I became a paid, professional writer long before I had ever even thought about writing a novel.
I know what you’re thinking; that doesn’t make any sense. How can it be?
Allow me to explain…
The year is 2002 and I get a phone call from a friend. He tells me that some guy he’s working with has just handed his notice in so I should go for his job. My friend and ‘some guy’ are employed by The Wave and Swansea Sound, bonded local radio stations here in south Wales where I live.
At the time, I was working in Waterstones bookshop, so you could say that already had a career in literature. Kind of. But here was a chance to be a writer by profession. You see, what my friend and ‘some guy’ did at these stations was write commercial radio scripts. Well, I listened to those stations and I would hear the ads that went out on air. I can do that, I thought. So I went for it.
In the days leading up to the interview I made a point of paying very close attention to the commercials. I realised then that there was a kind of language that they all shared, a certain rhythm. I wondered if anyone else going for the job had noticed this.
The interview itself was very informal and lasted pretty much an entire working day. First, I had what could only be described as a ‘chat’ with the station’s commercial production manager, Bev, and some dude whose name escapes me. It was almost twenty years ago after all. After that I joined Bev in the comm prod dept and she gave me a couple of briefs to have a go at.
I can only remember the first brief. It was for the launch of a new rollercoaster at Oakwood Park or something like that. I thought that the most obvious thing to do would be to write a really exciting ad with a techno soundtrack and the sound of people screaming and so on, but being obvious was not going to get me the job. So instead I wrote a very tense ad about what happens to the human body when it’s in a state of fear and excitement. All this happens against the background of someone sitting in a rollercoaster car as it approaches the top of a ‘hill’, pausing for a moment before it shoots down the other side.
That ad actually got pitched to the client and they bought it, so they HAD to give me the job. My writing career was go!
Prior to this, I had never really considered taking up creative writing seriously. Sure, I came from a very creative family – my mother is a jazz pianist! – and I was a voracious reader, but the thought of writing a novel was as intimidating to me as climbing the north face of the Eiger. It was something that other people did.
As a kid I had been obsessed with Star Wars and Marvel Comics and I used to love writing and drawing my own comics. That was pretty much the whole extent of my creative writing endeavours up until that time.
Oh, I should mention also that in 2000 I gained an art degree. I got a 2:1 overall but was awarded a ‘first’ for my dissertation, which was about the painting ‘Flag’ by Jasper Johns. So, basically, I knew I could write if I really needed to.
Fast forward 17 or 18 years or so and I experienced a particularly ferocious nightmare. When morning came I could remember certain parts of it vividly, like getting chased through dark tunnels by a silent, driverless Victorian engine that produced no steam. And being stalked by some demonic entity. If I let it get too close my eyes would turn to cobwebs and my life-force would ebb away.
When I woke up safe and sound in my bed I thought, Wow! That was amazing! I need to write that down before I forget it.
So I did, and Deep Level was born.
It started out as a short story, just two-and-a-half thousand words or so. As soon as it was done I knew it had the potential to be novel, so I got to work. In the original version there is only one protagonist, Rich, the bookshop manager desperate to escape his loveless marriage. When I expanded it I created a supporting cast of three characters; Rosalind, Syeeda and Ffion.
Rosalind very quickly, for me at least, became the heart and soul of the book. She’s a fifty-something archivist, happily married and a mother of two fine boys away in uni. She came to London from Sierra Leone as a young girl and found her tribe on the vibrant ska scene. Basically, she’s a rude girl made good.
Syeeda is a civil servant and an aspiring writer. In her spare time she writes and illustrates stories for children and then puts them in a box underneath her bed and forgets about them.
Ffion is a cinema usher originally from Carmarthen in south Wales. She too is a mother of two boys and is happily living with her boyfriend. She is a very warm albeit somewhat crass character with infinite amounts of love to share.
I completed the novel version of Deep Level and, like Syeeda and her children’s stories, put it aside and forgot about it. I realised then that nightmares and anxiety dreams were something that could be harnessed, creatively speaking, so I started deliberately inducing them.
I do this by sitting in front of my computer last thing at night and watching footage that purports to show genuine ghosts, poltergeist activity, demonic entities and aliens. Then I go to sleep and let my subconsciousness do the work. It paid off and I started making notes for a new horror novel, this one a gothic Victorian vampire story.
And then along came Covid.
I was furloughed from my job in April 2020 and embraced this gift of extra time that I had been given. I completed my Victorian vampire novel, started work on a sci-fi horror novel and decided to try and find a publisher for Deep Level.
We all know that people can spend years trying to get a book published traditionally. Hell, some people spend their whole lives trying to do it, without success. But me? I got lucky. The third publisher I sent it to, Darkstroke Books, snapped it up.
Deep Level didn’t need much editing. I had already pretty much nailed that part of it on my own. Nine-tenths of my job as a commercial scriptwriter is self-editing. When I have an idea for an ad, I’ll write it up and then spend most of my time trying to work it down into a neat little 30-second script.
It was officially released in October 2020 and has since been gathering some very enthusiastic reviews.
I am currently hard at work on my fourth novel, my first outside of the horror genre. It’s a fantasy adventure about a young girl travelling to different worlds with her grandad, an old soldier, and his dog. Again, the inspiration came to me in a series of dreams. I’m working on it every day and I can’t stop.
That’s not a complaint, by the way. I love it.
Hopefully, Deep Level will be the first of many novels I get published. Nothing quite beats the feeling of holding your own book in your own hands, with your name on the front and your story inside. It’s a little part of you that will remain in the world long after you’ve gone.
I’ve been very lucky in my writing career, I acknowledge that and certainly don’t take my good fortune for granted. I have a job that I love and have had a book published. I really do feel like I’m living the dream – or should that be nightmare? – and long may it continue.