July 7th sees the publication of David Watkins’ novella St Neith. David is no stranger to DEMAIN with his previous Short! Sharp! Shocks! title Rhitta Gawr. Both covers are by Adrian Baldwin. St Neith is now available for pre-sales. Late May, Dean and David sat down and talked about the (horrible – but in a good way !) new release…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello David, it’s great to speak to you again. So I appreciate this is a busy time for you so let’s get down to it…
DAVID WATKINS: Hello Dean and to those that don’t know me, I’m David Watkins – Dave to my friends. I’m a maths teacher as my day job, running a team of maths teachers in a small secondary 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 28 years now and have learned to fit my writing in around the day job.
I set myself 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. Who knows if the people who say they’ve written 10,000 words today a) actually have and b) write anything at all for the next week. Writing is a bit like going to the gym: consistency is the only way to see real results.
All writers know someone who says: ‘I want to be a writer’, and then say they don’t have the time. These same people can also tell you the intricate plots of at least five tv shows they are watching – why not make it four and use the time you just gained to write? The world is full of distractions, but to write you need to carve out the time – no-one else is going to do it for you.
DP: You’ve made some cracking points there and I definitely agree about setting your own goals and keeping to them. Right now I’m personally involved in a couple of projects (stories and scripts) so I’ve got to stay disciplined…I think (though of course I may be wrong) it was Stephen King who said about not worrying if you finish mid-sentence either and in fact that was better if you did because it got you straight in the zone the next day and I’ve tried my best to stick to that…so tell us about your background and whether that has had some influence on you as a writer…
DW: I grew up in South Wales in the 70s and 80s, when mining was at its height. I lost my grandfather when I was about four. He died of emphysema, brought on by being a miner. My mother always said she would never allow her children to go into the pits and she pushed me, my brother and sister to do well at school. Obviously, Maggie (Margaret Thatcher – ex British Prime Minister and awful, awful human being) came along at that time and so the mines weren’t an option anyway.
From there, I lived and taught in London and then moved to Devon where I now live. I find the open spaces of Dartmoor contrasting with the closed, dark spaces of woods and forests to be inspirational for writing horror!
DP: I bet ! I love when writers talk about how the landscapes around them influence them/their work. When I’m in France as much as I love the hustle/bustle of Paris (and it does inspire me don’t get me wrong) I do love sitting by the sea in either Cannes or Marseille with a glass of wine [okay more than a glass] a new pen and notebook and it only takes a couple of sips before the words start flowing…anyway, enough about me – what was your first introduction to the horror genre.
DW: The first horror book I really remember reading was Christine by Stephen King. I know it’s a cliché that a modern horror writer was influenced by King, but there is a reason for that. It’s easy to bash him these days, and in certain Facebook reading groups, it’s almost a daily sport, but I think he’s superb. His characterisation is second to none, and is the main reason for his success, I think.
From King, it was a short step to James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell and then Clive Barker. The ‘80s horror boom produced a lot of work that was not very good and existed just to shock or gross you out, but there were also many gems from that period and beyond. Anyone interested in that period should also check out Christopher Fowler and Mark Morris in addition to those mentioned above. Ramsey Campbell is still churning out high quality work too, and I am in awe of that. Lovely fella too.
DP: Yes, I’ve said elsewhere I need to be reading more Ramsey – he is a great writer and encourager. I love Clive but you’re right too about the late Chris Fowler – I was lucky to work with him on a project and have had a few drinks/chats with him in the past. He’s sadly missed already. I personally don’t know Mark as well as I probably should and haven’t read too much of his recent work but those early ones – well up my street ! So, let’s talk your novella…
DW: Two teenagers are enjoying a slice of freedom by exploring their local woods. Unfortunately, there’s something living there now and it’s hungry….
To say more would veer into spoiler territory, and given it’s a short story, I don’t want to give anything away.
DP: Haha that’s so true (and hopefully we haven’t ruined it with the cover but it does work so well) ! Okay we’ll move swiftly on – in writing St. Neith did you have to do much research…
DW: No research, beyond some anatomical stuff for the bad guy (check the cover out for an idea…). It has scarred me, seeing close up photos of those things. Urgh.
I did have a sensitivity reader also, to make sure I got the teenagers right. Luckily, as I work in a school there were plenty to hand.
DP: Oh nice one – hope you didn’t scare those teenagers though hahaha. What would you say is David Watkins’ biggest creative success thus far ?
DW: I was blown away by the response to The Exeter Incident. I thought I’d written a dumb action thriller with added monsters, but the reviews have been absolutely stellar for it. Currently sitting at a solid 4.8* on Amazon, with rave reviews from websites such as Gingernuts of Horror, Happy Goat Horror and GBHBL. Tim Lebbon said, “Great monsters and dynamic characters make this brutal, bloody, brilliant novel an essential read.” That meant the world to me as I admire him as writer and his career is inspirational. He’s written in the Star Wars, Alien and Predator universes! I would love to do that.
DP: Tim’s a great guy for sure and love his work. And congrats on the reviews/comments about The Exeter Incident – thoroughly deserved. What does horror mean to you ?
DW: This is a great question! I have been having this exact discussion with many of my friends for a while. Most of them are adamant they don’t like horror, which lead to a discussion of what horror is. One of my friends said she didn’t think A Quiet Place was horror. I was quite shocked by that – what the hell do you think it is then?
My wife’s book group read a lot of psychological thrillers, but they won’t read horror. I find that a bit weird to be honest, as some of those thrillers come from a very dark place. There’s a Harry Hole novel (by Jo Nesbo) where the murderer keeps his victim in his waterbed and sleeps on her every night. Jesus, Jo, that’s really messed up! See, that’s horror to me, far more than monsters like vampires or werewolves, because it could happen.
My wife also has a definition of horror that essentially means ‘otherworldy’, as in there has to be something fantastical or monstrous about it. Something that doesn’t exist in the real world. I’m not sure I agree, but I can see where she’s coming from. I suspect that for far too many people, horror means blood, guts and gore. Whilst all that definitely has its place, horror is so much more than that to me. If anyone thinks horror can’t be literary or well written, I would point them to Priya Sharma or Adam Nevill. Funny? Try Kit Power. Heart breaking? Um, Kit again and Dave Jeffery – particularly with the A Quiet Apocalypse series (published by DEMAIN, so I hope that doesn’t look like I’m sucking up!). Unnerving? Try CC Adams. Beautiful characters that horrible things happen to? Try Phil Sloman or Laura Mauro.
DP: Some great names there and happy to say that either DEMAIN or myself personally have worked with Dave, CC and Phil. Have read Adam’s books and he too is a great guy – very friendly/approachable. Yes I have an ‘issue’ sometimes with readers who love the grisly aspects of those thriller type books but if you slapped ‘horror’ on them suddenly they turn their noses up – it’s all about perception I suppose. And yes, I do also believe that A Quiet Place is horror ! Thinking of this then, what do you think brings readers into our genre…
DW: Another great question. I wouldn’t presume to speak for all readers, so this is my personal response. I look for escapism, first and foremost, but that has to be tied to good characters and a driving plot. If you’re going to write about vampires or werewolves, do something different. If you can’t do that, make me care.
DP: I’m loving this – so I keep being told the genre (horror/fantasy) is dead…
DW: No, definitely not. For fantasy, just take a look at Brandon Sanderson’s recent Kickstarter. He made over $40 million, with more than 180 thousand backers. It was the most successful Kickstarter in the history of the site. That’s before we talk about Game of Thrones and the countless attempts to cash in on that (eg World Of Time, Rings Of Power). I think there’s a huge appetite for genre writing.
For horror, there are so many great writers currently turning in high quality work that I firmly believe it won’t be long before it occupies more than a single shelf in Waterstones or your local bookstore. And it won’t just be King either.
DP: You’re 100% right – we need to get the stores stocking horror again ! Okay, so without guessing this – what scares Dave Watkins ?
DW: Heh heh, spiders. Hate them. Really, passionately despise the freakish things. It’s the way they move, and the speed those limbs propel them forward. Never trust anything with more limbs than you.
Write about them? Yep, I’ve done that. The Original’s series I’ve written features spiders, which is just one reason my mother didn’t make it past the opening chapter. In fairness, the death and destruction would have seen her off too. Sorry mum.
St Neith, my latest novella, takes its name from the Egyptian Goddess Neith, was associated with spiders as a result of her weaving the strands of destiny and the world.
DP: I didn’t know that until I did a bit of research before reading the novella (which perhaps I shouldn’t have) but I loved that you did that…okay, I said I wouldn’t take up too much of your time so a couple of quick ones: creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
DW: Make a film of one of my books. I recognise it would be stupidly expensive, but I’d love to see Carter and Kingston from The Exeter Incident or Jack and Knowles from The Original’s Return on the big screen.
DP: Well, you never know what is around the corner…so last one: what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
DW: I once got kicked out, and barred, from the same nightclub twice in one night. It’s a stupid story, so if you’re reading this and want to know more, ask me in person. Buy me a pint first though.
And I just might Dave !
Thanks so much for your time – enjoyed that – hope to see you in real life again soon.
If you’d like to connect with David Watkins:
Amazon Author page: http://author.to/DavidWatkins
Instagram: @david.watkins.writer (hugely original, I know…)
Dean M. Drinkel