I met Dave online, on a kind of self-help twitter group for authors. He read and reviewed my book and I read and reviewed his. We enjoy each others work, and now beta-read for each other (although I am way behind for the current one, sorry Dave). His latest instalment in the Wicker Dogs series is, as I put in my review, 'well written, incredibly funny and a little bit bonkers. Full review here https://www.sophylayzell.com/post/august-reads-2021
You live in Devon, did you grow up there? What was your early life like?
I was born in Guildford but we moved to Bideford, in North Devon, when I was six, in the middle of my 2nd year at school. My mum’s parents lived nearby, so I already knew the area, and my dad’s parents were still in Guildford, so I went back three or four times a year right up until they died. It meant that my old friends in Guildford told me I sounded like a yokel, while all my Devon school friends called me a posh twat (that one has stuck). I like to believe one can be both.
Bideford always felt like a tiny place where everybody knew everybody else’s business and as a kid I couldn’t wait to get away and move somewhere bigger and more exciting. So nobody was more surprised than me when I moved to the smallest town in Devon (seriously, don’t ever call it a village) where everybody really does know everybody. It turns out that as an adult, I crave small and weird. Paradoxically, I spent 11 months living in the biggest village in England (Cranleigh) just before we moved to Devon in 1983.
Were there any moments that you recall were particularly challenging growing up?
Luckily, as a heterosexual able-bodied cis white boy at a minor public school I didn’t have to face anything challenging growing up. Afterwards, however, I did have to face the challenge of realising I had been taught to believe I was superior, special and able to stomp over everybody else with abandon and that that was inherently a very bad thing. Unlearning the public school indoctrination (institutional racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. etc.) to try and become a decent human being has been a long process and it’s still not over.
On the other hand, there were probably plenty of challenging moments but, like a true Englishman, I’ve blocked them all out with socially acceptable alcohol abuse and cheese. Luckily, writing isn’t like the X Factor and you can get on okay without sharing your sob stories ;).
At what point did you discover the joy of writing?
There is no joy in writing, there is joy in having written.
Why do you write? And what made you write a horror set in Dartmoor?
I write because my snappy one-liners and amusing observations need to be shared with the world and I’m terrible at stand up. I could give you a trite and entirely made up answer that I have stories to tell, or that it’s therapy for my tortured soul, but in all honesty I don’t really know why. I’m sure I had a reason to start doing it, but it’s lost to the mists of time and too late to stop now. I’m worried that if I examine it too closely I won’t want to do it anymore, and like I said, there is much joy in having written.
As to writing Dartmoor based horror, Dartmoor oozes horror from its every granite-pierced inch, and as soon as the sun goes down there’s something terrifying around every corner. Every time I walk on it it reminds me of ‘Fog On The Barrow Downs’ from the Lord Of The Rings (my favourite part of the books that never ever makes it to film) and a little shudder goes through my spine.
It’s no secret in the town where I live that (just as I created a fictional version of Bideford for my Weekend Rockstars rom-com series) I used it as the basis for Dourstone Nymet, the town in Wicker Dogs. Like a lot of small towns in Devon (well, all over the UK) it has a lot of weird traditions, like beating the bounds: which was, historically, beating the children of the town against the borough boundary stones so they would know its borders. These days it’s a nice day out with pasties and a band at the end, but it’s got dark roots. We’ve also got a fire festival, though not as crazy as Ottery St Mary’s barrel runs, our flaming tar barrels travel more sedately through the streets, burning away the fear of winter’s dark.
All these odd little rituals got me thinking about their ancient origins (even though, like most time-worn traditions, they were almost certainly dreamed up by bored Victorian gentry with nothing better to do). So then I wondered what if they were still necessary, and something more sinister happened after the crowds had left, to ensure the sun still comes up in the morning. And what if that reason had a shape, a character and a problem to solve? And that’s when I realised I had a plot, and it was a lot better than my first idea of a couple trying to do a runner from the spectacular beer garden of the Warren House Inn and being chased by morris dancers.
What benefits does writing have for you?
Absolutely none, it’s driving me fucking crazy.
What future ambitions do you have? Is there another instalment or does it end with the trilogy?
One of the great things about creating a fictional town with a very very long history is just how many different stories there are to tell. There’s quite a shock ending to book three, which I could finish the whole thing on like a metaphorical mic drop but won’t. I had intended to leave it alone for 2022 and get back to writing rom-coms as Dave Holwill (the Wicker Dogs series is under my D.A. Holwill pen name). I shelved a draft of the latest one last year as it’s set at Exeter Pride festival, and all my research trips to both Exeter pubs and pride festivals about the country have been on hold thanks to covid. However, my wife came up with a really interesting idea for Wicker Dogs Book Four, so it looks like I might be trudging over tors with the dog looking for folklore a bit longer.
Do you have any advice for those reading who might like to start writing?
As always, my advice is don’t.
Lastly, how might my readers keep in touch with you?
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Website is https://daholwill.com/