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Written by JJ Barnes


I interviewed author Daniel James about his life and career, what inspires him, and the creative writing behind his new book, Hourglass.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

The urge first struck me quite late on. Mid to late twenties actually. Prior to that I was content to read and let other writers do the hard work. But at the time, I was working evenings at a mental health hospital, and some very peculiar, but minor incident set the ball rolling for me.

Daniel James, author of Hourglass, interview on The Table Read

I was cleaning offices of the counselling building, it was empty, and I remembering walking into one of the counselling rooms, and the chair and the whole carpet were absolutely covered in shed hair. Pets were not allowed in there to my knowledge, and obviously it couldn’t have had some very rational explanation, it must have been a werewolf.

And so this very humdrum event had me cobbling together the bare bones of a story about a government department beneath the mental health hospital which recruits various monsters and colourful sorts to play peacekeepers against the real monstrous threats of the world.

When did you take a step to start writing?

I believe I started writing it either that night, or very shortly thereafter. It was just out of curiosity to begin with, a bit of fun. But I really got into it, my imagination going into overdrive.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

It couldn’t have been more than 6 months, but a focused 6 months were my work ethic vastly outmatched my novice abilities as a novelist. I quickly realised that reading books alone is no substitute for knuckling down and learning your craft.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

Again, I’d say 6 months at a push. That’s been the case with all my books to date, as I’m quite a quick worker. Even if my enthusiasm for the actual writing aspect is on an ebb, I’m usually swift at organising the characters, plot, and what I want to do with the novel.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Hourglass?

Since that night at the hospital, even though it was early on and I hadn’t written a story since a creative writing class in school, I wanted to create my own universe. It’s not something to be done lightly, but I wanted to give it a go, and create my own expansive and immersive world of many characters, and many dramas.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Hourglass?

I wasn’t worried about it at the time, but I suppose the biggest challenge was getting what was essentially two parallel narratives in Clyde’s journey, and that of oppressed Russian monk Konstantin Kozlov’s pilgrimage into the dead realm, and having them dovetail into a satisfying and explosive finale.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

I wanted to create a sort of pacifist with a lot of familial pain and a deep distrust of jingoism and military service, who is put in this complicated situation which tests not only his loyalty to his best friend, but questions his stance on combat and duty. And being a big comic book lover, I wanted him to be an aspiring comic book artist.

Strange as it may sound, Donald Glover was the final piece in the puzzle. When I first wrote the original version, a very different version of the novel which Hourglass has vastly rebuilt and improved upon, Community had just started to air on TV. I love that show, and I’ve been a huge Donald Glover fan ever since.

Beyond his obvious comedic abilities, I think there’s a great vulnerability and pathos in him which lends itself to how I saw the geeky and unassuming character of Clyde.

Daniel James, author of Hourglass, interview on The Table Read

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

A blend of Old Money greed and Victorian romanticism. Fashionable Old World elites make tremendous monsters.

What is the inciting incident of Hourglass?

Clyde has been living in a state of denial and shock since his best friend Kev returned from the grave as a ghost, with the pair of them stumbling through their old routines unsure of how to proceed. But despite their best efforts, they slipped up and landed on the notice board of Hourglass, a covert paranormal peacekeeping agency.

Clyde wants to bury his head in the sand and pursue his dreams of breaking into comics, but Kev can’t spend the rest of eternity haunting their apartment, and needs purpose. So for his friend’s sake, Clyde decides to see what Hourglass can offer them.

What is the main conflict of Hourglass?

Predominantly, the crux of the drama involves Clyde’s total disinterest in being lured into officially joining the Hourglass agency, even though his opinions on militaristic peacekeeping and what constitutes a Just and necessary conflict are increasingly challenged, partly by Kev’s much needed sense of purpose, and partly by Clyde’s begrudging acceptance that perhaps being a soldier is in his blood.

Did you plot Hourglass in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I always plot out the key points, but the road between tends to be much more free form with plenty of detours.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Hourglass need?

Of course, editing is essential. I will self-edit once or twice, then send my third draft off to a professional. After that, I’ll make the necessary alterations, then call it a day.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Don’t chase the genres and fickle trends set by a fickle industry. Write what you love.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

The sequel, The Ferryman’s Toll will be out sometime in Jan/Feb 2022. I am also partway through the first draft of book 3, Strange Fates.

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

I am very proud of my accomplishment, and despite a lot of hard work and stress, it was absolutely worth it.

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