Stacey – Welcome to The Horror Tree, Dan. It’s great to have you. Tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from?
Dan – I’m from Staffordshire, which is a small county in the centre of England. It’s famous for Alton Towers, Arnold Bennett and a local dish known as an Oatcake.
I started writing full time five years ago after being made redundant from my office based job. I became a full-time dad to my daughter (then aged three) and decided to try creative writing in what little downtime I had.
My first short story was based on a local myth that had always captured my interest. ‘The Legend of the Chained Oak’ was picked up for publication by Scath Beorh (Haunted Magazine), and it all kind of snowballed from there!
Stacey – You’re not only an author but a playwright and screenwriter, as well. Which is quite impressive. What inspired you to make the leap from books to screen?
Dan – The first film happened completely by chance and only came to fruition because of the dedication of the individuals involved in the project. Again, this project was based on my first story, ‘The Legend of the Chained Oak’.
I heard that a film producer had previously attempted to make a film based on the legend, and, filled with the new found confidence a first publication instills, I approached him and pitched my story.
I wrote a screenplay that incorporated aspects of my original short story, but took place in the present.
A lot of people worked hard for free on the film, and we were fortunate to win several awards. The film has since played at festivals worldwide, and I recently sold distribution rights to the Found Footage Critic channel.
I have written several other screenplays, and have seen a stage play of mine adapted to film. ‘Beige’ can be viewed on the British Comedy Guide Website. (Don’t let the comedy aspect fool you – the film is suitably twisted!)
I recently penned a book detailing my experiences as a novice playwright. The Dead Stage, is out now courtesy of Crystal Lake Publishing and contains a wealth of advice for aspiring playwrights.
Stacey – You’ve also collected quite a few awards according to your website. I couldn’t help but see the Bram Stoker award amongst them. What was it like to be honoured in such a way?
Dan – We did win a Bram Stoker for ‘Legend of the Chained Oak’, but it is not the HWA Bram Stoker Award. (I’m still working hard towards that achievement!)
The award we won was presented by the now-defunct Bram Stoker International Film Festival, which took place in Whitby (Dracula fans will understand why) every autumn.
We received the Best short award. The trophy is truly unique, and sits on my desk, reminding me of a time when the words flowed!
Stacey – Which author or playwright living or dead inspires you?
Dan – When I first started to write, Poe, Barker and Lovecraft were a source of great inspiration to me.
As I began to develop my voice, I looked at the work and influence of Arnold Bennett, who is the area’s most prominent author. Bennett inspires me to create opportunities for others; the area I am from is regarded as one of the poorest areas in the country, where literacy rates are low, and unemployment is high.
I work extensively in the local community to promote the art of creative writing and helped initiate both the Arnold Bennett Literary prize and A Poet Laureate for Stoke on Trent.
Stacey – Do you draw inspiration from real life experiences?
Dan – Absolutely. I imagine most writers do. My stories contain elements of my life, good times and bad, as well as the hopes and dreams I harbor for my children.
Stacey – Do you find anything particularly challenging about writing? Do you write daily?
Dan – I don’t write daily. I don’t believe writing should be forced. I wait until I “feel” there is a story to be written. It can take a while…it seems to take longer these days, but I’m in no rush. I’m thirty-nine and believe I have many more tales to tell.
Stacey – Where do you write? Indoors? Outdoors?
Dan – I write from my bedroom. I have a desk with a PC, several notebooks, various bits of stationary and whatever the children have left for me to puzzle over that day.
At one time I had a dedicated office, with a shelf full of oddities I have collected over the years (a memento mori brooch, an electro-shock treatment machine, an infant vampire model etc.), but with an expanding family, space was at a premium and my daughter moved into the room.
Stacey – Do you need music or complete silence to write?
Dan – I have to write in silence. I cannot concentrate if there is any noise. I can’t even edit to music! I don’t notice however as when I work I become totally engrossed to the point of it mentally exhausting me!
Stacey – What’s the best writing advice you could give someone just starting out?
Dan – Ignore what everybody else is doing and write your way. Once finished, leave it to settle a while – you’ll know when to come back for the rewrite because you won’t be able to think about anything else.
Also, don’t strive for perfection, because it is an unreachable goal. Work towards producing a piece of writing you feel is a decent representation of your efforts.
Stacey – Has there ever been a book you couldn’t finish reading? Which book and why?
Dan – I hate to admit, but I’m really bad for this. I find it hard to keep my attention on anything for long. I think this is why I write in short, sharp bursts.
I find collections much easier to finish than novels. I hate to admit it, but I STILL haven’t finished Stephen King’s IT.
Stacey – What’s the last horror movie you watched?
Dan – The Thing, this past Halloween. I saw it as a child and it terrified me. It still stands up today (as does any decent horror film). The film absolutely nails the atmosphere of distrust. Also, it is still suitably gross.
Stacey – What scares you?
Dan – I fear something bad happening to my children more than any threat that may come my way. I think any parent does.
Stacey – Do you believe in writers’ block?
Dan – No, in the sense that if you have nothing to write about, you just need time to go and do other things. Ideas come and go. I find that an idea needs time to settle internally before I will begin the process of writing it. Those times between ideas? Some might call it writers’ block, but I prefer to look at it as your mind having a cooling off period.
Stacey – What are 5 things you cannot live without?
Dan – My family, my imagination-Fuel (I don’t drink coffee) painkillers (I suffer awful migraines) and laughter.
Stacey – Out of your own works, which is your favourite and why?
Dan – Surely the most difficult question of all! I have to say it is always my most recent work because I like to believe I improve with each release. That may not be the case, but a positive outlook is a must if you want to succeed as a writer.
Stacey – What are you working on at the moment?
Dan – I recently finished a story that I wrote for my children. ‘The Necessary Evils’ is a story about two kids who find the entrance to Hell at the bottom of their grandmother’s garden. (The story is a horror of sorts, although nothing bad happens to or is witnessed by the children.) The piece is a comment on the evaporation of innocence, and it is currently with my agent.
My debut novel, The Tainted Isle: English Gothic, is released next Spring courtesy of PS Publishing. The book follows the cases of the UK’s first paranormal investigator, Solomon Whyte, and is based on many, lesser known UK legends.
I’ve also a further novel and novella that I am hoping to place soon!
Stacey – Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share?
Dan – Please enjoy this recent short that appeared in my regional newspaper’s Halloween edition!
In the heart of England, lies a forest spanning several hundred square kilometres. Hidden among the birch and bracken of Cannock Chase, are (among other, older things) a disused World War Two airfield, an abandoned 17th century village (complete with cottages, chapel, and a set of wooden stocks), and an unusually shaped rock formation known locally as the Moss-Firth Tower, which can be seen from several miles away.
There is no doubting the area’s natural beauty, though few locally venture into the woodlands by day, and all do their utmost to avoid the area entirely by night.
A legend attached to the Chase, tells the tale of a young girl, whom, pregnant and afraid, was driven from her home amidst accusations of witchcraft. With nowhere else to go, she gave birth in a secluded glade, far enough from the village so that the painful cries of childbirth would be swallowed by the forest.
The baby, cursed with Witch’s blood, was born hideously disfigured. Knowing the community would look upon her son as an omen of ill luck, the girl chose to abandon the child beneath the shadow of Moss-Firth Tower. Praying that the woodland spirits who dwelled there would accept her gift to them, she returned to the village to repent of her evil ways.
The following winter, the girl succumbed to a fever, taking the secret of her son’s fate to her grave.
It was around this time that stories of a fearsome creature began to spread throughout the village. Massive in size and with hideous, pig-like facial features, the beast had been seen skulking in the tree line, watching the children play.
Over the following months, several livestock were taken in the dead of night; their grisly remains found strewn across the ground.
There followed an unseasonably harsh winter, and amidst stories of children disappearing into the woodland never to return, the village was abandoned.
Centuries passed, and untouched by man, the forest grew dense and the secrets of the village and its surrounding area were buried beneath impenetrable brushwood. It remained unexplored until recently, when a group of scouts visited on retreat, with the intention of camping through the night. Of the fourteen boys that entered the forest, only one was to leave.
The surviving boy claimed that, after a day spent wading through streams, climbing trees, and making leaf rubbings, the group, in good spirits, pitched camp near to Moss-Firth Tower. As they settled around the campfire, enjoying their toasted marshmallows and a shared ghost story or two, talk turned to legends of the Chase. Arkela, having been born nearby, began to recount the tale of Pigman, known to all locally as a foul beast, born of the devil’s bride, abandoned and left to forage in the woodlands, several centuries ago.
Arkela stated that many believed Pigman to be responsible for numerous disappearances throughout the Chase’s history (disappearances that scarcely made the headlines, but were well documented in regional folklore) and that attempts to capture the creature had proven futile. He added that Pigman could be summoned by the recital of a rhyme popular in local playgrounds. So long as you were located somewhere within the confines of the Chase, and were sat near to an open fire, saying the rhyme aloud would coax Pigman from hiding.
As boys will be boys, they dared Arkela to recite the rhyme aloud:
“Pigman, you’ve no family,
None love you, that I can see,
Pigman, such a tragedy,
Won’t you come and play with me?”
According to the boy, there was a long silence, where only the crackle and spit of the fire could be heard. The boys looked at one another, nervously waiting for someone to speak, fearing something dreadful might happen if they did not.
It was then that a pitched squeal erupted from behind them, and from the shadows came a lumbering shape, its flesh slick with sweat, its pinprick eyes reflecting fury and fire, its snout-like nose, twitching, and its yellowed tusks dripping with saliva.
It squealed a second time, flinging an upturned tree stump in the air as it did so, flinging lumps of damp soil this way and that.
The Scouts fled, scuttling off in all directions, but the boy, transfixed by terror, remained. The creature ignored him, its attention focused firmly on the fleeing scouts. To its left, one of the smaller scouts had fallen, his ankle caught among a tangle of shrubs. The creature lumbered towards him, and, with a sickening pop, brought a gargantuan fist crashing down onto his head.
It was at this point that the surviving member of the scouts passed out. When he came too, the camp was completely ransacked. Torn tents and a mix of personal belongings littered the clearing. Among them was a small, blue teddy bear, its seams split down one side, the exposed stuffing matted with blood.
It is said that Pigman’s squeals can still be heard echoing through the forest, should you pass their outer limits after sundown. Ask locally after the creature and many will laugh in your face, and call you a fool. Ask them to join with you on a walk through the forest, however, and they will quickly fall silent.
If you are to take away anything from this tale, heed this warning: if you feel eyes upon you while braving the woodland of Cannock Chase, if you hear a shrill squeal and a rustle of bushes, then, by all means, do be afraid. Tremble, cry, even close your eyes; but do not run, for those that do seldom survive the Pigman of The Chase.
Thank you so much for your time Dan! If you would like to find out more about Dan and his writing endeavours, check out the links below.
- Epeolatry Book Review: In the Wolf’s Lair - October 3, 2019
- The Horror Tree Presents… an Interview with P.J. Blakey-Novis - September 28, 2019
- The Horror Tree Presents… an Interview with Isabella Hunter - September 21, 2019
- The Horror Tree Presents… an Interview with Ruschelle Dillon - August 3, 2019
- The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview With Bruno Lombardi - July 27, 2019
- The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Dave D’Alessio - June 22, 2019
- The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Meredith Anderson - May 4, 2019
- The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with K. Matt - April 20, 2019
- The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Margarita Felices - March 30, 2019
- The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Em Dehaney - March 2, 2019