Author Spotlight – Den Patrick
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Den Patrick!
Den Patrick lives and works in London with his wife and two cats. He is the award-nominated author of The War-Fighting Manuals (Gollancz), The Erebus Sequence (Gollancz) and Witchsign (HarperVoyager), which forms the first part of The Ashen Torment trilogy.
Den also founded Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, a monthly genre social night, along with Jen Williams. A trained counsellor, Den is a keen advocate on self-care for all people but especially those in creative industries.
Thanks for joining us today, Den. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
The last book I read was The Raven Tower by Anne Leckie, which walked this incredibly fine line between story and worldbuilding, while discarding the usual close third person perspective and writing in first and second person. It took a little while to wrap my head around it but I’m glad I did. It reminded me of Daniel Abraham’s Long Price quartet.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
For years and years I’ve loved playing Rogues in D&D, but more recently I’ve come around to Paladins. High armour class, access to healing spells, good at interaction – that’s how I want to roll (figuratively and literarily). My weapon of choice would have to be a Vorpal longsword, which is suited to decapitating enemies.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I type in the main. I usually carry a notebook around for stray thoughts or to note down questions I need to answer in the book, usually questions about plot or worldbuilding. Working electronically gives me the opportunity to re-read what I’ve done and expand upon it, as I tend to underwrite in my haste to get the idea onto the page. A lot of my process is taken up with re-reading and asking myself how I can make the dialogue, the description or the prose work more efficiently.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
A lot of The Erebus Sequence was written listening to movie soundtracks like Batman Begins, The Fountain, Inception or anything by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Gone Girl, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). This may go some way to explain why I feel tense after a writing session. I also like more ambient works or music with piano, music like Olafur Arnalds, Matthew Bourne, Dustin O’Haolloran Nest, Brambles, Rafael Anton Irisarri and The Sight Below.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
Ben Aaronovitch suggested a book called Save the Cat to me during The Erebus Sequence and since then I have been what you’d call an architect. I set out a road map so I know where I’m going, but I try and remain flexible as sometimes what looks solid in the plan doesn’t work on the page.
Witchsign was initially a book largely about Steiner, but in the second draft Kjellrunn became a much larger character, along with Silverdust. I think part of my learning curve has been not just to be critical of my writing but also to be aware when a plan needs amending to serve the story in the best way. It’s an ongoing process with every book.
I’m not sure I do anything particularly unusual other than forget to eat.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
I was born in the seventies and watching TV in the 80s, just as the original Star Wars was being shown each Christmas. We video taped it (complete with commercials) and I must have watched that film two dozen times lying on the lounge floor playing with my Star Wars figures. Those early films trade so heavily on Fantasy tropes: farm boy with a destiny, the evil sorcerer, the hidden fortress, wizards and magic swords. Star Wars: A New Hope has it all and that stuff has stayed with me my whole life. The other thing that Star Wars has is optimism. I know it’s deeply unfashionable to mention optimism when the Fantasy genre is neck deep in GrimDark. However, I read stories because I want to see the good guys win, I am absolutely that escapist Fantasy reader that literary fiction people sneer at. And I’m OK with that.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
My wife and I are big fans of The Line of Duty, the anti-corruption police show written by Jed Mercurio. We started watching season one on honeymoon and have been ardent fans ever since, to the point where we quote lines at each other. It’s tense, it’s one of the most twisty-turny shows I’ve ever seen, and the reveals and misdirection are incredible. I also loved Russian Doll too, which I watched in about two days, back-to-back. I mainly watched it because a few of my friends spoke highly of it, but I knew it was my kinda thing from the get go.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
I don’t really need the world to shift for this to happen. I take days off. There, I said it, I take days off! And you should too. Yeah you. Give yourself a time out. Take a walk, go to a gallery, meet your friends, phone your mum. Life is short and people are more than just a sum of how much they produce or consume.
Now to answer the question in the spirit in which it was intended – I’d be hanging out with my wife at Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida. There would bright sunshine and we would eat over-priced chicken nuggets and fries. I’d go on Star Tours at least twice and my wife would talk me into going on Rock n Rollercoaster. Again.
Or, I’d play a six-hour session of D&D, which I do once a month. I have Jen Williams and Rebecca Levine in my party so it’s never boring.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Do you have those relatives on Facebook that write four sentences without so much as a comma or a full stop? It’s like they just emptied the contents of their brain straight into your eyeballs. That is some next level stream of conscious stuff right there. We don’t need less punctuation, we need more. Remember, it’s the difference between helping your Uncle, Jack, off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
It’s book three which comes with all the trials and tribulations of tying up all of those story threads and trying to give every character a satisfactory ending. An Empire is threatened by the revelation of the truths it tried to suppress, a family is torn apart, and dragons return to the continent of Vinterkveld after seven decades of torment. It won’t make any sense if you haven’t read Witchsign and Stormtide first.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
Jen Williams lives twenty minutes away from me, she writes great books, and she won an award, so it’s a no brainer. Maybe I’ll talk her into writing some kind of Science Fantasy space opera with pirates.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The least useful is that you should write every day which I alluded to above. That’s how you end up getting burned out. The most helpful is perhaps that nothing is wasted. Everything you write, whether it gets cut or makes the final edit, is part of the process. It’s the middle bit that gets from point A (the seed of an idea) to point B (the finished story).
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I’m not much of an historian, but perhaps I’d visit America, Texas specifically, on 21 November 1963. I’m not sure how easy it would be for a time travelling person from Britain to warn the President of his impending assassination but it couldn’t hurt. While JFK was no angel, he did good things for the civil rights movement and founded the Peace Corps.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I have to ask myself why I don’t want to write. Am I ill? Am I suffering from low mood or anxiety? Where is that coming from? Do I know enough about the chapter to write it? What am I trying to achieve in this chapter, and so on? I find it really useful to check in with myself, be your own therapist.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but under appreciated or obscure.
Clive Barker wrote Imajica back in 1991. I found a copy in Sapporo, Japan where I was living in ‘93 and was delighted. For one thing, Imajica is a beast of book, like Brandon Sanderson long. I had plenty of time to kill so was glad for the long read. I’d always associated Barker with Horror on account of seeing Hellraiser at age 12 (not something I recommend), but Imajica was a contemporary Fantasy with people crossing between planes of existence. There are a host of fascinating characters, not least Pie’oh’pah, a shapeshifting assassin. I rarely hear anyone else speak about it, perhaps because it’s nearly thirty years old, but also because it doesn’t fit into that classic High Fantasy/Heroic Fantasy/GrimDark mould.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
Witchsign is the tale of Steiner and his sister Kjellrunn, who live on a continent called Vinterkveld, where arcane powers are illegal and the dragons were exterminated in the last war. Steiner is taken to Vladibogdan, a secret island, by the Holy Synod, who wrongly suspect him of Witchsign. Once on the island Steiner discovers the many lies the Empire has told and sets out to protect his sister.
Brilliant! Thanks again for joining us, Den, and good luck with the release of Witchsign‘s sequel!
Den Patrick is the author of the Erebus Sequence and the Ashen Torment series. Book two of Ashen Torment, STORMTIDE, will be released in May 2019.