Dannul Dailey Q&A Session:
“I’m always intrigued and interested in Craft. Being an artist myself, I’m deeply aware of the strenuous work behind any art form. I’m curious if you have any kind of “rituals” that you do every time before writing.”
It’s going to sound a bit weird, but once I get an idea, I tend to buy a new Italian Leather Journal (I have specific ones I go to for books). I will write the original ideas and brainstorm for that series or book in that journal, or any bits of paper I can stuff in m pocket. From there, I normally get a huge sheet of paper once the idea is set and do an enormous spider diagram of the characters, ideas, story arcs, events, and all manner of things I think are important. Once I’ve written that it looks like a rainbow with that many colors, I roll it up and never look at it again. I have loads of them rolled up and dotted around the house, but once I have made sure the idea works on that, I know it’s cemented in my head and ready to write.
When it comes to the physical writing, I tend not to edit the story elements once they’re written because I watch the scenes over and over in my head before I write. My brain is extremely visual so I tend to do my editing in there and make sure the scenes flow and work, again when it hits the page in reality it’s had a dozen or so edits or more.
But I’ll be honest, I have no formal structure so the rituals are what help me feel I have some sort of control in all of this. It really is about me finding a way to unleash the imagination in my head while showing others what they can achieve, especially my own children. We are all a little bit quirky and sometimes we hide away what can come from that, writing is my way of saying “embrace that quirky uniqueness.”
“And maybe you could talk about inspiration. Your books are really imaginative! Where does that come from”?
It stems from being able to see things a little differently. Like I say, I’m very visual and I can race a load of ideas in my head and quite literally watch them in real-time in a sense. That way there’s no limit to what I can come up with. Growing up I was obsessed with films and books, I grew up living in the cinema and it was something me and my dad used to do regularly. I was never happy with just watching the films, I would read them, draw them, write them, play them and live them (to the point of being told off more than once for being obsessed). In that sense, I remember coming up with my own versions or spin-offs from things and always putting my slant of “where would I take them if I made them” and that was my basis for play and creativity.
As an adult, I have always used writing as a coping mechanism, as a way of processing things and dealing with stress. The creativity often comes from a weird way of escapism. I’ve written realistic thrillers which feel more “real” to me and my background but I’ve always enjoyed twisting fantasy and fiction so you always have that feeling of “could this be real?” With Reaper’s Journey, I wanted to create something that was so outlandish and extravagant that it could almost be real, having a tame paradoxical world beyond death would have felt harder to connect with but we all want to see the majesty and beauty of a world filled with angels and demons, I just added my flair to it.
I remember having the original idea back in 2006 when I stood looking at my University building and thought how could it would be to see someone fighting across the front of it defying gravity. Sitting on the bus home, I watched that idea play out and saw Death with a scythe as the person fighting. Needless to say, it took almost twelve years to get the story right to write, so it was no easy task.
“You’re very open about being on the ‘spectrum’. Which I applauded. One of my sons is also on the spectrum. I thought maybe you could talk about that. I like to think of it as a kind of superpower. Being able to tap into something deeper than the rest of us mere mortals.”
It’s something I have always known about myself, but being a child of the eighties it was very much a “you’re normal enough so carry on and don’t make a big deal about it!” So, I did just that. It’s only been in the last few years, with family experiences, that I’ve sought a proper diagnosis and that’s more for peace of mind and confidence in myself. That may sound odd, but knowing a label and having some clever person give you a label is sort of an odd validation.
I think of it as a gift and a curse. All these things I write, I see and so I can sometimes get lost in my worlds at which point I get dragged back by my wife and reminded there’s a real-world too. I started being more outspoken when my youngest son was showing similar signs to me and going through assessment for his diagnosis. I saw a world that screamed how tolerant and accepting we are and yet saw him ostracised for being different and “weird” to his peers. That’s the whole reason I wrote my Timothy Scott Series, to give him a hero based on him that he could look up to. It was also a platform to show his peers, and adults, that we should celebrate everyone and accept that uniqueness brings its own qualities to situations.
For me, my level of autism allows me to be very effective at problem solving and decision making in my full-time job while being creative in my soon-to-be full-time job as an author (see the positivity in that, one day I’ll make enough money to do this properly).
It is a balancing game, I very much agree it’s a superpower that does give us the advantage of seeing things differently and tapping into a deeper level of our worlds but there’s always a need to look over your shoulder and see how far you’ve gone. It’s like Alic in Wonderland I suppose, how far you go down the rabbit hole before you risk losing connection with the world is a fine balance and with the right support networks, you can find that happy balance and when you do come back, we get to bring some awesome gifts that come from having delved into the depths of that place.
As you put it, we can go to deeper places but that means I can bring souvenirs back, like my books, and share them. There’s no point in having all that glorious creativity and keeping it to myself, that’s how I see my gift being shared. By showing you what I see, then you can experience a portion of the positivity of my ASD. Sorry if that sounded a bit weird, it was the best way I could phrase it.
“Let’s talk a little about ‘The Reaper’s Journey’. I really loved voicing this series. So many different characters to voice. The voice of “Death” came right away and I loved doing that character. Where did this idea come from?”
Sorry, I jumped the gun with answering this earlier, didn’t I! I have to say, your audition for the audiobook was stellar and I was never in any doubt you’d be the right match. Death’s voice was the one I was most worried about, you see I had always pictured Pierce Brosnan as Azrael and when you did the voice on the audition there were notes of him in there, I was sold for that moment. The fact you said his voice came so easy is awesome, a match made in heaven, well Altum, for the audiobook adaptation in that case.
I remember the first scene I wanted to write in the book took it in a very different direction and I never used it. It was a far darker take on the idea and I think that’s why it took so long to get written. I knew I wanted to explore Death as a character, give him more than just a role, but every time I tried it went dark. Don’t get me wrong, Death’s journey isn’t all rainbows and unicorns (that’s my Timothy Scott Series) but it became a true story of a character’s growth in living to Death.
I did so much research about concepts of the afterlife to make sure my version was unique enough to feel fresh and yet not too different that readers wouldn’t be able to connect with it. In my head, it was always a bit like delving into the Matrix, not knowing where one part ends and the next begins while exploring a world that really could exist alongside our own and how one impacts on the other.
It was always going to be a challenge to create new versions of centuries-old elements like the devil, heaven, and hell but in Reaper’s Journey the places I created were far enough removed that you knew what they were but you always wanted to find out about them all the more because they were so different.
I always planned it to be a trilogy and having released the first book Ascending Beyond in 2018, I had hoped to release one a year after that, so they should all be out by now. Life, ironically, got in the way though and I only managed to write half of Book II before my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say, I shelved the project and did no advertising as I felt it wholly inappropriate to write about Death while she was fighting for life. It was only once she was given the all-clear post-surgery that we talked about the series and she encouraged me to reinvigorate it, so I did. I hit reset, relaunched the first book with new cover material, and treated it like a new venture, I also picked up where I had left off with the sequel and tentatively completed it. The third book is still up here in my quirky brain but I plan on writing it in the new year between trekking to Everest Base Camp with my oldest son, releasing another in my Timothy Scott Series, and also another in my Dark Curses Series…I like to stay busy.
Some people do ask where I find time for all this and I have to say thank you to my ASD. The world is such a social place, I don’t find that necessary so I really do just work, family, fitness and write. I don’t do social events so the time I would use on that, I use to write books and screenplays.
Questions for you:
“How do you find your connection to the characters and stories you perform?”
Well, the first thing I do is read the book from cover to cover. Take notes. Look for arcs in the characters. Very similar to analyzing a play. I really look for notes from the authors’ words, things other characters say about the other characters, how a character interacts with another. My goal is to try and produce what the author intended. What the author heard in their head when they created the story. I also try and give the audience, the listener, a cinematic experience. I want the listener’s imagination filled with the time and place of what the author has written.
Being something of a writer myself, nothing like you, but doing enough to know just what it takes to put down on paper what lives in your imagination, I know how hard it can be. It’s exhilarating at times and damn hard most of the time. Trying to get that ideal version that’s in our imagination down on paper through clunky words and sentences can be maddening. I have one story in my head, right, I see the whole thing as a movie, like you. I wrote a little over half of it then hit a wall. Just couldn’t complete the story. It was like painting myself into a corner and I couldn’t figure out how to get out.
So, I want to honor the writers’ work. I want them, the authors, to be proud of their work through me. Does that answer the question? I digress a lot.
“With your skills and performing abilities, what are your hopes going forward?”
Going forward. I’ve been a performer most of my life. Started as an actor, became a dancer, got into film and video, writing, painting, editing…I’m restless and curious. I’m driven a bit by the desire to leave something behind. My first screenplay came from a moment where I found myself with my other three brothers, going through my mother’s storage shed shortly after she died. There was all the stuff we were used to seeing but underneath all of it, in nooks and crannies, we found snippets of her more personal, private life. Letters written to my father of the dreams they had for a family and their life. Her personal dreams of for her life. I began to think about that. Dreams found and lost. Untold. Un-lived. And I thought about my kids one day digging through my crap after I’m gone and finding similar things. I wanted them to know at that time how much I loved them and how proud I was of them. So that screenplay of mine, my first one, is about a young man who does just that, finds out about the father he didn’t really know growing up by digging through his storage shed. So going forward?…an actor was asked, “What is success to you?” And he said, “Success to me is being able to raise my family in a creative way”. I like that. Works for me. That’s my future moving forward.
“If you could perform one book, new or old, big or small, what would it be?”
Wow! That’s a good question. And I think I’m going to have to punt on that. I’m an avid reader. I don’t know if I could bring it down to just one book.
I will say this though. I’ve had a number of “Oh! My favorite writer! This is the best book ever” kind of Moments. I’m a huge fan of Louise Erdrich. She’s part Native American who writes contemporary stories that weave in and out of Native American folklore. She’s brilliant. A master poet. She leaves me breathless at times. And, coincidentally enough, she lived in the same little town in Minnesota I lived in as a child. We literally probably missed each other in grade school by a few years.
“Is it difficult working with me?”
Yes! OMG! Just kidding. I’ve found so far in my fledgling career in audiobooks a side benefit has been being able to build a relationship with the authors whose works I get to voice. I have tremendous respect for writers. I feel very fortunate. Very fortunate you gave me your trust in voicing your work.