Thursday, 7 July 2011

INTERVIEW: Darius Hinks

I originally discovered Darius’ writing when a copy of Warrior Priest landed. Whilst I was originally struck by the gorgeous cover when I began reading it, the authors writing really struck a chord. So when I uncovered the nefarious Slaanesh plot to enrapture the readers with his next title, I thought I’d best have a word to find out what, if any rituals had been envoked.

Fortunately it’s a tale more in the telling and thanks to the Witch Hunters he’s come up cleansed, so here for your viewing pleasure is or interview with Darius (conducted under their strict guidelines) where he talks about creative bankruptcy, Joanna Newsom and feline royalty demands…

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Darius Hinks: Afflicted? That seems too negative a word. Writing certainly is addictive though. I’ve recently been lucky enough to get paid for some of my stories but I’ve been writing since I was in my early teens and I’d have carried on whether I got published or not. It’s a fairly harmless addiction though, and it gives me an excuse to spend long periods sat in a comfy chair.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

DH: As a child I was addicted to Biggles novels (does anyone remember those?) and I spent hours imagining my own stories – usually when I was meant to be learning my times tables. I’d like to think that being a writer means I’ve now turned a life-long daydreaming habit into a vaguely respectable career.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

DH: The feel-good tale of a psychopathic, idealistic, Byronic hedonist, who plunges headlong into a spiral of daemon worship and addiction.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

DH: In general, I only read books by dead people. I don’t have anything against living people, it’s just that there are so many dead authors to get through I haven’t worked my way up to the twentieth century yet. I’ve recently discovered a hot new talent called HG Wells. I think he’s going to make quite a name for himself.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your ideas develop as you write?

DH: I should probably keep this to myself, but I spent more than a decade trying unsuccessfully to write a novel, before finally finishing Warrior Priest. I worked on dozens of half-baked plot ideas with no clear idea of how to finish them. Then, one glorious day, a wise editor introduced me to the arcane mysteries of the chapter breakdown and I felt like I’d been handed the keys to a new car. Both the novels I’ve written have been plotted out very carefully in advance. For me, a decent road map of the story is the only way to avoid getting lost at chapter three. That said, the chapter breakdown is only really a skeleton of the book. All my favourite parts of Sigvald (and Warrior Priest) came as a pleasant surprise. However carefully I plot a book, my characters always seem to enjoy acting in ways I never expected. Just a chance turn of phrase is enough to send them off in a whole new direction.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

DH: I mainly fill my time either going to gigs or spending too long in second-hand bookshops. (I was once physically ejected from a bookshop in Lincoln for indecisive browsing.) I’m also addicted to Mad Men but have so far failed to convince my boss to let me drink bourbon at work. The last novel I read was The Undying Fire by HG Wells.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

DH: Occasionally I get a muscle spasm in my left eyelid that I find oddly pleasant. It seems quite a weird thing to enjoy though, so please don’t tell anyone.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

DH: I have two cats that stare hungrily at me in the mornings while I’m trying to write. They both make a guest appearance in a novella called Razumov’s Tomb but I’m not going to mention it to them in case they demand royalties.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

DH: Sigvald features a particularly disgusting cannibalistic gelatinous head called Ansgallür the Famished. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s fantasised about being a huge gelatinous head.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

DH: Well, Sigvald’s an immortal prince blessed with impossible beauty and a perfect six-pack, so obviously I do feel quite an affinity with him. Hmm… Actually, I think the reason he was so appealing to me was that he’s everything I’m not. Unlike your average Nottingham-based SF author, Sigvald’s life is pretty rock’n’roll and he doesn’t have to abide by any normal social restraints. He’s snapped the needle off his moral compass and dropped it in a gilded wastepaper basket. And he’s utterly fearless, with a rapacious hunger for new experience – of any kind. Anyone living their life like that for real would end up sprawled in the gutter, but Sigvald inhabits such a bizarre fantasy landscape, and has so many daemons and gods to bail him out, that he seems (on the surface at least) to be having a great time. The truth, of course, is a bit more complicated than that. Faustian pacts rarely end well.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

DH: Listening to music is a big hobby of mine and (as mentioned below) my favourite lyricists have a big influence on my writing style – even more so than my favourite authors. I’d site my major literary influences as: Stewart Lupton (a Sigvaldian if ever there was one, a wonderful poet and formerly the singer of Jonathan Fire Eater); Joanna Newsom (a singer whose quirky lyrics are full of words like poetaster, catanaries and dirigibles), and The Walkmen (see below).

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

DH: As mentioned above, songs are a big influence. Other than that, it’s just the usual stuff: films, books, TV shows and, in the case of Sigvald, the artwork of Hieronymus Bosch.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

DH: I never start a novel without a clear idea of where I want to end up. Occasionally, if a scene isn’t panning out how I’d like it to and I’m unsure how to make it work, I find that I just need to distract myself with some kind of menial task – mowing the lawn etc – and the answer will come. Sigvald is only my second novel though, so I suppose there’s still time for some creative bankruptcy. Maybe I could start mowing the neighbours’ lawns?

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

DH: I think I’m a bit of an oddity when it comes to timekeeping. Rather than burning the midnight oil, I start before six, every morning. I met one of my favourite authors, Susanna Clarke, a few years back at a reading in Nottingham Library. At the time I was still struggling to write my first book and she recommended a book called Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. It’s more of a self-help manual than a technical guide, but I found one aspect of it really useful. Brande talks about the times when we are most in touch with our subconscious. She recommends rising early and starting work while you’re still half asleep, without allowing any external impetus (radio/TV etc) to pollute your fragile state. So that’s now my routine. I’m a terrible creature of habit, so for a couple of years now I’ve been staggering downstairs in the dark every morning, tripping over the cats and starting work just as more interesting people are going to bed.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

DH: I always write to music and tend to have a favourite album on a loop while I’m working on a novel. For Sigvald it was an album called Lisbon, by a band called The Walkmen. It was only after the book was finished that I realised how much the album had influenced the story. There’s a particularly surreal, dreamlike scene set in an orchard where Sigvald woos his beloved patron daemon under the boughs of a juniper tree. My wife, Kathryn, pointed out that one of the songs on Lisbon, Blue as your Blood, had a really sinister sound that reminded her of that scene. Then we noticed that the lyrics even seemed to tie in. It’s funny how this stuff soaks into your subconscious. I’m going to be really careful what I listen to next time. I don’t want to start writing about how great it is that it’s Friday and how much everyone’s looking forward to the weekend. Yeah ah-ah.

Blue as your Blood (The Walkmen)

I'd give you all my love
I'd give you all my love
But my heart itself is broken
How many nights must lumber by

I sit alone and I wonder why
Oh hazy, lazy days
I could dream of you forever
Under the shade of a juniper tree
I sing a sad song of you and me

The sky above, the sky above
Is blue as your blood
In a hazy, lazy daydream

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

DH: I’m currently working on a Warhammer 40,000 novella called Sanctus, that revolves around a Space Marine Chapter called the Relictors. After that, I’d like to write a trilogy of Warhammer novels, based around a character called Orion. It’s very early days, but if the idea gets a green light I’m going to write all three books back-to-back, so I can plot something on a truly epic scale. I love the idea of immersing myself in a sustained piece of writing. Developing a large cast of characters over three books and seeing where they end up would be a dream come true for an old Tolkien fan like me. Unlike the Empire-based Warhammer novels, these could be pure, dark fantasy with no human element at all. Orion is the inhuman avatar of a god and his realm is inhabited by a bizarre collection of sylvan horrors, sprites, dryads, daemons and an elven race known as the Asrai. I’m picturing it as a sinister mix of Herne the Hunter, Spencer’s Faerie Queen and the Oberon and Titiana scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the dark, violent tone of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

DH: (website of folk weirdo, Michael Hurley)

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

DH: I submitted all my early stories under a pseudonym. It softened the blow knowing that the criticism was directed at someone called Joe Ruiz. (Joe was my grandfather and as a veteran of the Spanish civil war I felt he would have taken editorial corrections on the chin.) I only admitted my real name when the editors started being nice to me.

1 comment:

Anne Michaud said...

I really enjoyed this interview, and it has nothing to do with Darius' babelisciousness...