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Author Interview with David M. Donachie

Author Interview with David M. Donachie

interviewed on Feb 4, 2021 Edinburgh, Scotland
Q. How would you describe yourself?
I am a writer, artist, programmer, and game designer. I have been writing stories since I was old enough to hold a pencil — many are very embarrassing. I live in a garret (really a top-floor flat, but a garret sounds a lot more romantic) in Edinburgh with my wife Victoria, 2 cats, more reptiles than mammals, and more invertebrates than either.
Q. Tell us something about the books that you have written and the story behind them.
I currently have two fiction books out. The first is a short fiction anthology from 2018 called “The Night Alphabet”. That’s a book about dreams and nightmares, and stories woven from them. A lot of it was based on actual dreams that I, or people I know, had.

The second is a Mesolithic fantasy novel called “The Drowning Land”, which came out this January. The Drowning Land is set in Doggerland, the landscape that used to be at the bottom of where the North Sea is now. It’s a book heavily influenced by real science and archeology. It was inspired by an episode of Time Team that I watched back in 2007, about how Doggerland was lost, and was being rediscovered by sea floor exploration.
Q. What place does writing hold in your life, how has been your writing journey so far?
Writing has always been a dream of mine. It has never been my career, but always a passion. Even as a child I wanted to be an author, but my career took me in other directions, and it took a long time to come back to writing again. It was actually my recently published novel that brought me back into writing, about six years ago. I had a story that I wanted to tell, and once I'd started writing again I didn't stop.
Q. What is your writing process, a typical writing day routine?
I don’t have any sort of dedicated writing space or time. I just have to fit it in wherever I can. Large parts of The Drowning Land were written on an iPad during my lunch breaks, sitting out in the park near to my office. Other bits were written on my phone, or on my laptop while sitting on the living room floor.

But I’m definitely an evening writer. I’m a night owl anyway, but late at night is when I can really get into the zone, put on some music, and bang out the words on my laptop wherever I’ve happened to end up: on the sofa, on the floor, in bed.
Q. What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Author interviews on top-notch writing sites :)

Seriously, I don’t think there is one sure-fire way to raise awareness of a book, and if there was, everyone would use it and it would stop working. The key is discovery, no one will read your book if they don’t know it exists, and the key to that is making sure your book is in many places: review sites, newsletters, facebook groups, adverts, radio shows, newspapers. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad venue, though there are many that aren’t cost effective.

One new thing I tried for The Drowning Land was a virtual book launch. A good friend of mine, Tiggs Cunningham, is an event organiser, and she set it up. We had a pre-recorded video interview, chapter readings, and a live Q&A on zoom. I don’t know if it will have significantly raised awareness of the book, but it was really fun to connect with potential readers, even if it was through a screen.
Q. What do you think makes a book sell, or makes a reader buy it?
From what I can see, the most important factors are the front cover, the back cover, and the hype. The cover, and the blurb on the back, gives that all important first impression. A good cover sells a bad book, a bad cover can ruin a good book. But a book turns into a sensation because people talk about it, because it shocks, or angers, or excites, or inspires. You need that volume of word of mouth to really get a success.
Q. What's the most moving or affecting thing a reader has said to you?
Of my current book: "If it's the same level of writing as in Iron Seeds, it'll be awesome", Iron Seeds being a long-running online project I've been writing.
Q. What are your favourite three books, and why?
It's so hard to pick! I read a lot of books, around a hundred a year. Still, there are favourites.

My favourite comfort book — the one I turn to when I am upset, or ill, or just looking to lose myself — is “Ten Years After Baker Street” a ridiculous tale of Sherlock Holmes facing up against Fu Manchu by Cay Van Ash, Sax Rohmer’s amanuensis, who cycled to his house at the age of 17 and volunteered to be his live-in secretary.

My favourite action book, which I've also read over and over, is really a trilogy (that's not cheating), the Ravenor series by Dan Abbnet. It was the first Warhammer 40k novel to move away from the wargame-inspired battle settings and look at how the rest of the galaxy lives when they aren't putting on armour and shooting at each other.

My favourite book from my childhood is probably Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence, a magical set of books written by a woman homesick for Cornwall. If I had to pick one out of the five books in the sequence, it would be Over Sea and Under Stone, which is set in a cornish village very much like one I visited on holiday as a child.
Q. Who are your favourite three authors and what do you like the most about them?
I mentioned Dan Abnett in the previous answer, and he's got to be one of the three. His books aren't highbrow, they are spin-off novels from the Warhammer 40 and Warhammer Fantasy Battle wargames, but don't let that fool you, he's a fantastic writer. He tackles both the high drama of warfare and the common men's experience, and he can make you quiver with fear for his characters. There are bits of some of his books I can barely bear to read, and that's even knowing what happens in the end.

As a total contrast, I'm picking Italo Calvino as number two. I first encountered Calvino in art school, when I found an illustrated copy of Invisible Cities. Later I read the Bisected Knight. My favourte book of his is "If on a winter's night a traveller", which other people have described as unreadable to me. What I love about Calvino is that he never hesitates to blur the lines between real and imaginary to serve the story that he wants to tell. There's no dividing line. The fantastic is treated with all the verisimilitude of the real.

For number three, William Gibson. Nothing really equals that shock of reading Neuromancer for the first time; the sky "the color of television, tuned to a dead channel". Gibson didn't just create a genre, he stayed on top of it. His latest books, like the Peripheral, are just as genre-defining as his first.
Q. Tell us about the books that you are currently writing and their progress.
I've just published my first novel, so I'm focussing on the marketing and promotion for that right now, but my next book will be another short fiction collection, which I've tentively entitled "Owl Bones", after one of the stories that will feature in it. Owl Bones is about death and birth (in that order). I've written about two-thirds of it, but I want the stories to run through the whole sequence from death to birth, with undeath, or afterlife, in the middle, and that sequence isn't quite done yet.
Q. What challenges do you think are faced by writers, what's the worst thing about the book industry according to you?
This is a wonderful age for writing, a democratic one. The rise of self-publication has made it easy for people to get their works published. There are a thousand anthologies, and web magazines. But that very flood of publications means that it is harder than ever to have anyone actually notice what you’ve done. And of course at the same time the big traditional publishers have shut their doors, closed down their slush piles, and made themselves even more exclusive. When I join writing groups I see a lot of people "shouting into the darkness", because the weight of promotion is put on the shoulders of the authors, and all they want is to be heard.
Q. Apart from writing, what goals do you want to achieve in life?
As a child, I always wanted to see my name on the cover of a book. It was a dream I couldn't really explain, except perhaps as a reflection of how much I liked to read. It's happened several times over now, both in fiction and non-fiction, so that original dream is fulfilled, so I guess now I just want to write things that people want to read, and love reading.
Q. At QwertyThoughts.com, we are trying to bring authors and readers under the same roof, to connect, discuss and socialize over books. What's your take on this?
It can be quite isolating being a writer, at least if you aren't a famous one. It's one of the reasons that reviews are so important, because that way you can learn something of what your readers think. Putting writers together with their audience is what every author is trying to do with their blogs, or mailing lists, or social media pages, so it can only be a good idea to make it easier.
Q. What message do you want to share with budding writers?
That you can do it. If you write something that you love, something that you'd want to read, then you will succeed.

But of course, you also have to practice. No one writes a masterpiece the first time. Read the classics of your genre, read the classics of other genres, read world-famous authors who have never been near your genre. Absorb those stories and then use them to help write your own. Don’t be afraid to pastiche until you find your own voice.

And edit. Edit, edit, and edit again. Write your story, put it aside, then come back to it. Read it aloud. Read it on paper. Change everything that doesn’t feel right. Don’t force other people to read it before you’ve edited it to death — and then edit to death again based on their comments.

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