Alinam Brilliantly Explores Colonial Manila With a Fresh New Take
"I’d always take any free time I’d get to write and build on the story," Mickey Ingles says. "Whenever we travel or I have breaks, I’d make it a point to bring my notebook everywhere so I can sit down and write."
Years of law school, free time, and multiple manuscript rejections later, Ingles' new young adult novel Alinam is finally here. And, it explores Manila like never before with magic, steampunk influences, and more.
We spoke with Ingles about how he created Alinam's alternate world and its many surprising influences.
ESQUIRE PHILIPPINES: Could you tell us how you came to write this story?
MICKEY INGLES: I’ve always been fascinated by old towns and districts like the Barri Gotic in Barcelona and always loved seeing photos of Manila and Intramuros during both the Spanish and American times. Alinam was initially inspired by Manila and Shanghai—hence, the Concession district—but the more I read and traveled, the more other aspects of other cities got in there. I also saw this 1898 map of Manila and that caught my imagination and I started wondering what actually happened in these streets. So, Alinam is my way of imagining what it would be like living in that era.
ESQ: How did you juggle law school and sneaking in time to work on Alinam?
MI: Writing the story was a break for me from the stresses of law school and life in general. I really enjoy feeling “in the zone” when I write. That feeling of everything just flowing from pen to paper and the feeling of getting lost in your thoughts, I love that. So, whenever I write and get transported into this world that I can sort of control, it’s a huge break for me. It’s relaxing. So, it actually keeps me going and gives me more energy to go back to face the challenges of the real world.
During law school, I’d write during semestral and summer breaks. I’d also write during exam periods, because we’d normally have more time to ourselves during exams than we had during the daily grind. I also wrote a bulk of the story in the period after my bar exams in 2012 and before starting work in 2013. My goal was to finish the story before I started work as a lawyer, but that didn’t happen.
ESQ: What part of yourself does Alinam show about you?
MI: I’ve never seen myself as artsy. I always felt that I was lacking in that department. Hopefully, people see the value in the work and see me in a different light and see my artistic or creative side.
ESQ: Alinam is very much indebted to Harry Potter. But what other surprising influences helped shape this story and this world?
MI: That’s true. JK’s really an inspiration. The way she built her world, the way she ties everything up in her series, and her clever use of language and history—these were all huge influences. But there are a lot of other inspirations as well.
A main source of inspiration was the late Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind. He wrote 1930s Barcelona into his story so well that it was like a character in its own right. If I was able to do half of what he achieved with Alinam, I’ll be extremely happy. If you’ve read Shadow and Alinam, you’ll see similarities, particularly when it comes to a certain reverence for books and bookstores.
Neil Gaiman’s up there for sure. He’s my all-time fave. Neverwhere—and to a lesser extent, China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun—was a great example of having an alternate city to explore just under our noses.
Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy is in there as well, particularly with the class conflict. Stroud was excellent in building that up. Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles was an influence for the magical elements. Michael Scott’s Nicholas Flamel series influenced me to put some familiar persons into the story as well. I can’t say who because it’ll spoil the big surprise.
ESQ: What aspect of your alternate world did you have the most fun writing and creating?
MI: I liked visualizing Alinam and seeing its counterparts in Manila. The city is patterned on our own streets and waterways, and it was fun trying to match a place in Alinam to a place in Manila. I also liked making the history of Alinam in my head and seeing how it affects the story and the characters. And I love just going back to Alinam and imagining what it was like to live in a place like that. In a way, it’s a romantic and idyllic view of what Manila could’ve been… minus the dangers, of course.
ESQ: What advice do you have for aspiring authors who have a book idea or 10 stored inside their heads, but can't seem to find time away from their day jobs to write it?
MI: Make time. Scratch that itch. Make it a conscious effort, and then you’ll start seeing pockets of time in your day to write. It doesn’t have to be long, as long as you do it consistently. Those stories are meant to be written. Don’t let life get in the way, at least not that much.