An Interview With Darren J Guest Author of the Brilliant Dark Heart: The Purgatory of Leo Stamp

Hello folks, today I’d like to present an interview with first time author Darren J Guest.  Darren has recently just published his début novel through Snow Books.  Dark Hearts : The Purgatory of Leo Stamp, which is one hell of a 

On Leo’s sixteenth birthday, something bad happened. Something so traumatic his mind fractured, and darkness filled the crack. Twenty years on and the crack is a canyon. The schizophrenic hallucination that once offered sympathy has taken to mocking him, and the memory of that long-ago birthday claws at his darkest fears, overshadowing even the murder of his younger brother Davey. But just when life can’t get any worse… Leo dies.

A demon returns after twenty years.
An angel follows close behind.
Leo is caught in an age-old conflict, his past lying at the dark heart of it all.

“Keeps you guessing right until the very last page.”
–Sean Cummings, Unseen World

“Inteligent, complex and wholly satisfying, Dark Heart is a cut above the average horror novel.” –Words With Jam Magazine

Hi Darren, how are things with you?

Always good, Jim.  I’m blessed with one of those sunny dispositions that everyone hates – my wife included.

Could you tell the readers a bit about yourself?

I’m the author of Dark Heart: The purgatory of Leo Stamp. I’m also a failed professional snooker player and a successful wine drinker – just waiting to see how the writing career turns out.

What first inspired you to put pen to paper?

I’d always been a reader, though mostly books on UFOs, life after death and those Arthur C Clarke books about the unexplained mysteries of the world, then a friend put me onto Stephen King. His stuff blew me away and turned me onto the novel, and with all that weird and wonderful stuff already filling my head, it wasn’t long before my own stories started to grow.  When I was about 18 I wrote the first chapter to what is now Dark Heart – awful of course, and I didn’t have the confidence or skill to take it any further than that first chapter, but 15 years later, and with a few hundred novels under my reading belt, I felt more equipped to take another shot at it, and managed to finish it this time.

Prior to Dark Heart, how much success had you had in getting your work published?

Dark Heart is the only thing I’ve ever tried to get published.  I didn’t write short stories and so DH was always my work in progress.  I’d heard that it was virtually impossible to get a first novel published and that it was more likely a writer found success with their second or third novel, if at all.  That didn’t sit well with me.  I knew I’d written something original and thought I just needed to get the quality of the writing up to match it.  There’s naïve optimism for you!

What lessons did you learn in getting Dark Heart published?

That rejection is your friend, and a friend doesn’t let you walk out onto the street with you proverbial skirt tucked into your proverbial knickers.  Though I hated it at the time, being rejected was the best thing that ever happened to me.  I cringe to think of what might have happened had I lucked out and landed a contract from one of the early drafts I’d subbed.  It just wasn’t ready.  Rejection made me focus on the quality of my writing, something I might not have sweated over with an agent and publisher blowing smoke up my arse and telling me how wonderful I was.

This has the feel of an experienced writer, I was blown away with just how well written the novel is, how many rounds of edits did you have to go through to get such a polished final draft?

Nice of you to say so, and the answer is dozens.  I’ve lost count how many times I’ve said: “That’s it, I’m never touching the damn thing ever again,” only to find myself dipping into it and agonising over the rhythms, cadence, tone, etc – which makes it especially irritating to still find the odd typo slipping the net (those are getting fixed).

You describe Dark Heart as an urban fantasy, are you concerned that this will limit the audience for the book.  I personally wouldn’t call it an urban fantasy, I think it transcends being lumped in with what is classed as that genre.

You’re absolutely right.  It didn’t matter so much about 5 or 6 years ago, but now the term urban fantasy seems to be synonymous with paranormal romance.  Cerebral horror is a better fit for Dark Heart, but even ‘horror’ alienates readers. DH is dark and psychological, less bloody than many crime titles published today and could easily be read as mainstream but for the horror tag.  I have a regular blog spot over at Dark Central Station alongside a bunch of talented dark fiction authors, one of which is Gary McMahon.  He posted a piece last week on this very subject and it proved to be a contentious article.  Crossover speculative fiction is more and more prevalent these days, and I can only see the issue of genre labelling becoming more and more problematic. 

It’s set in the fictional town of Mundey.  Was there a reason you used a fictitious town rather that a real place?

Mundey is actually my home town of Woodbridge, but I needed to take some geographical liberties to suit the plot. Creating Mundey sorted all these problems, though I stayed pretty true to Woodbridge.

Is there a reason you have a talking James Bond picture in the novel?  Was this to try and bring some lightness to the novel?

Well, Leo is schizophrenic, and as a huge Bond fan he had a movie poster of Dr No hanging in his living room.  Bond was more of an aside to begin with, a visual representation of Leo’s guilty conscience and barely had 4 or 5 lines.  But then a writer pal of mine suggested I bring Bond to the fore and give him a more substantial role as he loved their dialogues, and once the idea was supplanted in my head I could only see the positives: no more clunky exposition regarding Leo’s feelings and fears, and I could relay all the back story through Bond in real-time scenes – something I’d been struggling with.  I rewrote the whole book in six months.   

So who is your favourite Bond?

Roger Moore.

The novel deals with some complex issues and it keeps you guessing right to the end.  Did you know what the finale was going to be before you started writing?

I have an organic style of plotting.  I have the basic concept and idea to start with, and then I let the characters take over.  I always knew where I wanted Leo to end up, but I was willing change route if something more interesting presented itself.  As it happens Leo did end up where I’d hoped, but he arrived there via a very different route and had changed in a way I hadn’t expected.

Have you used the story as some sort of therapy, are any of the issues that Leo has and has to deal with based on any personal incidents?

We all have our demons, don’t we?

Was there any inspiration for the story?

Indirectly, yeah.  Films like Se7en, Memento, A Simple Plan, Donnie Darko – books like Stephen King’s Thinner and The Mist.  Story endings are my big thing.  They’ve got to be powerful and poetic, and that usually means bittersweet, for me at least.

How do you approach writing?  Do you have a set time and place?  Do you need peace and quiet etc?

I write when it rains.  I’m a painter by day and so if it’s wet I’ve usually got the day off.  If I wake and the sky is grey, my wife says I’ve been rain dancing in my sleep.  I prefer quiet too.  I can write to music, but that’s if I’ve got a houseful and I’m trying to drown out the TV and arguing. 

What album do you think would make a good soundtrack to the novel?

Don’t know if I could come up with a whole album, but there’s a scene in the book where Leo comes face to face with Reuben for the first time – in the background I have The Cure’s Lullaby playing.  The Goo Goo Dolls’ can play out the credits with Iris if the movie gets made.

It’s published by Snowbooks.  Is there any reason you went with them?

They offered, and as indie publishers go, they’re one of the best.  I’d just pulled out of a contract 
with another indie publisher and was in the progress of regretting it when Snowbooks made the offer.  I was very lucky.

How happy are you with the final product?

I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those writers that’s 100% happy with their work – I’ll always strive to be better – but Dark Heart is pretty tight, and that there’s not much out there comparable to it will hopefully hold it in good stead. But I’m sure I’ll look back on it in years to come and say: “urrgghh, did I really write that?”

The book’s been getting some great reviews (including one from this blog, once I get it written).  As a debut novel it must give you a great confidence boost.

Any review that doesn’t kick your work’s teeth in is a good review, but the ones that genuinely appreciate your stuff and ‘get it’ is what it’s all about – makes all the hard work mean something.

So what does the future hold for you?

At the moment I’m working on my next book, Through the Eyes of Douglas. It’s more ambitious than anything I’ve written before and is conceptually daunting, but if a get it right, it could be good.  The rest is just crossing fingers. 

Thanks Darren for taking the time to answer these questions 

Dark Hearts is available in all good book shops and all the usual Online Retailers 

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