Studioenp: Silence or noise when writing?
Dan: I’m part of the musical writing camp. Formerly used to drown out background noise (four kids = lots of background noise!). I’m of the growing ilk of writers who like music without any lyrics. I don’t know whether this helps me concentrate or whatnot, but yeah, bit of rock or stoner rock usually, like Karma to Burn or Mother Engine, or if I need to get a bit of tempo going, I’m partial to some dark drum and bass.
Studioenp: Music without lyrics saves you writing the lyrics instead of your book. What’s your latest release?
Dan: Entertaining Demons from Apex Publications, which was released last year. The music choice was oddly Swedish rock for this one, lots of Whale and Psycore.
Studioenp: Cool! We imagine it’s pretty dark—or at least weird, which is fab. So how did the plot come about for it?
Dan: The satirical element came first. My previous novels have always had a poke at popular culture, in particular the swamp of television singing/dancing/acting talent shows or worse. In my second novel, The Collector, the country was sadly in the grip of a manufactured pop hit called Oh Baby as a result of that year’s singing show winner (and this was written before Beiber came on the scene!).
I also wanted to write a traditional haunted house story, and I’m particularly intrigued by the Enfield poltergeist case, so had that as a starting point. Combining with my initial need for a social commentary, I came up with the thought of a real life ghost-hunting show. I know we’ve had them around for a while, but what if they were treated the same as X Factor or Big Brother?
But still…traditional isn’t something I tend to do.
A major concept of the novel came about after visiting a friend of my partner in Fremantle. Her suburb had very familiar street names, and with my interest in the occult as child (that sounds weirder than it really is) I recognised each street name as belonging to a medieval demon. I remember Ba’al Street in particular. This brought back memories of the old etchings of demons from the dark ages in library books. I love all that and wanted to include it in the novel.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: a ghost that is actually a demon, cameras capturing footage…isn’t that a bit Paranormal Activity, Dan? They share an initial starting point perhaps, but Entertaining Demons is certainly its own entity!
Studioenp: Sounds bloody marvellous! How long did it take you to write it?
Dan: This was my fastest novel ever. It was written while I was still a teacher and cranked out over a hot summer holiday in a metal shed.
Studioenp: Metal shed? Boil alive or what! What’s next on your writing list?
Dan: I’m about 75% through a new psychological novel. It has links with—but I wouldn’t call it a sequel—another novel, Playthings, which is currently doing the rounds with my agent. It involves a mental health institute running illegal experiments to increase metal disorders to their limits. I have degrees in chemistry and psychology so am using a wealth of knowledge on unethical past experimentation to draw upon!
Studioenp: LOL. We wouldn’t expect anything less, Dan. Plotter or panster?
Dan: Plotter…ish. A general outline sees me through, but I know the course won’t run straight and subplots are bound to appear. I like to write say four or five bullet points: targets that each scene has to hit, before starting each chapter.
Studioenp: Good way of doing it. What is your go-to form of procrastination?
Dan: Gaming. My stack of games is usually higher than my TBR pile! It’s my escape, but I need more stimulation that watching TV, for example. I’m an Xbox player, and my Gamerscore is a sad indication of how much I’m likely to procrastinate! If only those points were words, eh?
Studioenp: You’ve got to relax between writing, so we say game on! How many hours per week do you write?
Dan: Depends on the time of year!
I’m currently completing my psychology research thesis on memory, which has swallowed up a staggering amount of time. I can’t measure my writing in hours at the moment and would simply label my fiction output as ‘tinkering’. Just like in my teaching days, summer is when I tend to be most productive, squeezing in 2-3 hours a day. Only difference is the metal shed is now a little office room we built out in the garden. Progress!
Studioenp: Hooray for a new office! What’s one genre you’ve always wanted to write but haven’t—and will you ever write it?
Dan: I have two—I don’t know if they’d be novels or even series—stories in the back of my mind. One is a warped SF story, set in the world that appeared in my Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine short Nobody Messes With Venus, and would be akin to Red Dwarf meets Mad Max.
The other is a sprawling fantasy with gothic horror and steampunk elements, a little bit Discworld in style. I wrote a few shorts to test the water a while back.
Will I ever write them? It’s put me off that they would each be huge commitments, and the time simply isn’t there at the moment. Maybe one day.
Studioenp: They sound amazing. Here’s hoping you get round to them. What’s the best book you’ve written?
Dan: That clichéd answer: the next one! It’s one of the hard things about publishing, the time it takes to write, edit, find a home for, and publish a novel. By the time a book comes out, you might be a different person, a different writer. So you always feel a little distant from past novels in relation to the current work in progress, a bit like looking at old pictures of yourself.
And in that view, if I had to recommend one book (gun to my head) I’d say my collection, Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. It’s a nice thick volume containing ten years of published short stories, which I also describe as a photo album. It holds so many memories for me, and I can tell (I don’t know if readers can!) which are the stories from the start of my career to the ones published ten years later. It’s good to see the learning curve play out before your eyes.
The book also has a fantastic cover by artist Christian Krank, and was published by at the time new publisher Crystal Lake, who have gone from strength to strength.
Studioenp: That wedge of a book sounds great, and we especially like the way you described it. The arc in a writer’s career is massive as it grows over the years. Well, it’s been a pleasure having you here—great to catch up. Best wishes for your WIPs!
Dear readers, today we have, in Dan’s honour, because he lives in Australia now and misses UK food and drink, Old Speckled Hen Ale, fish and chips from the chippy, and a Birds trifle. Enjoy!