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Author Spotlight: D. A. Butcher discusses his life, his struggles, and his love for writing

Author Spotlight is our series that aims to give writers a platform to talk about the artform we all love, writing. This time around D. A. Butcher joins us to talk about his life, his struggles, and his passion for writing. Check out this excellent article.

I grew up in London. My mother is Italian and an artist, my father is British and worked on the London Underground to keep us afloat. He was a music journalist before having a family.

My parents taught us to always be creative. They taught us about great literature, art and film. They took us to museums, theatre, and art galleries, regularly around the city. When I moved up into high school, I was bullied on a daily basis. I became depressed and suicidal and I turned to cannabis as an escape.

I later got wrapped up in petty crime, squat parties and harder drugs. My life was becoming like something out of an Irvine Welsh book. I was getting into trouble with the law, and getting myself into dangerous situations. I was slipping downhill fast, and if I didn’t get out of the city, I would have probably ended up either dead or in jail, so I moved to Margate to live with my grandmother.

She soon fell ill with Alzheimer’s, and had to be put into residential care. I got work as a chef and met the girl of my dreams. She fell pregnant with twin girls and we got married and moved into our own place, as my grandmother’s house had to be sold to pay for her care home fees.

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My wife, Charlene, saved me from myself, and once we had our twin daughters, I was dedicated to being a responsible father. In my early twenties my back pains got increasingly worse, and I discovered I had slipped discs, osteoarthritis, and other back problems that were possibly linked to my crazy lifestyle beforehand.

When I was seventeen, I was sat on the roof of a friend’s dad’s ford escort, and my friend thought it would be funny to drive off. I slipped off the top of the moving vehicle and my body smashed off the tarmac repeatedly. I later discovered I had Fibromyalgia, and now, in my thirties, I suffer daily with chronic, widespread pain, which is heightened by my other disabilities, and affects my mobility and other functions.

Writing has always been my chosen craft and creative outlet, from poetry in primary school to raps in secondary – the only positive method I ever had to control the madness. I read a lot of YA Horror, Goosebumps and Point Horror books, and later read Stephen King as I loved his onscreen adaptations. It was a combination of these books, and those I read earlier in life, the likes of Roald Dahl, Dickens, Hardy Boys Mystery’s, and then Of Mice and Men in high school that is what made me want to write fiction. I also read a lot of comics, and the Batman comics, those written by Alan Grant in particular, helped me through the darker times.

I was a comic and movie journalist, after being talent scouted for both by different websites, for three years. I did this work voluntarily in order to refine my writing skills. During this time, I also completed three years of an ‘English literature and Creative-Writing’ degree with the Open University, with distinctions, with three years left to go.

Most recently, I won first place in a poetry competition, which was published in Writing Magazine. I had a short story selected for a digital anthology, and another shortlisted in two consecutive issues of Writer’s Forum Magazine.

I am currently working on my second novel, which will be set in my hometown of London and loosely based on my life, as well as trying to get my first novel out there. I am particularly inspired by works from, John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy, Gillian Flynn, Marlon James, and Stephen King, to name a select few, and am drawn to anything suspenseful, dark and violent, with a high-concept plot.

My novel explores themes of loss, mental illness, abuse and negligence – symbolised in the novel by the Dust Bowl. My twin daughters inspired the setting, as they studied it at school. The setting allowed me to create a dystopian reflection of humanity/society today. Despite being set in the 1930s, the issues raised are painfully relevant in today’s world, and the similarities between the Dust Bowl and the current pandemic are frightening.

If human nature is to abuse and neglect our planet and each other, then in order to incite change, surely we must start with ourselves? I drew on my own experience as a father and family man to inform my story. I considered how getting married and having children helped me to grow into a better, more stable, individual.

Louis Lockhart is a reflection of that, but I wanted to push him to his limits, and literally rob him of everything he knows and loves. Rather than dwell on the acquisition of the American Dream, which has already been achieved so skilfully by Steinbeck, my characters are already living it before it is taken from them.

This is intended to strengthen the concepts, and reflect upon the main through-line. My daughters also inspired the ‘Sandman’, who started as a ‘monster under the bed’. I wanted to create a monster who would watch and wait and observe (humanity). My version of the Sandman is unique in that he not only frightens the children and has a creepy lullaby, but gets inside the heads of the grown-ups and acts as a conduit for their darkest fears and their own demons.

Like most monsters, the Sandman is psychological – an embodiment of the evils of man. A being that watches from the shadows until light is shed onto him in order for the real monsters to be exposed. It is an original use of the Dust Bowl as a setting that raises many questions about the human condition; how we treat ourselves, each other and our planet.

I like to think it could be capable of some positive change, as it explores the consequences of our actions, in a way that makes us consider our own, and how they affect our children and others in our lives. At the very least, I believe my book is a strong topic of discussion in regards to the issues raised on abuse, neglect, mental health, and progress, both personal and collective.

For all of their inspiration and light and life, I dedicate this novel to my wife and three children who have helped me to become a better human being. My book took almost four years to write and edit – the first year was mostly research, as it was completely alien to me! Horror has always been the genre I’ve wanted to write, since I was a troubled teenager obsessed with the darker side of fiction.

I’ve always wanted to write suspense, and a lot of my inspiration is actually from film as well as literature. Hitchcock, Tarantino, Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, are a handful of directors who inspire me with their production, writing and directing skills. When writing Eyes of Sleeping Children, I imagined my main cast of characters as being actors, which I carefully cast, to help me realise them fully. I had a lot of fun with this, and it is definitely a technique I will use again.

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I imagined Louis Lockhart, my protagonist, being played by Tom Hardy. His wife Bonnie, played by Charlize Theron, just because Hardy and Theron worked so well together in the Mad Max remake, and she seems apt to play a vulnerable, emotionally and mentally disturbed woman (in the best possible ways, of course!). Jon Bernthal seemed a great fit for Louis’s thick-set, dim-witted step brother, Buck. Matthew McConaughy was Sheriff Dalton. I was able to better visualise my characters by using this technique, and it even created some additional, surprising, alterations to the plot and dialogue!

I’ve always enjoyed reading a good unreliable narrator, and have played with this, as I want to give my readers what I consider the best entertainment. This is why I have blended my favourite genres to create this book – suspense, thriller, horror, with a large helping of mystery to keep you guessing.

I love high-concept fiction, also, and authors like Gillian Flynn, have inspired me to use it in my work. I’ve weaved together various plot points, using the characters pasts, relationships and conflicts, to direct the plot and have tied them all up to create an intriguing narrative and satisfactory ending.

I love a good twist, and hopefully mine will sufficiently shock you. Those who have read my book already – including my favourite writer of Batman and Judge Dredd comics, Alan Grant, and New York Times bestseller, Adam Bradley, have described it as gripping and evocative. I was lucky enough to have an American friend read the manuscript.

Her relatives are from the American Midwest where my book is set and so she was particularly helpful with the finer details and dialects – all this, the research, and some intense editing and polishing, fine-tuned my book. I am new to Indie-Publishing, and I hope that the quality of my content will be enough to reach a wider audience.

Here’s what’s been said about my book, and the link to buy my book and short stories. Please follow me on twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with news and releases.

D. A. Butcher’s Eyes of Sleeping Children is an historical novel that resonates deeply with our present moment. It is at once a pulse-pounding psychological thriller and a meditation on family and love and resilience. Butcher has delivered an impressive debut. You won’t be able to put it down!” – Adam Bradley, literary critic and co-author of New York Times Bestseller One Day It’ll All Make Sense.

“Very well written. I didn’t want to put it down. The disintegration of a man, living in a nightmare within a nightmare. Evocative and haunting.” – Alan Grant, prolific comic writer for Batman and 2000AD.

“The Eyes of Sleeping Children is a dark and dusty depression-era tale loaded with suspense. Just when you think you’ve worked it out, you get spun on your head and blindsided. Truly a story that will keep you turning pages into the wee hours of the morning. Absolutely gripping!” – Rachel Apps, graphic-designer and aspiring novelist.

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