Author Notes for Sunburn
"Sunburn," my sixth published novel for adult readers, and the second that I released under the name of Darren Dash, went on sale on 1st May 2015.
Most of my Darren Dash books to date have had their roots far in my writing past. I was an incredibly prolific writer throughout my 20s and 30s, and I wasn't afraid to experiment. I tried lots of different types of books, horror of course, but also fantasy, science-fiction, noir thrillers, humour, and others that defied categorisation. I've always loved variety as a reader and movie viewer, and I wanted that to be reflected in my work as a writer. After all, Shakespeare was free to write whatever he wanted and jump around between genres and style, so why shouldn't a modern day writer be just as free?
Well, I think, if my experiences are anything to go by, that despite his skills and breadth of subject matter, old Will would struggle in this modern world to be quite as experimental as he was back in his own day! We live in a time when publishers, booksellers, and indeed a lot of readers want their authors to be very easily pegged. We're supposed to fit neat little niches -- thriller writer, horror writer, YA author -- and people don't like it when there's an overlap.
I valiantly fought against stereotyping in my early days, hoping I could be an exception to the rule, proof that an author could try all different sorts of stories and succeed across the board. But I ran into one brick wall after another, even while I was enjoying huge success as the YA novelist Darren Shan. I dunno -- maybe the novels I was writing just weren't commercial enough to work for a large audience. Or maybe they were TOO commercial to work for a more discerning audience. I still scratch my head when I can't find a normal publishing home for the likes of The Evil And The Pure or An Other Place. They're dark and weird, sure, but as a writer I'm convinced that they're original and inventive and engaging, and they garner hugely positive reviews from readers who share my opinion. Am I wrong? Are my readers wrong? Are he brave, happy few... deluded?!?
Anyway, I'll be honest -- there was a lengthy spell when I retreated from the adult battlefield. My YA books were beloved and selling up a storm... I was galloping around the world on an endless tour to support them... I didn't have as much time to write as I used to have, and I had to prioritise when I was at home... and the Darren Shan work ended up taking first priority. They paid the bills, of course, but that's not why I focused on them so much. I was sick of getting kicked in the teeth on the adult front. Rejection HURTS, even if you're a bestselling author. If people keep telling you your work is so worthless that they're not even going to take a chance on publishing... well, it's hard to keep going. I think I WOULD have kept going if I'd had nothing else in my literary life -- I write because I love to write and I NEED to write -- but I was very lucky to have the YA books, which I loved writing and which lots of other people loved too.
Eventually, as I've detailed in notes for my earlier adult books, I returned beaten and bruised to the field of adult publishing -- only to get beaten and bruised again! But this time I was determined to press on and put my adult work out there, even if I had to self-publish, which in the end I did.
I have quite a large back catalogue of novels that I wrote and have never published, and these have formed the bulk of my early Darren Dash career -- indeed, the plan is to have them form the bulk of the next several years of my Dash career too. I think some will never see print, but I hope that I'll be able to knock most of them into good enough shape to be able to share with the world, so that those few loyal (deluded?!?) fans who want to genuinely read everything that I've written will be able to finally see the full breadth of my imagination and ambition -- for better or worse. (Hey, I'm not saying every one of them is a certified winner!)
But at the same time I felt it was important to bring some new stories to the table as well. I don't want my Dash work to JUST be blasts from the past. I want to create some newer works too, to explore my adult imagination anew now that I'm in my 40s and beyond. So, when I decided after Lady Of The Shades that I was going to go down the self-publishing route with my future adult books, I stepped back into the ring and started work on something new.
That book was "Sunburn."
I'd been planning it for a few years, actually. Sunburn has been the bane of my life. I have pale skin and have often been scorched pink. Every time it happens, I curse myself for being so foolish, and vow never to let it happen again... but it invariably does! After one especially bad burning (in Ballybunion, in Ireland, of all places!) I started playing with ideas for a novel about a character who gets badly sunburnt and then runs into a monster. I guess I was hoping that I could use one of my stories to teach myself a valuable life lesson, since I didn't seem to be learning anything from life itself!
The story percolated at the back of my creative mind for several years, and when I finally sat down to write it, it flowed swiftly and easily. To my relief, the years away from adult fiction hadn't hampered me, and I blew through it at a fine old speed -- I started the first draft in February 2012, and did my final bit of editing three years later in March 2015. Three years is a long time for most authors, I suppose, but compared to my other Darren Dash books, this one was written in virtually the blinking of an eye!
The first half of the book was deliberately action-free. That didn't endear me to every reader (one potential traditional publisher heard I was working on an adult horror novel, approached me about the book and asked to read it, then noted with confusion, "You do know nothing much happens in the first half of the story, don't you?") but I've always enjoyed experimenting with pace, and stand by my call 100%. The second half of the story moves as a breakneck speed, and I felt it would carry more weight if we'd spent the first half getting to truly know the characters as they travelled around like any normal tourists.
Those characters aren't the most perfect of people, and that brought a few tutting remarks as well. It confused me when some readers complained about characters in their early 20s drinking a lot and acting selfishly and pettily, as if that was unheard of among young adults of that age who are still finding their feet in this world -- I dunno, maybe the 20somethings that I know (and have been) are very different to the majority of 20somethings out there in the world -- or maybe some people just have a very sanitized recollection of what they were like at that age!
"Sunburn" is the most throwaway of my Dash novels so far, and that was deliberate. Although I spent a lot of time working on my three main characters, I wanted this to be an over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek gorefest. It was horror writ large, not meant to be taken TOO seriously, a book to hopefully cause some readers to squeal with delighted disgust, rather than mess with their minds and cause them to question the ways of the world, the way I'd done in The Evil And The Pure and would do in An Other Place.
Martini Martinez is maybe my favourite character name ever! My friends Sarah and Juan were expecting a baby and we were discussing possible names. Juan is Mexican, and I came up with Martini Martinez, which tickled my fancy no small end. (We may have had a few drinks in us at the time!) Since "Sunburn" was going to be tongue-in-cheek, I thought the name suited it nicely, and I went with it.
The mischievous Curran was named after another friend of mine, Declan Curran, aka Dr Dec. And Liz was named after a friend of my wife's, who had read all of my books and complained that I'd named lots of characters after other friends, but not after her. Of course, we don't actually see Liz in this book, we just hear about her -- that was a little in-joke, my way of going, "OK, you want to be in one of my books? Fine, but you're not REALLY going to be in it!" (I actually named a real character after her later on, in one of my Zom-B books, and she even appeared on the cover, so all was well that ended well.)
As of writing this, I've never actually been to Bulgaria. I considered quite a few different locations for the story, but in the end something about Bulgaria appealed to me more than anywhere else. I did think about going there on a trip to check it out, but then I started researching the country online, and wondered if it would be possible to use modern technology to gather together all the bits and pieces that I would need to make the backdrop believable. I set myself the challenge of writing the book without going to Bulgaria -- figuring that if I felt it wasn't working, I could visit between edits and rewrite it. In the end I felt like I'd got away with it, and was delighted a few years later when I met a Bulgarian fan at one of my events, and she told me that I'd captured the country down to a tee!