Our guest on the blog today is Steve Dunn, author of three novels and the forthcoming ‘true’ story behind the Goldilocks fairy-tale, which will be available to download via Amazon soon. Steve is married to Jennie and they have a ten-year old daughter. He has worked for the ambulance service for over twenty years, and has been part-time paramedic and part-time church pastor for the past four, but from this November will be leading the church in a fulltime role. He is also a film lover and fig-roll connoisseur.
Welcome to the Blog, Steve, we’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far?
I’ve always enjoyed stories of all kinds (be they novels, comics or films) from a young age and so writing my own came naturally very quickly. I’m fascinated by the thought of other worlds or versions of our own, and the opportunity to live others’ lives within them, and so to create them myself is a wonderful thing. One English teacher in particular, Mr.Swan, encouraged me in creative writing more than most, and since then I’ve never been able to resist. I began writing a short story here and there, then came a novella, and subsequently a first novel I wrote in the 1990s which will remain forever hidden from public perusal but at least I’d written one! Once I’d finished a complete manuscript I’d somehow proved to myself it was possible whilst juggling family and jobs, and so other ideas bloomed into full-sized projects which I developed over the years.
What are the best and worst things about being a writer and what do your family and friends think about you having published three novels?
The fact that my brain won’t turn off – it’s both a blessing and a curse! Be it people-watching (“What’s his job? Her secret? Where did they grow up? Why do they look like that?”), appreciating life’s synchronicities and even enjoying “what-ifs”, which are the things that inevitably spin off into project ideas for me. My wife loves where my brain goes at times, and we have a lot of laughter and banter in the house, but it does also mean she’d like my attention a little more when I’m currently consumed by 999AD or Homefront Britain, for example… My family are immensely proud and I’m so grateful for their and my friends’ support.
You write across a range of genres, but do you have a favourite – either to write or to read?
As far as genres are concerned, I’m usually drawn most to the likes of fantasy or mysteries more than others, but then I’ll enjoy anything as long as it’s well written. Rather than specific chunks of the market, I’m more drawn to anything that’s different – I love characters and settings with quirks, the weird and the wonderful, the heightened atmospheres and realities than can elevate you to somewhere so decisively different to your own world. So I love to read from Bram Stoker to David Mitchell, from Iain Banks to Yann Martel – it’s when there’s something that sets them apart from others, be it a unique voice or vision, that my interest piques. And I trust that overflows into my own work.
As I’ve mentioned, it tends to be a “what-if” that spirals into something eventually resembling a novel. The idea snowballs and evolves, and eventually becomes nothing like the original thought in the first place! Viking Resurrection was inspired a long time back from when Pirates Of The Caribbean first came out, for example. I wondered about a young girl who discovered she was heir to a line of pirate royals, and as the idea blossomed, I transferred it to Anglo-Saxon times and young Amy became someone who no longer discovered a long-lost inheritance, but instead something far grander and purer – the opportunity to change the world for the better and still remain somebody just like the rest of us.
We happen to know that you’re a huge film buff! Do you think this influences your writing style and would you ever try your hand at screenwriting?
I guess my writing is often fairly grand in terms of visuals and I enjoy using words to paint pictures. That must surely be influenced by the films I watch, and the crossover between words and images is a wondrous thing. Viking Resurrection is a fairly obvious one in terms of epic action and mystical beasts, but when it comes to School Of Thought some of the scenarios are somewhat left-field and abstract, while Raine Fall is very much a noir tale and so bears many tropes like a shadowy underworld, a femme fatale, sexual tension and romance. That one’s a juicy tale for both the boys and the girls! I have a couple of ideas for screenplays, and may even develop Viking Resurrection as such, so watch this space…
What are the best and worst things about being selfr-published? Would you ever consider a traditional publishing deal?
For both School Of Thought and Raine Fall I tried many, many different agents and each time received the letter explaining they didn’t even have the time to look at my submission, quoting the vast statistics of how many they receive each year versus how many they can take on. It’s hugely disappointing but then you realise quite what you’re up against in terms of “white noise”. So I published both of those on Kindle and then later on Kobo, mostly because I felt I had something others would enjoy, and it would be a shame if the books just sat in a dusty hard drive. I only expected to sell half a dozen to friends. Next thing I know, I’d sold triple figures across both titles over a few months, one week outselling Michael Crichton and James Herbert, and four-figure sums downloaded on promotional weekends. Still nothing to live off, but quite special for a guy whose only fan until then was his wife. If it had stayed that way, she’s my ideal reader so that’s brilliant, but this is now icing on the cake. So for Viking Resurrection, I naturally went straight for it and am now planning promotional events to help boost it once some more initial reviews have appeared on Amazon to validate people spending their well-earned money on it a little more. I’d still consider a traditional deal, who knows what the future may hold…
How do you handle the marketing, cover design, editing, typesetting and proof-reading aspects of being SP’ed and would you advise other aspiring authors to pay for professional services in relation to this?
Marketing is very much a gradual build of my platform via social media and making contacts. It seems for self-publishing (if not all publishing for most of us) it’s about playing the long game – like a long-distance runner. One step at a time, but don’t stop. The more titles I can get out there – whilst continuing to be tough on myself for quality – then I trust the more it might all snowball.
With regards to covers, I do it all myself. I don’t have much in the line of spare capital so rely on my art college days to develop the images in-house. The cover for Raine Fall is actually personal family memorabilia – all those photos and papers you see are my grandparents’ from WW2, which not only authenticates the image but is also somewhat of a personal homage, with the book itself being dedicated to my Grandpa. As for editing etc, again I do it myself at the moment until royalties (hopefully) release spare funds for such services in future. I’ve always been a bit of a grammar pedant, and rely on certain folk who will read my books prior to publishing with an objective eye. It’s always nice to get positive feedback, but I’d much rather hear where a book can improve than just have my ears tickled. So certainly, professional services will be investigated in the future as things progress. I’d certainly recommend professional help with regard to proofreading if you don’t have a keen enough eye for it, and of course for the cover designs if it’s something you’re not strong at. When it comes to chart listings and website surfing, people do still judge a book by its cover in that immediate fraction of a second…
Who is your writing hero/heroine and do you have an all-time favourite novel?
I think David Mitchell is a master of language. Cloud Atlas took my breath away. Each of those stories not only has a different thread, but is also distinguishable by individual use of prose too. Brilliant stuff. As for my all-time favourite, I keep returning over the years to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s such a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, horror, narrative devices, and the characters alone are a delight.
What are you working on at the moment and what are your writing aspirations for the next few years?
I’m currently writing a short story/novella (the next few weeks will decide!) called “Gold a’Locks And The Three Weres” – detailing the ‘true’ events that inspired Goldilocks – ready for release at Christmas. After that it’s straight into another short called “Suffragette Sensei”, which will be the first in a series. She’s going to be a fun heroine to keep returning to. Following those, there are two novels brewing: “night/SHIFT”, based on my twenty years as a paramedic but with added zombies (although I have met one or two*), and then an untitled sci-fi which I’m very much looking forward to writing in a couple of years. I’m just keen to continue building a fan-base outside of my own personal circles, which is already happening now, and seeing where it takes me. If I sold no books at all, I’d still be writing. I love words! (*No, really. Ask me if we ever meet.)
Who is your favourite character from your books and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?
My favourite is probably Amelia from Raine Fall. She strides into Timothy Raine’s life and blows him away. She’s magnetic, carries the qualities we see in sirens of yesteryear, even resembling one or two, and Timothy can’t get her out of his head. Where their story together leads is for you to find out, but I’m looking forward to meeting her again in a sequel one day. I’m quite entranced by her myself. Don’t tell my wife. If your daughter told you she wanted to be a writer, what would you say? I’d be delighted. She already has a propensity for coming up with wonderful ”what-ifs” (I wonder why that is?!) and I love those conversations. She’s got great insight for subtext in stories, both written and filmed, and has already penned some little tales that demonstrate her own voice. We’ll see!
The best I’ve come across recently is from Chuck Palahniuk on avoiding ‘thought’ words (“He felt/believed/knew…”): instead, aim to provide the evidence for your readers to feel or think the same. I’ll let him explain at length – it’s widely available on the wonderful interweb – and it’s helped my writing no end. Stephen King’s “On Writing” is a fantastic resource too. Besides that, I’d simply add, “KEEP WRITING”. There’s too many people who talk about writing, what their ideas are and even what their book’s called, and not actually doing it! Write, write, write… In that process, you learn and you grow.
Is there anything else you want to tell us or any other advice you can share? Read lots, and read widely!
Watch what other published authors do and learn from them. And train yourself for the long distance run. Most “overnight sensations”, in writing and music alike, have actually been plugging away at it for years. In the meantime, enjoy the journey.
Thanks for joining us on the blog, Steve, and giving us such an interesting insight into your writing world. I’ll definitely be asking you about those Zombie encounters next time we meet!
Find out more about Steve and his books at the links below:
All Steve’s books are available on Amazon and Kobo.