Interview with Dan Hanks (SWASHBUCKLERS)
I’m an author based in the rolling green hills of the Peak District with my two kids and fluffy sidekicks Indy and Maverick.
Repped by Sara Megibow of KT Literary and Steve Fisher at APA Talent and Literary (film and TV).
I’m also one of the co-founders of the OcTBR Challenge, and write books, screenplays and comics when I’m not at work or wasting time on Twitter.
Today Dan is here to talk about the 80s influences behind his latest release Swashbucklers
which is out from Angry Robot Books today!
When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn’t like it was in the movies.
Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits – even the friends who once fought alongside him.
Struggling with single parenting and treated as bit of a joke, Cisco isn’t really in the Christmas spirit like everyone else. A fact that’s made worse by the tendrils of the pirate’s powers creeping back into our world and people beginning to die in bizarre ways.
With the help of a talking fox, an enchanted forest, a long-lost friend haunting his dreams, and some 80s video game consoles turned into weapons, Cisco must now convince his friends to once again help him save the day. Yet they quickly discover that being a ghostbusting hero is so much easier when you don’t have schools runs, parent evenings, and nativity plays to attend. And even in the middle of a supernatural battle, you always need to bring snacks and wipes…
Hi Dan, welcome back to the Fantasy Hive! Congratulations on your release of Swashbucklers!
Thanks so much, Nils, it’s great to be invited back! Especially to talk about this book which I know hits a lot of nostalgia bells for the both of us.
Are nostalgia bells a thing? I think that should be a thing now. Like deja vous but for people who have a hankering for memories. You heard it here first. Nostalgia Bells.
It’s definitely a thing! Also, nostalgia bells has a distinctly Christmassy ring to it, which also fits your book, right?!
Exactly. In fact, now I kind of wish we could change the title.
I think you’ll give Angry Robot a meltdown if you suggest that now!
I’ll save it for the sequel then.
So, which 80’s movies would you say influenced Swashbucklers the most?
“Teenage Ghostbusters” were the two words that popped into my head one day when driving the kids to school (and listening to Ray Parker Jr.’s beloved song). So, obviously, Ghostbusters had a huge influence on this book. It was exciting, scary and thrilling as a film, but most of all it had that level of fun that can be found in so many 80s movies. I definitely wanted to play about with that.
It’s really clear throughout that Ghostbusters was such an inspiration to you, and I loved that.
It really was. That was the first time I can remember the strange concept of enjoying being scared (thank you, Ghost Librarian Lady).
Gremlins was a big one too, because of its fresh, festive-horror mash-up. I loved the idea of this supposedly jolly, happy season Christmas being a little terrifying and full of monsters that you need to find ingenious ways to destroy. And, of course, we can’t forget The Goonies, the staple of all 80’s childhoods everywhere and just a dream of an adventure film for kids, again being a little edgy but never not being fun.
To be fair Christmas and a touch of horror is a great combination, and I have to say Dan, you make those giant Santa’s you see displayed in shopping centres seem more than a bit terrifying now!!
And I’d wager that anybody who has been to the Manchester Christmas Market will have thought about the giant Santa we have jumping off that roof and stomping through the city ala Stay Puft! However, the thing that most creeped me out in the story was the penguin. That just happened as I was writing and I sort of sat there for a minute cringing excitedly.
I also think what was so great about The Goonies was the bond the gang had, and I feel you wanted to capture that same bond with Cisco, Doc, Michelle and Jake too. Am I right?
The thing about that bond was that I’d grown up loving the Famous Five books and the other Enid Blyton adventure series, so that kind of friend-fellowship in the face of danger was already very special to me. In The Goonies, it was given a modern (well, for then) update, with swearing and kids being dicks to each other. Which was wonderful. Had to capture that here.
That’s kind of the staple of 80’s kids in films, they’re all dicks to each other!
Now you’ve said that, it really was, wasn’t it! But that’s part of the reason behind the success of them, I guess. It captures the reality of kids being mean to each other but still somehow being friends. The reality of the snark and banter we’ve probably all been party to at some point. Which is often entertaining.
Basically, I wanted to try to bring the tone and fun factor of that and the previous movies into my story, along with shamelessly working in more obvious nods to events in them (okay, OKAY, maybe I blatantly steal the ideas and riff on them, but whatever).
Pffft! You make those scenes your own! It’s fine!
Oh and there’s another pretty big 80’s movie influence in there too – you’ll know it when it crops up.
Did you immediately want to base some of your character’s traits on characters from the Ghostbusters movie too?
Yes, a little – if only to make them easier to write in that first draft. I often try to picture the types of characters they most closely resemble in order to get a feel for their voice and the way they’ll act. So Doc had the Venkman snark from the very beginning, although she definitely evolved as I wrote (plus she’s not creepy in the ways he now very obviously is). Cisco was probably Ray Stantz, the heart of the piece.
Jake and Michelle weren’t intentionally based on anyone, but now you’ve said that Jake is a scientist like Egon and Michelle is a bit more level-headed like Winston Zeddemore. So there you go. They each have a flavour of the Ghostbusters team.
Dan, I need to ask. Doc was slightly based on Dr. Emmet Brown from Back to the Future too wasn’t she?
Her character definitely wasn’t, but the name was absolutely a nod to him (because he’s awesome)!
Why do you think these movies hold so much nostalgia?
Wow, there’s a question.
I suppose the 80s was an astonishing decade for fresh, exciting and fun stories being told? And yeah I keep going back to the ‘fun’ part, but holy crap there isn’t enough fun in the world these days and so many of the 80’s movies had that feel-good element and I wonder if a lot of us long for that as we struggle with grown-up stuff.
Which again is another big theme in Swashbucklers.
Exactly. And even if those films were terrifying you, there were still moments of pure unadulterated silliness or dry quips or simply knowing looks from characters who found themselves in the deep end of ridiculous situations. You maybe got scared, but you always left on a high, a rush of having been entertained.
Maybe Star Wars helped inspire everyone? It showed everyone that movies could be fantastical and fun too, and by the 80s that was what everyone was rushing to emulate.
But, really, what do I know. What do you think, Nils?
Firstly, I have a confession to make, I never actually watched Star Wars as a kid!
*hangs head in shame*
Hear me out! It wasn’t until I was an adult that I first watched the original trilogy, so it doesn’t hold that same nostalgia for me. But The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Gremlins, Indiana Jones, that’s my childhood right there! They all hold such imagination, high octane adventures and remind us all of a time where our lives were less complicated, and it was just a great era of pure escapism. So I believe that’s why they’re so nostalgic. Who doesn’t want to recapture that feeling.
You didn’t see Star Wars?
/Dan leaves the chat.
Just kidding. Yeah I think you’re right. Pure escapism. There was a lot of enjoyment in that.
Did you have an 80’s playlist in mind whilst you were writing?
Not a specific one. I usually put on YouTube, found an 80s mix of movie hits and played that. But it was always the movie hits. Because when you’re listening to those you really get a sense of how huge a role those tie-in songs played in the success of the films and their longevity now.
That’s so true, those songs are still incredibly iconic aren’t they?
They really are! Perhaps because once you’d seen the film at the cinema, buying the single or LP was the closest you could come to reliving the story you’d seen until the next time you got to watch it – or it came out on VHS.
Ah the good old days of VHS! I miss those days!!
The good old days of having to rewind things to watch them again or finding your parents had accidentally taped over your Red Dwarf episodes with L.A. Law…
Or finding the tape had chewed itself up…
That was the worst!
As for the music, I have very vivid memories of playing Huey Lewis and the News’ The Power of Love on repeat with giant headphones on in my parents’ front room, because listening to it took me back into the movie with Marty and Doc.
Because Swashbucklers isn’t actually set in the 80s, I didn’t want to work any of those songs in particular in there (like I do with homages to the movies themselves). Although, I do namecheck a favourite song at one very crucial point.
In terms of other music that helped me bring the vibe I was looking for, the 2016 Ghostbusters soundtrack got a big play while I was writing. And the third trailer music to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was something I played over and over, because that really did a nostalgic number on me. I tried to channel that feeling into Cisco’s return and the idea of reconnecting with elements of your past self.
Ok, we can’t let you go Dan before asking how excited you are for Ghostbusters: Afterlife? What an awesome coincidence that both your book and that movie are out in the same month!
Between you and me, Nils, I think the studio wanted to piggyback off the hype surrounding Swashbucklers. Which is fine. Hollywood needs the help these days…
Also: I AM SO EXCITED!
Ah me too!
Call me foolish after all the recent ‘30 years later’ sequels didn’t really hit home as everyone wanted, but I still have high hopes for this one. Can’t wait.
Thank you for chatting to us Dan!
You can order your copy of Swashbucklers right here