I’m delighted to welcome today’s guest, crime writer Dan Smith, to Books, Biscuits and Tea. To celebrate the publication of his latest novel, The Darkest Heart, Dan stopped by the blog for a chat. I hope you enjoy the interview!
Hi Dan, welcome to Books, Biscuits and Tea! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thank you very much; it’s a pleasure to be here! A little bit about myself? Hmm, well, I want to say that I’m an international man of mystery. Or maybe a shadowy cartel hitman. Or a rugged adventurer. But I’m none of those things. I am in fact a story-loving, film-watching, game-playing, sky-diving, book-writing author. Without the sky-diving. I really must take up some interesting and dangerous hobbies.
You lived in many different places – Sierra Leone, Sumatra and Brazil, to mention a few – why did you decide to settle down in England? Has your experience in these foreign countries influenced your writing?
The reason for all the travelling was that my dad worked for a rubber company and we spent a lot of time living on rubber plantations. I don’t think there was ever any belief that we’d live abroad forever – we always had a home in England, and my brother and I came to boarding school here. Also, I love it here. There’s a lot to moan about and a lot that needs changing but I consider myself lucky to live in such a great country. There’s no doubt, though, that my experiences have influenced and will continue to influence my writing. I love stories that take me somewhere else and hope to do the same for my readers. It’s an amazing world out there, and there are all kinds of exciting places just begging to be used!
When did you decide to become a writer?
I’ve met a few authors who tell me they always knew they wanted to be writers. Not me. Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to be – apart from wanting to be Han Solo when I was 7 or 8 years old – but stories were always important to me. I looked for stories wherever I could find them and even made up stories of my own, so it was probably inevitable that I’d start to write them down. I still have some of the short stories I wrote as a teenager, and while they’re pretty awful, they were the beginning for me. That’s when I seriously started to think I might want to be a writer. The only problem was that I had no idea how to go about it.
You write books for both adults and younger readers. Which one do you find more challenging and why?
Whichever one I’m writing at the time! Each type of book comes with its own challenges, and I agonise over every single book, trying as hard as I can to make it the best it can be. When I’m writing for younger readers, I always think that’s the most challenging. When I’m writing for adults . . . well, that’s the most challenging. I think it was Neil Gaiman who once said that writing for younger readers is more difficult because you have to leave out all the boring bits, and there’s an element of truth to that. Pacing is very important in books for younger readers. But then, adult readers are more experienced, they’ve often read much more, and that makes them more demanding, so stories have to bring something unexpected and new.
Most of your books are mysteries – is there another genre you’re still eager to try? Or one you would never attempt to write?
If I had a great idea for a romance, or a horror story or sci-fi, I think I’d just go ahead and write it. Whether or not anyone would want to publish it, though, would be another matter! I think that my adult novels usually fall under the umbrella of crime/thriller/mystery, because I’m drawn to stories that have a darkness to them. I like to put my characters in impossible situations, confront them with the worst in life, and see how they react.
Tell us a little bit about your new book, The Darkest Heart. What is it about?
The Darkest Heart is about a young man called Zico who grew up in a favela in Rio but is trying to escape from a life of crime. Now living in rural Brazil, he is determined to become a better man, but an opportunity falls in his lap for him to earn a house, some land, and some money in his pocket – a future for him and his girlfriend Daniella. The catch is that he has to murder a human rights activist who also happens to be a nun. The story follows Zico as he heads upriver by boat, all the time struggling with whether or not he will be able to go through with it. And along the way, the boat collects a few passengers who make Zico’s decision even more difficult.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Getting the relationships just right. Zico, the main character, has a small number of people in his life who are very important to him – particularly his girlfriend, Daniella, and his father figure, Raul – and I wanted to make sure the reader understood the relationships as I felt them. It was also tricky trying to convey the sense that Zico has two sides to his character; he is essentially a good man, but is capable of doing some terrible things. Hopefully I’ve made that believable . . .
Do you have any favourite characters in the book?
I love all of them, but Leonardo was the most fun to write. Cocky, nasty and unhinged. Bad guys are always fun.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I’m working on two new books at the moment – one for adults and one for younger readers – but I can’t tell you about them otherwise I’d have to . . . well, you know.
About the book
‘There were times I felt I would always be death’s passenger. It moved one step ahead of me wherever I went, letting its shadow fall across me. It carried me on; shaded me from the world other people lived in.’
Leaving behind his life of violence in Brazil’s darkest shadows, Zico is determined to become a better man. But it seems his old life isn’t quite done with him yet when he’s tasked with making one last kill. It’s one that could get him everything he has ever wanted; a house, some land, cash in his pocket, a future for him and his girlfriend, Daniella. But this one isn’t like all the others. This one comes at a much higher price.