Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface.
Alex Sawyer is the “new fish.” Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, he knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to death in the darkness at the bottom of the world.
Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. The prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below.
Escape is Alex’s only option. But it’s not just about saving his own skin. The more he discovers, the more he understands that he is going to have to do whatever it takes to expose this nightmare hidden from the eyes of the world.
About the Author
Alexander Gordon Smith, 30, lives in Norwich, England. He is the co-owner of Fear Driven Films, a production company that is shooting its first feature film this year, and founder of Egg Box Publishing, an independent press that promotes new writers and poets. Gordon is the author of many magazine articles as well as two books in the Inventors series, co-written with his kid brother Jamie Webb. Lockdown: Escape from Furnace is his first book to be published in the United States.
Q & A
Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?
I’m from a wonderful place in England called Norwich. Back in medieval times it was one of the most important cities in the country, but now it’s more like a big town. I love the history here — the thousand-year-old castle, the terrifying underground dungeons, the Roman ruins. These were great things to visit when I was a kid, and were the perfect inspiration for scary stories!
Norwich is also surrounded by rolling countryside and miles of gorgeous sandy beaches. I remember exploring this beautiful wilderness with my sister and my friends, living out as many crazy adventures as we could think of. Some of those adventures have made it into my books all these years later! This really is a place where dreams come true, which is why I’ve never left.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer and how did you get started?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. In fact I don’t ever remember wanting to be anything else — except maybe a helicopter pilot or a pirate when I was eight! When I was a kid I loved books, I loved the way you could open one up and instantly be pulled into an amazing, exciting adventure where literally anything could happen. You could explore space and visit strange new worlds, hunt for treasure and battle pirates, discover ancient mysteries and encounter horrific monsters — all before bed!
There was only one thing better than reading stories, and that was writing them. You could have adventures, and you could decide what happened! I wrote my first book — “Super Carrot” — when I was about seven. It was awful, but I was soon addicted to telling stories and I knew back then that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
It really is the best job in the world! Even when you’re not bringing your adventures to life you can spend your time reading, watching films, playing video games, and traveling the world — and call it all research!
Furnace Penitentiary is a pretty rough place, to say the least. Where did you get the idea for it?
The idea of Furnace Penitentiary really began to take shape when I was thinking about my worst nightmares, my worst fears. I run creative writing workshops for kids and teens, and one of the things I do is ask them to write a story based around something that terrifies them.
So I began to think about what really scared me, the worst possible thing I could imagine. The thought of being inside a prison, buried a mile beneath the ground, full of gangs and evil guards and gas-mask-wearing freaks and bloodthirsty monsters — not to mention a warden who may be the devil — was about the most chilling thing I could think of! Shortly after I had the idea we actually had a tragedy in the family, and strangely enough I began to think about my life, this horrible event, being like a prison. Writing Alex’s story became a way for me to escape this dark period — I knew that if he didn’t make it out of Furnace, then I would never get over this tragedy.
So Alex’s fear and panic and desperation and hope are all real, because they are my fear and panic and desperation and hope. I think this is part of what makes Lockdown such a powerful story.
What books and authors do you enjoy or find inspiring?
I love so many books because they are all unique; the adventures they take you on, and the characters you meet, are unlike anything else you’ve ever encountered before. I try to read as much as possible, everything from Shakespeare to Stephen King — two of my heroes! If I had to pick a favorite book, however, then I would choose George Orwell’s 1984. It’s just flawless writing and an incredible story. I absolutely love it. If I had to choose a book for younger readers then I’d probably go for Holes by Louis Sachar, which I think has just about the most perfect plot imaginable! The best thing about reading, though, is that each new book becomes your favorite because from the first page to the last you’re part of that story, that adventure.
What’s your favorite candy?
Hmmmmm…good question! I eat way too much of the stuff. My favorite chocolate bar is a Double Decker — I’m not sure if you have them in the States but they’re chocolate and nougat with a biscuit base, delicious! I’m really looking forward to visiting America to try out some of your candy, especially Twinkies!
What do you like to do for fun?
Writing is fun! It’s one of my favorite things to do. When I’m not actually writing I’m usually researching, which I often do with my little brother, Jamie. He’s thirteen now, and we’ve written a couple of books together. We had a fantastic time researching them — building crazy gadgets, making traps in the garden, and inventing all sorts of machines, including rocket boots! He also helped me research Lockdown, visiting spooky dungeons and making prison props. After researching, writing, editing, and touring there isn’t much free time left. I’m a bit of a geek and I love sci-fi and horror films, television shows, and video games. I’m also involved in making a horror film, which should be work but which is just way too much fun. Other than that I study kung fu, which is brilliant, and enjoy hanging out with my family, going to the cinema, and taking trips. And most of all, of course, I read!
Can you give us any hints or spoilers for the next book in the series?
Well I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that escape is only the beginning, because there are worse things than guards and cells in the blood-drenched tunnels beneath Furnace…much worse!