My guest today is an author that I first met at this years UK Meet, and I most most intrigued to hear about his first release, The Necessary Deaths, which came out on the first of November and which I, for one, am gagging to read.
Please join me in welcoming David Dawson.
Hello, David. Can you tell me a little about yourself? For instance, do you have to have a day job as well as being a writer?
I work as a documentary film maker. I was with the BBC for about twenty years, firstly as a trainee journalist then in television making documentaries, before going freelance. I’ve filmed all over the world, as a director and a producer, most recently making educational and charity videos.
I’m still producing videos, but my son is steadily taking that over from me, although I do some camera operating for him sometimes; it’s great being directed by your son!
When you aren’t writing, is there any other creative activity you enjoy? Have you ever written about it?
I sing bass with the London Gay Men’s Chorus. They’re a great bunch of guys and they’ve been my strength and support over the last few years. We’ve sung in all sorts of places including: at Sandi Toksvig’s wedding to Debbie, at the West London Synagogue for World Aids Day, in St Paul’s Cathedral for Age UK and outside the House of Lords when the House debated the Equal Marriage Bill. Next year we’re off to New York and Chicago to sing alongside the Gay Men’s Choruses there. No, I’ve not written about the Chorus – yet. Look out for their appearance in a future mystery!
What are you reading? Can you recommend something that you wished you’d written yourself?
I’m re-reading Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave. I’d read it a few years ago, and when I saw they’d made a film of the book, I worried they’d spoil it. Not at all. If you see the film, or read the book, be ready to weep buckets!
I aspire to the beautiful prose style of Armistead Maupin. He just gets better and better. His more recent books surpass the early Tales of the City books. Those early books were great fun, but it’s clear that with maturity, comes reflection and insight.
In that crucial inspiration stage of a new story which comes first? Plot, situation or character?
Oh that’s a tricky one, because they’re like Siamese triplets. They’re inseparable. I suppose for me the plot and core characters are born pretty well simultaneously. That is, I know who’s going on what journey and where they’re going to end up. Once I’ve fleshed out the characters in my head and on paper, I invent situations for them to deal with, on the journey through the book. Then the supplementary characters evolve, as the plot evolves. Sometimes I’ll experience a situation with someone in real life, then I’ll work out how to write it into a book.
Do your characters arrive fully fledged and ready to fly or do they develop as you work with them? Do you have a crisp mental picture of them or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?
I like to spend time on developing histories for all my characters, I use pictures a lot for that, and names are very important. Once I set those, I’ll go for a ride on my motorbike, or cycle somewhere, and think about the character and about what has already happened to them. It helps so much in creating their motivation for doing things, or explaining why they react in a certain way to new situations. Once I’m writing the story, I’ll add to that back-story as events unfold. I have a spreadsheet full of character descriptions and images, to remind me when I forget what colour their hair is!
Is there any genre you would love to write, ditto one you would avoid like a rattlesnake?
I’ve got an idea for a series in the science-fiction/supernatural genre, which I’m developing at the moment. There was a BBC drama series many years ago called “Out of the Unknown” which had a huge influence on me.
It took ordinary everyday circumstances, and then twisted them slightly, creating daytime nightmares. I think they’re far spookier than the usual night-time stuff.
I don’t think I’m cut out for historical drama/romance. My son’s the historian, not me! That said, I’ve been thinking about a thriller series set around The Chilterns during the Second World War. The Ministry of War had some very interesting places tucked away in this countryside, including what was called “Churchill’s Toyshop”, where boffins invented all sorts of amazing devices to defeat the enemy.
Do you find there to be a lot of structural differences between a relationship driven story and one where the romance is a sub plot?
Pretty well all decent novels are relationship driven. Even Tom Hanks, the lone survivor in Castaway, had the inanimate volleyball Mr Wilson to talk to!
The Necessary Deaths has a strong romantic plotline in the developing relationship between Dominic and Jonathan. The extraordinary circumstances that they’re plunged into test their relationship and develop it further, in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I give the romantic story plenty of room to breathe, because it’s integral to the thriller. The romance between Dominic and Jonathan is what motivates them to react in the way they do.
When writing series, what measures do you take to keep track of those annoying little details – eye colour, car type, name of ex-spouse’s dog – that are so easy to drop into text and so easy to forget about?
Yes, I have acute OCD on this! I have a spreadsheet full of detail and photographs about every character, even the minor ones. As soon as I write a new piece of description in the story, I add it to the spreadsheet. Photographs of people also help me imagine their back-stories, and how they might react to situations. One of my favourite tasks is to spend an evening scouring the internet for photographs of gorgeous men who might fit certain characters! It can be very distracting…
Put together your ideal team of men/women – drawing from all and any walks of life, fictional or non-fictional – who you would want to come to your rescue if menaced by muggers/alligators/fundamentalists?
George Clooney can come to my rescue! Every time. He’s been a hero of mine ever since he rescued the boy from the storm drain in episode seven, season 2 of ER. In fact, I’m such a big fan, he’s a major character in a short story of mine that Dreamspinner Press is publishing in its Love Wins Anthology for Orlando this December.
But you want a team? Well, I think Dame Maggie Smith would stand up to any mugger, any day! She and George would make a fabulous team. In fact, I wonder why they haven’t been paired on screen already!
Villains are incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. The cruel sea. The serial killer. The society itself. Your hero’s inner demons. What sort of villains do you prize?
Villains have got to be credible, so they need reasons for being bad. No one is all good, or all bad.
In The Necessary Deaths, the principal villain is motivated by ideology, and is very bad. But they still have a seductive side, which makes them intriguing and even appealing. Everyone has the capacity to be a villain, circumstances and back-story dictate whether the transformation to the dark side happens or not. In the second Dominic Delingpole Mystery I’m tackling this whole issue, which I think is fascinating.
What are you working on at the moment? Can you discuss it or do you prefer to keep it a secret until it’s finished.
The Dominic Delingpole Mysteries will unfold over five books. I’ve plotted the overarching story, and I’m just finishing the second book in the series. I’m also working up the World War Two science fiction tale in the background, it’s quite a juggling act I can tell you!
Could we please have an excerpt of something?
From The Necessary Deaths:
“Mrs. Gregory,” said Dominic. “I would be very happy to have you as a client, but I’m not sure in what way I can act for you.”
Samantha smiled. “And neither am I just at the moment. Let’s call you a professional friend. I have no one else who I can turn to, and your legal mind will help me to see things a little more clearly. As you can tell, I’m a little emotional just now.” She turned away to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye. Then she looked at him steadily.
“Simon and I are very close. Ever since Richard, his father, died in a climbing accident, we have been a very tight family unit. I’d like to think Simon and I can tell each other everything.”
Dominic wondered if she was keeping up a brave front, or whether she really believed Simon told her everything. Her comments clearly contradicted what Simon’s housemate Jay had said an hour ago. Dominic decided that, as she was his client, he owed her the duty of honesty, and he should tell her about what he had learned in the last few hours.
“Samantha, I’m afraid I believe Simon may not have confided everything in you in recent times. I went to see John this morning before coming here. He told me about their relationship and how Simon was not yet ready to tell you.”
“Dominic, I’m his mother. Do you think that I didn’t know?” She sighed. “I knew he was finding it difficult to tell me, and I was waiting for him to pick the right time. I didn’t want to rush him.” She paused. “But yes, you’re right, and I am wrong. Simon hasn’t confided everything to me; I merely know and am waiting for him to tell me. John is a lovely boy, and I was just pleased to know that Simon is happy.”
Samantha narrowed her eyes slightly as she asked, “But why do you think that means he must have kept other secrets from me? Surely you of all people must know how difficult it is to come out?”
Dominic blushed briefly. “Everyone’s circumstances are different, of course, and for young people it really is much easier….”
“Oh nonsense! Can I just say that I think it’s a bit rich for you to judge Simon when you’re so secretive about yourself? We spent nearly three hours in the car together last night, and I still don’t know whether or not you have a boyfriend!” This time Dominic’s face turned crimson.
“Samantha, could we just get back to—”
“Well, do you?”
Dominic sighed. “I think it’s my turn to acknowledge that I am wrong. Yes, I do have a partner, and no, I am not very open about it. In this day and age, it probably is unnecessary for me to be quite so discreet. But after a while, it gets to be almost a habit.”
Samantha giggled. “Oh, Dominic, how delightfully bashful you are! I imagine that it’s rare you have a conversation like this with your clients.”
Dominic smiled. “Samantha, I can tell you truthfully that I have never had a conversation like this with my clients. You must meet Jonathan some time. I think you two would get on like a house on fire.”
A young journalism student lies unconscious in a hospital bed in Brighton, England. His life hangs in the balance after a drug overdose. But was it attempted suicide or attempted murder? The student’s mother persuades British lawyer Dominic Delingpole to investigate, and Dominic enlists the aid of his outspoken opera singer partner, Jonathan McFadden.
The student’s boyfriend discovers compromising photographs hidden in his lover’s room. The photographs not only feature senior politicians and business chiefs, but the young journalist himself. Is he being blackmailed, or is he the blackmailer?
As Dominic and Jonathan investigate further, their lives are threatened and three people are murdered. They uncover a conspiracy that reaches into the highest levels of government and powerful corporations. The people behind it are ruthless, and no one can be trusted. The bond between Dominic and Jonathan deepens as they struggle not only for answers, but for their very survival.
David C. Dawson is an author, award-winning journalist and documentary maker, living near Oxford in the UK.
He has travelled extensively, filming in nearly every continent of the world. He has lived in London, Geneva and San Francisco, but now prefers the tranquillity of the Oxfordshire countryside.
David is a Mathematics graduate from Southampton University in England. After graduating, he joined the BBC in London as a trainee journalist. He worked in radio newsrooms for several years before moving to television as a documentary director. During the growing AIDS crisis in the late eighties, he is proud to say that he directed the first demonstration of putting on a condom on British television.
After more than twenty years with the BBC, he left to go freelance. He has produced videos for several charities, including Ethiopiaid; which works to end poverty in Ethiopia, and Hestia; a London-based mental health charity.
David has one son, who is also a successful filmmaker.
In his spare time, David tours Europe on his ageing Triumph motorbike and sings with the London Gay Men’s Chorus. He has sung with the Chorus at St Paul’s Cathedral, The Roundhouse and the Royal Festival Hall, but David is most proud of the time they sang at the House of Lords, campaigning for equal marriage to be legalized in the UK.