My last blog… yesterday had to be a duvet-day, unfortunately… My last blog was about the different ways I satisfy my creative urges. I’m a maker, not just a writer… Not just anything.
By coincidence… and I do love a coincidence… someone posed a question on Twitter within hours of that blog going live. They wanted to know whether Dan only wrote for Black Library, and whether he was contracted exclusively to them.
|photo by James K Barnett|
This made me smile.
It happens less with the passage of time, and with the influence of the internet, but I have sat at tables with Dan, at conventions, where he has been conducting three conversations, virtually simultaneously: Talking 2000AD with a Sin-Dex fan, while discussing Gaunt’s Ghosts with a Black Library fan, while answering questions about working for DC Comics.
Writing anything is a skill… Writing everything is something else.
Dan has fans in the European comics market, in the American comics market, and globally with Black Library. He’s also written for games, perhaps most notably, Alien Isolation, although he’s also created and written NPCs for Shadow of Mordor, among other things.
During the first lockdown, when the kids living with us didn’t know what to do with themselves, but had talents to exploit, Dan drew them into a collaboration to write a musical for his strip “Lawless” for the Magazine. He wrote words and melodies for a dozen songs… just for fun. The kids played, sang, arranged and produced the work.
The best creators are, in my experience, invariably polymaths. Dan’s a musician, an artist, a writer, and he is engaged with all things cultural. I can’t keep up with him, and I know very few people who can. Although, put him in a room with Steve White, or listen to him on a call with Ian Culbard, and I know that there are other people out there who have something similar to the engagement that he manages.
Honestly, talent and flair are real, if intangible parts of some (even most) people’s spirits. But talent and flair are not enough on their own. Talent must always be supported by practice… practice… practice.
The practice of writing or making is one thing, but there’s more to it than that. If we want to create, we must put ourselves into some kind of historic context. Dan knows what he’s doing, and he’s been doing it for long enough to rely on the talent. He practises his craft every day, and it pays him back.
He also knows how he fits into the historic context of whatever he’s doing. He’s been reading SF since primary school, and was given a random pile of American comics by a school friend when he was eight or nine. He studied English at Oxford, so has a classical education too; can quote ‘Beowulf’ in the original, at will. He listens to music of all kinds, all the time, he watches shows and movies in all styles and genres. The house is filled with art and books, and objects of stimulus. There are fossils, bones, antique and vintage objects, toys, textiles, film props, armour… you name it, we have an example of it somewhere on a shelf or in a cabinet. He cooks, too, and understand how food works, how ingredients interact.
Dan knows about these things, and he refers to them, either directly in his work, or he uses them, indirectly as stimulus.
There are people who can write, and there are writers who are successful. Most of them are known for the thing they do. There are very good writers in all genres, and in all mediums. There are great horror writers, great thriller writers, great comedy writers and great drama writers. There are those who write alternative history, and those who write romance. Sometimes there is crossover.
There are novelists, and short story writers, screen-writers and comic book writers. There are writers for the gaming industry, and there are poets and lyricists.
I don’t think I know another writer who writes in several genres across several mediums.
I know that Dan has fans for his American comic work, and fans for his British comic work. I know that he has fans for his Black Library fiction, and fans for his independent fiction. I know that Dan has fans for his licensed audio dramas, and I know that he has fans for his work in computer games. I’d be very surprised if any of Dan’s fans have experienced the breadth and depth of his work across all the genres he employs and the mediums he exploits, and I know that there are fans who know Dan for just one thing.
I’m totally down with that.
I’m still surprised when I’m asked whether Dan does anything other than the one thing a fan knows him for. But it doesn’t matter, just so long as he touches a fan with whatever it is they’ve discovered in his work. Besides, they can always type his name into google and gape at the number of results that come up.
Dan’s been working as a writer for thirty-five years, and he’s been writing stories almost since he learned the alphabet… Knowing him, as I do, I suspect he began telling stories as soon as he could speak. His whole life is his work.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does in the second half of his career, because, sometimes, it’s as if he’s just getting started… and he’s not about to stop, any time soon.