Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Dan Thompson, author of ‘The Caseworkers Memoirs’ and his new NA Novel, ‘Here Lies Love’. Also coming soon and published by Ghostly Publishing, his YA novel The Black Petal .
Hi Dan, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Hi, Sharon. Thanks for having me. I’ll try to not be a nuisance, but I do have a tendency to waffle – much to my detriment. I’m very much an indie author from England, from a small town, which is exactly how I like it. I couldn’t live in a huge city; I’d lose patience with how busy everything is. Life doesn’t need to be stressful like that.
I have published a few novels myself. A contemporary adult novel called The Caseworker’s Memoirs, which follows a caseworker remembering his past cases. He’s recently just lost his wife and he is struggling to cope. He used to treat phobia patients, which gave me the perfect excuse to host a wonderful array of phobia stories. It’s quite an experimental book, but the homophobia story and the terrorism story have been received well.
I’ve just had my latest novel released by Autumn Orchard. Here Lies Love is my first foray into writing both for the new adult (NA) and dystopian genres. It was a rather instinctual write, inspired by Sharon Sant’s Runners. I started by asking myself: what would happen if the sun was no longer here? I went from there really. It has some violent themes, but all necessary to the plot – trust me.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I’ve been an avid reader ever since a young age. I used to sneak Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books under my covers and have the most wonderful adventures. I thought to myself once: I could write a story! And so I did. It wasn’t very good, and my handwriting progressively got worse and worse – I’m afraid that habit hasn’t changed even now (the dreadful handwriting that is, not the quality of the story. I hope). From there I wrote another one and another one – even making my own children’s stories with working pop-up flaps!
Connexions is a company here in the UK that work with schools in helping teenagers make the right choices career wise. I remember sitting in an office and telling the advisor I wanted to be an author and she just laughed. “You have about as much chance as me flying out of this room” was her response. She quickly adjusted her attitude and explained that not only is it extremely difficult to get published, but to earn huge amounts of money is even rarer. Well, I couldn’t let her win, could I?
Why do you write?
I write because despite struggling with flow from time to time, my characters have brilliant stories that just need to be told. I’m simply bringing to life the events inside my head. I honestly believe that stories don’t always have to have a happy ending, nor do they have to be neatly wrapped in a protective, bubble-wrap bow, where the reader feels entirely safe and comforted and happy. Here Lies Love is a story about Abbey, who is sold by her father into a subsistent life. She knows she must escape, but the world outside her jailor’s house is just as harrowing. Some of the true origins of fairytales have gruesome and malevolent themes. And yet, we read them to our children as bedtime stories!
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
As an adult, I assume? Well before Percy Jackson was released, years earlier, I knew Greek myths were a treasure trove of possibility. They needed modernising, retelling even, with a readable and relatable protagonist. I had a story bubbling in my head and started to write The Black Petal. And now, eight or so years later, it has just been signed to Ghostly Publishing. A long time to wait indeed, but well worth it.
What are you working on at the minute?
I always knew that The Black Petal was just the first instalment of a magical trilogy. I’m now working on the sequel, which has a working title of The Golden Lyre. I haven’t worked or reread any of The Black Petal for such a long time, and I’m enjoying getting back inside the head of one of the main characters, Jack. He’s a teenager who had to learn quickly, and now all he wants to do is return home and forget about his experiences. Sadly, I have other ideas for him. If you are a fan of teenage fiction and even more importantly, fantasy fiction, then be sure to look out. In fact you can pre-order The Black Petal from my publisher’s website: ghostlypublishing.co.uk
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
Oooh, what an interesting and awful question! How long do I have to think? Well Abbey is slightly naïve of the world she lives in, but she is incredibly strong to withstand the bombardment of disappointment and loneliness thrown her way. She grows more and more paranoid as the book moves on, so I would need an actress who can successfully portray that on the big screen. Pretty, immature and cool isn’t what Abbey is all about – I need someone harder and a little rough around the edges, because that is what is interesting. Ever since watching Ian McEwan’s movie adaptation of his literary drama Atonement, I’ve been a huge fan of Saoirse Ronan. I haven’t seen The Host – her most recent film, but I admire how diverse her acting can be. Her and Abbey would get along just fine, I think.
How much research do you do?
I guess it all depends on what book I am writing. For Here Lies Love, I had to research a lot about futuristic farming techniques to be able to explain how food can continue to grow despite the sun missing from the world. It isn’t science fiction – you won’t find technical advancements, superpower machines capable of aiding man. This is a society of survival. I also had to explore the science behind bioluminescence. With the absent sun, I needed an artificial light source, otherwise the entire story would be set in darkness. The invention of the ‘blue haze’ in my book serves multiple ideas of mine to make the story believable. Other than that, Abbey’s story was an internal one and it was more about emotions.
Obviously with The Black Petal and The Golden Lyre I needed to be up on my mythology. I studied classical civilisation in school, so it was enjoyable for me to sift through some of my old work.
Where do your ideas come from?
You know, I really don’t know. I guess there is a spark of creativity from some influence, but not one I knowingly witness. Although Here Lies Love was inspired by Runners as I’ve already mentioned. They don’t interact with each other in any way, but my knowledge of what dystopian was came directly from Sharon Sant. I am a true believer in reading though, and even reading something we enjoy can affect our own ideas. My all-time favourite author is Philip Pullman and I’m going to quote him to better explain what I mean.
“I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read. My principle in researching for a novel is read like a butterfly, write like a bee, and if my stories contain any honey, it is entirely because of the quality of the nectar I found in the work of better writers.”
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I have an OCD when it comes to writing. Everything has to be just so, and if anything fails, no matter how small, then I crumble. I have to work to an outline. My plan for The Golden Lyre is already fifteen pages long, and growing. Every chapter has to have a title and bullet points to what happens in chronological order. I’m afraid it is the way I was built. I know some authors who love to see where their ideas take them and then somehow manage to piece everything together at the end. While I respect their gift, I simply cannot fathom how they do it.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
From the very beginning, I already knew that Here Lies Love had some important, yet adult themes and I knew even some adults wouldn’t enjoy reading certain scenes. I had to venture close to the line many times, always worrying if it was too much. I didn’t want to put people off from reading, but I couldn’t simply pretend it was all roses either. This is the darkest book I’ve ever written and I had to dig deep, challenge myself to successfully pull all these themes off without causing offence.
Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
Well with such an extensive outline, even if I’m not ‘feeling’ it I push myself to write. If it’s bad, then I can build upon it later. The most important thing is to get the first draft down. Then, as you go back through you can build, fluff, rewrite, describe, change, swap – all to your heart’s content.
But the most important thing would be to take a time out. Writing is tough and it is mostly solitary work. Have time with your family and friends, go for a run, listen to music, catch up on your TV. Even take two or three days away from everything – this gives your brain time to reorder things and you’ll have that ‘Oooh’ moment where everything clicks into place. When you get back to your desk, kitchen sideboard or where ever you write, you’ll be fresh and have an idea well thought out. You should never feel down or negative about taking some time out from writing. It’ll still be there when you return.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To be patient. Never rush anything. When you are young (god, that made me sound old, didn’t it?) you have a tendency to rush into everything, always thinking that you’ll lose what it is unless you power all the way. Things take time in the writing world – years even. It is a fact you just have to accept.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
You really know how to torture me, don’t you? Hmmm, let me think. They always say never to meet your idols don’t they? I would love to quiz Philip Pullman, but he comes across so miserable and antisocial in interviews and television appearances. I admire his books so much, his effortless prose and effective storytelling.
I’m a huge tennis fan. I embark on a yearly pilgrimage to one tournament in England every year just to enjoy myself and watch some live tennis. It’s a small venue and quite intimate, which makes it so special. I’ve never been to Wimbledon mind you. When I was younger, when I was first allowed a TV in my bedroom – you know, the one where you have to twist the aerial around so the picture doesn’t become fuzzy – the first tennis match I ever saw was with Tennis legend Lindsay Davenport. When I was old enough to travel to watch tennis, she had already retired. I would love to sit with her and share all my memories of watching her play.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I would definitely say to work with an editor. They are gems, trust me. They can objectively look at your manuscript and critically work with you to make it better. There are some dodgy ones out there who ruin your confidence, but if you connect with the right one you are on to a winner. It is their intention to elevate your work and make it better. Constructive criticism can be hard to take sometimes, because your story is yours and you want everyone to love it. In today’s economy, let’s say, you will never be picked up by an agent or publisher without your manuscript being as polished as it can, and through your own eyes, you won’t see the mistakes.
I learned the hard way, actually. I’ve worked with a few editors now. Always ask for a sample first. Never pay upfront without seeing if they can gel with you first. Agree on a timeframe and always ask questions. If they say something doesn’t work without saying why, always ask them. The whole process needs to be a learning one too. To stop you from making the same mistakes in your next project, and if you don’t know why you’ve gone wrong, you won’t learn. Oh and if they put nice smilies and praise in there too, you are on to a winner.
If you were a fly on the wall, whose conversation will you listen in on and why?
I’m going to be controversial here – is that OK? I’m going back in time. I’m going back to AD 325 to the First Council of Nicaea, where a group of Christian bishops got together to decide on what chronological order the bible should take – whose books should be included and disposed of, and to unify all the churches in the same way of thinking. I’m not a religious person, but I would love to listen in on all the arguing and demanding and shouting and rejoicing. Obviously, for a systematic organisation to prosper and flourish, everyone needs to be on the same page, as it were.
You are given the chance of a lifetime. What movie character would you be?
Indiana! Of course! Who wouldn’t love to go on adventures and uncovering ancient relics and artefacts? Jumping over chasms, kicking henchmen to smithereens! Woop woop! It’d be such an adrenaline rush, so, so satisfying.
Is your glass half full or half empty?
I’m a much more positive and confident person than I used to be, but underneath the smiles, I guess I’m still a glass half empty kinda guy. It’s not great being down every now and again, but it means you aren’t fooled either. You can go too far, but if you remain sceptical, I think it’ll stand you in good stead for certain situations in life.
And now, before you go, how about a snippet from your latest book that is meant to intrigue and tantalize us:
OK, here is a snippet from the beginning of Chapter Two – Escape is Futile. Enjoy.
The horrific cries wailed through Abbey’s ears like a swarm of hissing wasps. She clamped her rough hands against them, desperate to drown out the nightmare that played out in the room above. Yet she still could sense the atrocity, and it gripped her guts like twisted barbed wire. Abbey retched, the bile burning her throat. She wanted to cry; cry for herself, cry for the girl upstairs, for she knew that whatever he was doing, it was a portent for what was waiting for her.
The tears wouldn’t come. Abbey wasn’t surprised, she had run out days ago. How long had she been here? Time seemed to abandon her at the door; hours fused together, days no longer began and ended, instead continuously replayed with new horrors. She should be hungry, but she wasn’t interested. The bile had left an acidic aftertaste, and the noise and sounds from above had certainly put her off. Thirsty, yes. Hungry, not a chance.
An uncomfortable ache forced her to shuffle to the cage’s wooden poles. With no room to stand, nor any space to lay completely flat, Abbey had gotten used to shifting her position. She pressed her face against the wood and looked up searching for the cracks in the floorboards. The delicate powdering of dust, which floated down gave her the sign she was hoping for. He was going to be preoccupied for a while, giving Abbey precious time to work on her escape.
She had finally decided to risk it. Abbey was the last, which meant only one thing. She was next, and she would rather die trying than die fulfilling whatever grotesque and unimaginable fantasy he had planned for her.
Twisting her arms behind her back, she used the tips of her fingers to pull a nail file from her stained jean pocket, before scrambling to a corner of her jail that pressed against the cold concrete wall. Near the bottom of one of the poles, she felt around for the indentation she had been working on since the day she was thrown into this nightmarish existence. Her breathing became erratic as she scraped and pulled the file back and forth. She was close to snapping the wood from its frame; then she would run.
Occasionally, Abbey slipped and caught the file against her knuckles, making them bleed. She bit her tongue to suppress the burning pain; it didn’t matter, the sharp agony was of no consequence. She had been lucky to not get caught, even more fortunate not to having been chosen. She thought of the poor girl he had dragged upstairs. Abbey had wished she didn’t know her name, ashamed at the sudden thought. To be just the girl in the cage opposite to her. He had threatened them with heart-wrenching horrors if they spoke to one another, and afraid for their lives, they both refrained from starting a conversation, until Abbey braved it. If – when she escaped, she vowed to light a candle in Rheanne’s memory.
She worked the nail file harder, determined to be free.
Where would she go when she got away? She couldn’t go home that was for sure. The realisation of her situation made her falter slightly, nicking her knuckles once more.
Thank you so much Dan for allowing me to delve into your mind and quiz you and possibly torture about your books and yourself. I look forward to reading the new book.
Here Lies Love
When she is sold by her father, Abbey discovers that nightmares can occur when you’re awake. Trapped inside a wooden cage, Abbey is forced to listen to the horrors and atrocities above; time ticking down until it is her turn. But Abbey isn’t prepared to become a victim; she will escape.
Although, what Abbey isn’t prepared for, is how harsh and unfair the world can be. With the sun turning its back on humanity long ago, life gives no opportunity. The only thing Abbey can do is learn to survive. To exist. And that means stealing any opportunity that comes her way. Haunted by the unpleasant memories bestowed upon her only nurtures Abbey’s paranoia, until she realises that to truly live in the world, she must confront the person who was responsible for her misfortune – her father.
Here Lies Love is a New Adult tale of actuality, of facing up to the fact that love comes in many guises. Can Abbey find the one glimmer of the hope or will she be overcome with the darkness of revenge?
To mark the release of this great new book, Dan is giving away two signed copies on Goodreads. Go and enter for your chance to win a copy. If you don’t want to wait until the end of the giveaway you can always purchase it. Amazon are selling it in both paperback and on Kindle. At present there is a flash sale on the Kindle version at only 99p.
If you fancy getting in touch, why not join Dan Thompson online and go and say hi? You can find him at the following places.