An Interview with Author Damian Dibben

Damian worked as an actor and screenwriter before he began writing novels. His series, THE HISTORY KEEPERS, about a boy who finds his parents are lost in history and joins a secret service to track them down, is published by Penguin Random House and has been translated into twenty-seven languages. His new novel, TOMORROW, also with Penguin, tells the story of a two-hundred year old dog and his search for his master through the courts and battlefields of old Europe. It will be released in Spring 2018.

When did you start writing? Has it always been what you wanted to do as a career? I didn’t set out to be a writer at all, but fell into it through a series of chances. From an early age, my great love was film. More than books back then. I watched many every week, and if they had an impact – and all varieties appealed and still do, comedies, dramas, suspense, horror, new films or black and white – I’d watch them again and again, until I understood why they worked so well, how the building blocks had been stacked up. This is how I first learnt about writing, how to develop characters and tell a story to create that sense of impact. Having worked as a screenwriter for a decade, both in the UK and Hollywood, I was eventually drawn to writing books. A book is in a way like a completed film, in which you have not only been the ‘writer’, but also the various actors, cameraman, editor and set designer.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an author?Getting going on a story can sometimes feel unnatural. Beginning the process of matching an idea in your head with actual words on a page can be like walking into the sea: it’s cold to begin with, you’re apprehensive, you don’t know how deep it is or what lies beneath, but you soon get used to it, and before long you don’t want to get out. More than anything, I think it’s important to set yourself a daily goal, so many words or hours, and stick to it. It may seem sometimes like you’re writing nonsense, but as long as you are dong it, the results will follow.

As a writer you are constantly faced with making Something Out Of Nothing when coming up with storylines, creating characters and so on… Is there a routine or environment you find you work best in? Do you have dos and don’ts for when you have a day of writing? It takes an hour or so for me to get going in the morning, along with a couple of breakfasts, a dog walk and a pint of coffee. I Iike to keep regular working hours Monday to Friday, but of course the story is always ticking away in the background. That can be fun, it’s like having a parallel universe at your disposal. If I’m on a winning streak, I’ll work through lunch and late into the evening. Though if I do, my Jack Russel Dudley protests, sometimes dramatically. Other days, it can be like pulling teeth and I have to remind myself that a journey is taken one step, one word, at a time.

History seems to feature a lot in your writing.. if you could live in any other era- what era would choose?  I’d go to Ancient Rome first, for the spectacle of it. An empire has rarely been so far-reaching, ambitious, magnificent and gruesome all at the same time. I’d be fascinated to travel through Europe in the 17th century – avoiding the wars if I could – in the age of enlightenment, to witness the many moments of discovery in science, astronomy, art, architecture and medicine. In the same century, for luxury and sheer, absurd pomp and circumstance, Louis XIV’s Versailles would be hard to beat.

As ambassador/patron for Kids In Museums, what are your top picks for London’s museums? The Victoria and Albert has always been a favourite. There is such a quantity of treasures there, each one with its own story to tell. Walking around you get a sense of the sweep of human history and the wonders that have been created over the centuries by inventors, craftsmen, designers and explorers. In particular, the Renaissance Galleries are awe-inspiring.

When you’re struggling for ideas, where are your ‘go-to’ places in London to feel inspired again? Apart from the above, I’ll go to the theatre perhaps. Many London theatres sell day-seats for ten or fifteen pounds. I’ll go and queue early in the morning for a show that night. The seats are always in the front row, which is my favourite place, as you feel part of the action. London’s parks are numerous and outstanding. Within them, all walks of life come together and interact in a fascinating manner – and they have been that way for hundreds of years, which strikes me as incredibly civilised. Kensington Gardens is a particular favourite, partly because I grew up close by. I find food also gets the ideas flowing, so I’ll go to Borough Market perhaps, see what looks good- shellfish usually – and cook up a feast. 

What would you say are the three most inspiring books you’ve ever read?Wuthering Heights is the book I always come back to. It’s ingeniously constructed, whilst having a story of pure dynamite. Reading it is a visceral experience. The characters, whilst not always sympathetic, are entirely absorbing, the story has a perfect arc and the atmosphere is intensely vivid throughout. Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything is riveting. With a lightness of touch he tells the story of the world and of humanity. We learn everything from how the universe was formed, to the way dinosaurs were first discovered, to what goes on in the centre of the atom. It’s mind bowing – and it’s all true! More recently, I loved The Goldfinch. A boy loses his mother when a bomb goes off in a museum. In a state of confusion he makes away with an important Dutch masterpiece, which he keeps hidden for a decade whilst he grows up. We’re desperate to know if he’ll ever reveal his secret – or indeed face his demons. It’s an epic and modern classic.

Finally, which existing fictional character would you say you’re most similar to? It would be nice to think I’m a little bit like Tintin, someone who enjoys being drawn into an adventure, has lots of eccentric friends and who travels the world with his faithful dog – in his case, Snowy – solving mysteries together. What’s not to like?

To stay in the know with Damian, for book updates and more, you can follow him on Facebook @damiandibbenauthor