Author Spotlight: D. A. Butcher discusses his life, his struggles, and his love for writing

Author Spotlight is our series that aims to give writers a platform to talk about the artform we all love, writing. This time around D. A. Butcher joins us to talk about his life, his struggles, and his passion for writing. Check out this excellent article.

I grew up in London. My mother is Italian and an artist, my father is British and worked on the London Underground to keep us afloat. He was a music journalist before having a family.

My parents taught us to always be creative. They taught us about great literature, art and film. They took us to museums, theatre, and art galleries, regularly around the city. When I moved up into high school, I was bullied on a daily basis. I became depressed and suicidal and I turned to cannabis as an escape.

I later got wrapped up in petty crime, squat parties and harder drugs. My life was becoming like something out of an Irvine Welsh book. I was getting into trouble with the law, and getting myself into dangerous situations. I was slipping downhill fast, and if I didn’t get out of the city, I would have probably ended up either dead or in jail, so I moved to Margate to live with my grandmother.

She soon fell ill with Alzheimer’s, and had to be put into residential care. I got work as a chef and met the girl of my dreams. She fell pregnant with twin girls and we got married and moved into our own place, as my grandmother’s house had to be sold to pay for her care home fees.

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My wife, Charlene, saved me from myself, and once we had our twin daughters, I was dedicated to being a responsible father. In my early twenties my back pains got increasingly worse, and I discovered I had slipped discs, osteoarthritis, and other back problems that were possibly linked to my crazy lifestyle beforehand.

When I was seventeen, I was sat on the roof of a friend’s dad’s ford escort, and my friend thought it would be funny to drive off. I slipped off the top of the moving vehicle and my body smashed off the tarmac repeatedly. I later discovered I had Fibromyalgia, and now, in my thirties, I suffer daily with chronic, widespread pain, which is heightened by my other disabilities, and affects my mobility and other functions.

Writing has always been my chosen craft and creative outlet, from poetry in primary school to raps in secondary – the only positive method I ever had to control the madness. I read a lot of YA Horror, Goosebumps and Point Horror books, and later read Stephen King as I loved his onscreen adaptations. It was a combination of these books, and those I read earlier in life, the likes of Roald Dahl, Dickens, Hardy Boys Mystery’s, and then Of Mice and Men in high school that is what made me want to write fiction. I also read a lot of comics, and the Batman comics, those written by Alan Grant in particular, helped me through the darker times.

I was a comic and movie journalist, after being talent scouted for both by different websites, for three years. I did this work voluntarily in order to refine my writing skills. During this time, I also completed three years of an ‘English literature and Creative-Writing’ degree with the Open University, with distinctions, with three years left to go.

Most recently, I won first place in a poetry competition, which was published in Writing Magazine. I had a short story selected for a digital anthology, and another shortlisted in two consecutive issues of Writer’s Forum Magazine.

I am currently working on my second novel, which will be set in my hometown of London and loosely based on my life, as well as trying to get my first novel out there. I am particularly inspired by works from, John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy, Gillian Flynn, Marlon James, and Stephen King, to name a select few, and am drawn to anything suspenseful, dark and violent, with a high-concept plot.

My novel explores themes of loss, mental illness, abuse and negligence – symbolised in the novel by the Dust Bowl. My twin daughters inspired the setting, as they studied it at school. The setting allowed me to create a dystopian reflection of humanity/society today. Despite being set in the 1930s, the issues raised are painfully relevant in today’s world, and the similarities between the Dust Bowl and the current pandemic are frightening.

If human nature is to abuse and neglect our planet and each other, then in order to incite change, surely we must start with ourselves? I drew on my own experience as a father and family man to inform my story. I considered how getting married and having children helped me to grow into a better, more stable, individual.

Louis Lockhart is a reflection of that, but I wanted to push him to his limits, and literally rob him of everything he knows and loves. Rather than dwell on the acquisition of the American Dream, which has already been achieved so skilfully by Steinbeck, my characters are already living it before it is taken from them.

This is intended to strengthen the concepts, and reflect upon the main through-line. My daughters also inspired the ‘Sandman’, who started as a ‘monster under the bed’. I wanted to create a monster who would watch and wait and observe (humanity). My version of the Sandman is unique in that he not only frightens the children and has a creepy lullaby, but gets inside the heads of the grown-ups and acts as a conduit for their darkest fears and their own demons.

Like most monsters, the Sandman is psychological – an embodiment of the evils of man. A being that watches from the shadows until light is shed onto him in order for the real monsters to be exposed. It is an original use of the Dust Bowl as a setting that raises many questions about the human condition; how we treat ourselves, each other and our planet.

I like to think it could be capable of some positive change, as it explores the consequences of our actions, in a way that makes us consider our own, and how they affect our children and others in our lives. At the very least, I believe my book is a strong topic of discussion in regards to the issues raised on abuse, neglect, mental health, and progress, both personal and collective.

For all of their inspiration and light and life, I dedicate this novel to my wife and three children who have helped me to become a better human being. My book took almost four years to write and edit – the first year was mostly research, as it was completely alien to me! Horror has always been the genre I’ve wanted to write, since I was a troubled teenager obsessed with the darker side of fiction.

I’ve always wanted to write suspense, and a lot of my inspiration is actually from film as well as literature. Hitchcock, Tarantino, Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, are a handful of directors who inspire me with their production, writing and directing skills. When writing Eyes of Sleeping Children, I imagined my main cast of characters as being actors, which I carefully cast, to help me realise them fully. I had a lot of fun with this, and it is definitely a technique I will use again.

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I imagined Louis Lockhart, my protagonist, being played by Tom Hardy. His wife Bonnie, played by Charlize Theron, just because Hardy and Theron worked so well together in the Mad Max remake, and she seems apt to play a vulnerable, emotionally and mentally disturbed woman (in the best possible ways, of course!). Jon Bernthal seemed a great fit for Louis’s thick-set, dim-witted step brother, Buck. Matthew McConaughy was Sheriff Dalton. I was able to better visualise my characters by using this technique, and it even created some additional, surprising, alterations to the plot and dialogue!

I’ve always enjoyed reading a good unreliable narrator, and have played with this, as I want to give my readers what I consider the best entertainment. This is why I have blended my favourite genres to create this book – suspense, thriller, horror, with a large helping of mystery to keep you guessing.

I love high-concept fiction, also, and authors like Gillian Flynn, have inspired me to use it in my work. I’ve weaved together various plot points, using the characters pasts, relationships and conflicts, to direct the plot and have tied them all up to create an intriguing narrative and satisfactory ending.

I love a good twist, and hopefully mine will sufficiently shock you. Those who have read my book already – including my favourite writer of Batman and Judge Dredd comics, Alan Grant, and New York Times bestseller, Adam Bradley, have described it as gripping and evocative. I was lucky enough to have an American friend read the manuscript.

Her relatives are from the American Midwest where my book is set and so she was particularly helpful with the finer details and dialects – all this, the research, and some intense editing and polishing, fine-tuned my book. I am new to Indie-Publishing, and I hope that the quality of my content will be enough to reach a wider audience.

Here’s what’s been said about my book, and the link to buy my book and short stories. Please follow me on twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with news and releases.

D. A. Butcher’s Eyes of Sleeping Children is an historical novel that resonates deeply with our present moment. It is at once a pulse-pounding psychological thriller and a meditation on family and love and resilience. Butcher has delivered an impressive debut. You won’t be able to put it down!” – Adam Bradley, literary critic and co-author of New York Times Bestseller One Day It’ll All Make Sense.

“Very well written. I didn’t want to put it down. The disintegration of a man, living in a nightmare within a nightmare. Evocative and haunting.” – Alan Grant, prolific comic writer for Batman and 2000AD.

“The Eyes of Sleeping Children is a dark and dusty depression-era tale loaded with suspense. Just when you think you’ve worked it out, you get spun on your head and blindsided. Truly a story that will keep you turning pages into the wee hours of the morning. Absolutely gripping!” – Rachel Apps, graphic-designer and aspiring novelist.

Author Spotlight: Jon Hartless discusses who can tell stories in a pluralistic society

Author Spotlight is our new series that aims to give a platform for writers to discuss the art form we all love so much. This time we are joined by Jon Hartless as he takes a look at “The right to write – who can tell stories in a pluralistic society?”

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Jon Hartless

Recently, voices have been raised concerning who has the right to tell certain stories. Jordan Marie Green announced the debut of a romantic novel set in Tahiti before a backlash against cultural appropriation and stereotyping prompted the book’s withdrawal. Becky Albertalli had to out herself as bisexual under pressure from several Internet commentators who felt she had no right to write about gay teenagers as she was (presenting as) a straight woman, and finally a disabled gameplayer unwittingly unleashed a wave of ableist anger at her inclusion of a combat wheelchair in the DnD universe.

It is the last two which intersect with my own work, for I recently started publishing a Steampunk series featuring a bisexual, disabled protagonist – and now I’m wondering if I was right to do so, given I’m heterosexual and able-bodied. (Steampunk, in case you don’t know, is set in an alternative timeline and features advanced technology. Mechanical prosthetics are popular tropes within the genre, along with airships and goggles).

When I started writing the series, I wanted to examine the gulf between the rich and the poor, as well as the associated chasm between the socially acceptable (i.e. white, male, hetero, posh) and everyone else. Hence the creation of Poppy Orpington; a woman in a man’s world. A bisexual within heteronormative culture. Disabled in an ableist society. And poor within a capitalist hierarchy which works exclusively for the benefit of the wealthy elite.

Furthermore, I was determined to use the tropes of Steampunk in a “believable” way, and in a manner which served the plot, rather than just gratuitously inserting them without any real thought. For this reason, Poppy is born with a missing arm, (for birth defects are common in her society, at least for those who live in poverty), and she only acquires a fully functioning prosthetic after a turnaround in her family’s fortune.

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This, then, is Poppy’s world. She must hide her sexuality for the sake of her personal welfare, while her disabilities bring her into conflict with the dominant ableist beliefs of the era. So, how would Poppy feel if she suddenly had opportunities hitherto denied to her? The opportunities of relative wealth, of limited social acceptance, and of having a fully integrated prosthetic which would allow her to live a “normal” life – though it must be noted that the concept of “normal” is constructed by the discriminatory attitudes of able-bodied society.

These were the subjects I wanted to examine, and I did my best to be as sensitive as possible, but did I have the right to even try in the first place? Even as I’m penning this article, the issue of Becky Albertalli’s sexuality is still rumbling on, with one Twitter commentator asserting that non-queer creators shouldn’t be making money from the queer audience – though this is by no means a universal opinion.

Full Throttle Cover

I honestly don’t know what the answer is to this, or even if there is an answer. But I am now keenly aware that I’m merely an outsider looking in, and if I were writing the Poppy series today, I doubt I would include anything about sexuality or disability at all.

That would have created some difficulties with regard to the plot, given Poppy’s character is (like all of us) created by the society she is raised in, (not to mention the vital role her prosthetic plays in the later stages of book 1), but it would probably have been a lot safer, and more considerate, to restructure the book rather than to risk offending innumerable people through a lack of knowledge and understanding.

Jon Hartless is the author of Full Throttle and Rise of the Petrol Queen, books 1 & 2 in the Poppy Orpington series. Book 3, Fall of the Petrol Queen, should be released in October 2020 via Tenebrous Texts.

Author Spotlight: James Huck discusses his writing method

Author Spotlight is our new series where a guest author writes about their process, their love for the art, and of course, their work. This time out James Huck joins us.

I began writing short pieces some time ago, but they were fragments of stories and parts of characters. It wasn’t until I reached a crisis in my career and life that the writing process crystallised and ideas became paragraphs and chapters.

I suppose I am the original Sick Teacher, although I have nothing on my principal character Aileen Byrne.  As a devoted career teacher myself I have experienced the rollercoaster that working in a State run school in the UK can be. 

After fifteen years I had climbed up the greasy pole to the point where I thought that I could really begin to put my pedagogy into practise. However, I let my principles and my pride stand in the way of corporate pragmatism and slipped straight back down.

Serious two or three thousand word writing days began as a form of cathartic therapy. A process whereby I could give voice to all my ideas. All my pent up, controlled, constrained and irrepressible creativity erupted from me. Long years of ‘towing the line’ and following directions; sparking creativity in others by repressing it in myself. 

To help control it I took long walks with my Working Cocker Spaniel, Jet. Together, she and I walked for miles every day. I allowed my feet to just follow the path, my mind emptying of worry, travelling along country paths on autopilot as she sniffed and chased pigeons and squirrels.

I suppose I entered a meditative state. The characters began to exist without my conscious direction and the plot revealed itself before me as I walked. Characters began to explain how they felt and why they were behaving as they were. At one point, I imagined them arguing about a particular plot device as Aileen argued a Head Teacher would never behave in such a manner in public. Needless to say, she made her point well and the plot was altered accordingly.

Once I returned home with a tired, and often muddy and soggy dog, I would set myself up at the kitchen table, dog lying across my feet, my laptop open and try to capture the action that had occurred that morning.  Sometimes I could instantly recall everything; sometimes my memory was not quite up to the task.  However, I always got there in the end.

Jet

Some days I hit a block, not sure how to get from the point of the story that I was at, to where I wanted it to be next. I found that the only way through this was to walk and then write – no matter what. Even if it was a day where fifty or a hundred words were hard fought for. The only way to get to where you want to be is to write through it. I had to just keep writing, deleting, writing, deleting, writing and so on, until it just felt right.

Writing has become a part of my life now. I couldn’t give it up. My career needs to fit around my writing as I have become a writer who is also a teacher, rather than the other way round. I have begun to write my second novel, the characters have begun to take shape and they have begun acting through the plot. I am excited to find out what happens.

You can check out James’ work for yourself on Amazon.

Author Spotlight: Dominic Hodgson discusses his love for writing and his series The Ragnarök Chronicles

By Dominic Hodgson

When I saw the posting for being among the authors contributing to this series, the examples given for the kinds of topics that could be covered included discussing why I got into writing in the first place. Well, the answer to that is that I always have been, at the latest since the age of four, wherein toys would become characters and rooms their terrain.

Of course many of the ideas from that time weren’t ones that I’ve subsequently looked to pursue, plus to this day my head will at any moment offer me yet more premises big and small that cannot all be explored.

However, there were nevertheless favourites among them that lingered, granted they evolved over time into stories that don’t sound like they were made up by an infant, and as these chosen ideas were collected, I would make note of them upon numerous A5 slips of paper. This then led to a day when I was around ten where upon looking at all these papers together across my desk it occurred to me that with a little tweaking they could conceivably exist within the same continuity.

Thus timelines were drawn and elements were made officially recurring, leading to The Ragnarök Chronicles being born, albeit not in exactly the same form as it’s in today. I decided this would be what I would spend my life doing, getting this grand science fiction saga to publication so that the world could join me in getting to know this connected multiverse.

With this always having been my driving passion therefore, almost every pursuit I have taken in life has been chosen because it might help me in getting to this goal.

I found ways to do my writing for school assignments, I did work experience in a publishing house. I elsewise read plenty alongside, mainly series of fantasy. I was fortunate enough to additionally have a hand at alternatively telling stories through the likes of theatre, both scripted and improvised.

At university I studied English & Creative Writing, during which I finished writing the four books that would comprise the first chapter in this franchise I am creating. In the meantime I also worked as a tutor of Maths and Science, with those being just as much passions of mine, even if I don’t want to properly go into those fields beyond using interesting parts from them to strengthen the worlds of my books.

It’s at this point that we come to the current wider societal circumstance. It had always been my plan to, after finishing with tutoring, take at least something of a break to completely dedicate myself to my writing, so when it came to now spending more time at home I made sure I made the most of it in that regard.

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As such in the last couple of months I’ve re-edited my first manuscript, Gift of the Mancynn, and gone through the process of having it self-published, as well as building the foundations for a greater online presence to aid in the spreading of word to go with it. With how long it can take, and because I already had most things ready, it didn’t seem best to me to pursue traditional publishing routes in, once more, the present situation.

I can’t know what the future is going to hold, I can’t assume that this state of dedicated writing will last, but while it does I shall push forward still, with the rest of this first set of four books similarly set to be able to be released at apt times, hopefully regularly over the course of the next year so that readers won’t be left waiting long for the following instalment.

So enough about me. What is this Gift of the Mancynn I mentioned actually about? 2016 was a turbulent year for many, especially for Philip Quint, who learned of his apparent role in a plan for the wider scope of reality. He has always possessed special abilities, ones he cannot explain yet is also aware must be kept secret.

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He’s therefore otherwise had a pretty regular adolescence, however at the end of his latest school year things take a turn of the uncertain, this coinciding with him being approached by mysterious otherworldly figures. They inform him that they gave him these abilities so that he could, when the time is right, take on the position of their emissary on Earth.

Philip and his friends are hence swept up in a journey around the globe and further, discovering en route just some of the ways in which it has been shaped from the outside, all the while the chosen teen knows he must decide whether he should embrace or reject this destiny, if he can in the second case at all.

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There’s an ancient conflict spanning the dimensions that’s reached its way to Earth, the immortal Brethren Lords seeking to turn our world to their own devices, meanwhile other forces may be looking to manipulate these powerful beings in turn. The wheels are already in motion, all that can change is whose side anyone’s on. Who can Philip trust?

The Ragnarök Chronicles, as the broader series, seeks to combine various avenues of science fiction with interpretations of just as many world mythologies in stories set across time, space and beyond. Just as how the likes of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books can be read relatively independently of each other while all existing within the same world, there just being some weaving threads through recurring characters, so too can the different areas of The Ragnarök Chronicles be dipped into on their own yet if consumed together build towards a wider history (although here the respective ‘sub-series’ are denoted by the year in which they’re set as is made clear on each book’s cover).

With it planned to ultimately consist of fifty-five entries in total, this is to be an endeavour that shall continue to play a major part in my life overall. That being said, there are other works also buzzing around my head that I’d secondarily like to get to if I get the chance, including ideas for other franchises that already exist; people who know me will likely have heard me say that I want to write for the likes of Doctor Who someday.

Even if that doesn’t come to pass that again won’t stop the thoughts being there all the same, for instance I have even less of a chance of ever being involved with Nintendo yet that hasn’t prevented me right now from coming up with twenty-one new Mario game concepts over the course of much more time than is good for my efficiency with more important matters.

Well, on that lattermost note, I probably should actually be getting back to work. I’ll leave you, reader, with just this then: whatever it is you are reading, I hope it’s a good one.

You can check out Gift of the Mancynn for yourself over on Amazon.