Name David Murray
Where are you from
I was born in London but spent the first 34 years of my life in Hemel Hempstead. Then in 1999 I moved to East Yorkshire.
A little about your self `i.e. your education Family life etc
I have a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Hull. I’m married with an 11-year-old son who has taken after his father by becoming involved in writing and reading. I’m self-employed as a proof-reader, copy editor, researcher and writer.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Well, I’m working on a fantasy novel in collaboration with Fran Terminiello. We’ve been writing it for a number of years now and it’s gone through several different forms; we’re now concentrating on two central characters who interweave through the book, almost meeting each other until they finally come together at the final chapter. I’m hoping to be able to take the first three chapters to FantasyCon in September but nothing’s certain. I’m also working on beta-reading Scott Oden’s new book and it’s a real privilege to be involved in this stage of a writers’ craft.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing all my life, really. I have had various attempts at getting stuff published but nothing successful to date. I think I started at junior school; a very early story called “Saboteurs of Verushka” was passed around the staff room.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve always thought of myself as a writer in that I wrote stuff. But since I got a poem published and two others won prizes in local competitions, I think I could legitimately call myself one. Now I’m self-employed as a copy editor, proof-reader and writer, it must be true!
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I suppose that the book I’m working on now could be considered my first book (if it ever gets published, that is). Earlier efforts were rather imitative of other authors but this one is more original. It started off as a short story by Fran, which I reviewed at her request and rewrote, fleshing it out and expanding it, then suggesting that we try to turn it into a novel. We made it all the way to the end of the novel, then started to rewrite, a process in which we’re still engaged today.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I think my style is perhaps what some people might call a little old-fashioned; heavy on the description, with lots of dialogue and plenty of metaphors and similes. I try not to make it too hip or fashionable; I know there’s a trend for edgy and grimdark but to be honest, I can’t seem to manage it when I write. I like to leaven the narrative with a bit of pathos and perhaps torment my characters too much, although I like to have a happy(ish) ending, although those tend more towards bittersweet.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Ah, the title. The problems coming up with one aren’t just doubled when two people are writing it, they’re quadrupled. We went through a great many titles when we were trying to work out what to call it and eventually settled on “Where Dead Gods Lie Buried” but to be honest, that’s losing its appeal for me, particularly because the theme of the book to which it refers has been lost in the repeated rewrites and revamping of the plot. I suppose we’ll have another fraught and argumentative session when we try to come up with a new one. Or we could just leave it to the publisher to see what they think.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’m not really sure. I don’t often set out to write something with a message in mind. I may see a theme or message emerging as the story evolves but it’s not really put in from the start.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
We have a character who can steal the life force of others to heal people, but apart from that, there’s not a lot of magic as such in the book. We try to keep things realistic to a certain extent; Fran is very into sword fighting and she brings her experience to the sections of the book where the steel comes out and the blood begins to fly. I try to introduce a bit of nature into the landscape descriptions; the flora and fauna of forests, mountains, etc. There’s war, refugees, burned towns, politics and heartbreak so really it’s a bit like the news.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The character that I’m writing about is based to a certain point on myself, but as I was before I met and married my wife. He’s a man whose father sold him into servitude to pay off his debts to the landowner and he’s always sought a surrogate father figure; he’s also a lonely man whose life is the army and who can’t quite handle emotional relationships. He’s also in his mid to late forties, which means I can feed through a lot of what I’m experiencing ageing physically into how he feels marching hither and thither. The aches, the pains, the limitations.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
It’s hard to pin down exactly what influence particular books have had; my early introduction to fantasy was via Narnia. I read Lord of the Rings at school and re-read it each decade of my life. An early encounter with the Oxford English Dictionary confirmed me as a word nerd. Whilst at secondary school, I read Sven Hassel and John Norman’s Gor series, and realised that fiction did not have to be safe or nice. Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood made me look at landscapes anew and realise how tied up with mythology they were, as well as being a very good story in itself. I can still feel the influences on my writing of Richard Adams’ Shardik. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion confirmed in writing many of the things that I had believed in private. More recently, Abercrombie’s First Law Series and Best Served Cold showed how a different approach to fantasy can work wonders. Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth opened my eyes to the ways in which women have suffered in a patriarchal society.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
If he hadn’t died, Christopher Hitchens would have been a great writer under whom to study. His prose is immortal; erudite and witty, wise and educational.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’ve just finished Son of the Morning by Mark Alder (aka M D Lachlan) and that’s a very enjoyable read. I’m now reading Scott Oden’s new novel as part of the process of being a beta-reader.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
John Gwynne is very good; I’ve watched his career with interest. I think he’s the closest thing to David Gemmell that we have right now and I’d love to see how his writing develops and where he goes once he’s finished his trilogy. Stella Gemmell’s first novel, The City is absolutely brilliant. Robert Lyndon did a book called Hawk Quest that was an amazing novel – one of the best I’ve ever read. I shed manly tears at the death of one of the characters.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I’d have to say that Hull University did a very good job of boosting my self-confidence as a writer and developing my skills and ability.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I’d love for it to be so, although I’m realistic enough to realise that the chances of me actually being able to make a career out of it are remote. I’d like to think that any career I stumble into will involve writing in one way or another.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I’d not mess around with the intermediate stages we had to go through before we settled on the format we have now. I think we wasted a lot of time on stuff that didn’t advance the book and ended up being cut out or discarded because it belonged to a redundant plot line.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It sprung out of the fact that I read books continually; I wanted to write similar stuff to what I was reading and that motivated me to pick up a pen. For a long time, I wrote for my own enjoyment and that meant imitating the books I loved to read, but slowly I moved away from imitation to something more original. I have the university to thank for that; having to come up with written work every week means you don’t have time for self-doubt. You get on with it and take the criticism that ensues.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
It’s fantasy, dark and ‘gritty’ – which to my mind means not shying away from showing the unpleasant consequences of a character’s actions and decisions. It’s set in a world riven by civil strife, a polytheistic religion facing attack by a monotheist whose aim it is to wipe out all other gods save his alone. It’s got an interesting set-up; imagine that in 1066, the Saxons are defeated not by the Normans but by the Zulus. Now, 250 years after the conquest, there’s a black warrior elite that rules the nation and the white natives are the underclass, not allowed anywhere near the reins of power. We have two main characters, a grizzled old soldier and a streetwise thief, both of whom are trying to find the last of the Gatherers, an order of necromancers, who rob the living of their life-force to heal the sick. One needs to save him, one wants to kill him. Here’s a little excerpt:
Ash and frost; the smoke rich and greasy on the cold air. Even from the edge of the field, Thalk feels the heat of the pyres and the dreadful wails ring still in his ears. He turns at a movement by his shoulder. An aide hands him a beaker of warm spiced wine. A curt nod signals his thanks.
The frozen ground is starting to melt; his boots squelch through a slick glaze of mud as he walks the edge of the burning ground, seeking out the grey hair of his master. There, talking to two other officers, Vecneon, the solid centre of the storm that runs in indecent haste around him. Thalk strides across to him, expecting the lesser ranks to move aside for him; he is rudely disappointed and spills some of the spiced wine.
As he approaches, Vecneon turns as if he had felt Thalk’s approach. His face casts off its frown, putting on a smile for his servant.
“Well, Thalk, what did you think of today’s little show?”
Thalk casts a glance around the field again; it is as if he is seeking the words, trying to snatch them out of the cinder-filled air.
“We did grand today, mLoia.”
“We did indeed,” says Vecneon, drawing in a deep breath. “I love the smell of burning heretics. There is no surer way of doing the bidding of the gods than to aid in the destruction of their enemies.”
“Quite right, mLoia.”
“And yet I sense in you some element of distaste. Why might that be?”
Thalk, silent once again, squirms inwardly; he had hoped to hide what he had felt as one by one, the pyres had burst into bright orange flame. Vecneon smiles, extends a hand, lays it on Thalk’s shoulder.
“You know you are the same age as my youngest son would have been now,” he says. “So when I call you bPeba, it’s not just a term of affection for my squire; in a way, I like to think that he is still here, in some form or other.”
He lets the hand fall, then turns and sets off across the field, gesturing with his head for Thalk to follow.
“You would not be human if you did not look at what we did today and not feel something. At my age, I have seen a lot of suffering; a lot of death, much of it either at my own hand or by my order. I have learned to put it into perspective. Otherwise, I would be mad by now, overwhelmed by the tide of tragedies. It’s a trick that you must learn soon; we are going to be seeing a lot more of this…” he gestures with one gloved hand towards the nearest pyre, where Thalk can see a charred claw reaching out of the ash as if begging them for help “…before our work is done.”
“I know, mLoia.”
“If it helps you to put it into its place, consider this; what we burnt today were not people as such. They may have had the appearance of people, spoke like people but it was just inert flesh, inhabited by demons. When the blind, the foolish, the greedy and the arrogant enter into the compact for which this is their destination, their souls are driven out and entities from the Darkness possess them. Clad in flesh, they make their way amongst us, spreading their corruption. Why else do you think that they have been on the wrong side so many times?”
Thalk does not reply; they are nearing the gap in the hedge where only a handful of hours earlier, they had lit the darkness before the dawn with an amber-coloured orgy of screams and crackling.
“No humans died here today, Thalk. We sent demons back into the Darkness. Their masks and disguises destroyed. We are going to win this battle, just as we have won every other battle in which we have fought. Ours will be the generation to wipe the stain of the Gatherers from the world.”
“I hope so, mLoia. Where to from here?”
“I have had word of miraculous healing taking place in Petera. If the gods will it, we shall uncover the truth about that. One more blow against our enemies. One more step towards redemption for us all.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I always find chapter endings difficult; to end them on a cliff-hanger but make them natural. Another thing that I have problems with is writing convincing religious characters. In fantasy, the gods often get left out or mentioned peripherally but in our work, the gods are real. I’m an atheist and rationalist and the part of me that would experience things religiously just isn’t there, so I have trouble digging inside myself and finding some way of writing about characters whose religion would form a central part of their lives. I end up having to crowbar in rather artificial references and hope they work.
Fiona: Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It’s unfair to pick one particular author as many writers occupy a special place on the bookshelf. I’ll think that one is the bee’s knees and then pick up something by a new author and get blown away by it.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Only as far as the library! My writing is set in an imaginary world, and to a certain degree, I use the memory of landscape to help with scene-setting. I’d like to set a work in my own backyard, East Yorkshire; there’s a lot of great landscapes here and it’d be interesting to use what I’ve got rather than have to invent from scratch.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
We’ve not had it published yet, so that’s a question for the future; I like the art of Larry Rostant and Jason Chan very much and in an ideal world, it’d be great if one of them could do something for us. But that’s in the lap of the publishers, so I guess the question is academic.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
For me, it’s the areas where Fran and I don’t see eye to eye. The synchronisation of writing and prose styles; the debates over swearing in the narrative (she’s in favour, I’m against), the realisation that a lot of what we loved writing and really got enthusiastic about has been lost in the rewrites. We’ve had to knuckle down and treat it like professionals; it’s a job now and we can’t afford to be precious about it.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I think there is a certain element of “kill your darlings” in writing; that whilst you may feel absolutely great about what you’re writing right now, tomorrow, you may either look at it and think “no, that’s not working” or perhaps six months down the line, when the book’s first draft is finished, you realise that although what you’ve written is great, it doesn’t work within the structure of the book and you need to get rid of it. There’s a process to writing and part of that process is learning to step back and view your work dispassionately – and knowing when to do so.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read, read, read. Not just in your chosen genre but outside it as well. Every genre can teach writers about their own work and it’s unhealthy to restrict yourself because you could be missing out on some great writing merely because it’s the ‘wrong’ genre. And be kind to yourself; not indulgent but cut yourself some slack. You’re going to make mistakes, go down blind alleys, write some cringe-worthy prose. Keep going; it’s all part of the craft. You’re learning as you go. Don’t be afraid to show others your work and take all criticism as constructive, even if it doesn’t feel like that at the time.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope you enjoy what we’ve written; we’re not out to preach to you, shock you, horrify you or provoke you. We present a good story, well-told and we want you to go away at the end of the book, thinking “I liked that”
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No; it’s a very long time ago now and I’ve read so many books that I can’t recall them all. My mother used to read to us (my brother and sister and myself) and there’s a point at which her reading and ours overlapped and blurred into each other.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Yes, I like role playing games, Dungeons and Dragons and Call of Cthulhu. I’ve played D&D since 1979, and to me the act of playing is quite analogous to the way that a story comes together. I like to give my players the sandbox experience – no overarching predetermined plot but a setting in which they can create their own stories as they choose. And of course, being a writer, I love reading too. I’ve always got a book on the go and cherish my local library.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I don’t watch much TV regularly; I did make time for Sherlock, the Musketeers, Dr Who and if there’s a good documentary on, I’ll try to watch that as well. I like Great British Railway Journeys. I’ve only got terrestrial, not satellite, so a lot of the shows that people rave about are inaccessible to me. Film – I don’t get to the cinema much; we tend to do things as a family and that means any films we go to see need to be family friendly. We tend to wait until they come out on DVD and then buy them cheap from Morrison’s. We liked Despicable Me 1 and 2. I like the Star Wars films, Indiana Jones 1 and 3 (not Temple of Doom, mind), Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Memento – a real mix, both the intellectual and the action-packed.
Fiona: Favourite foods / Colours/ Music
I like carrot cake, but as a main meal, you cannot go wrong with fish and chips, particularly if it’s at a seaside chippie. There’s a lovely place in Bridlington called Audrey’s, which has a view of the harbour but my recent discovery of Mr Chips in Whitby has trumped that; they do great puddings as well and there’s beer too!
My favourite colour is purple.
Music – I like classical music, seventies and eighties stuff, but I can play over and over again the Dr Who soundtracks by Murray Gold. Now he’s someone I’d like to do the soundtrack to the film of our book
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
That’s a tricky one. I suppose something to do with gaming; perhaps I could have been a video game designer, which is kind of like writing, isn’t it? Working at a bookshop or in a library would keep me close to books all day (and I could sneak some reading of the new titles in). Or perhaps a baker, since I’m always making scones and cakes for the family at home. My grandfather was a potter but I’ve never really felt inclined to get to work with clay.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
My D&D blog is called Daddy Grognard. The first word because I game with my son and his friends and the second one because I’m a person who won’t accept change merely because it’s the latest thing. Grognards are regarded as old-fashioned grumblers, who hold on to the way things used to be because they like it. I don’t have a website dedicated to my writing because I’ve not got anything that’s published and would need publicising. That’ll probably change when we get a publishing contract.
And then of course there’s my Facebook page. I’ve made some good friends there and gained some fortuitous opportunities.