Darren Sant is a mixed up soul. He writes dark tales but inside of him there is a kitten that always wants to give the reader a happy ending. Extensive shock therapy should eventually cure him of this. Darren's a relative newcomer to publishing, but I've had the pleasure of reading a couple of his short stories recently, and am sure we're going to hear a lot more from Darren. In 'A Good Day', the first of his stories set on the Longcroft Estate, he shows a strong eye for telling detail, and easy, natural dialogue. His disreputable protagonist scams and robs his way through most of the story, manages to find some redemption, but there's a nice touch at the end which keeps him well in character. 'Community Spirit' explores the Longcroft further, and is a heart-warming little story about the neighbours turning out with more than a cup of sugar, and some very pointed political grafitti. It's going to be interesting to read more of the stories as they come out and flesh out more of what I'm sure is going to be a very productive and gritty setting. As regular readers will know, I do like a bit of flash fiction, and Darren's also turned out some nasty little tales of revenge in his flash fiction compilation.
Anyway, on with the interview:
We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.
US | UK) deals with a man who is a drug addict. He doesn’t work and spends his time trying to get the money for his next hit by criminal means. He begins to notice flash cars that don’t belong on the streets of the Longcroft turning up outside of his flat. His new neighbours seem somewhat quiet and mysterious in a place where everyone knows each other’s business. He makes a surprising discovery that eventually leads him to a moral dilemma. Does he do the right thing or seek personal gain? You could say the story is a morality tale that looks at that idea that all people have a shot at redemption. The question is do we take that shot or go for the gold?
Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?
The second Longcroft tale, Community Spirit (Amazon US | UK), has already gone to the publishers for final edit. In addition I am excited to say that Trestle Press also have a collection of short stories of mine to publish soon called Flashes of Revenge. This is six short, very different, stories all based around the broad theme of revenge.
Short stories by me can be found in Byker Books excellent Radgepacket series volumes four and five.
The ePocalypse: emails at the end which is an anthology published by Pill Hill Press featuring a collaborative story with Nick Boldock and myself is available in paperback or on kindle (US | UK).
I have short stories published on various excellent online magazines such as The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Thrillers Killers ‘N’ Chillers and Pulp Metal.
Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?
I’m working on a collaborative story with a sci-fi flavour with Giovanni Gelati of Trestle Press. I have a story going in a crime themed anthology that will be out soon.
I am working on more Longcroft tales on an ongoing basis.
The Longcroft Estate sounds like a lovely place to live. Tell us about it.
The Longcroft Estate is like every other large housing estate you have ever visited. The only difference being that you, the reader, get a birds eye view of the action.
There are good people doing bad things and bad people doing good things. Bailiffs, loan sharks, repo men and football hooligans populate its streets. You can have a beer in the Red Lion. You can have a kebab at the Kebab King. If you like a flutter there is always You Better You Bet the bookies. The Longcroft is a place for the shades of grey not just the black and white. Every street corner and every alleyway tells a story.
A lot of your stories deal with people living on the edges. What draws you to that, rather than other kinds of crime fiction?
I suppose it’s the fact that people who have fallen on hard times are more desperate. They can be more unpredictable due to the stresses they are under. The blurred edges away from the conventional likes of me that work nine to five. Am I really more than a few pay packets away from being a thief myself? To committing a desperate acts to help feed my family? I’ve studied sociology, psychology and counselling. I even did voluntary work for the Samaritans for two years. So it is fair to say I am interested in people and what motivates them. Part of me wants to help. Another part, the storyteller, wants to entertain and explore ideas.
What pushes your buttons in crime fiction? Conversely, what bugs you?
I’m fairly new to the crime fiction scene to be honest. What pushes my buttons in any fiction is a good story told at a good pace with interesting lively, unpredictable characters. What bugs me is over long clunky stories that dwell too much upon things not essential to the plot. Sometimes the reader wants a light lunch not a ten-course banquet.
In your own writing, what do you think you do well, and what do you wish you could do better?
I think all writers have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to their own work. I believe that I do well with pace. I can tell a story in relatively few words and it doesn’t meander needlessly. I wish that I could characterise better. Since I write short stories and have yet to work on a novel my stories tend to be plot driven. Taking that fantastic writer Ian Ayris as an example he can build a character very quickly with a strong voice and still makes it a short, sharp punchy story.
Can you remember what made you sit down to write your first book or story?
This is an easy one for me. I’ve been an avid writer since the age of about ten. I love all kinds of fiction and ever since I first picked up a book I’ve wanted to be able to create the magic that has always captivated me so much.
Do you have a book or story that you're very fond of, but you think should get more attention from the world than it has.
I know it has always had a cult following and now a feature film but for me Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series deserves more attention than it gets. I like writers who can make me think. Adam’s made me laugh and think at the same time, a rare gift. A man who summed up the now old fashioned idea of an Englishman in a way no one before or since has been able to. By that I mean he had a terrific grasp of our humour, irony and our thought processes. Another genius that left this mortal coil too soon.
Print publishing is a doomed but still predatory dinosaur rotting from the feet up. Ebook publishing is the vomiting out of the world's slushpiles onto the market. In the ongoing war of words and hyperbole, where's the happy medium to be found? Where do you think the publishing business is heading over the next few years, and what are you doing to be ready for it?
I think as with most things it will settle down and find a happy medium. Part of the problem over here has always been the mentality of the publishers. The big publishers have always wanted to have their cake and eat it. It’s all about the money now and not the big picture. Well, life and writing is not that simple. Some things don’t easily fit into a genre. Just because vampire fiction might be popular doesn’t mean that is all readers want to see. Some fiction is different, speculative but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth putting out there. They have been too rigid for too long and now they are suffering because of it. They need to adapt and to speed up the way they work.
As for e-books I personally don’t care if they are not as well edited if it’s a great story. So long as it is isn’t awful and it’s been edited properly then I’m not a whinger. If you are paying 99p instead of £6.99 should you expect the same quality? It’s a point to be argued. Pub meal mentality if you like. If I am paying £3.99 for Gammon and chips in my local pub I don’t expect the standards of the Ritz. E-books are giving writers a chance. Ultimately it’s the reader who should be a judge of quality. If print publishers want to survive they will adapt to this new market with an open mind.
What book do you most wish that you had written?
If I could expand that to include a series of books. The Gunslinger series by Stephen King widely considered to be his Magnum Opus. They have a bit of something for everyone and are a shining example of storytelling at its finest.
You're publishing ebooks now - have you learned anything in that process?
Well those nice people at Trestle press do the hard work with regards editing my work and creating wonderful covers and helping to promote their authors. A very forward thinking publisher that are modern minded, approachable and nothing is too much trouble for that fine them.
As for what I’ve learned. I’ve learned that you have to get over your natural humbleness a little and sell, sell, sell. The way I get over that is I tell myself that if I’ve taken a little slice of my life writing something then I owe it to myself to promote it.
Do you do much promotion for your books? What do you think is the most effective thing you've done?
I use most of the social networks to bring my work to other people’s attention. In terms of effectiveness I think being a sincere reader and avid vocal enjoyer of other peoples work has helped a lot. I have a little blog where I review other people work:
Daz’s Short Book Reviews over at HYPERLINK http://santsrants.blogspot.com/ http://santsrants.blogspot.com/
Writers are appreciative of a review and I like to be able to show my appreciation to someone that has entertained me a number of hours.
I also write as “Old Seth” over at HYPERLINK http://www.craigrobertdouglas.com http://www.craigrobertdouglas.com.
Seth has been known to do a few author interviews himself. I believe people appreciate the exposure and are happy to reciprocate. It’s a tough old market out there so why not help each other out as much as possible?
What is it that really pushes your buttons as a reader?
I have a widely varied taste in reading. The thing that I enjoy most is a good story well told however that is achieved. I don’t mind if it is character or action led if it speaks to me I will read it. I have a soft spot for dystopian fiction. Now I’m reading more crime fiction than ever and am loving it at the moment.
If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?
Keep writing. We don’t all have the thick skin of a rhino but forget the rejection and keep on writing. I’m a firm believer that if you practice long and hard enough at anything then you will find your niche and discover where your own talents lie.
If you could tell an aspiring writer to ignore one commonly given piece of advice, what would it be?
I think that the best judge of our character is ourselves. If advice works then take it on board. No one needs me to tell them what to ignore because what wouldn’t work for me might work for them.
Are you 'out' as a writer of fiction with work colleagues/family, and if so, what reaction did you get?
I am begrudgingly “out” now yes. Everyone has been very supportive. I can’t have asked for more support really.
Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).
Tigers of course. They are sleek, powerful and stealthy. Tigers is the nickname of Hull’s football team so I’d be lynched if I didn’t pick Tigers.
What inspires you as a writer?
I am inspired by events that are at odds with the ordinary. I saw a woman wandering down the street the other day wearing only one shoe and carrying a saw. Who wouldn’t want to understand how she came to be in that situation? Curiosity inspires me.
Meticulous research is both enjoyable and important / what's the point in writing fiction if you can't just make stuff up - discuss.
Depending upon what you are writing research is important. However, it’s not necessarily essential. You don’t want to suck all the joy out of writing a great story for the one pedantic person who will pull you down on a silly little detail. The kind of short fiction I am writing at the moment doesn’t require extensive research. Writing about what you know is perhaps the best way for a writer to start anyway.