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In his own words about his bio… shot from my dying home planet as a baby in an egg shaped craft I grew up with a company of wolves, learning to live as they did. Until one day the threat of the return of a naughty tiger meant I was guided out of the jungle by a jazz singing bear and into a man-village.
At the village I managed to win a golden ticket to a chocolate factory where I fell into a river of chocolate and got sucked up a pipe. Things went from bad to worse when I found out that a drunken sailor in the local inn had a treasure map and I was accosted by pirates and traveled to a secret Caribbean island.After this I could take no more of my adopted parents and so I went away off with some strange bloke to a school for wizards where I thought it best to challenge a lecturer that killed my parents.
However after this my life turned around, I grew up and gave my favourite toys, a cowboy and a space ranger away to a snotty girl from around the corner and went to college. Unfortunately though I was bitten by a rare spider and found myself with special arachnid powers which I used to defeat an evil leprechaun.
Now, well, now I just write books, people say where do you get your ideas from and I tell them I have no idea, I’ve had such a boring, everyday life.
Hi, many thanks for inviting me here!
BB & B: You are definitely an artist when it comes to crafting humor in your work. What inspires you to take something that can be so ordinary like a delivery driver job and turn it into a space adventure as seen in White Space Van Man?
Darren: Yes thanks, humour (or humor to you, I don’t know, too lazy to stick a quick “U” in!) is the only thing I am ever serious about. I have always had a bit of fascination with the MGM cartoons of the great Tex Avery, how he took such a simple area of logic and exploded it into complete madness; as in “King Sized Canary,” whereby a bottle of super fast plant grower is drunk by the cat and the mouse and they grow to enormous proportions. One simple piece of logic turns into complete hilarity and mayhem.
To take something quite simple, every-day or even mundane and twist it or take it out of context is a good starting point. Schh, keep it to yourself but in the case of White Space Van Man, I really have been what the UK media term a “white van man,” (a delivery driver, usually with a stereotypical obnoxious attitude towards other road users) so the concept here begins with just having a rant about the mechanics of my employment.
Not a very entertaining prospect you might think, but again to simply take that area of logic, that simple thought, out of its usual surroundings or environment, such as space in this instance, well, the gags flow like water off a ducks back. Douglas Adams uses sci-fi to great effect but the real logical starting point for him was simply hitchhiking. The Flintstones takes humo(u)r from everyday life, it just gives it a prehistoric setting.
So anything life throws at you can be the basis of a funny plot, no matter how modest, mundane or humdrum it starts, as long as you can expand the idea beyond the realms of its normality. Some humorists use this as a form of crooked payback too, I often get asked by paranoid people if that character was supposed to be them, like a magician not revealing his tricks I never reply with any truth! I overheard two people speaking about White Space Van Man in my workplace, one said “So, what’s it like?” The other replied, “It’s just like a day working in this place!” Ah-ha, but it is so much more than that I thought to myself, yes, we don’t get to have such an adventure in space, we don’t mess about in the space/time continuum, well if we did I hadn’t noticed.
BB & B: To what extent do your characters remind you of yourself or someone you know?
Darren: I think I touched on this a little in the last question. Other characters I do take inspiration from people I know, if I never actually use a compete person I might well merge two or three people into one, but for a main character, in order to give them realism of course they all have a piece of me in them. Again though, they are not always the complete me, they might be me in a particular mood or even me from a time in the past. This way I can change the characters attitude or opinions by the end of the book and it will still be a little part of me, you see?!
My wife started to read White Space Van Man, when she finished the part where Barry complains about his wife, how he thought she took him for granted and generally criticized her, she gave me a stern look and asked if I was Barry! I told her no I wasn’t, as it is hard to explain that although some attributes of the character derives from me the character is not really wholly me at all. I then told her to read the rest of the book whereby Barry realizes the error of his ways and changes and she forgave me, told me it was her favorite book (another missing “U”, favourite, what have you guys and gals got against the letter “U?”)
So yes, I think it’s important to have a little bit of you in every main character but equally vital not expose your full self. This applies no matter how far away your character is from yourself, I mean if your lead character is a small slice of banana cake you still have to make it a bit like you. I am sure that although Bilbo Baggins is not human and lives in a complete fantasy world he still retains an inner likeness to Tolkien.
When I wanted to write a romance story, (not just to cash in on its current popularity you understand?) I pondered the idea of writing from the perspective of a female. This is tricky, although other authors on forums I discussed this with seemed to think otherwise. I decided not to do it, that to make a realistic character it had to be my own gender. In the end the book,One Piece Missing has fast become a favorite with readers of both genders, however I did get a reviewer that commented how well she related to the main male character but that the girl was rather flat and she could not relate to her. Maybe it’s easier for women; men are far less complex, (we think about beer, sex and sport, the only confusing part is in what order we do so) particularly if they write about a small boy, like Sue Townsend or J K Rowling. So, perhaps this is a good challenge, one which accomplished authors can do, I’m still just playing around with it!
BB & B: Not only are you an author, but you are also an artist. Tell us a bit about your art work and what you love about drawing.
Darren: Well that is the starting point you see, I relished as a child in TV cartoons and reading the Great British comic institutions like the Beano and Dandy. I spent many hours making up my own cartoons just for the fun of it. One day in a “Bash Street Kids” story in the Beano comic said kids went on an outing to the Beano studios. For the creators I am sure it was all just an excuse for a lot of in-house jokes, for the writers to mock the artists and for the artists to get their own back through their caricatures of the writers.
For me though it was a turning point for although I knew somewhere in my mind that people must draw and write these comics I had never really considered it before. That was it then my career dream was mapped on that very day and no teacher or adult could steer me away from it.
So pen and paper in hand I sketched away, having my first experience of being published in my school magazine. I flunked Art College, being pushed into graphic design; they asked me at the second year interview if I really wanted to be a graphic designer. I was too honest, I should have lied through my teeth but I said “no, I want to be a cartoonist!” Cartoons are seen as a hybrid of art and literature that neither world likes to touch, they are truly out there on limb. I argue that the ancient Egyptians created writing by drawing little pictures and symbols and so by all reasoning cartoons are actually the father of both writing and art. Unfortunately this was far too radical a thought for my college and they threw me out into the real world, the fact that a man that made cartoons became the largest entertainment industry ever never meant a Mickey Mouse to them.
So I used to dream of becoming the next Charles Schultz, getting a syndicated cartoon strip and moving to the sunshine state, oh how naïve I was! The reality saw me slaving away at my art after a day working a real job and making very little money out of it. I did start contributing to many a magazine and gradually finding a home within the self-published music fanzines and FINs (free information networks, little hand-made zines that gave counter-culture information- the internet killed this off very quickly) as these would be the only ones that dared publish the outrageous material I was churning out.
It wouldn’t be long under the wing of self-publishing that I decided the time was nigh to put all these crazy cartoons in one place and make my own comic. In the spirit of underground comix of yore I made Toonedelic Times in 1995, a madcap mixture of psychedelic cartoons, music reviews and other insane babble! I ran that comic for ten years, it had its ups and downs but the highlight for me was releasing three off-shoot comics in which my main characters (two whacked-out superheroes called “Rat Arsed and Shit Faced,”) took to a full-length adventure. This was the point where I found myself favo(U!)ring the writing over the artwork, so I began writing scripts for other artists to bulk out the comic and even set about writing a graphic novel.
At the point whereby Rat Arsed and Shit Faced where reaching a bit of a cult status and I was meeting my heroes, people like Gilbert Shelton who created the underground comic “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers,” I unexpectedly fell in love. My life turned around, we got married and had my daughter. The skullduggery in my life which fueled the nature of the comic was put to rest and I matured. That never worried me, it was getting tiresome and I had no time now for self-publishing, nappy (sorry diaper) changing yes, making crazy-ass comics, no!
It would be some years later that I got a kindle for my birthday and a year after that when I realized that I could self-publish on it. So, I reformed to be an author.
Comic creators may dub me a traitor to the ninth art if they wish, but I will always love drawing and keep my hand in by designing many posters, local shop logos and of course, book covers. I do my own covers and have done for a few other authors too. Be warned though I will always try and convince the client that they need a cartoon in their design somewhere!
Darren: Oh that’s a tricky one, its New Year’s Day y’know, don’t make me think too hard! Can I answer this like a politician? Yes, that’s a good question and one which I would like to answer in the fullness of time but let me first say this, under the previous government picking just one character would give us mass unemployment, civil disobedience and, and oh, I don’t know…..
Like I have said, a little bit of me is in every character. So, I have selected the first book character I wrote, Robert Longdong from the Hargreaves Code. It is still my bestseller to date and Longdong is nothing at all like that of any similar sounding character from a more renowned author like, say Dan Brown for instance.
He is a fool but a lovable one, a little bit sneaky and can, at times reveal a certain intelligence that is beyond him; perhaps that is just a fluke though. I could say that he is not the most developed of character as say, Barry from White Space Van Man, but for that reason I choose him….or maybe The Perminator, he is not what you might think, oh, it aggravates my wife when I spend eons staring aimlessly at a menu in a restaurant, this is no different, I have to leave it like that before I change my mind again!
BB & B: Your latest project, I am not Frazzle; the foreword in Frazzle is great, it starts beautifully detailed and had me giggling at the mention of nose hairs. For those that haven’t read I am not Frazzle yet, can you tell us again, what inspired you to put this project together?
Darren: Awl gee, thanks! I don’t stand on convention (it never stood on me.) When it comes to writing things like Forwards I guess it goes back to the days of making the comic, Toonedelic Times where I would have things like a Fake Contents page at the start. Another uncompleted book which just hangs on my computer called “50 Lampshades of Clay,” begins with a forward like “Forward. Can we have sex now? Well, how much more forward do you want me to be?”
So, yeah, anyway; Frazzle! As the forward says, the idea to make a charity anthology just popped in mind as I came crashing down on the sofa to watch some TV after work. I put up a group on Facebook to see if other authors would be interested in contributing and that is how it came about. A day before there was a news item I was reading, yet another story whereby some children had been horribly mistreated, a toddler left for dead for over two years in a pile of rubbish in a house and the mother hiding the fact so that she could claim the social benefit money. Now I am sorry if I swear here but what the f*** is going on in this world, how on earth can I be expected to make people laugh when this kind of sick, depraved event could possibly happen? There was no doubt that I wanted it to be a children’s charity.
Last year my daughter Jess did Christmas box packing at a local church. This is where they pack up shoe boxes with toys, clothes and things for children in third world countries. She was so inspired by this that this year she wanted to organize some at home to do and so she sent out an appeal letter to her school for items for the boxes. The head teacher was so impressed by her letter she encouraged the whole school to get involved and they ordered over 150 boxes to pack. I could not believe that my daughter had organized this all by herself, she is only six! So, she got her picture in the paper and received the Head-Teachers award, the highest merit in the school and she is only in her first year!
I was overwhelmed with pride as you can imagine but not to be outdone I decided that I have never really organized a charity fundraising exercise myself! And so Frazzle was born, I had the idea for my cover story somewhere on a random file of ideas and so I put you guys to work creating some others and wow, the book looks amazing, I love it more than anything I have ever made before, save a really nice pasta bake.
I did think that by getting others to write other stories it would reduce my workload but I have found it not so easy. I now find myself getting frustrated with these websites that want money to promote books and they will not wavier that for a charity project. Still it is in its early stages but doing quite well.
BB & B: I am not Frazzle was done to donate proceeds to a children’s charity. What has it been like to work with a charity organization like The Devizes and District Opportunity Centre? Would you consider undertaking another similar project?
Darren: At first I approached the big children’s charities in the UK; they however would not allow us to use their brand name without being an established company and giving a guaranteed sum. Unfortunately I could meet this criteria and this frustrated me. It was my wife who told me that the Opportunity Centre in our town was a registered charity; I thought it was council funded.
I went to talk to them, they showed me around. They specialize with young children with learning difficulties and disabilities, working with various organizations, schools and parents to give the kids the best start to life and make parents aware of the options open to them.
For the children themselves they seem to see it as one big nursery which caters more for their needs than normal nurseries, they have a one-on-one ratio and work with children very closely and on a personal level. The kids love it there and see the workers as friends. I was a lively place to be and full of fun, I could have stayed all day; they had a train set and everything!
The Centre was very helpful, and warmed to the idea very quickly. I will be revisiting very soon when we have some paperbacks in the local bookstore, hopefully with the local press, as long as they don’t want to play with MY train set.
BB & B: Do you have works in progress? What can fans expect from you in the near future?
Darren: Fans? Plural? Fan, I think you mean; that spotty guy on Facebook that always likes my status.
I seem to have more ideas than time to produce them all and therefore I have several projects just hanging there. I started a zombie comedy which takes place in a very British West Country village. I have the 50 Lampshades project I started too. I have also plotted out a sequel to White Space Van Man, called “Stark Trek.”
I am part way through an enormous project called Kelly. It is very ambitious, starting off as a social commentary which holds no prisoners; it is a twisted narrative which becomes more paranormal and horrific as time goes on. The second part is more political thriller and by the time it all pans out you will see that it fits nicely into a sci-fi genre! After the great reception that my first serious novelette Saffron, received I thought I would try my hand a large full length novel in three parts. It does give me the creeps writing it though and I make notes, stop and work on comedy to refresh myself!
BB & B: Do you have any closing words you’d like to share?
Darren: Indeed I do and it is this: People- support self-publishers, review, plug and shout out loud to the world when you find a self-published book you liked, splash it all over the social networks and make your friends out there, that would have otherwise just paid for an overpriced celebrity autobiography from a supermarket, know what is happening. People are waking up to the fact that there an alternative choice of publications they can venture into, they just need a little shove in the right direction!
Thank you Darren for your time! Best wishes to I am not Frazzle and all your future works!
The pleasure was all mine, thanks!
Get more laughs and more fun with Darren by going to the links below:
My books can also be found on iTunes, Sony, Kobo, EBM and many others!