Spotlight On: Dan Walker

It’s time for another Spotlight On interview, where we catch up with one of our super talented clients to find out a few their favourite things and at least one of their darkest secrets. This time it is the turn of the wonderful Dan Walker, whose action-packed debut children’s book, Sky Thieves, publishes this week. Sky Thieves is a brand-spanking-new middle grade adventure series, filled with airships, floating islands, epic battles and a formidable young heroine called Zoya Delarose.
Daniel has a first class degree in English Literature from the University of Derby and his second book in the series, Desert Thieves is due to be published in August 2017. He is represented at the agency by Lauren Gardner.

What inspired you to start writing children’s books?

It sounds a little clichéd at this point, but the answer is I’ve always loved stories. From the first Hardy Boys books I checked out of our local library as a kid, to the first adult book I read – a novelisation of the 90s Judge Dredd movie – through to all the science-fiction books I borrowed from my cousin’s bookshelf as a teenager, then to all the cool books I read as part of my English degree. It seemed only natural to have a go at writing after all this reading, and children’s books seemed the right home for me. I like writing stories with a mixture of character and action, and I like the fantastical. Children’s stories have all of this and more.

What comes first: The character or the story?

Definitely the story. Stories tend to come at me as questions. What would happen if there were airships flying through the sky? What would it be like if people could fire energy from their fingertips? After that, I tend to expand this question into something more substantial. It’s only at this point that the characters start to reveal themselves – their personalities, their wants and needs. Sometimes, I tweak these characters to better fit the story’s theme, sometimes they arrive fully-formed, sometimes they go off in their own direction. That’s the fun of writing a story.

Where is your favourite place to write/ when is your favourite time to write?

I have a little office at home. It’s got a big TV and a bunch of video game consoles too, so sometimes it can be hard to fight off distractions. I try to write every day. I start at nine and carry on until about half-four, taking a decent break in the middle to let my brain recharge and get outside for some fresh air.

If you weren’t an author what would you like to be?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fireman. I always liked the big red truck, and uniform. (Rescuing people was an afterthought!) In my teens I wanted to be in a rock band, and taught myself the guitar so I could have a go. I actually joined a couple of bands in the end, although on a scale of 1-10, we maybe hit a -5. Maybe. Shortly before I became an author, I was teaching myself how to write computer software, and enjoying it. It’s complicated, mathematical stuff, but it gave me a lot of the same satisfaction as constructing a story – planning something and then executing it. So, I guess if I wasn’t an author I’d be a software engineer of some kind. A story-writing software engineer.

If you could collaborate with any writer past or present who would it be and why?

J.R.R. Tolkien. He’s by no means my favourite author, (although I do love him,) but the scope of what he created is immense. I’d love to see what he’d have achieved in the modern world, with fifty years of movies and games to inspire him. In terms of living writers, I’d love to work with Neil Gaiman. What an imagination!

Who is your favourite children’s book character, and why?

Definitely Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I think a main character needs to propel a story forward, and Lyra did this in spades. She was like a terrier dog. When his new The Book of Dust trilogy comes out I’d love to see her take on more of a mentor role.

What is your favourite word/quote?

There are literally a billion quotes I could put down here. Mark Twain was particularly quotable, as was Kurt Vonnegut. Einstein was smart as well. Often, I read a quote from a famous writer, then realise a few years later that Einstein wrote the same thing in an even more poetic way. I’ll go with Shakespeare here, though. Mercutio’s my favourite Shakespeare character. So funny. Even when he’s dying, he can’t help but crack a joke. His response when Romeo suggests Mercutio’s injury isn’t so bad:
“No, ’tis not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church-door, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”
Grave man. Chuckles.

What was your favourite book when you were growing up?

When I was fourteen, a friend’s family took me on a holiday to Ibiza. Halfway through the week, I fell ill and had to stay in my room. I had nothing to do. Knowing that I liked science-fiction, my friend’s aunt lent me a copy of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, which I devoured over the next few days. She let me keep the book. When I returned home, I got the next two in the series – Green Mars and Blue Mars – and devoured those too. I’ve read the series pretty much every year ever since, as well as all of Robinson’s other books. He’s my favourite writer, and I still have the original copy of Red Mars.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

I once fell into a swimming pool fully-clothed. Don’t ask.

What has been your career highlight so far?

Receiving a school book review of Sky Thieves in the post from my publisher, sent in by a young man from Oxford. He gave the book a really good rating, and was particularly impressed with a part in the book I never thought would be anyone’s favourite part. I guess you never can tell how your readers will react. 

Bonus question: what other genre of writing would you like to do?

Everything. I like stories in all genres, so I suspect I’ll end up writing a bunch of different things in the end. Definitely science-fiction, and certainly more fantasy. They’re my bread and butter. I would also love to write a TV show sometime, and a video game. If only there were a few more hours in the day.

Sky Thieves is published by Oxford University Press and you can buy your very own copy here.
To keep up to date with Dan and Sky Thieves, you can follow the action on Twitter @sky_thieves, or visit his website!