Tales Q&A with David Owen
The 7th May 2015 marks the release date of some fab titles in UKYA being released (check out @SnugglingonSofa ‘s fab spreadsheet here ) and Countdown to 7th May will feature many of these authors over on some awesome blogs with a variety of posts!
I was over the moon to be contacted by Jim over at YaYeahYeah to see if I would like to be part of the Countdown to 7th May blog tour! Needless to say I jumped at the chance and I was over the moon…okay okay you got me…I did a little squee to find out who I was paired up with!
Below I talk to David about mental health, inspiration, exciting plans, embarrassing first kisses and floating hamsters in a very open and honest Q&A!
To find out more about Countdown to 7th May check out the website – www.countdownya.com
Also huge shout out to Daphne over at @wingedreviews who created the wonderful Countdown Graphic!
Check out my review of Panther here
Can you control a beast you can’t see?
Life isn’t going terribly well for Derrick; he’s become severely overweight, his only friend has turned on him, he’s hopelessly in love with a girl way out of his league, and it’s all because of his sister. Her depression, and its grip on his family, is tearing his life apart. When rumours start to circulate that a panther is roaming wild in his south London suburb, Derrick resolves to turn capture it. Surely if he can find a way to tame this beast, he’ll be able to stop everything at home from spiraling towards disaster?
Panther is a funny, touching, and occasionally unsettling coming-of-age story, which deals candidly with the stigmas and misunderstandings surrounding depression.
Publisher – Corsair
Date Published – 7th May 2015
Pages – 240 pages
Format – Paperback
Category – UK YA
About David Owen
David Owen achieved a first class honours in BA Creative Writing and an MA Writing for Children at the University of Winchester, where he went on to teach on the BA Creative Writing course for three years. He is also an awards-shortlisted games journalist, with a particular interest in the applications for video games outside of entertainment, and he has written about games being used to treat depression, dyslexia and autism. David has been published as a poet in journals including Agenda and Seam. Panther is his first novel.
Hi David. Welcome to Tales Of Yesterday. Thank you so much for featuring on my blog…I am very excited and thrilled to have you here as part of the Countdown to the 7th May tour! I really was over the moon when Jim told me the news!
Firstly, I just wanted to say a huge congratulations with regards to your debut, Panther. I’ve not long finished reading it and it’s an absolute credit to you! You tackle such serious subjects in a raw, powerful way with the main character Derrick being both relatable and caring all with a pinch of humour in his character which for me was perfect!
In Panther we get to meet Derrick who’s life seems to be going downhill since his sister was diagnosed with depression. He hears rumours of a Panther roaming the area and sets his sights on catching the Panther! Derrick believes if he can catch the beast the downward spiral of himself and his family will cease! This book deals with how depression can effect the person who is suffering, but also how it affects others who are determined to help.
Check out my review of Panther here
Can you tell us a little about your debut Panther?
It’s about the impact depression has on the people around the sufferer – how, although that person undoubtedly suffers the worst, the people around them also struggle because of how it makes that person behave, how it’s so difficult to understand, to know how to help. Panther is about how depression is still widely misunderstood, the damage that does, and the stigmas that arise as a result.
What inspired you to write the story of Panther?
Depression runs in my family, severely affecting people close to me while I was growing up, and in recent years I have also been diagnosed with depression. So I feel like I’ve seen the illness from both sides. When I was a young teenager, growing up in the same house as someone struggling with depression, I really didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t know what had caused it, why that person couldn’t just get over it, and I often accused them of faking it. To put it simply, I treated that person incredibly badly, and rather than helping them it’s possible I made things worse for them. I still have a lot of guilt about that. So Panther was a way to explore that, perhaps make amends in some small way, and I hope it might help young people who are suffering from depression, or who know someone who is.
What made you pick a Panther as The Beast?
I come from a London suburb called Penge, and for years there’s been rumours and sightings of a wild panther roaming the area. A friend of my mum’s, who lives one road over from us, claimed she saw it once in her back garden. When she called the police they sent out a helicopter with a searchlight (you might recognise that from the book!). A guy claimed it attacked him when he went out to rescue his cat. And one of my best friends, who’s as level-headed and sceptical as they come, thinks he may have seen it once.
It’s something that’s always captured my imagination. And it felt like the perfect animal to symbolise depression: a powerful creature that lurks in the shadows, difficult to uncover and understand.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters in Panther or have you used any of your own experiences in the story?
Before any of them read Panther, I had numerous arguments with my family about it, because they were convinced I was writing about them. That really isn’t true. Though I would never deny that I used my real experiences as a starting point, the characters soon took on a life of their own. So my experience informed a story that was different to that of my life.
But there is a fair bit of myself in Derrick. I was severely overweight, and had a borderline eating disorder. But some of the more extreme things he ends up doing are not based on my own experiences at all!
I think Derrick is a better person than I was. Although he goes about it in a misguided way, he tries to understand and he tries to help. That’s something I never tried to do. In some respects, Derrick is the boy I wish I had been.
Derrick finds himself in some difficult tricky situations! When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
It’s not that recent, but the story of the first time I ever kissed a girl comes to mind. I was twenty (which tells you all you need to know about my romantic endeavours up to that point), and through sheer dumb luck ended up going home with a girl after a night out (don’t worry, not an X-rated story). We kissed (my first time ever, which was terrifying) and cuddled for a bit in her room on the student village, and then decided to go to bed. As soon as we lay down she started stroking my hair, telling me I was pretty, and then she pinned my arms down and demanded I tell her that I would never hurt her. My guess is that she’d recently had a bad break up.
I was absolutely terrified, and told her I was going to the toilet so she’d let me up. When I started to collect my trousers and shoes to leave, she started to scream at me not to leave. I went for the door without dressing. She threw a pint glass at my head, and when I ducked it shattered against the door, spraying me with glass. I hopped over the wreckage and ran for it across the student village in nothing but my underwear.
So that was my first kiss. I really am as socially awkward as Derrick.
I don’t mean to laugh at your misfortune there David but I think we all agree that’s an unforgettable first kiss…but a fab story ! 🙂
One thing I loved about the book was that whilst tackling such serious subjects of depression and bullying the main character Derrick provided me with a few funny moments when I laughed out loud and things he said or thought. Was humour important for you to get across in the book?
Really important, yeah. It would be so easy for a book about depression to be worthy, overly serious, or, you know, depressing. So although it is a serious book, and some really horrible stuff happens, it felt really important to get some humour in there. I think it makes those difficult moments more effective – if the book was relentlessly serious and bleak, the reader might become inured to it by the end. I really didn’t want that to happen.
Also, there is sometimes something inherently ridiculous about depression. When I’m feeling down and hating myself, I sometimes end up laughing because the self-deprecating thoughts that go through my head are so ridiculous. It can also make you behave in strange ways. When I was in a bad spell of depression I burst into tears because I dropped a fish finger sandwich on the carpet. It was so silly.
How important was it for you to show the effect depression has on the sufferer, family and the people around them?
As mentioned above, I think it’s incredibly important. Depression is still so widely misunderstood, which can make it so difficult for people suffering with it to get the support they need. It can be so isolating if your friends and family have no idea what you’re going through, and those people can end up feeling helpless, or guilty, or angry, or any number of things, because they just can’t understand what’s happening. Everyone suffers. There doesn’t just need to be better help in place for people suffering from mental illness; there needs to be better education across the board to destroy stigma and get people talking about and understanding mental illness like we do physical maladies.
If you could cast your characters from Panther in a big Hollywood film adaptation which actors would you choose?
That’s a tough question! To me Panther feels like a fairly small, English story. I can’t imagine it being set in the USA. So it would have to be English actors. Olivia Colman would be great as Derrick’s mum, because she’s great in everything. Maybe someone like Will Poulter for Derrick, though he’s a bit too old now.
I totally agree with these choices!
The voice of the Beast would be the most important casting decision, even though it doesn’t say much. The only people I can think of are really obvious, like Liam Neeson or Benedict Cumberbatch.
Yes David! Yes!
Maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger?!
*mouth drops open wide*
Being a debut author we would love to know a little bit more about you! Can you give us 5 random facts we don’t know about David Owen?
- I once accidentally flooded the pet shop where I worked. Most of the animals were okay, but let’s just say that I know for a fact that hamster corpses float…
- I took BA Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, went on to take an MA Writing for Children there, and then ended up teaching on the same BA I had taken for a couple of years.
- My favourite book is Watership Down by Richard Adams.
- Many years ago an argument about decency I was having with some people on a creative writing website ended with me writing a short story from the perspective of a fame-hungry horse penis, just to really annoy them all.
- My favourite word is ‘Kaleidoscope.’ Even though I can never spell it correctly first time around.
My favourite book is Watership Down too *chinks glass* Oh and RIP hamsters!
I read that you write as a freelance journalist for your day job and write for number of video game and technology websites and magazines and have even been shortlisted 3 times for the Games Journalism Prize! Wow is this true?
It was true! I recently gave up freelancing and took a full-time job doing content and social media for a travel website. But yes, for a couple of years I wrote for lots of really great websites and magazines, and was recognised by the Games Journalism Prize.
I wrote several times about the impact, both positive and negative, that video games can have on depressed people, and even appeared in a mini-documentary on the subject.
I also read that you are a ‘talk about mental health’ advocate for teens which I think is amazing – can you tell us a bit more about this and how this came about?
I’ve only been open about having depression for a couple of years. Since my late teens I suspected that I had depression, but largely kept it quiet, and even convinced myself that I was just being melodramatic. I’d seen from the outside what depression was like, and really didn’t want to go through that, and put others through it too. Eventually it got so bad that I had to admit it to myself and see a doctor. As a result, I think my illness may be a lot worse than it might be had I faced up to it straight away.
So I think it’s incredibly important that support for young people with mental health issues is drastically improved. The amount of young people with depression is going up, as are suicide rates, and a big part of that is because we’re still not comfortable talking about mental health in the same way we do physical illnesses. That needs to change.
A related story: when I was going for the full-time job I’m now doing, I was advised to erase from the internet much of what I had written about my illness, for fear that my potential employer would be put off by it. I’m ashamed to say that I did it. I needed the job. It’s only now that I’m secure in the job that I feel safe to talk about it openly again.
It’s not good enough. It needs to change.
I fully agree with this!
Growing up who inspired you into writing? Are there any Authors or books that inspired you?
When I was a kid I was obsessed with Dick King Smith books. He had so many great stories and characters. I also really enjoyed Jacqueline Wilson, even though they were supposedly only for girls – it didn’t stop me!
Are there any recent works or authors that you admire or books you wish you had written or that you would like to collaborate with in the future?
In recent years I’ve become an ardent admirer of Patrick Ness. A Monster Calls was a tremendous influence on Panther, that mix of a serious subject with magic realism. It’s absolutely beautiful. I recently saw him at a party and was too star struck to talk to him!
I often read great books and feel a bit jealous that I didn’t write them, but then they’re not my books, and I would never have done as good a job as that author. As for collaborating, I can’t even begin to think how that would work!
When starting a new book or idea what does your writing process look like?
It’s an absolute mess, to be honest!
It usually starts with reams of hand-written notes, scribbles here and there that have amassed over time. Eventually I’ll try and shove it all into a coherent order and write a plan (by hand, again), and go from there. The first draft is always awful, so I try not to stress about it too much. The most difficult part of writing a book is starting – once you’ve defeated the blank page, you can put your head down and hammer at it all until it’s in something resembling a good shape.
What do you think makes a good story?
Honestly, I’m not sure. Good characters are probably the most important thing. However good your story is, it won’t be compelling if the reader doesn’t become invested in how the characters navigate it. The characters lead us through the story, so if they’re badly drawn the whole thing can fall apart.
But I don’t really know. There are books where characters are a bit one dimensional but the experience is still really enjoyable. Perhaps it really depends from writer to writer?
Do you have any strange writing habits?
I really don’t! I see so many writers who have to be in a certain coffee shop, or who light candles, and all sorts. I just sit at my desk in my room, put my head down, and get on with it. Now I have a full-time job it’s obviously more difficult to find the time. I get up early every morning to squeeze in around an hour and a half of writing, and then aim for a couple of hours after work. It’s a very unromantic process!
Can you tell us your story to publication? How did becoming published come about and how did it feel?
Again, it was very unromantic. I wrote a YA dystopian trilogy and published it on digital platforms at the same time as submitting to agents. Big mistake! Agents and publishers generally don’t want something that’s already been published digitally, unless it’s been really successful. Luckily Ella Kahn of DKW Lit Agency liked it enough to overlook that, and she took me on.
That project ultimately went nowhere, but in the mean time I was writing Panther, which did go somewhere! It was a strange feeling when I heard I had a publishing deal. It was everything I’d ever wanted, but publication day was 18 months away. So I suppose it was a tad underwhelming. I was really just relieved. Now that publication day is looming I’m a lot more excited!
What is your favourite part of the publishing / writing process and the least favourite part?
I enjoy the second/third redraft the most. The pain and struggle of the first draft is over, and you’re really shaping it into something that resembles the final product. It can be hugely satisfying. It’s after that, when you’re fine tuning, copy-editing etc. that it can all get a bit tedious, and you get sick of the sight of your own book!
When you see your cover for the first time is also a special moment. Massive thank you to Jon Gray for the beautiful Panther cover. I can’t imagine better.
Over on Tales Of Yesterday I have recently been asking YA authors if music has any influence to their writing and/or characters. Is there a particular song that influenced Panther and/or it’s characters and if so how or why?
There are no songs that directly influenced Panther. But I have a stable of ‘depression songs’ that I listen to when I’m feeling down. It’s cathartic to listen to melancholy music, I think. So special mentions have to go to ‘The Beginning and the End’ by Anathema, ‘Everything Dies’ by Type O Negative, ‘Song for Bob’ by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (so, so beautiful), ‘The Snow Leopard’ by Shearwater and ‘High Hopes’ by Pink Floyd. If at least one of those songs doesn’t make you cry, you have no soul.
What’s next? Any exciting plans that you are able to reveal?
Nothing that I can reveal just yet, I’m afraid! But I’m working on a YA book that’s a lot more ambitious than Panther, as well as a Middle Grade book that’s a lot more fun and action-packed!
Thank you so much David for taking the time to answer these questions and feature on Tales Of Yesterday. It really is an honour to have you here and I really wish you all the success in the world with Panther – you truly deserve it!
Thank you, Chelle!
You can also find out more about Panther or order it here
Don’t forget to check out my review of Panther here
Do check back on the 11th May 2015 where I will be hosting a brilliant Panther giveaway!
Follow the rest of the tour as we countdown to all the YA releases due out on the 7th May 2015!
Or check out the hash tag – #countdownya !
Has this interview tempted you to read Panther? Have you already read it? What did you think? I would love to hear from you! Why not leave a comment using the reply button at the top of this post or tweet me on twitter using @chelleytoy !
Happy counting down to the 7th May!