Q: Tell us about yourself.
D: I was born in Cornwall in 1945, the same day an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Because of my father’s work in what was then known as the Admiralty, I grew up in the Georgian City of Bath. My first job was in accountancy, but it never really appealed to me, so I changed career and trained to be an air traffic controller. It was that job which took me to Northern Ireland, where I arrived in 1968 at the start of the Troubles. Today I live with my wife on the Dorset coast, often reminiscing about my past experiences. We have three offspring and two adorable grandsons.
Q: What got you into writing?
D: I worked as an air traffic controller for forty years, in operational and non-
operational capacities. On the plus side, it was full time employment, it had its interesting moments, and it paid the mortgage. On the down side, it wasn’t my dream job because it wasn’t a creative art. I told pilots what to do and they did it, or else! I have had a love of books from my schooldays in Bath and my dream job was always
to be a writer. However, being a pragmatist, I knew that the chances of supporting a home and a family as a novelist were small. Yes, I know that Bernard Cornwell and Freddy Forsyth tried it, and they managed to bring in the bacon. I chose to play it safe. I went for guaranteed employment, and I began writing much later in life. At 39 I had a heart attack and was off work for some time. That was when I bought a new typewriter and I eased myself into a writing regime. My controller’s license was revoked, quite rightly, and so I then worked as a non-operational ATC instructor by day and a writer in the evenings. In the following years I wrote thrillers and historical novels. Killing Streets was, from the outset, something quite different.
Q: Tell us about the premise of THE GIRL FROM THE KILLING STREETS.
D: It is the latest in a long line of my published novels. My key character is
a journalist researching what happened on one infamous day known as Bloody Friday. It was a day when more than 20 bombs exploded across Belfast city. As part of his investigation, the journalist is given permission to interview a young woman imprisoned for murders committed on Bloody Friday. But did she really do it? Or was she protecting someone else when she confessed? Exploring her background allowed
me to bring out the seedier side of life in Belfast. Writing about her and her
environment took me back to when I was a young Englishman living in a grim backstreet terrace in Belfast, a place that is, even now, the scene of many a riot. The story also encompasses the life of a policeman working in the most dangerous place in
the world for a policeman. I made him a Welshman - someone unconnected to either faction - because I wanted him to feel the same sense of “what the hell is going on here?” that I felt when I lived there. I submitted the first fifteen thousand words of Killing Streets to the 2019 Yeovil Prize and it was highly commended. My full manuscript was taken up by Darkstroke, an imprint of Crooked Cat Books.
Q: What inspired you to write it?
D: I have read numerous books about the Troubles; fiction and non-fiction. In my judgement, some were good and some were bad. Some were too politically biased, and some were too neutral. None of the novels described the atmosphere in Northern
Ireland in a way that was totally meaningful for me. So I decided to write my own story a form of catharsis, if you like. Now living in Southern England, I found that many people – excluding those caught up in the mainland atrocities - viewed the
bombings and shootings from a detached viewpoint. Their understanding of what it
was all about existed, for the most part, on a superficial level. How could it be otherwise when they had never experienced the real thing, never lived amongst the bitterness that led to bombs and bullets? I had, however, mixed with people from both sides of the NI divide, I had seen bombs explode while looking out from my
own home, and I had been in frightening situations. I wanted to write a story that would show people who had not been there what it was really like. On another level, it was also something of a catharsis, aimed at clearing my mind of any remaining
Q: Did you do any research for your book?
D: The story is set in Belfast in 1972, the worst year of the Troubles. I was working in Northern Ireland as a civilian air traffic controller at a radar station. I was a naive young Englishman with a lot to learn, and I learned fast. I had to. When I came to write this book I drew, first and foremost, upon my own experiences. I knew what it was like over there. I not only saw the fear amongst the people of Northern Ireland, I felt it in myself. Often. Nevertheless, years had passed before I began writing the book. I needed to undertake a lot of research to ensure that my memories were accurate. I determined to begin writing only when I was sure of my facts. I read
numerous books and I trawled the internet looking for corroborating evidence. Happily, my memory had, seemingly, held up well.
Q: How do you plan your writing session?
D: I am something of a planner. I like to know, from the start how a novel will pan out. I always begin with an outline of the story, and then I write the first chapter. After that I enter into a “how do I feel today” phase. Which of the ideas roaming around inside my head need to be set down in words while they are still fresh? When the first chapter is complete in draft form, I usually go to the last chapter in order to show me exactly where I am heading. That’s my ideal strategy and it works for me. Usually, I will then turn to an intermediate chapter, what I call a waypoint chapter. I can do that because I have a plan from the outset. Here’s the important bit, however: this strategy works for me, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I have met published writers – people whose work I admire – who class themselves as pantsers. They write by the seat of their pants, making up the story as they go along. It’s not for me, but it works for them. I always advise new writers to work out which method works for
them and stick with it.
Q: Do you have any certain rituals while you write?
D: I have no rituals. I just get on with the job. If I am in any doubt, I work on a chapter I know I will enjoy writing.
Q: Why do you write?
D: I write for the enjoyment of being creative. I often cite the example of a painter who will sit for hours creating a picture in oils. He does it because he enjoys his creative art. I can sit for hours creating pictures, not in oils but in words. Sometimes my wife has to drag me away from the computer because I get too engrossed in a
Q: Do you think creative writing classes are beneficial?
D: Yes, such classes have been absolutely essential to me. I attended creative writing classes over a twenty year period and I gained considerable help from the class members as well as the leader. I was able to read aloud sections of text that needed help, and take note of the feedback. It was invaluable. The plot didn’t change, the
background facts didn’t change, but I had enormous help in the way I presented the story.
Q: Do you enjoy editing?
D: It’s an essential task, but not the most enjoyable part of writing. It’s the creative bit – the first draft – that I enjoy most. I get a kick out of creating character and situations.
Q: Do you write in other genres? Have you ever written in different mediums?
D: I have had several non-fiction books published, including a manual for new
novelists. They all appear on my website.
Q: If you could invite a fictional character for lunch (from your own book(s) or another writer’s), who
would you invite and why?
D: I created my own characters so there is nothing they could tell me about themselves that I do not already know. The conversation would be dull. I would like to talk to someone else’s creation to find out how deeply drawn that creation is. Too often I have given up on a novel because the key characters are no more than
cardboard cut-outs. There are, however, other characters, such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlow, who come vividly to life on the page while leaving me to believe I have not been told everything the author knows. That’s the sort of character I would like to entertain.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
D: Many times I have heard the words, “I’m going to write a book one day, when I find the time to do it.” But they never do find the time to do it. The book never gets written and the excuse sticks, “I didn’t have the time.” My advice is to make the time and then keep at it. If you really want to be a writer you must plant your bottom on a
seat and diligently work at your book. It may take weeks, months or years to finish the project, but you must keep on writing and never give up. It would be so easy to give up just because your first attempt at a novel doesn’t work out well. So easy, but a
Q: What are your future plans as an author? Are you working on another project?
D: After Killing Streets was published I had a period when my writing had to be put aside because of eye problems. Happily, I am now on medication that allows me to get back in front of my computer. In addition, my son-in-law set me up with a large screen monitor which makes things even easier. I am now working on two more Troubles stories with the aim of building a trilogy. Story number two is approaching
the editing stage. Ideas and plot lines are coming together for story number three.