Gabriel Dylan is not only an exciting new writer, he is also a surfer, snowboarder and secondary-school teacher. Indeed, the inspiration for his first novel came from being snowed in whilst leading a school skiing trip to a remote village in the Austrian Alps.
Gabriel’s first novel, a gripping and unsettling psychological horror called WHITEOUT will be published in early 2019 on the ‘Red Eye’ horror imprint at Stripes.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU START WRITING?
I think I’ve always loved to write – right from when I was at primary school, but I suppose I started to take it seriously at university, although looking back now the stuff I wrote was awful. I think it was the birth of my first little boy that made me really commit to it – maybe out of a sense of ‘time is running out!’ but also because I’d always felt unfulfilled, like I had these stories in me that I just had to get out. But nobody had ever read my work until Polly, my agent, when she asked for more after my initial submission. At first, I wrote for myself, for fun, because I loved to write, so I was genuinely blown away when somebody not only made it to the end of the book but also said they enjoyed it – that alone was a dream come true.
CAN YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST BOOK THAT MADE AN IMPACT ON YOU? WHO WERE YOU CHILDHOOD STORYTELLING HEROES?
The first book that really made an impact on me was David Gemmell’s ‘Legend’. Even now, it still has pride of place on my bookshelf. I loved reading, but for me it was all about comics, X men and Spiderman. But Gemmell’s books grabbed me like nothing else. All the flawed heroes, and just the grittiness of his writing. I never fitted in as a kid, and I’d bury my head in comics to escape from the world. But one Saturday - I must have been about 14 - I went into the library, picked up LEGEND and thought, Hmmm, interesting. I took it home, and devoured it. Loved every page of it. It just spoke to me, made me feel not so alone somehow. After that, I read everything of his. I’ve no doubt that if not for Gemmell, the way his stories inspired me, I wouldn’t have started properly writing myself. I’m also a big horror fan too (surprise surprise, given that my debut novel is a horror story) so Stephen King, James Herbert, Richard Laymon – some pretty dark stuff!
CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH THE WRITING OF YOUR FIRST BOOK? WHAT WERE THE KEY MOMENTS?
I think the inspiration was key. After I moved inland, from Cornwall to Gloucestershire, I missed the sea, and being able to surf every day, so I taught myself to snowboard at a local dryslope. And then I got invited to run a Sixth Form ski trip to Austria. It was a twenty-seven hour coach journey, to deepest, darkest Austria, a tiny resort in the middle of nowhere, and we got totally snowed in. It was epic, but very creepy. And the idea came to me – what if there’s something out there, and we’re trapped here with no way off the mountain? Although I was writing other stuff at the time, the story just came to me, and gestated for a while. When I started writing it, I couldn’t stop. And once the characters appeared, the relationship between these two teenage outcasts, one a boy in the school party who has nothing to live for, the other a girl, an Austrian local, who is haunted by a tragic past, it all fell into place. I think characters are key, you’ve got to really care about them and as I wrote the story I found I wanted to know where they’d end up.
WAS IT HARD TO GET AN AGENT? CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS?
I think I was really very lucky in that Polly saw something in my writing, and really believed I had something, even though I had no self belief at all. And I’d never have even sent my novel away if my wife hadn’t really pushed me to chase this seemingly unachievable dream of
being a writer, so I owe so much to her. I did tons of research, but I was too scared to send it to more than a couple of agents. I chose Greenhouse because I liked the idea of being nurtured – nobody had ever read my writing - and Greenhouse sounded like they’d help me to grow as a writer. I never expected to hear back, and I was blown away when Polly suggested we meet – I was teaching one of my Sixth Form groups when the email came through and it was all I could do not to scream! I was horrifically nervous when we met – I’m used to talking to large groups and assemblies in my day job but I was terrified. Polly was lovely though, and really championed my writing right from the start, and she spent a huge amount of time reading my stuff and getting me to where I am.
DESCRIBE YOUR WRITING DAY? WHERE DO YOU WRITE? HOW DO YOU ORGANIZE YOUR TIME? WHERE DO YOU LOOK FOR INSPIRATION?
At the moment it’s a balancing act – I have breaks and lunch in my day job so I’ll sneak off here and there and scribble down what I can, or after work when I’ve got half an hour before I go home and become Daddy to my two little boys. It really is a case of stolen minutes whenever I can, although once my little ones are in bed I do have some time in the evening, and at weekends. I was in Sweden over Christmas and that was a perfect place to write, four hours of daylight, deep snow, very evocative! Inspiration comes from everywhere I find – the kids I work with, people I know, but particularly places I’ve visited – as a keen surfer and snowboarder I’m attracted to ‘off the beaten track’ kind of spots and they tend to be deserted and different, with their own stories, which really feeds my imagination.
ARE THERE ANY TIPS YOU COULD GIVE ASPIRING WRITERS WHO ARE HOPING TO BE PUBLISHED?
Just don’t give up, I think. I wrote lots of stuff that I knew wasn’t good enough before I finally produced something that I thought might be OK – and even then I never thought being published would happen. I think writing’s like everything, you have to stick at it, and commit to it, and put the hours in to get any good at it. And I think you have to really enjoy writing, for its own sake, and if something else comes out of it then that’s an amazing bonus. For me, getting to where I am now definitely didn’t come overnight. I also think you have to follow your heart, and write what you love. I think if you write for long enough it will come to you. Although if you’re like me you’ll have to write a lot of rubbish first!
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THREE ASPECTS OF WRITING CRAFT THAT HAVE BEEN MOST IMPORTANT AS YOU'VE DEVELOPED AS AN AUTHOR?
I think letting your work breath is important – once you’ve got a first draft, and edited it, put it away for a while, as hard as that is, then look at it with fresh eyes after a few weeks. Although I’m the worst at doing that and have to force myself to step away! Also, as I’ve gotten brave enough to show my writing to others, test readers have been amazing – often their ideas are better than mine, and writing can be quite lonely so that collaborative element is really positive. Lastly, the ability to realise that if something just isn’t working, and its becoming hard work to write, maybe its time to step away and have a break. I love every aspect of writing, and as soon as it becomes hard work I think I know inside that perhaps I’m on the wrong track.
WHICH FAVOURITE AUTHORS WOULD YOU INVITE TO A DINNER PARTY?
David Gemmell would be top of my list – if only to buy him a drink, tell him how much I loved his novels, and how much he inspired me, but I’d love to hear about his writing and where his ideas came from. I loved Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Shattered Sea’ trilogy for young adults, and he seems like a witty guy to talk to, so I’d invite him along. And as I’m allowed to invite Gemmell, I’d also go for another author who has sadly passed away – Stieg Larsson. I’d love to know what he really had planned for the rest of his ‘Millennium’ series of books, and where his inspiration for Lisbeth Salander came from – she is such an epic character. As well as Sally Green and Pierce Brown, whose YA books I’ve recently really enjoyed, I’d invite Tim Winton too - he’s a fellow surfer and I read Breathe a while ago and it really got to me, and I think his writing is beautiful and so lyrical and emotional.
WHICH FICTIONAL CHARACTER DO YOU WISH YOU'D INVENTED?
Apart from Lisbeth Salander, I’d have to go for Buffy – I think Joss Whedon writes great female characters, and Buffy Summers and the journey she went on was fantastic – I love that mix of comedy, tragedy, and teenage angst, and also vampires!