Frequently Asked Questions
An attempt to deflect some of the more obvious queries. Please feel free to email me if yours isn’t
covered here, or answered by any of the links on the right. Scroll down (toolbar at bottom left)
to read all the questions.
Q. Who are you?
A. Daniel Robert Blythe, author of several fiction and non-fiction books, short stories and articles. I've also been an occasional radio broadcaster and a writing tutor, for the WEA and Sheffield Hallam University, and I do regular writing sessions and talk in schools.
Q. Why are you here?
A. I thought it might be nice to have a website. Everyone else does.
Q. What do you want?
A. Good health, a long writing career and a fulfilling life for my children. Failing all that, a nice cup of tea usually does me.
Q. How old are you?
A. I was born on 9th June 1969. Yes, 9.6.69 – it’s a palindrome. Do you find that exciting? (Doesn't work if you are American, of course, but then their way of writing dates always seems a trifle illogical.)
Q. Do you share your birthday with anyone famous?
A. What, so I'm not famous enough for you?? All right, serious answer is no - but other people born in the Summer of 69 include tennis player Steffi Graf, Lost actor Josh Holloway, Friends actor Matthew Perry, singer Martika and footballer Oliver Kahn. They’ve all worn pretty well...
Q. Where were you born?
A. Maidstone, in Kent (south-east England).
Q. What nationality are you?
A. British. Or English. I don't really mind which, as long as you are aware of the difference. I don't really feel 'European', although I have no real objection to being it.
Q. Where do you live?
A. With my wife and children on the western edge of the city of Sheffield, in Yorkshire, UK (about one mile from the boundary of the Peak District National Park).
Q. What is it famous for?
A. Sheffield is officially one of the greenest cities in Europe, and the fourth largest in England. NB: Don't listen to what those people in certain northern cities starting with L try and tell you. It's all lies. :-) The city is allegedly built on seven hills, although this interesting recent study by Jonathan Harston has located eight! Also, the area I live in has a strong claim to be the birthplace of Robin Hood.
Apart from all that, Sheffield is most prominently celebrated for metallurgy and steel-making, its internationally famous universities, its hospitals, its huge variety of concert venues, its sporting facilities, its 1000+ listed buildings and its popular music heritage. Read all about it.
Q. Do you believe in God?
A. At the moment, no. Religion is not part of my life, although the Bible is a very interesting book to dip into.
Actually, the best I can do here is quote one of my favourite writers, who has the very best answer to this question I have ever seen:
I don't know whether there's a God or not. Nobody does, no matter what they say. I think it's perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don't know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away. Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it's because he's ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they're responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I'd want nothing to do with them. (Philip Pullman)
But if you want to find out what you believe, have a look at this quiz, which is quite enlightening.
Q. Where did you go to school and university?
A. Maidstone Grammar School and St John's College, Oxford.
Q. What qualifications do you have for being a writer?
A. Well, I have eleven O-Levels, three A-Levels, a degree in Modern Languages from Oxford University, a European business diploma from the University of Kent and a Certificate In Post-16 Education from Sheffield Hallam University. They are all useless. The only qualifications you need for being a writer are talent, luck and hard work.
Q. Do you speak any other languages?
A. French and German, and I have what they amusingly call 'conversational' Spanish. And enough Italian to survive if I was dropped into the middle of Florence. (Which is not going to happen, unless I suddenly turn into Mr Benn or something.)
Q. What was the first thing you ever got published?
A. It was a short story called 'The Raconteur', in a not-for-profit collection in 1991. It’s long since out of print. I hope to make the story available on the site at some point, as only about 23 people have read it and I had to bribe six of those with tea and biscuits.
Q. What else did you have published before you went professional?
A. Several short stories in the small press, including some in the now-defunct magazines Xenos, Rivet and Substance (maybe I will put those stories on the site one day). One story, 'A Death In the Family', was published in The May Anthology 1992, a regular anthology by Oxbridge people, and it got me my first proper review - a lovely one from the novelist Angela Huth, who called it 'exceptional', 'lucid' and 'moving' (Daily Telegraph, 1st August 1992). Oh, and I once wrote a story for Chat magazine, which also won Highly Commended in a national romantic fiction competition!
Q. When did you first get paid for being a writer?
A. The signature advance for my first Doctor Who novel, The Dimension Riders, was my first professional pay cheque. That was in Autumn 1992.
Q. You mean you're a Doctor Who fan?
A. Indeed. And proud of it. And yes, I do like the new series and feel it has brilliantly updated the show for a 21st-century audience without losing any of its essential magic.
Q. Is it hard to get published?
A. Yes. Lots of people think they can do it. Very few can. Most agents and publishers estimate that less than 1% of the unsolicited work they are sent is actually good enough even to follow up. That’s worse odds than you get on The X-Factor.
Q. How do I get to be a writer?
A. You write. And you keep writing. And you try to get informed opinion on your work (other writers, agents, editors) and listen to what they say. If you are looking for places to send your work, the Macmillan Writer's Handbook is a good place to start.
Q. Is writing a lonely job?
A. It can be. You have to be quite self-motivated. Email makes things easier, though!
Q. Do I need an agent?
A. You do if you are writing anything which is remotely commercial, or from which you hope to make at least some money. They take a percentage of your earnings (usually 15% on home sales), but these are earnings which you’d never have got without their work on your behalf.
Q. Who’s your agent?
A. Caroline Montgomery at Rupert Crew Ltd. Like all literary agents they are swamped by unsuitable submissions. Please look at their site before sending anything in.
Q. Could you recommend me to your agent?
A. Sorry, no. It's up to you to send your work in and it will be judged on its own merits.
Q. Will you read my book and tell me if it’s any good?
A. I can't afford to do this free of charge, but I have done reader's reports on many unpublished manuscripts and have taught on the Creative Writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University. So, if you want a professional eye cast over your work, please email me for more details.
Q. Can I be taught to write?
A. Depends. I think that if you have some 'raw talent' it can be honed, refined, nurtured by a good tutor. And you can certainly be taught how to prepare your work properly for sending off. But I don't think you can put it there if it's not there already. You also have to be prepared to edit your own work quite heavily – that’s sometimes a big hurdle for people to overcome.
Q. Do you earn lots of money?
A. Depends who you're comparing me with. The Society of Authors did a survey in 2003 in which it came to light that over half of their members – all published writers – had earned less than £10,000 from their writing in the previous tax year. All writers have good and bad years. I never disclose what I actually earn from writing because I think that's a bit vulgar, but I think I'm doing okay...
Q. Do you write full-time?
A. There are times when I have, and times when I have combined writing with other jobs. It's the nature of the business. I'm lucky enough to have been able to expand into related professional areas: I’ve done radio presenting, teaching and presentations about writing. But I have worked in other areas too – I was once a teacher in a language school, I’ve taught adults in further education and I co-ordinated a charity project for five years. I'm currently doing appearances in schools and teaching classes for adults and children, alongside several writing projects. Writing, though, is always my main profession, whatever else I’m doing.
Q. Do you write under your own name?
A. Ah, the old polite way of saying 'Not heard of you'... The answer is yes, mostly! Although I did have to use a pseudonym for something recently - my M.I. High novel will be coming out under the name Dan Roberts.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. The Ideas Goblins leave them in the eaves, in marked boxes for me to sort through… Seriously, this is one of the most irritating questions you can ask a writer! It’s like asking a carpenter where he gets timber from. Ideas are two a penny. It’s what you do with them that counts. I have a folder full of what you might call ideas: paragraphs, blurbs for unwritten novels, scraps, sentences, character-sketches, outlines. I have enough to last me for twenty years. Maybe only a few of them will actually evolve into anything.
Q. How many books have you had published?
A. See Books page for details. Fifteen titles either published or scheduled up to 2012.
Q. Have any of your books been published in other languages?
A. Yes - The Cut in Turkish, and most recently my agent has sold the French, Arabic, Finnish, Russian and Slovenian rights to Dadlands, and German and Finnish rights to I Hate Christmas.
Q. What’s this 'occasional radio broadcaster' thing all about?
A. In 2004, John Ryan, then of BBC Radio Leeds, invited me to co-present a 3-hour, 9-week summer show called Eighties Night, broadcast across several BBC stations in the North of England. I had a great time behind the microphone, getting to interview several Eighties pop stars (such as Princess, Carol Decker, Hazel O'Connor and Buster Bloodvessel) as well as helping to choose the tracks each week - and sometimes compiling the running order as we went along! We did it again, this time for 13 weeks, in 2005.
Q. What did you read as a child/teenager?
A. Among others: Anthony Buckeridge's Jennings books, Richmal Crompton's William books, Rosemary Sutcliff, Helen Cresswell, Ivan Southall, J.R.R. Tolkien, Enid Blyton, Willard Price, Doctor Who novels, the Three Investigators series, the Sherlock Holmes stories, Agatha Christie. The first modern 'grown-up' book I ever read was The French Lieutenant’s Woman, at the age of 16.
Q. Who are your favourite writers?
A. A lot of the time, I like to read novels by people I have never heard of. But among the better-known, my favourites are Iain Banks, Philip Pullman (he bought me a pizza once! Lovely chap), Richard Adams, Douglas Coupland, Penelope Lively, Christopher Fowler, Douglas Adams, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Thomas Hardy, F. Scott Fitzgerald…
Q. An evil interrogator says you must pick a Greatest Novel of the 20th Century or you will die. What is it?
A. The Great Gatsby. Apart from being a finely-crafted story – and very short – it's an object lesson in how to write a novel in the first person.
Q. Who are your favourite bands/singers etc.?
A. Kate Bush, Saint Etienne, Inspiral Carpets, Pulp, Icicle Works, Queen, Suede, New Order, Kirsty MacColl, Voice of the Beehive, Tears For Fears, The Adventures, Thea Gilmore, Half Man Half Biscuit, The Saw Doctors, Paul Simon, Katie Melua, DubStar, Client, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Marillion, The Porcupine Tree, Amsterdam, Echo & the Bunnymen, Girls Aloud, Florrie and loads of 80s and 90s one-hit wonders. As with books, though, I always love to hear a great song by someone I've never heard of.
Q. Who are your favourite classical composers?
A. Using 'classical' in its modern loose sense: Carl Orff, Rodrigo, Shostakovich, Bach, Mozart, Smetana, Chopin, Bruch. I know, a very Classic FM choice. I’m open to more suggestions for listening…
Q. Do you get asked a lot of annoying questions?
A. Yes. At some point I will have a FAAQ (Frequently Asked Annoying Questions).
Q. What would you put in your Room 101, were you ever to be asked?
A. Ah, it's so very kind of you to ask. I’d try to get the following sealed for ever in the vault: Eastenders; those dreadful women from Sex and the City and all their unnecessary shoes; Ferrari-driving 'environmentalist' Jamiroquai and his entire tuneless Satan-spawned oeuvre; unnecessary bodily piercings; the National Lottery; people who dress infant children like small teenage thugs (complete with football shirt and ear-stud); people who smoke beside/in front of/ next to children; the expressions ‘24-7’ and ‘whatev-urr’; rap (yes, all of it); estate agents; over-zealous political correctness; pronouncing H as 'haitch'; detox chic. Gosh, that's rather a lot, isn't it? And I thought I was becoming more tolerant in my old age...