{Interview} To celebrate the release of ‘Dark Missives’, author Dan Howarth talks to Simon Paul Wilson..

The Kendall Reviews Interview

Dan Howarth Talks To Simon Paul Wilson

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If you didn’t already know, I think Dan Howarth’s debut collection, Dark Missives, is the cat’s pyjamas.

DARK MISSIVES is the debut collection from author Dan Howarth, bringing together 11 stories that encompass the full range of horror.

A holiday camp employee finds himself in the middle of a murder spree. A band’s biggest fan discovers just how far he will go for new music. A detective investigating a series of murders gets pulled into the seedy underbelly of the city. A delivery driver gives in to temptation and opens a suspicious package. The owner of a gallery is determined to leave his own legacy on the art world.

Let DARK MISSIVES take you on a tour of the roads less travelled in Northern England to explore what truly lies in the shadows.

So impressed was I with his tales of the macabre, I decided to throw some interview questions his way.

Let us begin!

Simon Paul Wilson: Who are ya? Introduce yourself and your book.

Dan Howarth: Thanks for having me. I’m Dan Howarth, a writer and editor from the North of England. Dark Missives is my debut collection, but my stories have featured in various places, most notably The Other Stories podcast where they have been downloaded over 100,000 times.

I’ve co-edited three anthologies with James Everington. The Hyde Hotel (2016), Imposter Syndrome (2018) and Pareidolia (2019). Imposter Syndrome got short-listed for a British Fantasy Award in 2018. It didn’t win and mostly ruined my bio…

I’m a proud Northerner and away from the keyboard, I enjoy football, building stuff at my allotment, and reading.

As for Dark Missives¸ this is my debut collection. A number of the stories have a home elsewhere, but this is the first time I’ve collected them all together in one place and this book is my first full-length release. I’ve included several original pieces as well, stories that I’ve loved and for one reason or another (word count) haven’t found a home before now.

SPW: Are you pleased with the feedback you’ve received so far? 

DH: At time of writing, we’re only a few days on from the launch date but it’s been a really pleasing experience, both in terms of seeing the book get out into the world and the reaction to it. Seeing people posting a picture of your book online or receiving messages about it is extremely gratifying. It’s been a real blast.

The highlights have been the two reviews I’ve received from prominent genre book sites. Both yours from Kendall Reviews and Dave Watkins at Ginger Nuts of Horror. Both reviews have spoken about my work in a way I never expected and I’m extremely grateful to anyone who enjoys my stuff and takes the time to tell others. It’s a very humbling experience.

SPW: When did you start writing, and who/what inspired you? 

DH: I’ve always written in some form or another. When I was younger it was songs that were mostly dreadful. But for many years I never did anything beyond collecting ideas and noting things down and mucking about with them. I think as a younger man I was waiting for someone to give me the go-ahead to write. I don’t honestly know why I waited.

Around 2009 I started putting down proper short stories. Around this time, I joined a writing group and whilst I was writing more than most people down there, I wasn’t writing enough. Excuses came too easily for me. I didn’t have the discipline.

In 2016, my daughter was born and like all new parents, my time got compressed almost overnight. Suddenly, there was no time to lounge about and muck around. If I was going to write, then I needed a routine. I started writing during my lunch hour at work. It was dead time and I started to make use of it. I started off being pleased with 100 words in an hour but managed to train myself to get more and more out of this period of time.

Like anything, it became a routine. Before I knew it, I was managing over 5000 words a week and finishing projects. In 2017 I finished my debut novel Round Here and whilst the book wasn’t very good, I’ve never looked back and now have five finished novels under my belt. Plus, Dark Missives and a couple of novellas. It’s been a big few years.

In terms of inspiration, like most writers who like the dark stuff, I read Stephen King early on and that left a mark on me. That’s where it started and the seed was planted but around ten years ago, I got into the small presses and discovered some wonderful books. Writers like Simon Kurt Unsworth, Gary McMahon, Alison Littlewood and Simon Bestwick were doing great things and gave me the confidence to whip my stories into shape and get them out there. David Moody has long been a pioneering voice in indie publishing, and he’s inspired me to start my own label, Northern Republic.

Since then, I’ve found my own contemporaries really. Writers that I chat to regularly and beta read with. I think having that support network of writers is important so I’m very grateful to Michael David Wilson, Kev Harrison, Grant Longstaff and Luke Kondor in particular for the chats, the gripes and the celebration of our successes. Seeing those getting their work out there inspires me to do the same.

SPW: I mentioned in my review that some of your stories reminded me of Inside No 9. Are you a fan at all? 

DH: That was one of the most flattering parts of the review. I love that show and the overall body of work from Reece Shearsmith etc. The warped, twisting nature of their minds and stories make it one of the best shows on TV in the last 10 years in my opinion. Every episode delivers something different and leaves its mark on the viewer.

I’m not sure I could claim it as a conscious influence on my writing but overall, I aim for the same thing. I like to try to disarm the reader and flip the script on them. For me, short stories are all about either sustaining a particular atmosphere for the word count or delivering a shock in one way or another. To see the reference to Inside No.9 in your review made an already memorable launch even better.

SPW: Netflix gets in touch with you and says it wants to turn three of your stories into a mini-series. Which stories would you hope they’d choose? 

DH: Hmm. Tough one.

I’d have to say Collaboration as that’s the story of mine that has generated the most positive feedback. It ends in a horrible way and I think it would be interesting to see how that’s portrayed on the screen.

Definitely The Pusher. That’s my wife’s favourite story in the book and it’s a bit different to any of the others. Part police procedural, part cosmic horror. I think that one has the legs to make a decent miniseries on its own really.

Also, probably Hide, Go Seek. This one came to me so strongly I’d feel confident that the images in my head when I wrote it would translate very well onto the screen. I think there are a couple of scenes in there that would deliver the necessary goosebumps.

SPW: For me, one of the scariest stories in Dark Missives is Hide, Go Seek. The ending where the family returns home was very chilling. Have you ever given yourself the chills when writing? 

DH: Sometimes it’s hard to get away from your own life in a story. This story is set in my own home and the images are so vivid in my head. I got the idea for this story when me and my daughter (then 2, I think) were hiding under a blanket waiting for my wife to come home. It gave me goosebumps then and I wrote it a couple of days later by hand in one sitting on a train. By the time I was finished, I was glad as it felt like I’d exorcised those scenes from my head. Reading it back, there’s an image in the story that still makes me shudder whenever I turn on the living room light. Maybe writing it down didn’t help after all…

My wife had read this story when I first wrote it and shuddered, when she came to read the final version of Dark Missives she skipped it as she couldn’t stand to read it again. That has to count for something.

SPW: In terms of darkness, I think the final story, Collaboration, totally nailed it. The ending of that was truly horrific!  I have a feeling that’s the story people are going to talk about the most. Do you agree? 

DH: I knew I was onto something when I sent this story to a beta reader and he replied asking me if I’d lost my mind. It’s a dark one alright. But I think that’s why it works. It was recorded as a podcast by The Other Stories and the acceptance email was almost stunned by how dark the piece is.

I’d just like to say that I’d never write deliberately to shock or appal people. That’s not what I do, the ending is earned through the story (just) but sometimes it’s important to not shy away from a dark idea and instead challenge yourself to do it justice.

As I said in my author notes for the collection, it isn’t the type of story that will win me any friends, but it will help the collection live on when people finish reading it. I think with this one I really lived up to the Chuck Palahniuk mantra of writing to be remembered.

SPW: Speaking of collaborations, which author/authors would you like to work with? 

DH: Good question. It’s not one I’ve ever considered before. I really admire a writer called Will Carver, his book Nothing Important Happened Today was really formative for me and I recommend it to everyone. His books are dark but have a really sharp, snarky sense of humour to them. I dread to think how a collaborative story would work out!

SPW: The Pusher was an excellent price of cosmic horror. Is that a genre you may return to? 

DH: It’s an interesting question to consider as I didn’t really know I was writing cosmic horror until I’d finished it. It’s a sub-genre I’ve always enjoyed. I’m not a Lovecraft fan as I find some of the language impenetrable and just laughable, but some of the modern proponents of cosmic horror like Laird Barron and John Langan are writers whose work I’ve massively enjoyed.

I wouldn’t rule out more cosmic horror stories in the future but like this one, it’ll probably be more by accident than design.

SPW: What are you currently working on?

DH: I’m currently working on spinning a number of plates. I’m putting new words down every day on a novella called Routes which is a kind of dark crime story. I’ve got beta readers looking at a snowbound horror novella of mine called Territory right now as well. Plus, all the edits and work on the novels I’ve written to get those in a state fit for release. My novels haven’t turned out to be strictly horror, but they all tackle horrific themes in their own way.

There’s always something to be working on. I get extremely grumpy when I’m between projects and not getting regular words down. I hate wasting time, so I try to have lots of things ready to go as soon as the next one is finished.

SPW: What’s on your TBR?

DH: Lots of things right now, like everyone, I think! I’m currently reading The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor. After that, I’ve got the new book my Matt Wesolowski in his Six Stories series. The whole series has been excellent so far and I’d highly recommend those to anyone who loves that blurred line between horror, crime, and thriller.

Just flicking through my kindle, books that catch my eye ready for a future read are – Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma, Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby and Juniper by Ross Jeffery.

SPW: Your Twitter info says you are a connoisseur of curry. Same here. Favourite curry and Naan? 

DH: If I got to order for myself and not have to share with my daughter then I’d go for a chicken pathia, coriander naan, aloo kebab on the side. Can’t remember the last time I got to order something spicy, might have to make that happen this weekend now!

SPW: Sounds like a good idea to me!

Finally, where can folk get a copy of Dark Missives and where can we find you online? (Links please!) 

DH: Readers can get a copy of Dark Missives HERE

If they want something extra special, I’m doing signed copies through my press Northern Republic

My website is updated fairly often – www.danhowarthwriter.com with my newsletter being the main place where I share news and recommendations etc.

SPW: Huge thanks to Dan for answering my questions.

Dan Howarth

I’m Dan Howarth, a writer from the North of England. I mostly write horror, which is fitting as I am Mancunian born but now find myself living on Merseyside.

I am the author of Dark Missives, a collection of short horror fiction. Dark Missives is my first full-length release as a writer and collects eleven of my short stories from various places as well as some original stories.

My stories have featured in numerous publications both online and in print. Most notably, a number of my stories have featured at The Other Stories podcast where they have been downloaded over 100,000 times.

I have also co-edited three themed anthologies with James Everington. The Hyde Hotel (2016) collects stories from a range of writers, including one of my own, with all stories set in the same sinister hotel. Imposter Syndrome (2017) collates stories from a diverse set of writers on the theme of doubles and doppelgangers. Imposter Syndrome was short-listed for a British Fantasy Society Award in 2018. Pareidolia (2019) collects stories about the phenomenon of seeing faces in other objects.

When I’m not writing, I enjoy craft beer, German football and barbecue food.

You can follow Dan on Twitter @danhowarth20

Dark Missives

DARK MISSIVES is the debut collection from author Dan Howarth, bringing together 11 stories that encompass the full range of horror.

A holiday camp employee finds himself in the middle of a murder spree. A band’s biggest fan discovers just how far he will go for new music. A detective investigating a series of murders gets pulled into the seedy underbelly of the city. A delivery driver gives in to temptation and opens a suspicious package. The owner of a gallery is determined to leave his own legacy on the art world.

Let DARK MISSIVES take you on a tour of the roads less travelled in Northern England to explore what truly lies in the shadows.

You can buy Dark Missives from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Simon Paul Wilson

Simon Paul Wilson is a U.K. based writer of horror and science fiction.

He is currently writing a cyberpunk horror trilogy, the first of which is GhostCityGirl and was published by Not A Pipe publishing in 2020.

Click this link for more info: Ghost City Girl

There now follows a list of writers who have influenced his reading tastes and writing style:

James Herbert. Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, Clive Barker, China Mieville, Haruki Murakami, Carlton Mellick III, Brian Keene, and Adam Nevill.

Simon lives somewhere in the middle of England with his wonderful family. He likes to listen to post-rock and progressive rock at loud volumes. He also plays a mean air bass.

Follow him on Twitter: @spwzen

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