Author Interview: Dan Thompson
This week I had the pleasure of talking to author Dan Thompson about his poetry, novels and future releases. Below is the full interview, as well as the cover of his upcoming title, Here Lies Love.
Your first release, Life is all but a vast array of Colours, was a deeply personal piece of writing. Has it affected how you’ve approached any subsequent work?
What a tough question, Jack! I think it has in some ways, as poetry is very personal to the writer, and it may be read in a completely different, but equally personal way by the reader. Poetry is very descriptive. I’ve always been quite a descriptive writer, often a detriment actually as I forget I need to add action into my novels.
As some readers may know, Life is all but a vast array of Colours was my way of managing my grief at the loss of my step mum, who passed away from Pancreatic Cancer. I didn’t get a chance to say a proper fulfilling goodbye, and I think poetry is the most excellent way of expressing yourself for this sort of situation. When I’ve needed to write a difficult scene for my novels; scenes that either include death, grief or loss, I often go back and reread my poetry to find the right mood to move forward with. Sometimes, grief can be written in such a forced, unrealistic way – and that is never good. By revisiting it, I feel confident enough to write a pretty genuine scene.
Is poetry a dying art form?
On the contrary, I think poetry is being discovered every day; although I feel poetry is no longer commercial. I doubt many books are published nowadays with its main focus being poetry. There are some really talented people out there, many who are so much more gifted and artistic than me. It’s just a shame that sales have plummeted.
With the recent boom in eBooks, I do feel however that there is a potential market there waiting to be discovered. With the correct type of promotion, I think poetry could become popular again. And the great thing about poetry, as with most forms of writing, is that there is so much scope in terms of genre and subject. I recently read a marvelous and entertaining poem by an author I know, which playfully teased the stigma of poetry. I hope that person goes on to release that poem into the world at some point.
The protagonist from The Caseworker’s Memoirs, Malcolm, is so much older than you. How did you ensure he was so realistic and believable?
Whilst I was touring libraries with this book, this was a question I often got asked. My audiences were so shocked at how young I was, especially when compared to Malcolm. You see, the thing is, grief affects us all, no matter how young or old we are. As I mentioned earlier, I used my own grief and sadness at the loss of a close one to realistically portray Malcolm’s own thoughts. Explaining the loss was actually quite easy and natural for me, the way in which he handled that heartache was the difficult thing.
I needed Malcolm to come full circle. At the beginning of The Caseworker’s Memoirs, Malcolm is miserable and distant from the world. Even his own daughter can’t get through to him. The interesting concept of phobias and his awakening of his career as a psychologist was key to helping Malcolm move forward and find a way of living again. I’ve seen people describe this book as many stories within a story – and even though this is true – it is the lingering sadness of Malcolm that holds everything together.
Why do you think society finds phobias so fascinating?
Phobias are irrational fears, which consume people’s lives at times, and it is the many different fears that make them so fascinating, don’t you think? During my research for this book, I came across hundreds and hundreds of phobias, some remarkable and some absolutely mind-boggling. But no matter how silly they may seem to us lets says, they are extremely personal to the individual sufferer. There is always a story behind the phobia; a personal story that is rooted deep within the individual.
An interesting fact I discovered while doing the research was how scientists have tried to explain phobias. To be fair, there is little written documentation about phobias, which is baffling to say the least, but scientists have put forward that phobias have survived through human evolution. A deep ingrained sense to flee potential danger. Interestingly, they say that people who suffer from phobias are the fittest of the species as they know when danger is near and know how to pick their battles.
Of course, there are arguments to counter this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more studies are taken up soon to try and explain why people are afraid of buttons, or zips, or even butterflies *ahem*.
The Caseworker’s Memoirs was a spur of the moment write, and so too was Here Lies Love. Sometimes, when the novel is so clear in my mind, I just have to write it. Abbey is such a strong protagonist, I’m not sure she’d leave me alone until I had told her story. I’ve always wanted to write a story that has a lighthouse in it, and even though the lighthouse in here doesn’t appear until the end of the book, I’m happy with the result.
It wasn’t until I’d read Sharon Sant’s Runners that I was really introduced to mainstream dystopian novels. I admit wholeheartedly that my impression of them was wrong, so wrong in fact that Here Lies Love is a sort of homage to Sharon’s brilliant story. She has such a strong voice and direction when it comes to young adult fiction; I only hope that people find my own creation just as vivid.
Dystopian novels often have an element of something going wrong in Earth’s timeline. Here it is that the sun has vanished, leaving Earth totally lost. Decades before Abbey’s story takes place, scientists have managed to create an artificial blue light to offer sufficient visibility.
We find Abbey being held as a slave at the beginning at the book; held captive by an evil man, who abuses the girls he owns. Abbey knows that in order to survive, she has to be quiet and wait for an opportunity to arise. When it does, Abbey soon finds herself toying with her own mind; knowing what is right and wrong and how far she must go in order to keep herself alive.
It isn’t until she meets two young men in an abandoned school that she starts to realise how naïve her childhood has been. She must learn to walk the tightrope of life and educate herself on how she must go on. Naturally, she starts to get closer and closer to Tristan, one of the teenagers who takes her under their wing, but with her mind continually replaying the horrors of her captivity, Abbey has to battle with her paranoia. She soon realises that the man responsible for her appalling ordeal is in fact her father. Only by confronting the man who sold her to that monster will she be able to move on with her life.
Did you write the story specifically with the new adult genre in mind?
No I didn’t. I didn’t even know there was a genre called new adult, which just shows how observant I am sometimes. I’m a self-confessed lover of young adult fiction, but sometimes that genre has limitations. You can’t touch on certain subjects as some of the readers may be a little too young to be able to handle the themes. I’m not going to lie, Abbey has a terrible ordeal at the hands of Stefan. It is a vital cog in the book though. Taming some of the scenes would, in my opinion, weaken the story. After talking to a few writer friends, I was introduced to the new adult genre, which allowed me to keep some of these more graphic scenes. I honestly believe that new adult bridges the young adult and adult genres.
Here Lies Love is suitable for people aged sixteen and up. It’s not pleasant writing some of the scenes at times, but if they are vital to the story, then I’m afraid they have to be done.
Who is your personal favourite out of all the characters you’ve created?
I’ve taken to Abbey actually. She’s a strong willed character, but has many layers. She can be nervous, ashamed and timid at times, but angry and forceful when pushed. She’s lost, struggling to find her place in the world, as well as uncovering her true self. I suppose just like every teenager of today really. I think some readers will be shocked to see how Abbey changes in the book. You have to push your characters; life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns, it’s harsh and unrewarding. Despite its fantastical setting, I hope there are people out there who connect with Abbey and in their own circumstances, relate to what she is going through.
In my as of yet to be released fantasy novel, The Black Petal, there is a blind girl called Lucia who also has to adapt herself to overcome her disability. She’s an innocent girl who is easily likable. I had a lot of fun writing her.
Would you say becoming an author has changed your life?
Oh most definitely. For the better. It has made me appreciate every special moment that comes my way. I’m quite a reserved person, shy and not very outgoing – a little like Abbey I suppose – but some of my experiences, such as touring with my book, signing copies and being recognised in my local town has all been daunting, yet thrilling at the same time. It has always been my dream to become an author, and even though I’m no JK Rowling (yet 😉 hehe) it’s a journey I wouldn’t change for a moment.
Do you think an author needs to be involved in both indie and traditional publishing to be successful given the current competitive climate?
I think if you start off as an indie author, you must still aspire to become a ‘traditionally’ published author too. There are still too many people who turn their noses up at ‘indie’ authors. I also suppose it depends on what your definition of success is. If you are after money, stardom and obtaining a big publishing contract, most indie authors will be disappointed, not reaching anywhere near their goal. If your dream is to have great reviews and have a small following, then the indie author, still with a lot of hard work, can eventually achieve their dream.
I’ve come across indie authors who kid themselves that they can reach the highs traditionally published authors can. I really don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but I’m afraid we really can’t. If you are traditionally published, your publisher has a much larger budget for promotion and getting your work ‘out there’ and noticed. TV interviews, magazine articles, huge signing events to name but a few. But being an indie author has its advantages – you just need to remember that whatever you write and publish, it must be of equal polish and quality. Get yourself an editor; trust me, it’ll be worth every penny.
Never give up on trying. Dreams do come true, and if you work hard, you have as much chance as the next person.
Here Lies Love will be released April 2014.