Hello everybody! Today, I’m bringing you an author interview with Daniel Dockery, about his debut Wendington Jones and the Missing Tree. Onto the post!
Hi Daniel! Thank you so much for being here and chatting with me today. 1. First of all, can you please describe the book in 5 words?
Adventure, twists, mystery, grief, pluck. Though that’s an ugly list, so you could just say – The great adventure is back.
2. Please do correct me if my research isn’t accurate, but I believe this is your first book? First off, congratulations! What has your journey to publication been like? How does it feel to have this dream finally coming true?
It absolutely is my first book, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! The journey here has been both extraordinary and fortunate in good measure. Wendington was first written over eight months in 2015 and then just happily sat somewhere on a hard drive quietly to herself. I know, not very adventure-y. But then in 2018, I began to reach out to a few people to get thoughts, which led to an incredibly lucky encounter through my then work in television story office, which put me in touch with my now agents. They lit the fire under both me, and Wendington. And after some reworks and edits, Wendington found a wonderful home at UCLan publishing and their exceptional student programme there. There’s obviously a lot of frustration and disappointment cut out of that story, but the highlights have been absolutely joyous. I didn’t ever really think it was happening, (I’ve been involved in television and film story writing for a lot of my life and seen things not to come to fruition). But a few weeks ago, when my author copies were delivered to me in classic adventure fashion, I knew there was no turning back.
3. On a similar theme, what has been your favourite moment so far? And what are you most looking forward to now Wendington is fully making her way into the world?
I think one of the things that took my breath away was seeing the front cover for the first time. It is one thing to have other invest in your work. But to see someone else create something so spectacular from it was astonishing. Marco, (Marco Guadalupi), did such a great job trying up the themes and vision of the book into such a striking picture. What I’m looking forward to is also what I most enjoyed about the process really. For Wendington to go out on her other great adventure into the world and other people to go with her. The joy of writing in any medium is to thrill people with the story you can tell. It was always amazing to have others talk of Wendington as if they knew her. I’m just glad that so many more will have the chance to do so as she ventures out into the world.
4. Speaking of Wendington making her way into the world, she is incredibly adventurous and brave in her decision to run away to Australia to try and finish her mother’s work. What is the most adventurous and/or brave thing you have done?
I think, a lot like Wendington, I spent a lot of my life reading of other’s adventures in books at home, happy enough to think that was quite enough excitement for me. I’ve suffered from diabetes since I was five, and for a long time thought that it meant that risk and danger had to be avoided. I didn’t go on a gap year. Every trip has to be backed up with lots of medicine and insurance. That said I’ve done as best I can. I’ve ridden a camel on the northern edge of the Sahara, I’ve been deep-sea diving in Barbados to visit shipwrecks. Not life-or-death, but at least once in a lifetime trips.
5. One of the other most notable things about Wendington is in fact simply her name, which is of course rather unusual and interests many of the people she comes across. Where did the inspiration for it come from? What’s the most unusual name you’ve came across in real life?
Wendington’s name is a sort of portmanteau of both Withington, the Manchester suburb, and the name Wendy, which J.M. Barrie himself created for his play Peter Pan. In a late-night chat with a friend, I put them together to make Wendington and things began to click to me there. Funnily enough Peter Pan was first staged in 1904 and Wendington was born in 1905. So I like the idea that her mother saw Peter Pan on the stage and did some magical word jumble for herself back in the day with her own name and created Wendington. Wendington would also point out an unusual name is only unusual to someone who’s never heard it. That said I had a friend at university called Quinton which I always thought was pretty special.
6. The book is set in the 1920s, one of my favourite decades to spend time in. What was the most interesting piece of information you discovered while researching? Which time period would you most like to spend some time in?
What I like most about the 1920s from our prospective is that we see it as a hopeful decade. One of boom after the World War. One of prosperity and advancement. The growth of suffrage and economic prosperity. Of course it wasn’t all like that, but it’s often about digging into the depths of it. In particular for Wendington, it was important to place her correctly into the story. She’s fifteen in the book and while in modern days her leaving school for that long would mean a great deal, it didn’t mean it back then. In fact many children left school at 14 to take up full time jobs. In awful truth, at her age in 1920 Wendington could have both been working and have been married, which is an awful thing to consider. So it was important to work out what society stated at the time and then reconsider it under a more modern lens. Recontextualize the story with as much accuracy as we can. There were also only about 180,000 cars in the UK in 1920. So the presence of at least two in the story is highly unusual as well.
7. The book has various different settings, and your writing ensures the vivid depiction of them all. What tips would you give to other writers to create the same effect?
I was always told in writing describe something so that both a child could draw it as well as a set designer. And even if those pictures are vastly different, they should both still be right. All in all it’s about providing enough real detail so that the reader does a lot of the work placing things together in their head. So make the descriptions simple when it comes to technical aspects and vivid when it comes to description. That’s what tends to light people’s imaginations up, a solid structure and a lot of colour to throw in there. I’d also add to remember to use all five senses when describing a new place. Not just the sights, but the smells, sounds and feel of a place if you can. As if your characters are actually standing there and taking it all in. You don’t just see things, you feel them in every way you can. Heck if you can get a sense of the taste of a place, then go for it as well. You just have to give enough of everything that the reader stitches it all together with their own sense memories and creates it for themselves.
8. Also on the theme of writing, do you have a writing routine? What’s it like? Do you have any unusual habits or quirks?
When I write I’m very full on with few breaks. I’ll write for 12 to 16 hours on those days for about two weeks, and then take nearly as much time off afterwards. I became very used to long writing days working in story offices, so just trained myself to be at a computer screen for long periods writing as I go. I’ll always start a day re-reading and tweaking what I wrote the day before. That’ll be a couple of hours. Then I’ll gear myself up by writing a short story about something else just to get my mind in gear. Sometime it will throw things up in my head, sometimes not. But it gets me in the mood to just write for long periods without a break. I struggle to get back to it if there are a lot of distractions, so I put in long hours and then take time away for my brain, and my fingers, to cool down.
9. Finally, before a few fun quick-fire questions, can you give us any hints as to what you’re currently working on or will be releasing next?
Well obviously, there’s the hope that Wendington’s adventures will continue. The seeds of a sequel and its own mystery are secretly sown into The Missing Tree, but of course we will have to see how people receive Wendington’s first adventure. Aside from that, I also love the noir genre, but with a slightly timeless, more modern twist to it. Set in a former mining, seaside town in the 1980s. I’ve got the bones of that one swimming around somewhere. It just needs the spark to start it all off.
In honour of the season, your favourite thing about spring?
The start of the baseball season
TV show you’d most like to guest star on?
The Crystal Maze. In any incarnation.
Favourite flavour of crisps?
Smoky Bacon every time.
Top 3 books of 2022?
The Notorious Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud
A Heart that Works by Rob Delany
About Time by Jodi Taylor
3 2023 releases you’ve enjoyed so far and/or are looking forward to?
Red Side Story by Jasper Fforde.
Old Babes In The Wood by Margaret Atwood
The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis
Thank you so much for reading! Have you read this, or are you planning to? Which era would you most like to visit for a day? I’d love to chat in the comments!