Dan Anthony’s novel The Pumpkin Season will be published in October by Wrecking Ball Press.
A little after the Berlin Wall falls and the ‘Eastern Bloc’ realises it’s not a ‘Bloc’ and it isn’t particularly ‘Eastern’, misunderstandings multiply. As the world begins to transition into chaos, a new serial killer threatens the city. But the reluctant detective isn’t engaged. No one is telling the truth. Not even him.
The Pumpkin Season is is a comedy and a tragedy, a search for identity and a thriller. Dan’s novel is about poetry and intellectual property and is for readers who want to enjoy themselves and those who don’t.
We caught up with Dan to find out more about The Pumpkin Season, who he thinks his audience is and writing that’s influenced his work.
Tell us more about The Pumpkin Season?
In this story nothing is what it seems. Even though we’re told in the first paragraph that the central character isn’t a real part of the story, we believe he is because we want to. He’s a cop, who can’t work out the big picture. By the time you finish this book you’ll see the picture – and you’ll want to know more. That’s how a good story should end.
How do you feel as the publication date moves closer?
I’m very excited about the publication of this novel. I’ve written novels for children and young adults but this is my first ‘grown up’ novel. Apart from anything else, I want to see how people react to the story which has a kind of childlike quality in that it elides comedy, fantasy and tragedy so that the ride is quite bumpy.
What prompted you to write The Pumpkin Season?
I was in Ljubljana in the mid 1990s and people kept saying to me that I must be on the way to other parts of the former Yugoslavia as they fell apart. I said that I thought that the real story was there. At the time there seemed to be a vacuum left by the lifting of Soviet control from the east of Europe, before markets expanded and society was transformed by capitalism. Culturally speaking, the tide was right out, and so it was possible to see rocks pools and the bones of shipwrecks that are normally hidden. The tide has come in again now. This story is a kind of snapshot of that moment in time. I wrote the first draft almost immediately. It took me a couple of decades to get it right. I’m usually a lot quicker than that.
Who is the book for?
What a good question. 20-40 year olds who are about the same age as the protagonists. Although these readers won’t remember the time I’m talking about, the sensation that society and the way that it is controlled are running in opposite directions, that some kind of catastrophe is on hand because everything seems to be for sale, principles seem to have evaporated and truth and justice seem to be threatened, will resonate. The book is also for older readers who remember the world before the division that separated Eastern and Western Europe was removed. The moment that the Berlin Wall fell is remembered by everyone as a hugely positive step forward – and an end to division and a chance for Europe to join up again. But the re-assembly of Europe has had strange consequences. People are nostalgic. The East/West division provided a strange kind of stability and capitalism’s worst aspects were kept in check. Today we’re looking at a Europe that is threatened by the right. This story is about the moment the cat was let out of the bag.
What experience do you want your readers to have?
I’m afraid the answer to this question is disappointingly simple. Yes it’s a serious subject, a serious story, but the experience I want my readers to have is ‘enjoyment’ – perhaps even ‘pleasure’. I write comedy, it’s all I can hope for.
What is the importance of place to you as a writer and also within the pages of The Pumpkin Season?
I’m from Cardiff and the idea for the Pumpkin Season came to life in Ljubljana. That’s because I recognised in Ljubljana a city which is historically conditioned to living behind net curtains. Cardiff hasn’t had anything like the same number of invaders as Ljubjana, but there have been enough to inculcate the same habit – saying one thing and doing another. It’s also a small capital city. So I knew that if I found one of the very few jazz clubs in Ljublana, I’d probably meet the minister for culture – because that’s how things are in Cardiff. This ‘villagy’ politics, in which Ministers appear in your local, enabled me to talk about a lot of the hypocrisy that goes on in a small country like Wales, without actually naming names and revealing sources. The story I’ve told is completely fabricated, there is no truth to it at all, but the sensibility and almost magical sense of reality taps into a Celtic approach to storytelling which I like.
All this means that, in the end, it’s very important that readers don’t know where the story is set. In a sense, the reader should bring their own sense place to The Pumpkin Season and fill in the gaps.
How would you describe yourself? And how would you describe yourself as a novelist?
Are the two different? I don’t think there are two ‘me’s’ – although, funnily enough, there is a character who wrestles with the same problem. I am a collection of characters hanging around in the same person.
What was your route into writing?
Bad spelling. I was awful at spelling and handwriting at school. But I couldn’t stop ‘writing’ invented stories. I used to listen a lot to radio. In the end it was books like the Goon Show Scripts and Monty Python scripts that made me realise that if I wrote dialogue people would be less sure I couldn’t spell (because people don’t talk proper) and I could tell stories only through dialogue. I began writing jokes for radio, plays and sit coms for radio and eventually developed the confidence to tackle short stories and novels. The amount of control novel writing gives you is liberating, after working for years with teams of people, all of whom are dying to tell you what to do, or explain why what you’ve done is wrong, the ability to decide for yourself can’t be beaten.
Was there a significant person in your life that encouraged you to write?
My English teacher Mr Eynon. He used to plonk a packet of Marlboro red on his desk and talk about Romantic poetry. I never understood a word of it. I was terrible at it. But he was the only teacher at school who ever read anything I’d written myself and said something positive about it. If all you ever have is negative feedback, it’s surprising how important one word of encouragement can be. People are funny – we’re not objective, we hear what we want to hear.
Could you tell us something about your creative process?
Yes, when I’m writing I’m very boring – start 9am, finish 2pm, read through the day before’s drafts, make a few notes. Usually have a beer in the evening, and wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow. Hopefully something occurs whilst I’m asleep. I start writing again at 9 when my conscious brain has taken delivery of whatever my subconscious has decided. In general, I think we undervalue the importance of subconscious, or unconscious thinking. I think that’s a theme in all my stories.
Who are your favourite writers? And which writers are you influenced by?
They change – J G Farrell’s Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur are always important; Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan) is a constant, The Third Policeman, At Swim-Two-Birds and a lot of his other work are big influences. I also like Sylvina Ocampo’s short stories. I find her position as an observer, close to the heavyweights of Latin American literature, and her strange stories which seem to be rather like magic realistic stories, but are perhaps more ‘unconscious’ realistic stories really alluring. I like stories that envelop you so that you find yourself reading to inhabit a world – not to get out of it by reaching the end.
Do you have a favourite novel?
Why this novel, now?
It was the first. It’s a comedy. It’s about everything. It’s still funny. It embraces contradiction. It’s about the ‘now’ always – so that means it’s also about the ‘then’.
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
Yes – they’re vital. I think our most creative time happens in our teens. When I was in my teens punk and new wave were the thing. They were enabled by indie record labels. The changed the world as I saw it. Independent publishers like Wrecking Ball have that sense of responsibility in their creative/entrepreneurial DNA.
What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you?
The exciting (or worrying) thing about writing is that having got ourselves into a position where we can be creative, we find ourself in a place where predicting the future becomes a bit tricky. I’d like to bring out another story.
What would you say to someone who was keen to write, and would like to see their words published?
Don’t expect to get it right first time. The whole idea of ‘right’ is actually a bit of a minefield. Just keep writing and don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Books can take a long time to finish, so (I think) it’s important you appreciate the process of making them and the importance of the people who read them. Perhaps this is going a bit too far, but the whole thing should be something of a celebration.
Tell us more about your work for children and young people? And how that has led to this book, which isn’t aimed at them at all?
That’s a good question. One thing about being a writer is that, even though lots of us moan about different aspects of our work, ultimately, we’re our own bosses. We can write whatever we like. I’d worked in children’s literature for ten years and thought I’d run out of ideas when I wrote a story called Submarine Spies and the Unspeakable Thing about Russian spies smuggling themselves up a Welsh river using coracles. The story was comic, magical and about today. When I finished it, I knew I wanted to develop some of the techniques I’d learned writing for children for an older readership. It wanted to tackle some different ideas. Although I’d been writing children’s fiction for ten years or so, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t been writing for adults. I’d done a PhD in Creative Writing looking at how trade marks and branding influence creative writing and I’d developed this story from a draft into a finished piece of work with Richard Gwyn at Cardiff University. I’d begun work on a comedy about art galleries, but that’s another story.
Your intellectual property expertise features in the book – can you tell us more about how and why?
I joined the Patent Office, now called the Intellectual Property Office in 1990. It was a day job and I was a scriptwriter. I left the Intellectual Property Office twenty years later. I’d worked in Europe, the UK and been involved in some of the negotiations unifying the EU after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was and still am fascinated by the power of intellectual property – it’s a discreet little enclave of the law, but it’s full of intrigue, it has a language of its own and characters of its own. It’s a kind of Le Carré-like world. It’s also extremely important.
What are your hopes and dreams for the book?
The Pumpkin Season is a kind of anti-detective novel. I was tired of formulaic stories about central protagonists who go on journeys that reveal this or that about their character that ultimately lead to a sense of being robbed (on behalf of the reader). I wanted to write something that paid no attention at all to the conventions of genre. I’m not sure that that was a ever a deliverable task, because what I think I’ve done is contributed to a different genre. Anyway, my hope is that readers enjoy it. That’s the whole point.
The Pumpkin Season can be pre-ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-pumpkin-season/