Milford: Your new book is called The Girl From A Thousand Fathoms. Give us a quick rundown.
Dave: It’s a contemporary detective fantasy set partly in modern-day Brighton, and partly in ancient Babylon. Tim Wassiter, new-age private detective, uses magic to solve cases. There’s a stolen car, and a missing cat. Somehow they’re connected, and so is the action in Babylon. Also: sea monsters.
Milford: You have a penchant for unlikely character names. Do they come easily to you or do you have to keep experimenting until you find one that suits?
Dave: These days I’d deliberately try to create names that have a sense cultural unity. That might sound a bit pretentious but all I’m trying to do is have names that, when taken together, sound as if they might come from the same time and place. In the book I’m writing at the moment everyone is an alien; I’m using a limited set of beginnings and ends to (most of) their names to help give them a kind of unity.
With The Girl that process was not so explicitly conscious but one thing I did want was for everyone from the present day to have names that were somehow larger than life and a little exotic. Adventurous names. With the characters from the other times and places I tried to make their names sound authentic to their origins.
Milford: Humour is the most difficult thing to write because everyone’s sense of humour is different. You have some very quirky happenings in The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Did you deliberately set out to make this funny/serous? And how did you balance the two?
Dave: I wanted it the story to be light-hearted, but with a serious heart. After all, the core events and drivers of those events are not only weird, they are deeply dangerous and of global importance. Most of the characters have life and death encounters, but that’s not to say other moments cannot be funny, and one of the characters, despite their own inner anxieties, does in fact see the world as a rather funny and playful place. I do think humour, horror, and danger can make a good mix and I hope people enjoy my take on that.
Milford: What is your favourite colour?
Dave: Green. No, blue. No, green. There’s a specific shade of not-quite-raspberry-pink that throws me back to my childhood, to infant school when I had a toy car of that exact colour. I took it to school and of course I lost it. I can’t remember what car it was but the colour haunts me. I’ve never seen it again, not exactly, so perhaps it only exists in my mind.
Milford: What’s all this about being baptised by King Neptune?
Dave: I was born in South Africa, and when my parents decided to return to Britain in 1960 they went by ship. When we crossed the equator the captain held a ceremony to have us little ones (I was not quite three) baptised by King Neptune. I still have the certificate, signed ‘Neptunus Rex’. I don’t remember the ceremony but as a small child I believed it. Looking back I can see what a profound effect that unremembered event had on me. I grew up thinking it was real; the proof was hanging on my wall. It still is. And people say stories don’t matter.
Milford: Is that why you wrote a story about a mermaid?
Dave: Maybe. My first TV crush was Marina from Stingray. Also, the Dr Dolittle story about the ancient turtle and the great flood kind of blew my mind.
Actually, the origin of The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms came from an ideas workshop during a writing weekend run by T-Party Writers Group. As I recall, the seed ideas came from a little online program that mashed up two random characters to make the phrase ‘ He’s a xxx, she’s a xxx, together they fight crime. Mine was something like ‘He’s a burned out detective, she’s a renegade mermaid on the run, etc.
After 30 mins writing we shared our work. I quite enjoyed the characters I’d come up with and thought it might make a short story. Somebody said this was a novel, somebody else agreed, and I realised they were right.
Milford: Your previous book, Shopocalypse was published by NewCon press. Why did you self-publish this time?
Dave: As an experiment. I wanted to learn about the process, I liked the idea and wanted to try it. Also, realistically, I’d had advice that while The Girl was a good read, it was not commercial. It came down to DIY or accept that a few years work was all for nothing, and I didn’t want to do that.
Milford: How easy is self-publishing these days?
Dave: It’s very easy. All the tools you need are online, they are decent quality, and there’s plenty of good help and advice. However, you still need to do all of the preparative work a traditional publisher does to make your writing look good once you’ve written ‘The End’ for what you naively believe to be the final time. These include editorial readers, redrafting, copy-editing, and proof-reading. Some of these you can do yourself, the rest you need good quality help.
Then you need to lay out your interior. I learned a great deal about layout while I prepared The Girl for publication. Fortunately I discovered I enjoyed doing it.
Also, artwork. Finding a good artist to work with on the cover art is a real joy. Seeing a skilled professional turn your laughable scribbles into a lovely piece of work is all kinds of wonderful. I’m going to blog about this process in more detail elsewhere.
Never do your own cover art unless you are an artist. I’m not an artist.
Now I’ve published a The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, I’m planning on republishing my short stories. Also, I have a ludicrously over-ambitious idea for the cover art.
The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms is available on Kindle right now, with a print edition coming very soon.
David Gullen’s short fiction has appeared in multiple magazines and anthologies. His SF novel, Shopocalypse, published by Newcon press, is available from all good highstreet and online bookstores, as is his recent anthology, Once Upon a Parsec: The Book of Alien Fairy Tales. David was born in Africa and baptised by King Neptune He has lived in England most of his life and has been telling stories for as long as he can remember. He currently lives behind several tree ferns in South London with the fantasy writer Gaie Sebold. He is the current Chair of the Milford SF convention.