Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: David Watkins

Meghan: Hello, David. Welcome, welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

David Watkins: I am a teacher by trade and writer the rest of the time. My main job – the one that keeps the roof over my head – is as a math teacher in a school in North Devon in the UK. Teaching is a great and rewarding job, but it’s also very stressful. Writing is a great release for that – it’s an endless source of names of characters who need to die extremely violent deaths. I went part time a couple of years ago so I could devote more time to writing and improve my work-life balance. I’m also married with two children, so my time is at a premium.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

David Watkins: I’m a twin, have a soft spot for bad 80s rock, love things like roller coasters, can fall asleep anywhere (once during a Rage Against The Machine concert), and I will cancel anything to watch Wales play rugby – although most of my friends already know that!

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

David Watkins: The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I know that she’s been accused of bigotry and sexism in her books but I loved the stories as a boy. Wonderful displays of imagination. A few years ago, I tried to read The Famous Five to my sons but, honestly, it hasn’t aged well.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

David Watkins: Right now, I’m reading Dead by Design by James Mortain. I’ve met James a few times and he’s a top bloke so I’m relieved to say I’m really enjoying the book. It’s the second in his Detective Deans series about a police officer who starts to have psychic awakenings. Good stuff and some of it is set locally to me, which is nice. I just finished Thingy by J. R. Park, which is an extremely limited release to publicise Duncan P. Bradshaw’s Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space! I would highly recommend both and indeed, anything released by The Sinister Horror Company is worth any horror fan’s time.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

David Watkins: The Time Travelers Wife. I really don’t like romantic books at all (my wife is a big fan) but I stayed up all night to finish that one. Ignore the film!

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

David Watkins: I have written for as long as I can remember, so I can’t really recall a time when I decided to ‘give it a go’. As a boy I was a big fan of the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers black and white TV shows (the Buster Crabbe ones) and obviously Star Wars. I remember making up different story lines for those and it went from there. I think cliff-hanger style of storytelling has had a big impact on my own writing.

My original plan was to be a teacher for five years, write a few books in my holidays and then be a writer full time. Ridiculous when you think about it! I have now been teaching for twenty five years, have published three books and recently finished the fourth.

There were two events that made me take writing much more seriously. The first was that my twin brother bought me a copy of On Writing by Stephen King, which is simply one of the best books about the craft I’ve read. On the front page, my brother had written ‘I hope this inspires you!’ My brother loves his books and can read a copy multiple times without so much as a dent on the spine, so for him to deliberately deface a book by writing in it was a pretty big message to me.

Secondly, I was driving to work, too fast, too late, just a normal day and I lost control of my car. I hit a lorry and completely wrote off the car. The only part of the car that wasn’t smashed to pieces was my seat. I am very, very lucky to be alive. As I lay in the hospital, berating myself whilst a nurse removed glass from my hands, I wondered why I’d never given writing a serious go. Four months later, I had the first draft of The Original’s Return written and have not looked back since. That was ten years ago, but it came out in 2013 so I’m averaging a book every two years since then. I’m not the speediest of writers, but I feel it’s more important to write well than quickly.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

David Watkins: Not especially. I have an office in my house that I write in, or I use the kitchen table. However, I can – and will – write anywhere. The only time I freeze is when someone is reading over my shoulder as I type, so go away darling, I love you too!

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

David Watkins: Music and tea – as much of both as I can.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

David Watkins: Coming up with twists on plots can be difficult, especially if you try to force it. It’s very difficult to be original when so many thousands of books are being published, seemingly every day. That said, it’s fun to twist people’s expectations. In The Original’s Return, I don’t use the word ‘werewolf’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re dealing with. However, there are no full moons, no silver bullets or any of those clichés and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive so people seem to like this approach.

Editing is always a challenge, but I have learned to enjoy it as it’s when the story comes into focus. Tightening up the language makes the story flow better and that is the most important thing of all for readers.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

David Watkins: Satisfying is a difficult one. I’m not sure I’m completely satisfied with anything I’ve written – it’s all about striving to be better. I don’t have a huge amount of self-confidence about my writing (does anybody?), so it’s always a lovely surprise when someone says ‘I really enjoyed that’. I just had some feedback on my latest WIP from someone whose opinion I really value and she thought it was ‘absolutely brilliant’. It’s about monsters running amok in Exeter but she couldn’t believe I’d made them up from scratch and hadn’t based them on an existing trope. Phew!

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

David Watkins: Stephen King has been a big influence on both my reading and love of horror. His On Writing is a book every aspiring writer should read. Joe Lansdale is another: just brilliant characters and stories. The Hap and Leonard series is probably his best known work but his Drive In series is great fun. It’s a shame the The Drive In 3 is only available as an eBook or at a ridiculous price in the UK.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

David Watkins: For me the key word is story. It has to have a plot. I’m not interested in a 500+ page rumination on the way people’s lives are connected by a baseball – give me some people to care about (one will do) and an intriguing story and I’m all yours. Take Brian Keene’s Urban Gothic. That is one dark and twisted tale, but the characters feel very relatable so you want them to survive.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

David Watkins: The character has to seem like a real person. They shouldn’t just do things because the plot dictates, but because it is a logical move for that character. We all know of moments in books and, especially, films where someone does something stupid (like not call the police) for no reason other than it fits the plot. If you establish the character is anti-authority, anti-police or whatever then that moment is now earned. This is something I’m working on constantly.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

David Watkins: This one is easy: Jack Stadler, the main character of The Original’s Return and The Original’s Retribution. He runs, plays guitar, loves Springsteen, is a new dad and math teacher. I didn’t look very far from the mirror to get inspiration for him. He’s also a werewolf, so he’s a much cooler version of me.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

David Watkins: Definitely. I am very fortunate with my covers in that one of my mates (Rowan) is a superb photographer and another is a graphic designer (Frank). Frank takes Rowan’s photos and turns then into my covers. They look fantastic and have been praised in reviews and all it cost me was a firm handshake and a few beers.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

David Watkins: Edit, edit, edit. And then, when you think it’s done, edit one more time.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

David Watkins: There is a rape scene in The Original’s Retribution that surprised me when it came up. It fits for where the character is at that moment in the story, but I didn’t enjoy writing that bit. My wife gave me a ‘really?’ look when she read it and it remains her least favourite scene of mine. To be honest, that probably means it did its job.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

David Watkins: That’s a tough one. They are resolutely British, both in setting and outlook and are all set in beautiful Devon. Both of The Originals books do not feature the word ‘werewolf’ at all. I started out with that as a challenge to myself: how far can you get without using the word? The Devil’s Inn features a few legends of Dartmoor, but I don’t mention that in the text so it’s there for interested readers to look up themselves.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

David Watkins: The title of a book should be intriguing enough to make you pick it up. All of my titles have come up as part of the writing, so it was fairly easy to come up with them. However The Original’s Return had been out for six months before a mate said ‘it sounds like a sequel.’ Damn – minor problem as it’s the first in the series!

For The Devil’s Inn I had the title before I’d finished writing the first chapter. As it’s about the Devil visiting a pub in Devon, the title suggested itself.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

David Watkins: I don’t write that many short stories (although this is something I’m working on) so it would have to be novel. There is something about the length that makes it a challenge and it’s a lovely feeling when you type ‘the end’. I think it’s probably a similar feeling for marathon runners and sprinters: both are challenging and rewarding in different ways.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

David Watkins: They are designed to be page turners and so would make ideal books for anyone looking for a fast paced story, from teenagers upwards. None of them are ‘young adult’ but my son read The Original’s Return when he was thirteen (spoiler: ‘best book I’ve ever read’, but then he has to say that as homeless at thirteen is a tough gig). I want them to be entertained, first and foremost.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

David Watkins: No – they were deleted for a reason!

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

David Watkins: I have an idea for a sci-fi story about the early days of colonising an alien planet. It’s percolating nicely so may well be my next project. Obviously, it will become more of a horror story at some point rather than straight sci-fi. Seems I can’t write a story without someone dying horribly.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

David Watkins: I am doing final edits on The Exeter Incident which is about monsters running amok in the Devon capital. I will be approaching some publishers for this one, but may well self-pub again if the terms aren’t right.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

David Watkins: Twitter ** Facebook ** Goodreads

David Watkins lives in Devon in the UK with his wife, two sons, dog, cat, and two turtles. He is unsure of his place in the pecking order: probably somewhere between the cat and the turtles.

David’s latest novel is The Devil’s Inn: a chilling tale set on Dartmoor during a fierce snowstorm. Has the Devil really come to Devon?

He is now working on a new stand alone novel, set in Exeter. He hates referring to himself in third person, but no-one else is going to write this for him.

David can be found on Twitter so please drop by and say hello, where you’ll find him ranting about horror, the British education system and Welsh rugby, but not usually at the same time.

Amazon US ** Amazon UK ** Goodreads

The Original 1: The Original’s Return

Sergeant Peter Knowles has seen it all: in Afghanistan he witnessed death on a level that no-one should walk away from. Returning to Britain, he jumps at the chance to lead a small team in Devon. The task sounds more like a holiday; exactly what Knowles and his men need.

The mission: watch Jack Stadler. 

Jack has always led a quiet life, but now he is suffering blackouts and has violent fantasies. 

When the first dismembered body is found, Knowles begins to realise he has made a terrible mistake…

The Original 2: The Original’s Retribution

Sergeant Peter Knowles has sworn to hunt down the remaining wolves in Britain and kill them all. He wants revenge for the massacre that took the lives of his friends. 

The wolf packs are scattered and scared, but someone new has started to galvanise them. 

Someone terrifying. 

Someone closer to Knowles than he could ever suspect.

The Devil’s Inn

“I don’t want to die in a pub in Devon…”

There is a pub in the heart of Dartmoor where a fire has burned every day for over one hundred and fifty years.

It is said the fire never goes out. It is said that if it does, the Devil will appear and claim the souls of all inside.

Tonight, seven strangers are stranded there during a fierce snowstorm. Tonight, the fire will go out…

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