Monday 26 April 2021

Dark Missives, a Q&A with Dan Howarth

With the publication of his debut collection, Dark Missives, I decided to ask Dan Howarth some questions...

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.

Dan Howarth is a writer from the North Of England (Manchester born but now living on Merseyside).  Co-editor of several anthologies with James Everington, I first got to know him when my story appeared in The Hyde Hotel (2016) and since then, we’ve established a little mutual support group, spurring one another on with our novel writing.

Although his work has appeared in many publications, Dark Missives is his first full-length release and collects eleven short stories.  Away from writing, he enjoys craft beer, German football and BBQ food, which seems a winning combination.

After he kindly interviewed me over the release of my novella The Exercise (you can read the interview at his site here), I jumped at the chance to ask him some questions and this is what happened.

MW:  What can you tell me about your debut collection, Dark Missives?

DH:   Dark Missives collects eleven stories from my back catalogue for the first time and is my first full length book. 

There are four originals and seven stories published or produced elsewhere. I’ve been lucky enough to have my stories produced as podcast episodes at The Other Stories podcast numerous times, so whilst these stories are hitting print for the first time, they have previously made their way to readers/listeners. 
The stories that are original to the collection are generally a bit longer and a bit weirder. Lots of short story markets ask for stories under 5k words. I’ve got a few stories in here that I’m really pleased with, they just never fit a market, word count wise. 

MW:   What made you decide to go the self-published route? 

DH:   I’ve spent the last few years largely writing novels and trying to get an agent. I’ve come pretty close a couple of times but still haven’t cracked it. For a large part of the submissions process (as you’ll know, Mark) you can feel like an outsider looking in. 

But that feeling of being an outsider doesn’t have to be negative. It’s something I’ve channelled. There’s absolutely no reason now for creatives of any kind to let their work die on their hard drives anymore. We’ve all got the skills and the means to get out there. As long as the quality of the output is high, we shouldn’t sit on our stories. 

Inspired by people like Sub Pop and Dischord Records, although more specifically David Moody and his press Infected Books, I decided that things weren’t going to happen for me unless I made them happen. So, I took the first steps. 

I’ve started my own publishing label, Northern Republic. It puts some distance between me and my work. We’ve got a website, we’ve got logos, and we’ve got other books on deck. Northern Republic isn’t a traditional press, but it will be associated with some brilliant books. Hopefully, starting with mine. 

MW:   How did you find the self-pubbing experience? 

DH:   Bewildering at first. Everything is new and everyone has an opinion on every conceivable option you can take for your book. I’ve worked with small presses before, so I know what I like and what I don’t. 

The key thing for me was to get a belting cover. I am fascinated by graphic design, probably because I’m terrible at it. I hired Luke Spooner of Carrion House to do the artwork and he’s been brilliant. A great talent and spot on to work with. He’s been really patient with my dumb questions and turned out a top-notch cover. 

My technical skills are pretty limited, and I leaned heavily on the experience of others. It’s not something I’m ashamed of. Everyone has to learn somehow! Some people have really helped me, particularly Paul Stephenson of Hollow Stone Press was a living legend. He saved me with formatting etc. It’s something I’ll be picking up myself going forward, hopefully. 

The most interesting thing to learn is the marketing. There are so many theories and different ways of promoting your book. Some people lean heavily on ads but I don’t know enough about the route for it be anything other than wasted money right now. 

Instead, I’ve leaned on contacts I’ve already. Made contact with lovely people such as yourself for a bit of a boost. I think that’s an important part of it, exploring the horror community. I’m in touch now with sites that I’ve followed for years and some of them are publishing either reviews or articles I’ve written. 

What’s been amazing is seeing not only how these sites can help me, but what I can give back to the genre as well. How I can help other writers and give them a platform, something I’ve tried to do via the signal boost section on my newsletter and through interviews on my author website. 

   What got you into writing? 

DH:   Stepping fully into the cliché, in some form or another, I’ve written for a very long time. Whether it was terrible songs, terrible scripts or terrible stories, I spent time writing when I was younger. I’d always messed about with words but never took it hugely seriously. 

In 2012, I joined a writing group near where I lived. It was around that time I discovered that horror was where my fiction gravitated to. I didn’t write as much as I should back then. It was only when my daughter was born in summer 2016 that the need to really create and take it seriously bubbled over. 
Since then I’ve written 5 novels, a couple of novellas and a bunch of short stories. I write five days a week, pretty much come hell or high water. I’ve broken the back of resistance and carved out a daily habit, one that I won’t let go of. 

MW:   Tell me about the process for the collection. How did you decide on the stories to include and how did you decide the running order? 

DH:   Good question! 

I always knew I would close the collection with Collaboration. It leaves the reader with something to chew on. I also wanted to start with a bang. Dustin is one of my favourites in this book, so it seemed a natural choice. I feel as though that story was where I really started to find my voice. 

In between, I went by feel really. There was no science or no luck involved. I went through the pieces one by one and moved them around until I felt comfortable. I have my cornerstones and the rest fitted around them naturally really.

MW:   So what’s next?

DH:   Hopefully getting a novel published one way or another. I’ve just finished a novel, a kinda crime/thriller/dystopian piece. I actually really like it, but it needs a thorough edit. For sure. Where that one will land, who knows? 

I’ve just finished a new novella that will likely be my next release from Northern Republic towards the back end of the year. After that, perhaps start to release some of the novels I’ve got under my belt as well as there are some books I’m really proud of there. 

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