Author Spotlight – Dan Hanks (CAPTAIN MOXLEY AND THE EMBERS OF THE EMPIRE)
Dan is a writer, editor, and vastly overqualified archaeologist who has lived everywhere from London to Hertfordshire to Manchester to Sydney, which explains the panic in his eyes anytime someone asks “where are you from?”. Thankfully he is now settled in the rolling green hills of the Peak District with his human family and fluffy sidekicks Indy and Maverick, where he writes books, screenplays and comics.
Welcome to the Hive, Dan. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Lovely icebreaker! But now I’m worried you’re going to hit me with a hard question next…
I’ve just finished this wonderful book called The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson. It’s about a kid growing up in 1980’s Niagara Falls and is led into investigating some ghostly legends around where he lives. I picked this up thinking I was in for some Stranger Things fun, but it went in a slightly different direction and is all the better for it. A beautiful book and one I’m eagerly looking forward to reading again.
My grandfather lived there and I have some fond memories from the ’90s! Adding that one to the list, thanks for the recommendation!
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?
Ouch. Okay, will the reality warp allow me to reveal to you that I’ve never played D&D and have you not kick me off this interview? I mean, I’ve been in love with the idea of D&D forever, after seeing a stunning cover on a board game box in my local shop when I was about five or six. I can still picture it now, some *cough* years later. It’s just I’ve never had the opportunity to play the actual game with people who knew what they’re doing.
Still, I’ve always liked Rangers and the whole dual-sword-wielding thing, so can I go with that? I would love to learn how to sword fight. I did some fencing once, but I was terrible. So don’t expect to survive.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? 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 a little bit about your writing method!
A little bit of everything! I mostly work on a laptop, because the best lesson I ever took at school was touch typing, so I’m now able to get my thoughts down on the page pretty quickly before they evaporate. However, I did once write a screenplay by hand (typing it up afterwards) and I enjoyed the more slow-paced process of that.
I work best in silence, but prefer writing to soundtracks and fantasy music trailer music. Which makes no sense. All I know is when I’ve accidentally started writing without music, it goes really well, but I hate the idea of writing without listening to something. So basically every day I sit down to write and often sabotage myself from the start by putting music on. *shrugs*
Plotting an outline and then pantsing my way through the scenes works best for me. That way I know the overall story will make sense, but I have a bit of freedom to get from point A to point B in each scene, which makes it more exciting.
Oh and deep-sea diver’s suit, always.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Ooh great questions.
The Enchanted Wood books were my introduction to fantasy fiction when I was very young and they will always hold a special place in my heart. Stephen King’s ability to let you actually inhabit the worlds on his page is something I will always at least aspire to if not actually match. And I’m constantly inspired and influenced by the wealth of diverse fantasy stories around us now. But, especially for my upcoming book Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire, the influences were all movies – not least Indiana Jones and The Mummy films (the good ones). I love those old school, fast, fun and fantastical big screen adventures.
Creators I’d like to work with? There are lots! Some big creator brands and some individuals. But the two projects that stand out to me right now as being dream writing gigs: a Marvel and Netflix Power Pack TV show and an Indiana Jones video game. Seriously, how overdue are we for a great Indiana Jones video game? Either of those would be great please. That’s how this works, right – I just type that here and they read it and get in touch? Cool.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Umbrella Academy 2 is our current watch. We’re hitting it at about midnight each night because 10pm-12 is the only quiet time in this house of lockdown with two kids (I’ve been interrupted three times just writing this answer) and we need to get work or writing done. But it’s so worth staying up late to get an episode or two in. The cast, the style, the time-twisty plot. Love it.
Video games… my kids have had the consoles to keep in touch with their friends while they’ve been off school, so I haven’t played much other than join them on Fortnite (which is admittedly a lot of fun). But I picked up STAR WARS Jedi: Fallen Order last week so I’m really hoping to start playing that soon.
Pauses to break up an argument over Lego Jurassic World. I feel ya!
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
In an ideal world I’m in the Lake District hiking through woods, up hills, across streams. It’s quiet. Nobody whinges about anything. And I finish it with a pub meal and a beer by a fire.
Oh god, that sounds so good right now.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I have two. One is almost finished and it’s a middle-aged British Ghostbusters, with parents having to juggle kids and the fighting of a rampant evil in their northern town at Christmas. It’s a festive nightmare! The other book I’m about to start… and I’m not allowed to talk about it. But it’s very exciting. 🙂
Argh secrets? Still, Christmas British Ghostbusters sounds brilliant.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
I think the most helpful is that ‘writing is rewriting’. You need to give yourself the permission to write an absolute piece of shit first draft, just to get it down. Then you can play about with it and make it shine. This advice helped take the fear away from facing a blank page, which is probably the worst part about writing for me.
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?
Some days you just have to sit down anyway to get it done and hope you find it along the way. But that method is really painful.
Thankfully, I’ve recently figured out I can more easily avoid blocks and writing myself into dull corners if I have a think about the next scene before I write it. Usually this is in the form of putting on some inspiring music related to the type of moment I need to write and doing something mundane like washing up. The music loosens up the knots in my head and helps release exciting ideas for how things could play out – so that when I sit down to write, it all flows far easier and is way more fun. And fun is important. When it stops being fun, I find something is often wrong with the direction I’m going in.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Egypt, a couple of thousand years ago, to visit the Great Library of Alexandria. Although as part of this magical time-travelling trip I’d also need the ability to translate everything. Can you imagine spending the day in there? Oh, the things you’d learn.
Excellent choice – my stomach still goes twisty at the thought of that wealth of knowledge destroyed.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Star Wars doesn’t need me to shout about it, but I found out the other day that the author A.C. Crispin died a few years ago and that made me sad, because I adored her ‘young’ Han Solo trilogy (now in the non-canon universe). She was such a great writer and the novels were pitch perfect in terms of both this incredibly important character and the much-loved universe he inhabited – and they really deserved to be mined more in the recent films set in that era. Maybe they did well when they came out, but to me these books feel vastly underappreciated in the huge world of Star Wars because they sparked the same joy I experienced when seeing the original trilogy – and that’s a hell of a feat to pull off.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire is about a woman tired of corrupt and shady government bullshit who spends what energy she has left to defeat their monsters and punch former Nazis in the face. Which means it should hopefully appeal to everyone on the right side of history in 2020!
Also, yes, there’s a race to find an archaeological treasure and a disintegrating sisterly bond at the heart of the journey, plus a seaplane fight and a bus chase, but it’s mainly about the punching and adventuring and being tired.
That’s brilliant – thank you so much Dan!
CAPTAIN MOXLEY AND THE EMBERS OF THE EMPIRE is out Tuesday 8th September from Angry Robot Books. It’s available to pre-order from: