As part of the blog tour for the release of The Caseworker’s Memoirs, Dan has kindly agreed to chat to me about what makes him tick and what inspires him as a writer. The Caseworker’s Memoirs has been well received since its release in April and is currently working its way up my TBR list, so I’m excited to host Dan on the blog. I can’t promise there’ll be no silliness, but I’ll try! Take it away, Dan…
Which of your characters is most like you?
It’s funny you ask this, as whilst I was writing The Caseworker’s Memoirs I consciously tried to make each of the characters nothing like me, although I’m sure looking over it now, I can find little pieces of me in each of them. The main character, Malcolm, is much older than I am and although we all have handled some sort of grief in our lives, his grief is something I have yet to experience. It would be unrealistic to say he was like me. Towards the end of the book, we meet Marvin, who is very troubled over his past. He feels like he is responsible for the deaths of his crewman, all because of his phobia. As we share the same fear, I’d probably have to say Marvin.
If you could be friends in real life with any of your characters, who would it be and why?
It would most certainly have to be Fynn Brown, a young man who is trying desperately to overcome his fear of heights. He’s vivacious, full of life and ready to face his fears – all in the name of love. As Malcolm writes: “When he had first entered my neatly stacked office, full of the joys of spring, excited with the passion a man feels when he knows he has finally found the woman of his dreams, I knew we could make real progress.” Fynn is a bundle of energy and probably the type of man who wouldn’t sit idly by and let things pass him. A day out with him would undoubtedly be exciting.
Have you ever written a character that you’ve disliked so much you’ve scrapped them from a work?
No, not whilst I was writing The Caseworker’s Memoirs anyway. There are definitely characters I’m not fond of, but that’s just how they needed to be. Whilst I was writing my YA Fantasy novel, The Black Petal, there was one character I didn’t care for and ultimately she got reworked. Her name changed, as did her personality, and now she fits in nicely. Freyja isn’t a major character, but one that makes numerous appearances. She was originally called Meena, but despite changing considerably, she still represents the more unsavoury side of the Valkyrian army.
Which of your characters would frighten you if you met them in real life?
As The Caseworker’s Memoirs is a very realistic book, it would have been too fantastical for me to include someone extremely evil or malicious. But, as often in real life, human emotion can be very changeable. Mark is a character who seems perfect at the beginning. A caring husband, generous and kind; I mean we see him buying his wife Lucy, some flowers just to make her smile. He’s alluring and confidant, it almost seems like he can’t do anything wrong. However, as we delve deeper into his story, he suddenly becomes nasty and uncomfortable to read. He certainly isn’t as perfect as he first seems. His almost surprising changeability is something I wouldn’t want to be around. It would be tense and not very enjoyable; I’d probably try and find some quick excuse to leave.
Describe your book in one word.
Describe yourself in 5 words.
Lives in his own world
Do you ever consult friends when you’re stuck with a plot?
I didn’t use to, but I eventually learnt that sometimes when I am stuck, or in desperate need to articulate a theory or story-arc, talking to someone who isn’t involved with the project can often give you the means to move on. And besides, if you are talking to someone and not yourself, it doesn’t look as nutty.
At the end of The Black Petal, there is a huge battle scene and I needed to communicate things from weapons, battle strategies, structure; it was so hard to put the pieces together in my head because I knew how it was going to end. By talking about all the individual points to someone else, it helped start to put a logical order to things.
What’s your personal kryptonite?
Hardback books! I’m a right sucker if I can pick up a hardback edition, especially if they are rare! There is no real difference between a paperback and hardback, but if I can get the hardback, I feel especially giddy. I’ve actually missed a train before because on the way to the station, I happened to pass a book shop with a hardback copy of Raymond Khoury’s The Last Templar in the window. I had the paperback, but I couldn’t miss out on the chance to acquire the Hardback, could I?
If you could converse, a la Dr Doolittle, with one type of animal, which would it be and why?
Ooh, what a difficult question! There are so many! I’d probably choose a bird of some sort. Let’s say a peregrine falcon. I’d love to know how the world looks and feels from their vantage point. It must be so relaxing and peaceful, looking down on the world, where the rustle and bustle of cities and car engines are a distant muffle. And of course, I’m sure most people would love to know what it’s really like to fly.
Tea or coffee?
Aren’t you a crafty one! Can’t I have both? I do love coffee, in fact when I am writing at my local Costa, there is always a salted caramel latte by my side, gently urging me on to get that bestseller written. But I do love a cuppa. I work nights, and at around 3am, I go for a break. When it’s really busy and stressful, there isn’t much that can beat the feeling of sitting down with a nice cup of tea and letting all the stresses of retail whimper away.
Describe a typical writing day – where does it fit for you? Are you an owl or a lark? Do you write in short bursts or intense sessions? Do you write quickly and edit to death afterwards or write with more care in the first place?
Am I an owl or a lark? I suppose it depends on how you look at it. As I have already mentioned, to pay the bills, I work nights. When I finish at 7am, I like to go home, get changed and go to my local Costa to do some writing. Because it is morning, am I a lark? Or because it’s my evening time, am I an owl? I’ll let you work that one out!
My writing day usually depends on how tired I am, and whether or not I have to get my daughter to school etc. I don’t write every day, but not because I don’t want to. Life can get in the way and no matter how hard you plan to make time for writing; the best laid plans and all that …
When I am writing, I usually try to do two hours work, or probably between 1,000 and 1,500 words. Even if it’s bad writing, I still write. When I was writing The Black Petal I wrote the entire novel first, then went through and edited it. But as I’m now finding from the edits I receive from my editor, there is an awful lot of ‘red pen’. So for The Caseworker’s Memoirs I tried to write at Costa, come home and then type up what I’ve written and edit at the same time. It’s all about finding the right balance and what works best for you.
You usually write YA – what inspired you to write for a different audience this time?
I do love YA, especially fantasy. It’s a genre that can capture the imagination of both children and adults, and despite the often snooty dismissals of some readers, YA can deal with some very adult themes, and successfully too.
In November 2013, I was off work, at home and recovering from an operation. I needed something to get stuck in to, and whilst The Black Petal was in the editor’s hands, I felt like I needed to leave that world alone for a while and try something different. Phobias are things I’ve always found interesting, and a series of short stories began to evolve in my head. Despite trying hard to angle it towards YA, when Malcolm began to pester me incessantly, the book ultimately turned into an Adult book. And besides, I always think a writer needs to challenge themselves and write something that takes them out of their comfort zone. I had no worries, no deadline pressures and I wasn’t even sure if it would get released. But as it turned out, the book evolved many times before it finally came to rest.
Can you tell us a little about your next project?
I suppose The Black Petal doesn’t really count as my next project, as it’s already finished. I guess my next project would have to be the sequel to the YA fantasy, as it is only the beginning of a trilogy. The next book is entitled The Golden Lyre and delves deeper into Greek mythology. I studied Classical Civilisation (Classical history and literature) for A-Level and I’ve always had a fondness for mythology. It was really important for me to allow some of the more unheard of myths and characters from myths come to the fore and get a new retelling.
Who designed the cover for The Caseworker’s Memoirs? Can you tell us a little about the design process?
I designed the cover for The Caseworker’s Memoirs and it went through several versions before the final cover was chosen. Originally being a collection of short stories, the book was more of a horror angle, so I wanted something dark. But as Malcolm weaved his way into the story, and eventually becoming the main focus, the stories changed from horror to drama/thriller. I kept the black background as that really worked well. I wanted a simple yet an ‘involved’ front cover.
What I mean by ‘involved’ cover is that it represented certain objects from the story. Of course, the notebook is a direct note to the actual notebook Malcolm writes in. The candle is also a reference to Malcolm. He likes to sit in the dark, with only the flickering light of a candle to aid him in his writing. The clock face was taken out, but back in, taken out etc for such a long time. One of the more interesting phobias I researched was Chronophobia, which is the fear of time and the clock refers to that.
This book deals with grief and mourning, it was important to reflect these sombre moods in the cover too. Darker colours were needed and I’m happy with how the cover turned out. I’m no professional, but I hope when people look at the cover they feel intrigued to find out more about the story within.