Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Interview with David Gatward

After being wowed by the twisted delights of The Dead, I felt I had to gain a closer insight into the depraved, rambling mind that created it. Enter The Dead's author David Gatward. And after a bit of pathetic begging and some creative threats on my behalf, David has very generously agreed to answer my probing questions.


HR: Other than some kind of Satanic pact with the dead, where did the idea for your books come from?

DG: From a number of ideas actually. I knew I wanted to do something about the Dead returning, but not like zombies. I didn’t want to do the dead-bodies-rising thing. I wanted these to be the ‘actual’ dead, and a serious force to be reckoned with. And I needed them to have a motivation to return. Then I found that quote at the start of the book: “Pity is for the living, envy is for the Dead,” and I had it; the Dead envy the living, want to live again, so they lust after it and will do anything to get back. After that, I needed someone on this side of things to stop them, so I came up with the idea of the Keepers working with a guardian angel to keep the Dead at bay. So it’s a whole mix of things, really. And all the ideas come from other stuff, like what I’m reading and listening to or watching or thinking about or eating…

HR: How long does each book take you to write? Do you spend a lot of time researching?

DG: For The Dead, the idea was developed over a couple of months. I then wrote book 1 in four months. I then did book 2 in about the same time and the same for book four; I’ve done all three in just over a year. But I’ve also been writing other stuff. The time differs for everything and sometimes days are good, and I’ll nail upwards of 8000 words. Other days I’ll do naff all and end up all grumpy. It’s a real rollercoaster! As for research, in many ways it’s continuous. I’m always looking out for new ideas, new twists, new things to use. If it’s specific research stuff, then that does take time and I like to get it right. For example, I had to research hand-to-hand combat for a project. Most people would perhaps have been happy to read about it, watch a few movies. Me? I went and did an evening of Krav Maga, which is what the Israeli forces use. It’s brutal and I got kicked around all evening. It was brilliant, though, and gave me a real understanding of what I was writing about. For The Dead? Well, Arielle’s vehicle, the Defender was easy; I grew up in a house of Land Rovers so I know enough to get by. The places I’ve used are all based on stuff I know. For example, Lazarus’s house was a place I lived in as a kid (minus the surprises in the cellar). I’ve seen two ghosts, which is certainly something. Though I’ve never had an actual fight with one of the Dead.

HR: The Dead ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. Do you come up with the end first and work backwards, or does it all just come to you as you write?

DG: I begin with an idea and try to work it in to a couple of hundred words. I then sometimes try to get a feel for what it might be like by just bashing out a random scene. I did this for The Dead and the scene stayed – it’s the one where Lazarus first meets Red! That was the first bit of the whole book that I wrote, and it was down before I had any idea what it was about! Once I’ve done that, I think about characters, jot a few notes down, then try to come up with a detailed story. For The Dead, this was about 12,000 words, and that was after a number of rewrites. I then divide that in to chapters. It doesn’t mean I’ll follow it to the letter, but at least I know where I’m going. On the way, I sometimes take a different route or ignore the map completely, but I’ve still got that end target in sight. Helps no end. I know many writers don’t plan (Stephen King doesn’t, for a start), but it’s horses for courses. And, to be honest, if you’re trying to make it as a new writer, publishers want to know (a) what the book’s about, (b) that you have a faint idea what you’re doing, and (c) that you’re not a one-hit wonder.

HR: Do you ever feel you have to hold back on the horror when writing for teens?

DG: I don’t hold back. I just write what I want to write. I think it would perhaps be more a case of, if I did something ‘adult’ then I’d step it up a gear. I have written short adult horror fiction, and to be honest, it’s pretty nasty! The people you have to think about are the publishers and the parents. You’ve got to get your writing past those two groups first before it even gets in to the hands of your audience…

HR: Do you have to be in a particular mood to write horror or do you treat writing more like a nine to five sort of job?

DG: I actually treat it like a job! I work five days a week, but juggle that with my wife’s work and looking after our two brilliant little lads. I do like to get in to certain ‘place’ though and I listen to music a lot, with headphones on so I’m blocked out from the world. My favourite station is somafm.com/doomed. It’s brilliant! Really dark and nasty and strange and not much in the way of vocals. It’s like your own horror sound track! I’m actually writing this interview stuff on the sofa in our bedroom! How cool is my job? Er… very! And way better than the office job I did a while back.

HR: The Dead has two follow-up titles, The Dark and The Damned – will there be more in the series? And what are you working on now?

DG: I have already some basic plans for books 4-6 and I really REALLY want to write them. I feel that I’ve created a great world/universe and some fab characters, and I think I can take them to a lot of pretty dark, nasty places. Fingers crossed it all goes well enough because I love writing this stuff, it’s just totally me! Working on now? Just finished book 3. Now waiting on a couple of recommissions (fingers crossed), some ghost-writing stuff, and a couple of proposals. Lots of irons in lots of fires!

HR: You’re soon to be off on tour. What spooky sights will you be visiting while warping young minds?

DG: Ooh, libraries and schools and bookshops! So, not very spooky! But I’m well scary, me! WOooOOoooo!

HR: You’ve mentioned that one of your heroes is Linda Chapman, prolific author of such series as Unicorn School and Mermaid Falls. Has she got a Possessed Fairies series we don’t know about? Do any other authors influence you?

DG: Not so much a hero, but certainly someone I owe a lot to. Linda taught me a lot when we first met about four years ago and since then my writing has changed dramatically. She helped my focus what I was doing, showed me how to develop an idea, the importance of dialogue, getting to the point, letting characters tell the story. She really knows her stuff and in many ways changed my life. We now even have the same agent! (Funny story: the agent, the quite brilliant and terrifying Philippa Milnes-Smith, actually turned something of mine down a couple of years before she eventually took me on, which shows just how much an influence Linda had on what I was doing!) 

HR: I’ve heard it said that your favourite sandwich is peanut butter, mayonnaise, blue cheese, onion and chips. Horrifying. Do you have any other gourmet recipes for brain food while writing?

DG: Wine. As a carrot-and-stick kind of thing! I like to have a treat planned for when I complete something. And I love sitting with a few glasses of wine, lots of crisps, and watching some horror on our projector! But while actually writing, I generally stick to water. However, if I’m ‘in the zone’ and have a real serious run of hours ahead of me and a lot to achieve, I’ll sink myself in to a hefty jug of strong coffee and eat a large amount of biscuits.

HR: What was your most terrifying moment? Do your own books ever scare you? And what’s your biggest fear?

DG: Terrifying moment: Not sure I have one. Seeing those ghosts was a bit weird. Getting up and doing my first event was terrifying. Realising my writing was now out in the world and that people could say what they want about it… jeez, now that’s real scary that is.

HR: Complete the following scenario: You’ve just gone down to the kitchen to make a peanut butter-mayonnaise-blue cheese-onion-and-chips concoction when you encounter a many-faced, betentacled, pus-oozing denizen of the dead standing between you and your fridge. Do you:
A)    Cut its tentacles off with Arielle’s sword;
B)    Lob Lazarus’s spike at its head; or
C)    Your move...

DG: I’d skewer that monstrosity between its many eyes, slice it up, and get it on the BBQ, and serve it up with a chili and garlic dressing! All washed down with some pretty fine beer. GET SOME!

HR: Ah, delicious! Thank you, David, for giving us all a glimpse into the mind that concocted the nightmarish world of The Dead. Now get back down in that cellar and write some more! If you want to find out more about The Dead, The Dark and The Damned, be sure to check out David's blog, his website or go have a look at his Youtube channel.

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