BookView Interview with Author David Ellis

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author David Ellis , about his writing and his latest, Dark Horse & Other Stories Skyrmion, a layered exploration of life, death, and otherworldliness. (Read the review here.).  

David Ellis was born in 1965, near Birmingham in the UK. He attended local secondary Schools, first the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and then the Queen Elizabeth Mercian High School. In 1984 he enrolled at the University of Exeter in the South-West of England, studying chemistry and graduating in 1987.

Finding himself enthused by the subject, he completed a doctorate in 1991. Student life re-ignited an old passion, writing, and this has continued ever since. David has composed over six hundred poems, many short stories, and sketches, and eight extended pieces. This collection of short stories spans some thirty-five years, the first to be written, ‘The Soul Train’ dating from his undergraduate years. He now lives in Edinburgh, where he teaches and carries out research at Heriot-Watt University.

How do you begin a story?

Usually through a single idea. A ‘what if.’ For example, for the second story in the Dark Horse collection, a thought came to me while on the bus to work: what if the guy that sold you your morning newspaper looked the same as the guy that drives your bus who looks the same as the guy who serves you in the sandwich bar at lunchtime…what if everyone started to look the same? Then you must make the thought into a story, characters, situations, beginnings and endings.

What kinds of feelings, emotions, or reactions are you trying to evoke with the stories in Dark Horse and Other Stories?

I like the reader to feel slightly nervous about what might happen next, but I don’t write terrifying stories, so it’s more a sense of angst than terror…and I try to build in a little humour to stop it getting too stressful.

What did the process of putting together Dark Horse and Other Stories look like? Did you decide on a theme for the book and then write stories to fit that theme, or did a theme become clear only after you had written the stories?

All the stories were written as stand-alone pieces. The first one, ‘Soul Train,’ arrived in the mid-1980s, when I was an undergraduate student. The others are more recent but still unconnected. They were never intended to be a collection, but they do have some threads in common, a sense of the unexpected, a journey or journeys, scenes in public houses…and two of them feature the good old traditional British Fish-and-Chip Shop.

Which scene, character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book?

‘Everywhere,’ specifically the ending. The idea of everyone beginning to look the same was the easy bit, but how to turn that into a story was difficult…and how do you end it? I tried to construct this in a kind of vague way where the reader might have to do some of the work. I’m still not sure it works perfectly but I like the thrust of the tale and that’s why I put it into the collection. Up to the reader to draw their own conclusion. I think it’s fairly clear now where Dougie’s and Laura’s journey ends…or maybe begins.

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your stories?

I used to read a lot of Stephen King when I was younger. I liked the way he constructed his  stories, where a perfectly normal situation would rapidly escalate into something   extraordinary and, usually, dangerous. I think that this has influenced many of my stories,  though I don’t venture into the horror outcomes that King does. Iain Banks, two authors in   one, I think The Wasp Factory is one of the most disturbing novels ever written. George  Orwell, some consider him a greater journalist than a writer but ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ and  ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ are author/journalism combined. I love the classics…Dickens, Hardy, Trollope…and Walter Scott, whose mighty monument is ten minutes’   walk from my flat, he basically invented the historical novel. William Blake is a massive inspiration for me, I stole an extract from one of his poems for ‘Dark Horse’ and one of the characters in that story is…Blake Roberts. Ulysses may be one of the greatest artistic creations. It leaves me awestruck.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Ulysses, but I am not worthy.

How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?

 I didn’t ‘decide,’ I just wrote what came out. I don’t think you should try and ‘design’ your genre, just write what comes naturally…what interests you, and what you like to read.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

I write for fun, so there is no challenge. There are always things to think about when you are  constructing stories, but I am the boss, and I can do what I like! If I craft a story well, hopefully it will make an impact. I don’t ‘overthink’ what I write. Ultimately, I am telling a story that I  hope readers will enjoy.

What’s next for you?

I have just completed the first draft of another short story, ‘The Secret Room,’ and with other recent work I have another collection good to go. I also have a strange piece, a kind of reworking of The Divine Comedy that I’d like to publish. I write poetry and might have enough decent ones to publish a selection. I have a day job, lecturer at Heriot-Watt University here in Edinburgh, so life is full!


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