The Interview: Bookbag Talks To David Gatward

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To David Gatward

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Summary: Bookbag thought The Dark, a book of zombie horror positioning itself firmly in the Darren Shan market, provided strong characters, an interesting premise and a wonderful sufficiency of gore. So, naturally, we enjoyed asking David Gatward all about writing it.
Date: July 2010
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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Bookbag thought The Dark, a book of zombie horror positioning itself firmly in the Darren Shan market, provided strong characters, an interesting premise and a wonderful sufficiency of gore. So, naaturally, we enjoyed asking David Gatward all about writing it.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

David Gatward: The younger readers of Kerrang! Magazine! Kids who love music, love horror, are trying to work out who the hell they are, going against the flow, trying stuff they shouldn’t, collecting T-shirts of the bands they're in to, sneaking in to gigs they’re too young for…

  • BB: We enjoyed The Dead - it's a great premise with lots of potential. Where did the idea come from? Was it something you'd been planning to write for a long time?

DG: Thanks – really glad you liked it! I hadn't been planning it, but I think the idea really came from a number of things I'd been working on for a while. I had a few horror ideas, but they didn’t really work too well, my writing didn't sit right with them, but out of those came The Dead. I also really wanted to do something where the dead/zombies aren’t just corpses reanimated. Then I found that quote at the start of the book by Mark Twain and it was a real road to Damascus moment: "Pity is for the living, envy is for the Dead." And that was it, the idea that the Dead envy the living... Fab!

  • BB: Do you read horror as well as write it? What is your favourite horror medium - film or book?

DG: I don't favour either; each plays a role in what I love about horror. I'm reading HP Lovecraft at the moment, and Peter Straub. I read some Clive Barker and Stephen King a few months ago. And Jack Ketchum. Each is so different and allow me to slink off in to a world where the written can twist me up, creep me out. And it's just me and the story. Movies I love because I can sit and laugh and scream and shout at what's happening, and eat doughnuts and drink beer, too; all part of the fun. My neighbour's a horror nut and we often do movie nights, which is tremendous. To watch a horror movie with someone who's so into it is great (particularly as my wife can't bear the stuff!) Recently I've watched Paranormal Activity (fun, but ruined by the ending), Dead Snow (what a blast that was!), Dracula Prince of Darkness (tremendous constume gothic nonsense!), 30 Days of Night (I thought this was a cracker, and the stare in the girl's eyes at the end of the movie… yikes…), Phantasm (insane and perfect!)…

  • BB: We scream more loudly than you can possibly imagine! We think readers are going to make great friends with Lazarus - he starts off just like any teenager so they'll identify with him straightaway. One thing did interest us - at no point does The Dead mention the significance of his name. Is this to come, or do you assume readers will recognise it straightaway?

DG: I don't think it matters if the reader gets the name or not. I wanted him to have a great name (I think it's great anyway!), and I love the significance of it. I might spell it out, I might not. I'm just not sure. At the minute, I'm liking that it’s just a great name with a history. Can't be many kids called Lazarus in schools… And the point from the off was to have Lazarus (despite the rather crazy name!) as a teenager who was as real as I could make him. I hope I've got close to achieving that. I didn’t want to have a protagonist any younger; with Lazarus being just about to turn 16, I gave myself a lot more scope with what would be going on in his head, what he'd be able to say and do and think and deal with. I think he's just tremendous!

  • BB: He is, and we love the name! Introducing an alcoholic angel was a stroke of genius! Arielle reminds just a tiny bit of David Almond's Skellig. What eureka moment in the writing process produced her?

DG: Strangely, Arielle was a male angel called Nathaniel to begin with. Changing to a female added a fab extra dimension and also a bit of additional conflict. The alcohol thing? I imagined from the off an angel looking like Withnail! I didn’t want to have an all powerful, unstoppable, holier-than-thou, beautiful angel. I wanted one with flaws, one who’d seen so much and wanted to drown it out, one who was battling with their own inner demons as much as anything else. Arielle is a complex girl and I kind of have this idea in my head that she envies the living, too; their lives so brief make them so much more beautiful in her eyes. She thinks they appreciate everything more, that stuff tastes better if you know your time is so short. Like I said, complex!

  • BB: Does Hell really exist?

DG: I come from a church background. My dad's a Methodist minister. I've grown up attending church and still go now and again. And here I am writing horror… I struggle with all of it, to be honest. As for Hell? Perhaps it is something we create ourselves, distancing us from creation, both during our lives, and after… Ooh, deep…

  • BB: The Dead ends on a cliffhanger - which is a bugbear for us, especially in children's books. They're not waiting until next week's TV episode; they're waiting for a next book, often a year away. Do you think we're over-sensitive about this?

DG: Yes, I do! I think book 1 could be longer, but the cliff-hanger I'd still stick with. I went with this because the gap between books 1 and 2 is only three months; not long. And I wanted (it being horror and all) to almost have the reader scream when the book ended! Also, with my website and Facebook and Twitter, I can communicate with readers (I’m already getting people following me on facebook from reading The Dead), keep them up to date with stuff. I'm even in the process of sorting out some T-shirts! Cool! I wouldn’t have gone for such an "Argh!" of a cliffhanger if the gap between the books had been a year, but like I said, it's only three months.

  • BB: Ok, fair enough! Why do you write for children?

DG: In all honesty, I just write. I don’t think "this is for kids" when I'm hammering through a story and pulling my hair out at two in the morning over a scene that just isn't working… I would like to write adult stuff, too, (I've done some pretty extreme adult short horror stuff) but at the minute I'm doing what I'’m doing and I feel utterly astonished to be doing it at all. I’ve been writing for twenty years… Now it’s happening for real. Insane.

  • BB: Not insane; well-deserved! What book should every child read?

DG: Oh, the places you’ll go! by Dr Seuss! In fact, everything by that man; he got me in to reading, to playing with language, to loving the sound of words and what they do. My two boys are in to them, now, too. Started with Wocket in My Pocket. Dr Seuss – GENIUS!

  • BB: Good choice! What next for David Gatward?

DG: I'm finishing off The Damned, will hopefully then be cracking on with books 4-6, have some ghost-writing I'm doing (the books of which are currently with a film company…), have a book tour in October… To be honest, this is a scary time. I so want this to work, to be able to make a go of it. I'm not in this to shake the world'sfoundations with words (not yet, anyway), just to (hopefully) provide books that are a complete blast and which readers love so much they want more and more and more. I want to write stuff kids are proud to have in their back pockets, well-worn and battered and passed around the school grounds. And yes, I do seriously dream of seeing The Dead on the big screen… Oooooh yes…

  • BB: Well, we wish you the best of British and more with that. And we think you'll succeed, too. Thanks for talking to us, David, and we're looking forward to The Damned!