Saturday, 20 August 2016

Gothic Roots by Danny Weston

It never fails to make me smile.  

'Why?’ ask the concerned parents, ‘do our children have such dark imaginations? What attracts them to such sinister fiction? Is it healthy to be so preoccupied?’ 
My retort is invariably the same. I invite the parent to think about the first stories they ever gave to their children, long before they were able to read for themselves; the ones they read to them at bedtime. Little Red Riding Hood: Hansel and Gretel: Snow White. A dark twist of the gothic lies at the heart of all these stories – they are tales of murder and cannibalism and savagery and yet we deem them perfectly suitable for the youngest audiences. The dark seeds are planted early. 

As the children grow older, able to read for themselves, they’ll invariably fall for the stories of Roald Dahl, in which a succession of luckless youngsters are gleefully put through the mill by a series of evil adversaries. Dahl knew better than most authors, the attraction that the grotesque has for young readers. Little wonder that years after his death, his books still figure prominently in the charts.   

By the time the kids are into their teens and start to really look at the world in which they live, they see darkness all around them; in the daily news reports on television and social media, in the actions of corrupt governments that only ever put their own interests first. Here’s a generation of readers that aren’t old enough to vote but who are gleefully invited to massacre hundreds of strangers on their PlayStations and Xboxes whenever they’re in the mood for it.  
Little wonder that dark dystopias like The Hunger Games have become the order of the day. Little wonder that cheery escapist fiction is struggling to keep young readers hooked.

When I came to write Danny Weston’s first novel, The Piper, I was looking to recapture some of the atmosphere that appealed to me as a teenage reader – the unsettling ghost stories of M.R. James, the cold brilliant satires of Saki (H.H. Munro) and the nightmarish qualities found in the writing of the legendary Ray Bradbury. I wanted to write scenes that would make the hairs on the back of a reader’s neck stand to attention… Danny, I decided, would only ever write about unsettling things. He would only ever see the glass half empty. Danny clearly was not going to be invited to many parties. 
Winning the Scottish Children’s Book Award for teen readers felt, somehow, like a vindication. It seemed I wasn’t the only one who liked my fiction dark. A lot of readers clearly agreed with me. 

And you know what? It’s all perfectly healthy for one very important reason. In fiction, we are able to ensure that after a long struggle, the powers of good will eventually triumph over the forces of evil – the sun will rise, vanquishing the darknessthe towers of the wicked will crumble and fall - our young protagonists will survive and will be immeasurably enriched by what they have experienced. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that real life is rarely like that. On a daily basis, massive companies that defraud millions of people walk away without a stain on their character. Corrupt politicians stab each other in the back before being voted into power. People that cheat, lie, steal, murder, all seem to get away with it.

It’s only in fiction that we can make them pay for their transgressions. And it seems to me, that is the most powerful and compelling reason for me to continue in the same vein.
About Danny Weston:

DannyWestonis the pen-name for Philip
Caveney, author of the international bestsellingSebastian Darkeseries. Philip has written two YA novels under the pen-nameDannyWeston:The Piper,set during the Second World War and following the story of Peter and his younger sister Daisy and the unearthly music the pair hear...  Danny's second novel is the darkly comedic,Mr Sparks. Based in Llandudno during the Great War, there is much suspicion in the town.  Dannyhas a third book due out 1st September,The Haunting of Jessop Rise. 

2016 has been a great year forDanny! He won the Scottish Children's Book Prize withThe Piperand has embarked on a terrific and terrifying tour of schools, talking about his latest book Mr Sparks.  Danny(or Philip) is also a highly experienced tutor in creative writing. He has been writer in residence with the University of Central Lancashire, Worcester University and Lancaster University. Philip is a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund.

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