On July 2nd we welcome David Watkins to DEMAIN with his Short Sharp Shocks! Rhitta Gawr, number 73 in the series (all with covers / branding by Adrian Baldwin). The book is currently available for pre-sales. A couple of weeks ago Dean and David sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome David to DEMAIN! Let’s start nice and easy – tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
DAVID WATKINS: Hi! Great to be here. For those of you that don’t know me, I’ve David Watkins―Dave to my friends. I’m a maths teacher as my day job, running a team of maths teachers in a small school in North Devon. I’ve written for as long as I can remember and had a five-year plan when I became a teacher: write in the holidays, then give it up and bask in the glory of being an international best seller. I’m still appalled at how naïve (and arrogant) I was. I have been a teacher for 26 years now and have learned to fit my writing in around the day job.
I aim for a low word count (500 words per session) so that every time I sit down to write, I hit my target and feel like I’ve made progress. If you go to any writing forum or twitter, there seems to be a lot of competition around word counts and it can be very intimidating. My tip to anyone starting out would be to ignore that and set your own goal. If you are beating yourself up because you didn’t hit 4000 words today, then you’re not giving yourself room to improve as a writer and kind of missing the point. The only thing that counts is ‘bum on seat’ and actually writing. All writers know someone who says ‘I want to be a writer’, but most people don’t put in the time to develop their craft―there’s always something else in the way. Everyone has to find their own way, and mine is slow and steady.
DP: Good for you and if it works, why not?! So, your Short Sharp Shocks!
DW: A few years ago, my family and a friend’s family climbed Snowdon, in North Wales. Despite being Welsh, I’d never even been to Snowdon. It was a stunning day – proper four seasons type stuff – and when we reached the top, I read about the legend of Rhitta Gawr. He was a giant, supposedly bested by King Arthur, who lived on Snowdon. He likes to collect the beards of his foes as trophies. I thought it would be amusing to send a couple of hipsters with their modern beards up the mountain. Turns out I can’t write comedy, and the story is pretty dark.
DP: Yeah, it is pretty dark. So what about research…
DW: Well, I climbed Snowdon, which was the inspiration in the first place. Does that count? I spent some time on Welsh legend websites, reading up about the original legends as it was not a story I’d heard previously. I feel like I should hand in my ‘Welsh’ card!
DP: Haha – and yes I do think climbing Snowdon counts as research haha. Did you find Rhitta Gawr hard to write?
DW: No, but distractions can be a problem. I put my phone on the other side of the room to help me focus, and once I start I find the process straightforward. The first draft was done in a couple of days, hitting a lot more than my usual 500 a day! That’s not to say the first draft was any good, but I’ve learned to enjoy the editing process – that’s how you sculpt those usually rough words into something that actually resembles a story.
DP: Exactly – and I know what you mean about distractions they can be very…distracting can’t they? Ha ha. Anyway, creatively what would you say was your biggest success so far?
DW: I have three books that I self-published, all have which have sold well and been really well reviewed. It still boggles my mind that people in America, Australia and India have bought my books! However, the thing I am most proud of is my story The Original in the anthology Leaders Of The Pack. It was an invite only anthology, so that’s a first for me and then my story was singled out in many reviews for praise. After a couple of years suffering with a massive loss of confidence (an editor said I wasn’t ready for pro-editing), it was the boost I needed to keep going with my writing.
DP: Wow that editor was a bit harsh (and out of order!) but glad you got your mojo back! With everything that’s been going on the last eighteen months or so would you say the horror genre is affected by world events (and would you every write about them?)?
DW: I haven’t put the pandemic in anything (yet). I have a feeling we won’t be able to move for lockdown type horror stories over the next few years. I hated lockdown, hated not seeing friends and family, hated the restrictions, but obviously understand the reasons for them. (Don’t panic, I’m no Covid denying moron.) I have no desire to revisit any of that for entertainment purposes. Besides, JR Park’s A Death Dream in Isolation does it all better than I could.
DP: I’ll check that out asap – thanks for the recommendation. “The horror genre is dead” – agree / disagree?
DW: Absolutely disagree. There are so many great writers working in Horror at the moment, in all its subgenres. I don’t get the ‘horror is dead’ crowd at all. I have a friend who went to the cinema to see A Quiet Place and claimed it wasn’t horror. I’m still confused as to what the hell she thought it was.
In terms of books, the variety of horror being produced by writers such as Laura Mauro, Priya Sharma, Dave Jeffery, Alan Baxter, Gabino Iglesias, CC Adams and presses such as The Sinister Horror Company and Horrific Tales (and DEMAIN, obviously!) are churning out consistently good quality work. There are loads of writers I could include here, and I apologise now if I’ve left you off the list.
Horror books might not be present in Waterstones and other high street shops, but that doesn’t mean people don’t want to read them. We are a long way from some of the schlocky excess of the 80s.
DP: Thanks for the shout out David haha! But you’re right – when I was kid there were so many horror titles in shops but not so much anymore. We’ll have to see what we can do about that. What is David Watkins afraid of?
DW: Spiders. Never trust anything with more limbs than you.
They feature in The Originals series of mine, and I have to dig deep every time I write a scene with them in.
DP: Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
DW: Does selling film rights count here? I’d love to see The Original’s Return on the screen…
Maybe I should write the screenplay myself – what’s the worst that could happen?
DP: Exactly – and if you need any help just give me a call – from what you said earlier I think I already know the answer but I’ll ask anyway: writing for you a long term or short term career?
DW: Well, I’ve been writing for over thirty years, seriously for nearly ten. Making money would be nice, but having a career would be outstanding.
DP: Let’s briefly return to the lockdown (and thinking about your day job in particular), how did you handle it?
DW: Contrary to what the media would have you believe, teachers worked throughout lockdown. It was different being home every day, and this last lockdown was definitely harder than the others. Lockdown 2 didn’t really affect me at all – I went to work all day, then came home. It was weird spending your day with 600 kids, but not being able to see your mates at the weekend. That didn’t seem to make much sense to me. Lockdown 3 was full of teaching online all day, which I pretty much hated. Most days you felt like a 3 am radio DJ – is anyone actually listening to me? I was so glad to leave my computer at the end of the working day (again, not 3:30 pm like some would have you believe – it was nearer 6:00 pm) but writing had to take a back seat for the sake of my sanity.
My wife and I always went for a long walk with the dog (and sometimes our children!). The fresh air and beautiful countryside around our home (in Devon, UK) really helped keep us sane.
DP: And finally then - what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
DW: I once got barred from the same nightclub twice in one night!
Happens to the best of us! Thanks a million for your time David and the best of luck with your Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with David direct:
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Dean M. Drinkel