that situation I would be constantly looking over my shoulder...

Carissa said...

Fabulous guest post! I hadn't heard of this series before reading it, but it sounds great. I have to say that I really like the idea of Furnace Penitentiary as a sentient being that engulfs those unwary enough to be caught in it's clutches. Very eerie!

preternaturalprimer (at) hotmail dot com

tetewa said...

I'm always looking for new authors to read, sounds good!

jacque said...

What a 'horrid' field trip! But, the outcome (the book) sounds wonderful! Would love to win too!

twinmomx5 at gmail dot com

Shari said...

I am not normally a fan of horror, but this book sounds really intriguing. It was interesting to hear about his experience in the dungeons.


Jill the OWL said...

What I like is that this is a "boy" book by a male author. I have no problem finding girl books, but ones that will hook my boy students can be tough!

themgowl at

Ashley said...

Wow. These covers look super creepy. But, a good creepy. The kind of creepy that really makes me want them!
I'd love to win these books!

And, great guest post. Super creepy that the prison is a character too. Love it!

basicallyamazingbooks [at]

binabug said...

great interview, makes me want to read this and I added it to my goodreads so I can remember it for later

Asenath said...

Wow, that Jaime is quite the muse! And gutsy, for tricking a guy into a dungeon cell...

This looks like something my reluctant reader students might like. :)

arallison at gmail dot com

Allison T said...

I love the first cover! My friend had one that he brought to school once. XD This book looks great, like a thriller.
Allison Tielking

sablelexi said...

Great interview. I loved hearing how he came up with prison and tried to develop it as a character.

jlynettes @ hotmail . com

arceli said...

The initial premise of these novels sounds a lot like the Incarceron/Sapphique duo, but I'm sure it will have its own spin. I'll be looking out for Lockdown and Solitary in the bookstore!

a (dot) long (at) tcu (dot) edu

Odditor said...

The cover art is particularly striking but strangely I am fascinated with the font too. It really portrays, what I imagine, the emotional context of the novel.

I'd like to be a winner!

protagonistx at

SarahS. said...

I've heard a lot a good things about the books, I can't wait to read it.