Sunday, 27 June 2010

Interview with a Debut Author: DAVID GATWARD

Hi David and welcome to tall tales & short stories.
Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born inside out, which caused much distress to my parents. After 12 years, during which I created a new form of breathing, I was sent to a special school for really irritating children. I graduated with honours, bought a sailing boat and dedicated my life to shopping.


I’m one of three brothers, a qualified teacher, have worked on a salmon farm, once got mistaken for being homeless, painted a windmill, almost drowned aged six, tried out for the royal marine reserves, shot my first pigeon aged 13, permed my hair, self-published a magazine for two years and can’t go a week without watching a horror movie.

One of the above is true. Or perhaps they both are.


Lazarus Stone is about to turn sixteen when, one night, his normal life is ripped to shreds by a skinless figure drenched in blood.
He has a message: The Dead are coming.
Now Lazarus is all that stands in their way. To fulfil his destiny, he must confront not only the dark past of his family, but horrors more gruesome than even Hell could invent. 
And it all begins with the reek of rotting flesh...


What inspired you to write THE DEAD?

I don’t think any one thing inspired me to write it. I didn’t have a eureka moment that got me out of bed in the middle of the night, desperate to find a quill and ink to pen my ideas for a new horror trilogy! More’s the pity; how cool would that be? I love horror. I can’t help myself. I love reading it and writing it. Something about it just makes me feel alive. So I guess what inspired me is simply my love of horror; and I’m now writing the stuff. I can’t believe my luck.

THE DEAD is your d├ębut novel. Is it your first attempt at writing a novel or do you have other manuscripts hiding away?

Stacks of ‘em! I’ve spent years writing and writing and writing and now it seems to finally be coming together. I’ve got some truly awful stuff. Actually, I haven’t, but a mate has. He’s got the lot and has kept it all to give to me when I ‘make it’. Writing is a process of putting yourself on your own, when normal people would be out having a laugh, and just tippy-tappy-typing. It’s a bit strange when I think about it how much time I’ve spent writing stuff that’s never (and WILL never) get any where. But without it, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now. Everything I’ve never had published has led me to getting published. Weird.

How long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal for THE DEAD?

The idea for The Dead stems from so many things, so on the one hand, it’s taken years, quite literally. For example, one idea it came from I started writing seven years ago. However, it also all happened really quickly. I came up with the idea, gave it to my agent, Philippa Milnes-Smith of LAW Ltd, in January 2009, and had signed the contract by the end of April with Hodder. So, that’s pretty quick.

THE DEAD is book one of a trilogy. Was it always intended as a series before achieving the book deal or did you have to think about the sequels from scratch?

It was always a trilogy at the very least. The ideas I have for it are too huge and many and varied to ram in to just one book. And I wanted to be able to take the characters on a huge, insane, operatic journey and do that in such a way that would get readers chasing the story. Yeah, it was definitely always more than just one book.

Were your publishers open to all your ideas or did you have to censor yourself and tone down some of the horror elements because of your target audience?

I don’t like the idea of censoring and toning down. That sounds so politically correct. I don’t do either consciously. I know who I’m writing for and I also know I’m writing the kind of stuff I’d have loved reading as a kid. The horror elements are integral to what the books are about.

The gore? Well, I can’t have a monster all smiles and happy. I need something that freaks the reader a bit. And me.

As for the more violent bits; again, I’m dealing with monsters. BIG monsters. They have to jump out of the page and give my heroes serious cause for concern. And they have to survive no matter what the odds. Yeah, it can get bloody; but this isn’t real life or inflicting pain for the sake of it. This is a kid taking on The Dead; it ain’t gonna be pretty!

What’s your experience of how children react to horror in books? Do they tend to love it more than perhaps the parents would like?

Probably depends on the parents. Kids naturally want to look at stuff they know their parents will disapprove of. It’s all part of self-discovery, looking at what adults can get access to, when ‘they’ can’t. Kids seem to love horror and scares. Maybe there’s a daring and danger attached to it. More often, what you get is a reluctant hero that the reader can hopefully identify with, going up against some serious problems and coming through in the end. And it’s an escape; you get to travel dark paths in horror and there’s a thrill to finding out if you’re willing to take just another step…

In the blood and gore stakes, do you think less is more, that suggesting horror can be more frightening than going into intricate detail?

There’s room for both; neither has the upper hand.

Take The Innocents, for example. A stunning black and white movie starring Deborah Kerr. It’s astonishing because the horror is all reflected in her face, her reactions to what happens off screen. The film has no blood, no limbs being ripped off, no fountains of blood. But it does have chills a plenty and the bleakest (and I do mean bleakest) ending to a movie I’ve yet to see. It was horrifying. And I loved it.

Now take Evil Dead. A total nut job of a movie. Banned for a while. There’s blood and gore and monsters and chainsaws and all kinds of crazy hell cut loose on the audience. And I loved that too. I love Hellraiser. I love Woman in Black. I love The Devil’s Rejects. And I love HP Lovecraft. Horror is a big genre; there’s plenty room for all.

Can there be such a thing as too much horror?

No. Oh, wait a minute; Big Brother. Waaaaay too much horror there I think.

What, if anything, do you think potential horror writers should bear in mind when writing for a younger audience?

You just need to get on with it. Don’t try to be anything than what you are. Write first what you love to write and focus on the writing. Don’t get hung up on your ideas being YOUR ideas and unmoveable and unchangeable. Accept criticism and see it all as a way to improve, even when you disagree.

And read and watch anything and everything and nothing to do with the genre. You want to write horror, you’ve got to love it to begin with. Think what it is you love about it, and fill your writing with that.

Do you think an element of humour is an important consideration when writing horror?

Not consciously. I don’t think anyone should approach it like, ‘Well, I’m gonna write about this axe-wielding creature from the netherworld that eats old people, but I must make sure I throw a laugh in now and again.’ That would be rubbish, stilted, wouldn’t work.

I think humour is a natural thing and would, I hope, just come out in the interplay between the characters. That’s where the humour is, in how people talk to each other, their relationships. If you make something obviously funny for the sake of lightening it up a bit, you lose the horror; you’re wanting to build a chill, an atmosphere after all. There’s no point turning all the lights out one by one if you’re then gonna walk in to the room and flick on a torch. Ruins it.

Without giving away any spoilers, THE DEAD ends on a very dramatic cliffhanger. When you first approached your agent and publisher, did you submit with this ending or was that decision made after the deal was done?

I love cliffhangers. No one told me to do what I did; I wrote what I wanted, ended the book how I wanted it to end. Again, it’s part of the horror. I wanted the reader to gulp when they came to the end, feel that ‘AAAAARGH!’ in the fingers. And I want them desperate for the next book.

And with the internet I can communicate with my readers about it, what they think might happen next, what monsters there might be; the joys of facebook/twitter/having a website! Yes, it’s a literary device, because you’re saying, ‘No, you’ve got to wait for the next instalment!’ Dickens did it with his stuff serialised in the press. Treasure Island was done the same way.

I think cliff hangers are brilliant. I love that sense of clamouring after the next in the series, or ordering it early, the count down… Cliffhangers don’t kill. But they don’t half help add something to a horror story…

Do you use your own children or any others as a ‘sounding board’ for your books?


Rewrites and Revisions: How much did you have to do throughout the writing of THE DEAD?

Loads. I do a detailed synopsis and for book 1 it was 12,000 words. I rewrote that a few times. Then I wrote the book. And deleted a lot of it with rewrites. Then I got the edits back and (I kid you not) cut the second half of the book out completely and redid it.

To be honest, to do a book the length of The Dead (which is 45,000 words, though the next two books are longer) I probably wrote getting on for 80,000 words. Jeez…

What made you want to write for a younger audience? Is it a genre you enjoy reading?

I’m going to quote another writer here because I’ve never read anything that so summed up why I do what I do. He’s Greg McQueen and this is what he says: ‘"I love the simplicity of writing for teens, especially for boys. I don't mean that the stories I write are simplistic. I mean, that there's a raw honesty to it ... I want to write the kind of stories that a twelve year-old boy would find impossible to put down. The kind of stories that their parents *wouldn't* buy them for Christmas. The kind of stories that the teens themselves wanna read."

THAT’S why I write what I write.

Which authors/stories did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager? How do you think they compare to the children’s/YA novels available today? What do you think children of today want to read?

I was in to Willard Price, The Beano, Oor Wullie, Asterix, Alan Garner, Tolkein, the Dragon Lance Chronicles. What people read changes so much. My wife is really in to more classical children’s fiction (her favourite book of all time is Swallowdale). For me, some of these books don’t quite hit the spot. They’re brilliant and beautiful (and I seriously want to live forever in a land based on Swallows and Amazons), but they’re just not quite me. But then again, at the same time, I recently read Treasure Island – unbelievable! Stunning! Astonishing!

As for what children of today want to read? Now there’s the billion dollar question, and there’s no answer. Also… should we be giving kids what they want to read? Isn’t there room instead to give them stuff that makes them go, ‘OoooOOooh! WOW! Never thought of that!

We can’t be led by the market; we have to try and lead it. I think.

Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?

Serious planning. I used to do the whole just-see-what-happens approach. And it really doesn’t work for me. I have a few ideas, write three chapters, get completely lost and give up. Or just keep going and get trapped in an inescapable prison of prose and dodgy dialogue. I think there’s a problem with the word ‘planning’, too.

I see what I do as writing the story in stages.
First stage is an initial idea that I try and turn in to the back blurb of the book that’d make me want to read it. I turn this in to a longer piece, flesh it out a bit.
Then I do the synopsis, which is, to me, The Story. No dress, no flounce, no colour. It’s like the outline sketch for a painting. Then, when I’m happy with that (and so are my agent and editor) I split it in to chapters and crack on with the next stage, the colouring in, really, where I have the characters talking, monsters growling, blood flowing… I generally write this start to finish without rewriting and rewriting as that slows me down.
Then, if all goes well, I let it rest for a week, then go back over it, editing and rewriting.

Before achieving publication did you have to deal with rejection along the way?

Of course! Goodness me… Funny story: my agent turned down something I sent her three years ago before she was my agent! I kid you not! But then it wasn’t great.

Rejection is all part of it. And being published doesn’t mean that stops. I come up with ideas that are rejected, but they lead to other ideas to other ideas to more ideas to hopefully one that’ll work. It’s all part of the process.

How long have you been pursuing your writing ambitions and what have you done along the way to improve your writing?

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 11. I’ve wanted to be other things (helicopter pilot, professional drummer…) but that was always the main aim. Regardless. No matter the job, the dream was to write.

To improve what I do… I’ve read vast amounts of all kinds of writing. I’ve written vast amounts of all kinds of writing. And I’ve learned to shut up and listen. For a hell of a long time I thought it was simply a case of waiting until the world realised just how ace I was. WRONG! I had a lot to learn. So that’s what I did. And I was lucky enough to end up meeting someone four years ago who essentially mentored me one-to-one. It changed everything. Turned my focus on its head. Made me see the importance of clarity, getting to the point, dialogue, letting the characters tell and be the story, and also how to focus.

Have you changed genre since you first started writing? If so, do you feel your writing suits a specific genre and do you enjoy writing this genre more than any other?

I focus on the writing first. That’s what’s important. I love horror, so I write that.

I also ghost-write young adult high thrills and adrenaline action stuff. I’ve just done two books for Barrington Stoke, one on a lad overcoming his fear of heights, another about a girl dealing with claustrophobia.

And I’ve got something else that is going around various publishers which is kind of an adventure series thing. Lots of strings to one’s bow! But it all begins and ends with the writing. If I can get that right, then I can have a whole lot more fun writing all different kinds of stuff rather than getting stuck.

Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?

I’m still an aspiring writer and can’t ever imagine being anything else, so wisdom and advice are something I’m not exactly sure I have or am comfortable even attempting to find. Most of what I think is what I’ve said here, but I think it’s like anything really; if you want to get good, you gotta practice. If you exercise, you get bigger muscles, fitter. If you read and write lots, the same happens.

And get the basics right. Focus on just writing, being able to do it anywhere about pretty much anything. Try different styles, different approaches, ways of putting a story together. Go out of your comfort zone. Push yourself.

Practical advice? Learn to touch-type. Seriously. Just learn. Get to where you can slam down 80 words a minute. Think about the difference that could make. But it’s not about speed, it’s about giving your brain one less thing to think about. If you’re looking for which key to press next, you’re not thinking about how to get your hero out of the way before that monster bites off their head; which is more important?

THE DEAD ~ a tall tales & short stories review

I've often heard the words 'the new Darren Shan' used when referring to debut teen/children's horror writers and as a Darren Shan fan, especially of his Demonata series, I'm always keen to see how the writer measures up and David Gatward's debut novel certainly doesn't disappoint.

It's written with a tight, economical style which keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace and at just over 220 pages would encourage even the most reluctant of readers to pick it up to read.

The reader knows from the outset that if the main character has a name like Lazarus he's not going to be in for an easy ride and within a few pages we have horror and mystery kick-starting the story with a gruesome bang or should that be a gut-churning, vomit-inducing smell?! The horror scenes do feel slightly restrained but the gruesome factor is still ramped up to a very satisfactory level.

There are enough plot threads and mysteries to add to the intrigue, and although it's always difficult to give a review and not give away spoilers, I was especially intrigued by the character of Arielle and the scene that leads up to the hospital came right out of left-field. Nothing better than a great shocking surprise or two!! Read it and see.

My only quibble would be the cliff-hanger ending - I like a good cliffhanger but perhaps for this reader it was a cliffhanger too far...

For any horror fan, The Dead is a must-read and with book two, The Dark, out in October there's obviously plenty more horror to come and there isn't too long to wait...

THE DEAD is published on 1 July 2010 by Hodder Children's Books

     The Dark - October 2010                                          The Damned - April 2011

1 comment:

Ben said...

The Dead looks AMAZING!!! Can't wait to read it.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Popular Posts

The Bookseller