Monday 25 January 2016

Interview with Dean M Drinkel

I can’t remember now just how Dean M Drinkel and I connected in the first place, though I do know it was on social media.  We were probably friends of friends, saw comments and started talking - Facebook’s like that and so, in my experience is Dean.  Friendly and chatty, we met face-to-face at WFC in Brighton, 2013 and I remember standing outside the hotel with him (as a friend of his was having a smoke) chatting about this and that.  He’d already asked me to write a story for him, which I was thrilled to do and it’s been a pleasure to meet up with him again as the years and conventions have gone by.  We’ve worked together quite a few times now and it’s thanks to him asking for new tales that led to me creating my recurring character, Mike Decker.  He asked me for a grimoire story and I racked my brains trying to think of something, got waylaid by my heart attack and then it all came to me.  Dean loved the story and the character and now, when he asks for a story, he usually ends his missives with “this could be nice for another Decker”.
A bit of a renaissance man, Dean is a published poet, short story writer and editor, with several anthologies to his name.  He’s also an award-winning scriptwriter and has directed several short films and theatre productions.

MW:  Can you give us a little background on yourself Dean?

DD:  Sure, I was born in Farnham, Surrey but I don’t remember much about that. In the main I’ve been brought up in the south of England (my parents moved around quite a bit) but I was lucky enough to spend some of my childhood in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia). I also spent time at Towson University in Maryland, USA. After graduation I moved to London but I’m just about to start the next chapter of my life as I move to Cannes, France to work on a feature film script.

MW:  How did you get into writing?  And how did you get into the horror genre?

DD:  Talking to my mother about this very subject not so long ago she said that I’ve always been writing (I used to write a number of short Sherlock Holmes stories) - for me though, it didn’t really begin until I went to university. I was lucky enough to have quite a few stories published in the college magazine which then went on to form my first collection by a publisher who is now no longer with us. Hopefully (time allowing anyway) we might do a small re-release either later this year or early next. In 2014 I did a rewrite of one of the stories (‘Weird’) which was selected for the Horror Society’s Best Of collection.

My mother was very much into Stephen King – I wasn’t particularly (except for a select few) but through King I discovered James Herbert (I wrote my A –Level thesis about The Magic Cottage) but it wasn’t until I saw Hellraiser a few years after it came out that suddenly everything made sense to me and I knew horror was the genre I wanted to work in. I couldn’t get enough of Clive Barker - I simply love his stories and to be honest I quite liked The Scarlet Gospels too.

MW:  How did you get into film and theatre?

DD:  Film had always been a passion. Whilst at university a friend of mine called me up one day saying that he had managed to get hold of some equipment (a camera, lights etc etc) and did I fancy directing him in something. Another friend of ours wrote a script, I did some editing on it and we proceeded to spend what budget we had down the local pub. Sobering up in the morning and then realising that all my house-mates were away for the weekend – we started shooting the script there and then. We also roped in an old girlfriend of mine – she didn’t know what the hell was going on and to be honest we probably didn’t either. We were still shooting on the Sunday when one of the girls who lived in the house came back early and promptly decided to sit in the middle of our set and watch television whilst we filmed around her. I think we had just had a champagne breakfast and so carried on regardless – it was all a bit Warhol/Lynch if memory serves – anyway, my friend entered it as part of his degree thesis and passed, so it couldn’t have been all that bad…avant-garde is probably the best description of that film.

From a production point of view I didn’t really direct anything else for a while but continued to knock-out scripts, sticking them in a drawer ready for a rainy-day – you know the kind of thing I’m sure. As the years passed by I’d dust them down, have a scan through – convinced myself they were bloody brilliant then go to the pub with my friends, pontificate about how great they were and the prospective Oscar speeches I would give and then, once sober, promptly forget all about them – though, I did go on to win three film awards and was runner up for the Sir Peter Ustinov Award (part of the International Emmys) so I must have done something right and all going well 2016 will see me back directing again.

From a theatre perspective, I guess I did always have an interest but I just couldn’t stand all those ‘theatre-folk’ (sorry) there was just too much of that “darling” and “luvvie” speak for me. I couldn’t connect with that world. Oddly though I managed to get selected to write a short piece which was staged in a theatre in Kent and not long after a London theatre contacted me as they were staging monthly nights of new writing and they wondered whether I fancied getting involved.

I gave it some thought and said why not, what did I have to lose? The first few pieces were mainly monologues which then grew into bigger/longer pieces. Within a very short space of time we were hiring theatres and I was writing/directing/producing some quite dark work (with a little sprinkling of humour where possible.) I was lucky enough to have a troupe of actors that would literally do anything I asked of them and agreed to come with me from production to production.

Looking back, it was a great time – we worked in some great fringe theatres in London and the south east of England though on reflection, I often wonder how we managed to actually get anything done – especially with all that drinking – we were all quite a social bunch!

Chatting with Clive Barker
Also looking back I can’t believe I didn’t have a breakdown, it was such an intense period of creativity. I would be writing new material during the day then directing at night – then one production finished then we would quickly move onto the next. Don’t get me wrong, it was very exciting but it wasn’t always easy – some of the older actors were ‘difficult’ (ha ha) and didn’t always understand what us ‘young’uns’ were on about and let’s not even talk about the actual people managing the theatres. There was one particular one in south London who was often more drunk then we were…and that’s saying something!

Referencing Clive Barker again, the only play I directed which wasn’t my own was Clive’s Frankenstein In Love – that was a total blast once we actually got it on the stage. We had walk-outs and complaints (due to the violence and special effects) and it was quite successful – twice the theatre asked us to extend our run though we couldn’t do it the third time as one of the actors had commitments elsewhere and I didn’t have time to re-cast. I also took a handful of the actors to do a rehearsed reading at one of the Fantasycons – which also went down quite well. I met up with Clive around that time when he was over here doing a book tour and he really dug what I/we were trying to do. I promised him that somewhere along the way when I could get a bigger budget then I’d like to revisit the play in some form – let’s see how the next year or so pans out.

During this time, I also started shooting some short films with some of the actors that had been in the plays. We made a couple of lo-budgets that were then screened at Cannes. One of these (Ruby) I’m trying to do a re-dux version because the original that we screened only contained about a third of the story. It is a very atmospheric film (based on one of my plays as it happens) so I’m hoping to get some spare time this year where I can finish that off and get it out there on the festival circuit.

MW:  Since you work in a variety of areas, how does your writing routine differ between short stories, screenplays and editing?  And do you find your writing style shifts, depending on what you’re working on?

DD:  I’m not really sure it does for me. I think I just hit each project or commission with the idea that the deadline is looming and I’d better get on with it quickly. I do go through periods where I write everything long-hand, and then probably do two or three drafts (in different colour pens!) before transferring it to the laptop and then do a few more revisions before I’m really happy with it. Other times I’ll just start typing ideas on the screen and take it from there.

From a personal point of view I know there was a shift in my writing style once I started spending more and more time in France (particularly Paris) which I think has been reflected in the successes that I’ve been having these past five years or so. It’s hard to put a finger on how this happened but (and as pretentious as it may sound) as soon as I stepped off that Eurostar that first time and walked out the station I remember thinking – yep, I’m home. I find it very hard now to write something which isn’t based in France…I know my earlier stories (and film scripts) were US-centric but I seem to have moved on from that for now.

MW:  In horror, do you prefer gore or more subtle, psychological thrills?

DD:  For me I’ve actually been more of a subtle kind of guy- which is quite ironic when you read a lot of work as it can be actually quite…extreme. I did get into the ‘torture porn’ films of a few years back and I’m a total fan of French horror (particularly the New French Extremity genre of films) – interestingly I did recently go to see Crimson Peak with my friend Romain in Cannes and whilst I really wanted to love the film, afterwards when he asked me what I thought all I could come up with was: “Oh, it looked nice.”

MW:  Where do you find your inspiration, is it more visual cues for the screenplay work?

DD:  I’ve been lucky in my life that I can find inspiration literally anywhere. I can see a newspaper headline, read a passage in a book, an article in a magazine, listen to a conversation in the café/pub, perhaps even a photograph – it all gets stored in my brain and then, when it’s ready it’ll come flowing out – all connected somehow.  Sometimes I’m not ready when it does come so I’ve always got a notebook with me somewhere about my person so I can jot down the ideas etc. I’m not a drugs person (they scare me) but if I have a nice glass of red wine I find that when they do flow, they flow nicely.

MW:  What writing conditions do you prefer - silence or music or a mixture of both?

DD:  I do have a particular writing regime and that is: whenever I’m going to start a new project, the first thing I do is head into town (I’m not a fan of downloading) and buy a load of new cds. I find that listening to new music can really inspire me and it’s strange that if I now look back at things I’ve written then I’m able to almost transport myself back to that time and can hear those particular songs/artists playing in my head. Now and again I will write with the TV on in the background but I can be easily distracted…I’m not a great fan of silence either and where I currently live in London, it’s on a high street and it can get very noisy!

MW:  I understand you’re a fellow fan of the Alfred Hitchcock And The Three Investigators series.  When did you get into them?

DD:  Oh my Lord yes, I love them!

When I was a kid I had a couple of books already then when I went to live in Saudi, we had a bit of a wait for visas etc and as my parents had sold our house we ended up living with my mother’s parents for a few months in Hampshire. One of my cousins lived opposite and whilst he was out at school (my brother and I were taught at home) I was allowed to take the pick of any of his books. I saw that he had a load of Three Investigators and boy, I couldn’t get enough. I think I was reading two or three a day and once I’d read all that he had then it was a trip to the local library to read those too. They are really popular aren’t they – all around the world and I remember at one of the Cannes Film Festival’s I was taking a walk around the Marche and found a poster for an Austrian film version! It would be good though to make a proper film series based on the books – if done correctly I’m sure they could be very successful.

MW:  They certainly are.  So what kind of material do you like to read for relaxation?

DD:  Do I relax? I’m not sure if I actually have time for relaxation but IF I did: I’m a fan of French philosopher Michel Onfray. I also enjoy reading Umberto Eco and a lot of French literature. Also – for those that know me well, I read a lot about Napoleon and I mean a lot. Recently as I was packing up my flat I couldn’t believe how many books about him/that period that I actually own – I could open up my own library that’s for sure. Sometimes I also enjoy a book I can just ‘zone out’ too and I’m a great fan of Steve Berry and Dan Brown. I’ve always fancied writing something like that…perhaps next year.

MW:  Okay, quick fire, let’s do favourites: writer, book, film, theatre show?

DD:  Okay...
Writer: Clive Barker
Book: The Magus – John Fowles
Film: Hellraiser / Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Theatre Show: Les Miserables (which is ironic because the first time I saw this I
wanted to walk out as I found it too boring – but as the years have gone by my opinion has changed).

Accepting the award for Best Short Thriller
(Stella Maris) at theAngel Film Awards,
Monaco International Film Festival 
MW:  Do you find it easy to let projects go?

DD:  The way I’ve looked at it over the years is that I don’t actually let go of anything completely as there could be opportunities to pick them up at a later stage. For instance, I have won three awards for scripts I have written – I didn’t actively pursue getting those films made at the time as my order book was full with all my other writing commitments, but then an opportunity has come along these past couple of months where we are now up and running with the first script Bright Yellow Gun. It is a Paris based film and as I write this we have been talking budgets and then once that’s agreed I’ll be talking to some actors I know to see if they can get on-board. It is early days for sure but it is quite exciting - Dave Jeffery/James Hart’s production company VLM are involved too so there already is a lot of pedigree attached.

I believe 100% in everything I do but appreciate that sometimes the time might not be right. If that’s the case then into the drawer it goes until a rainy day – saying that, as I’ve been packing up I’ve found a feature script that I wrote a few years ago called Echo – it’s at Draft Four stage so in a couple of months once I’ve got myself sorted, I’ll give it another polish and get it out there…it did read quite well and perhaps someone might want it. I also found a pilot script for a proposed sit-com called The Fill-In Station set in a recruitment agency – thinking about it perhaps that could do with a quick rewrite too and we might be able to sell it.

MW:  So what’s next for Dean M Drinkel?

Wow, 2016 is going to be a manic year. There are a number of anthologies that I’ve compiled/edited; a collection of my own short stories; a novella (which is a follow up to my previous Within A Forest Dark); several of my short stories will be appearing in some other anthologies throughout the year – as well as being associate editor on FEAR magazine!

But as I said above, I’m about to move to France to work on a historical film script – this is going to be something major so I’ll give you as much info as I’m allowed too ha ha.

I’ve had this idea for a little while now about a “Napoleonic era” story but other than sketching a few ideas down, I didn’t really do anything seriously about it. Then at last year’s Cannes Film Festival I met a young French writer Romain Collier – at a pub, singing Karaoke of all things! Anyway, we just clicked and I started talking to him about the proposed project and he really got what I was trying to do with it and thus the ‘journey’ began. Since May last year I’ve been over to Cannes a few times and we met up also in Paris and quite early on I decided that it would be better for me to be over there full-time if we are going to make a success of this (we will be co-writers and then I will direct) – so that’s what I’m doing. Six months initially to see where we can go with it but the idea is: finish the script in time for this year’s Film Festival, shop it around, get some funding in and then get the film made. We have a Belgian actor in mind to play the main role (and he’s very very interested in doing it) and again, if all goes well I’ll be able to bring in some of my Paris actor friends in as well. I said above that Bright Yellow Gun was exciting – well, this one definitely is! I’ll let you know how I get on…

MW:  Well good luck with it mate and thanks for answering my questions.

DD:  No problem, thank you.
At World Fantasy in Brighton, 2nd November 2013
from left - Dean M Drinkel, Phil Sloman, Lisa Jenkins, Paul Woodward, Martin Roberts, me

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