Interview with David Gullen

  • Tell us about your book (what’s the sales pitch?)

Tim Wassiter, P.I. is a new-age detective. His ex-partner mocks him and the old lady down the road just wants him to find her missing cat. But Tim knows magic works and he can use it to solve crime.

Now Tim has his first real client, a mysterious woman with powerful, dangerous, and increasingly impatient friends. As things get more violent, more bewildering and more utterly weird, Tim discovers the case is far bigger than he ever imagined.

Because everything is connected – from missing cats to warming oceans, sea-monsters to little white flowers, the past and the future. Even the crazy stranger who stepped out of Tim’s dreams. And everyone is looking for someone who almost certainly does not exist – The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms.

Magic isn’t just real, it’s going to get him killed.

  • If you could be a character in the book who would you be and why?

Who wouldn’t want to be a mermaid? Having just written that I’m now thinking should I not want to be a merman? But the ones in my book aren’t very nice and no, I actually would rather be a mermaid.

While I’m not sure I’d want to be him I found myself identifying with Troy Jarglebaum, though I can’t think why. After all, he’s overweight, middle-aged, worrying he’s past it, yet still hustling for the main chance.

To put it politely Troy has some out of date attitudes at the start of the story, but he has a good moral compass and he gets there in the end. He learns a lot, he changes for the better, and in the end he makes a difference.

  • What did you learn about writing by writing this book?

Sometimes stories need to be forgotten about. Several years ago I’d taken this one as far as I could, and it wasn’t good enough. Disillusioned, I effectively abandoned it and went on to other things. I wrote many short stories and two other novels, and had a third in progress. (SF epic, 110,000 words and I’m only half-way. Epic, I tell you.) From time to time I’d think about this one and remember some of the things I still liked about it.

Eventually I decided to take another look and almost immediately saw what was wrong. I still loved the characters, the intricate plot, the mix of myth, magic, and the everyday, but I’d written it wrong. I sat down with a copy of the old MS and rewrote the entire thing.

I’ve just taken a look at an early draft from 2008. Haha. It’s rubbish. That’s another thing worth remembering: drafts are not the finished article and you have to get all the junk out of the drawer to find the things you’re looking for.

  • Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it?

What my process should be is ‘Sit down and write’. Remarkably, when I do that it works well. Words arrive on the page, often in something approximating the right order. (A lot of my editing seems to be rearranging sentences in paragraphs. They’re usually all there, along with a couple of spare ones, just in the wrong order. I guess that’s an indicator of how I think.)

What the process often actually is, is a slow and catastrophic slide away from good practice into distraction and angst, followed some time later by a concerted effort to get with the program because 1) I know it works, and b) I enjoy it when it does.

Like most people, my writing flywheel spins fastest at dawn and dusk, but life doesn’t always let me write at those times. I’ve learned that it’s easy to write pretty much anywhere, and I’m discovering anywhen, though harder, also works. And once you’re done the words are the same.

  • What’s one question you think would be really fun to answer, but has never been asked of you?

Um. Er. Dunno. ‘Would you like a three-book deal?’

  • What made you choose to write your book as a contemporary magical detective mystery?

I could say do you choose which stories to write or do they chose you to write them? (Waves hands spookily.) Sensibly, there has to be some kind of spark that draws you in, or you’d better find one. If it isn’t there then what you have is probably an idea, not a story. File it away for later of maybe never. Ideas are cheap.

The Girl started as a fifteen minutes writing exercise at a weekend workshop. A few people said it sounded like the start of a novel and for some reason I agreed. It felt exciting, the challenge had first limited who I could write about, then freed my imagination for the story.

And here we are with an actual novel something like fifteen years later. I didn’t set out to write this, it more or less arrived. I liked what I saw and went with it.

  • How much research did you do before writing the book and how did you go about it?

I researched the religions and life of ancient Babylon as best as I was able, though there’s not a lot out there. A little frustrating because I wanted to get that right, but it also gave me some freedom. I also had an email Q&A with a friendly detective about various aspects of police procedure and technology, and I read up on the relevant aspects of Finnish mythology and the Kalevala. If there was more I honestly can’t remember because it was so long ago. I started The Girl back in 2005/6.

  • Do you remember the first story you told? What was it?

No chance, I was making stuff up as a young child. When I was at school I wrote stories for my friends, though I’m not sure I ever finished any. I wrote a collaborative piece of nonsense on night shift in my first IT job, and later on I effectively told stories for others to inhabit in my years of table-top RPG.

In 1994 I wrote my first story with pretensions to be an actual writer. It was called 2020 Vision, and you can read it on my web site.

  • What are you reading? Who do you think we should be reading (apart from you!)?

I’ve just finished The Sea Road, by Margaret Elphinstone, and have just started The Liar’s Dictionary, by Eley Williams. After that it’s Helen Callaghan’s Nights Falls, Still Missing. I like to read a lot of short stories too. I’ve just read Best of British SF 2019, from Newcon press, and subscribe to F&SF and a few other magazines. William Dalrymple is a brilliant non-fiction writer. Read anything by him.

What should you be reading? Whatever you want, but I would say you should only read the good stuff, whatever that means to you. I’ve no time or patience to finish bad books.

  • In one sentence what’s your best piece of advice for writers?

If your characters are having a conversation about what they should do next they are asking you for help; if you’ve ground to a halt writing a scene, cut it out and move on.


David Gullen’s latest novel, The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, is available in print and ebook. (PS-you can read my review of it here) Other recent work includes Third Instar from Eibonvale Press, and Once Upon a Parsec: The Book of Alien Fairy Tales, from Newcon Press. His short story, Warm Gun, won the BFS Short Story Competition in 2016, with other work short-listed for the James White Award and placed in the Aeon Award. He is a past judge for the Arthur C. Clarke and James White Awards, and is the current Chair of the Milford SF Conference.

David was born in Africa and baptised by King Neptune He has lived in England most of his life and currently lives behind several tree ferns in South London with the fantasy writer Gaie Sebold.

Published by suttope

Pete W Sutton is a writer and editor. His two short story collections – A Tiding of Magpies and The Museum for Forgetting – were shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards in 2017 & 2022 respectively. His novel – Seven Deadly Swords – was published by Grimbold Books. He has edited several short story anthologies and is the editor for the British Fantasy Society Horizons fiction magazine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: