Hi Kath. Thank you for inviting me. You’ve got it looking nice in here.
I’m pleased to know that you found the world in “Fuel to the Fire” fascinating and different. In those two words, you’ve kind of summed up what draws me to that genre. Fantasy is pure escapism. I re-discovered a love of reading for pleasure, after a ten-year absence, in my mid twenties through a series of novels by Piers Anthony, titled “Incarnations of Immortality”. After reading that series, I was hooked, read loads of fantasy titles and gradually ran out of ones that captivated me as much as that first series. I realised it was because the characters weren’t doing the things I wanted them to do, and the plots weren’t unravelling in a way that satisfied me. It was at that point I started writing my own stories.
I did consider writing other genres, I had stories in mind, but I continued with fantasy because I thought writing realism would be harder, with a need for research to determine actual facts. In many ways, however, I think fantasy is harder to write. Yes, you can invent your own rules, but then you have to be true to them if you want the reader to stick with the story. You can’t draw references from the modern world of reality: the sound of a jet fighter taking off, for example. But all that aside, it’s just great fun, especially the creatures, especially dragons. And writing about magic, that’s simply reliving childhood dreams.
You’re right – it’s not a lack of rules in fantasy, it’s a new set of rules – and if the reader buys in to it, which you want, you have to stick to it yourself.
You've branched out now into the realms of the thriller with Imperfect Strangers. What's the secret of keeping the reader on edge?
It took quite a few reviews for me to believe I had managed to keep readers on edge. I don’t know if I hold the secret. It may have just been a lucky consequence of the way I wrote that book. I certainly didn’t work to any kind of formula or guide: I don’t think I could write in that way.
Looking back analytically, though, I think a primary ingredient is creating characters that the reader cares about, even if they don’t really want to. The characters need to be believable and the impending threat needs to be credible. The narrative then needs to hint at a looming danger without actually giving. In that regard it’s not so much about what you tell, but what you don’t tell. Your last visitor, Mr Barrett (other than leaving traces of aluminium powder) compared writers to chickens. I’m going to compare readers to fish (please don’t be insulted) and the art of catching them. The writing needs a good hook with some tasty bait, that’s a given: the first line, paragraph, page needs to encourage them to bite. Once they’re hooked, that is when the hard work begins, with the need to keep alternating the tension (too much and the line snaps, losing its effect; too little and they get away and search for another hook). It might not be to everyone’s taste but I like a slow build up, with all the excitement ramping towards a steep incline in the latter 20% (that’s when you hopefully get the keep net out).
I originally wrote “Imperfect Strangers” in third person past tense, but for me the tension just wasn’t strong enough. I took the decision to re-write it in first person present tense, from the perspective of two main characters. I felt this worked much better. It allowed me to take the reader on a journey with each character and more closely align them with the character’s thoughts. It also allowed me overlap events and show each character seeing those events in a different way. Hopefully this causes readers to question the characters’ actions more than they otherwise would have done, feel nervous for them, and consequently be on edge.
You manage very well to get the reader on side with your characters in this. It’s horribly realistic, unlike some of those in your fantasy stories where bad is utterly bad!
From your covers which you design yourself, it's obvious that you have artistic or draughtsman tendencies. What's the story there?
I’ve drawn and painted as far back as I can remember. At school it was all I was good at. Getting an A for art every week was effortless. I came away from school at 16 with two ‘O’ levels: Art and technical drawing. I was useless at English and couldn’t spell for toffee (probably couldn’t spell toffee). I managed to get a job at a printer’s, working as a graphic designer. Years later, following redundancy, for some mad reason, I decided to take a BA in English studies; such was my desire to become a better writer.
I believe that love for the artistic plays a big part in my writing style, too. Many reviews mention the descriptive way in which I write. It’s true: I couldn’t do it any other way. I see images, and I write what I see.
As for the covers, creating them gives me as much pleasure as writing the words they hold.
It’s a gift. I wish I had it!
When I see reviews or comments on book groups it's obvious that you're being nagged by fantasy and thriller readers for more of their favourite. Where does your heart lie and do you think you'll try a third genre any time soon?
Funny you should mention that, Kath. As you know, I’ve recently published “Eye of Dominion”, a follow up to my “Alloria” fantasy novel. It was a long time coming for those that were waiting for it. I’m now writing my second thriller.
So, where does my heart lie? Firmly in the camp of both, is my answer. I honestly don’t believe there is a great deal of difference between fantasy and thriller. Fantasy can be just as thrilling as a thriller, if not more so, as some committed thriller readers will testify after giving “Alloria” a try. Thrillers, like fantasy are usually about the fight between good and evil, with good (for the most part) triumphing.
I’m not sure if I will try another genre. In truth I didn’t set out to write a thriller. I set out to write, a character study, a psychological literary book about people; it turned out to be a thriller. If I set out to write a horror it would probably become dark fantasy or a dark thriller. If I set out to write a romantic comedy that too would probably veer to fantasy or thriller. Those two genres allow me to explore human nature to the full, so for now, unless the characters take me to new territory, that’s me sorted.
Yes, you can find connections, can’t you? Funny fantasy is great and some gritty thrillers can make you laugh in places.
We know what you write but what do you read? Is it fantasy or are you more of a literary omnivore?
I’m definitely a literary omnivore, Kath. I’ve just taken a look at my bookshelf for confirmation. Yes there are a lot of fantasy books sitting there, but I also don’t like a great deal of fantasy (unpronounceable names turn me right off. Can’t be doing with it). On my shelf there are also a good smattering of thrillers waiting their turn to be read. I’ve a number of literary novels both classic and modern. There are plays and poetry books, and a few light-hearted books by Sophie Kinsella (my daughter’s, honestly. But I still enjoy reading them). I enjoy unusual, genre defying books too, like “The end of Mr Y” and “Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore”.
The biggest criterion for me, is writing style. If it flows well, and I can identify with the characters, I don’t really care what genre the book is. If I find the journey from cover to cover satisfying, I don’t even mind if not much happens. I’ve read quite a few books more than once, and the reason to return has been for the characters more than for the plot. The books that really speak to me have strong characters, ones that draw me to spend time in their company again, just like visiting old friends.
Thanks, David. It’s been great to talk to you - and to see what you look like, for once. Don ‘t go hiding that pic away! David's Amazon Author page is here.