An Interview with Author Damian Dibben

Damian worked as an actor and screenwriter before he began writing novels. His series, THE HISTORY KEEPERS, about a boy who finds his parents are lost in history and joins a secret service to track them down, is published by Penguin Random House and has been translated into twenty-seven languages. His new novel, TOMORROW, also with Penguin, tells the story of a two-hundred year old dog and his search for his master through the courts and battlefields of old Europe. It will be released in Spring 2018.

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When did you start writing? Has it always been what you wanted to do as a career? I didn’t set out to be a writer at all, but fell into it through a series of chances. From an early age, my great love was film. More than books back then. I watched many every week, and if they had an impact – and all varieties appealed and still do, comedies, dramas, suspense, horror, new films or black and white – I’d watch them again and again, until I understood why they worked so well, how the building blocks had been stacked up. This is how I first learnt about writing, how to develop characters and tell a story to create that sense of impact. Having worked as a screenwriter for a decade, both in the UK and Hollywood, I was eventually drawn to writing books. A book is in a way like a completed film, in which you have not only been the ‘writer’, but also the various actors, cameraman, editor and set designer.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an author?Getting going on a story can sometimes feel unnatural. Beginning the process of matching an idea in your head with actual words on a page can be like walking into the sea: it’s cold to begin with, you’re apprehensive, you don’t know how deep it is or what lies beneath, but you soon get used to it, and before long you don’t want to get out. More than anything, I think it’s important to set yourself a daily goal, so many words or hours, and stick to it. It may seem sometimes like you’re writing nonsense, but as long as you are dong it, the results will follow.

As a writer you are constantly faced with making Something Out Of Nothing when coming up with storylines, creating characters and so on… Is there a routine or environment you find you work best in? Do you have dos and don’ts for when you have a day of writing? It takes an hour or so for me to get going in the morning, along with a couple of breakfasts, a dog walk and a pint of coffee. I Iike to keep regular working hours Monday to Friday, but of course the story is always ticking away in the background. That can be fun, it’s like having a parallel universe at your disposal. If I’m on a winning streak, I’ll work through lunch and late into the evening. Though if I do, my Jack Russel Dudley protests, sometimes dramatically. Other days, it can be like pulling teeth and I have to remind myself that a journey is taken one step, one word, at a time.

History seems to feature a lot in your writing.. if you could live in any other era- what era would choose?  I’d go to Ancient Rome first, for the spectacle of it. An empire has rarely been so far-reaching, ambitious, magnificent and gruesome all at the same time. I’d be fascinated to travel through Europe in the 17th century – avoiding the wars if I could – in the age of enlightenment, to witness the many moments of discovery in science, astronomy, art, architecture and medicine. In the same century, for luxury and sheer, absurd pomp and circumstance, Louis XIV’s Versailles would be hard to beat.

As ambassador/patron for Kids In Museums, what are your top picks for London’s museums? The Victoria and Albert has always been a favourite. There is such a quantity of treasures there, each one with its own story to tell. Walking around you get a sense of the sweep of human history and the wonders that have been created over the centuries by inventors, craftsmen, designers and explorers. In particular, the Renaissance Galleries are awe-inspiring.

When you’re struggling for ideas, where are your ‘go-to’ places in London to feel inspired again? Apart from the above, I’ll go to the theatre perhaps. Many London theatres sell day-seats for ten or fifteen pounds. I’ll go and queue early in the morning for a show that night. The seats are always in the front row, which is my favourite place, as you feel part of the action. London’s parks are numerous and outstanding. Within them, all walks of life come together and interact in a fascinating manner – and they have been that way for hundreds of years, which strikes me as incredibly civilised. Kensington Gardens is a particular favourite, partly because I grew up close by. I find food also gets the ideas flowing, so I’ll go to Borough Market perhaps, see what looks good- shellfish usually – and cook up a feast. 

What would you say are the three most inspiring books you’ve ever read?Wuthering Heights is the book I always come back to. It’s ingeniously constructed, whilst having a story of pure dynamite. Reading it is a visceral experience. The characters, whilst not always sympathetic, are entirely absorbing, the story has a perfect arc and the atmosphere is intensely vivid throughout. Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything is riveting. With a lightness of touch he tells the story of the world and of humanity. We learn everything from how the universe was formed, to the way dinosaurs were first discovered, to what goes on in the centre of the atom. It’s mind bowing – and it’s all true! More recently, I loved The Goldfinch. A boy loses his mother when a bomb goes off in a museum. In a state of confusion he makes away with an important Dutch masterpiece, which he keeps hidden for a decade whilst he grows up. We’re desperate to know if he’ll ever reveal his secret – or indeed face his demons. It’s an epic and modern classic.

Finally, which existing fictional character would you say you’re most similar to? It would be nice to think I’m a little bit like Tintin, someone who enjoys being drawn into an adventure, has lots of eccentric friends and who travels the world with his faithful dog – in his case, Snowy – solving mysteries together. What’s not to like?


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To stay in the know with Damian, for book updates and more, you can follow him on Facebook @damiandibbenauthor

Young and Creative: Jasmine Jones

For Part II of the ‘Young and Creative’ series, SOON met Jasmine Jones, a painter from New Quay currently studying an Arts Foundation at Carmarthen School of Art. 

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Introduce yourself and your work.
I’m Jasmine Jones from West Wales. I’d say my artwork is still in development; I’m definitely still a student rather than an artist but I’m on my way.
I like to think of my work as my filter. Most people can filter what they say, only saying what’s worthwhile rather than babbling on relentlessly but I, however, babble relentlessly often losing what I actually mean to a flood of words. Creating artwork for me turns this flood into a gentle stream, through which I can see more clearly. I know it sounds airy-fairy but that’s the best way I can explain why I do it.

How long have you been making art?
I have a vivid memory of my grandma, who used to be a medical illustrator, sitting with me in the living room explaining that the body is not made of sticks but has many lumps and bumps. I can’t have been older than four but it’s definitely where the interest sparked.

Describe your work in three words.
Big, paint, colour.

Describe the way you work in three words.
Off the cuff.

What’s your favourite colour?
Can I just say the primaries? Red, blue and yellow are the only ingredients you need for a painting… white helps it on its way.

How long do you spend on each piece of work?
At the moment, the time is way low; maximum 6 hours. Throughout my school years I’d take around 20 hours so this fast pace is changing the way I work- for the better, I hope.

What’s your favourite environment to work in?
It’s funny because the environment depends on the work. If I’m creating something expressive I prefer to be alone, freed from any judgement of others, but then again, I love doing portraiture from life because I can sit with the person, ask them questions and see how their expression changes throughout the process. I find it meditative being entirely immersed in someone else.

Who inspired what you do?
People in general are my biggest inspiration. Anyone and everyone. Sometimes artist, sometimes not. A funny little woman I saw in London once inspired an entire project and she’ll never know it!

What’s your favourite piece of work you’ve ever made?
A couple of years ago I painted a portrait of my father, it was never finished and it’s on a flimsy piece of A2 paper, but I think that was a point for me when I thought, ‘this is what I love doing, I’m going to carry on doing this for as long as I can.’

Where would you like to be in 10 years time with your work?
I just hope I find it equally as exciting and frustrating as I do right now.

What’s your ‘Something Out Of Nothing’? One of life’s simple pleasures that you absolutely love…
All the little pops and crackles the sea makes underwater on a calm day.

Jasmine Jones plans to start studying Fine Art at University of Arts London: Camberwell, in September. If you fancy keeping up to date with her wonderful work, you can follow her  art account on Instagram here.



Young and Creative: Hattie Morrison

This will be the first of many for ‘The Young and Creative Series’- a series focusing on, and celebrating, up-and-coming working artists under the age of 23. Since the late nineties, publicity and general media coverage of the British art scene has revolved around a small group of artists (often referred to as the Young British Artists or Y.B.A’s). Though this praise is often well deserved, SOON wants to provide a platform for some new young artists. Hattie Morrison is the first to be featured, and will be followed by many others to come.

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Introduce yourself and your work.

I am a soon-to-be twenty year old artist and writer from South Wales currently studying Fine Art at The Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. I am a film-maker, writer, painter and installation artist, mainly interested in ephemerality and attempting to capture the best, fleeting moments that seem to fly by- Henri Cartier-Bresson called this the “decisive moment”. I use my work as a tool to try and lengthen these moments out because I’m scared of their inevitable death, really. I think the fact that memories fade is one of the saddest things about life. I’m the sort of person that plays the same song over and over until it sounds completely different and I find parts of it that I never noticed before. I try to do this with my art too- make and make and make art until I find out something new about myself or life.

How long have you been making art?
I sound like a classic pretentious artist but because my entire close family is full of artists, I feel like there was never really an artistic debut for me- I just popped out and have kind of been making things since. I do remember though, when I realised that I wanted to be an artist properly. I was going through a lazy time at school, and my grades were falling and I was focusing more on being one of the class clowns than I was on succeeding. That year my Dad took me to see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room at the Tate Modern. As soon as I walked into that room I knew I needed to leave my tiny village in Wales and try to make art that affects people in the way that that art installation made me feel- it was a kind of like I had walked into space (all the lights look like tiny stars that stretch out forever and ever) and realised that the world was so big and full of possibilities.

Describe your work in three words.
That is difficult.

Describe the way you work in three words.
Sporadic, intense, late.

What’s your favourite colour?
I love green and pink, but only really when they are together.

How long do you spend on each piece of work?
It completely depends on when I feel satisfied – I have pieces of work that have been brewing in my mind for nearly a decade now, and others that take me a couple of hours. Sometimes coming up with and perfecting an idea is the part that takes the longest time, and materialising it takes nearly no-time at all. I had an idea for a film that I was sitting on for about three months and it took a day to film, edit and export.

What’s your favourite environment to work in?
I used to love painting with people I care a lot about sitting next to me. When I now look at the paintings I did last year I see them as an absorption of the sort of atmosphere and emotions I was surrounded by at the time. With that in mind I always try to reflect my current environment in my work, and so if I’m making work about the effect that solitude has on me, I try to work alone. In general though, the physical environment is usually a complete mess, with bowls of cereal, empty mugs, dried up paint scattered around- and music constantly playing.

Who inspires you?
Every single person that I have ever loved and every single person I have ever lost. Music is a massive source of inspiration for me- I always listen to a wide range of different types of music when I’m working, and so Bob Dylan, Erkin Koray, The Corries, Joni Mitchell and The Electric Light Orchestra kind of act like inspiration taps for me- if I put a song on by any of those musicians, ideas start coming at me from all directions. My parents inspire me as well. They are both artists and remind me every day through their own careers in the arts to never give up and to always push on because that’s when people often make the best art. My dad says that we are in the “emotion business”.

What’s your favourite piece of work you’ve ever made?
I recently wrote a poetry book and self published it which I feel very proud of for many reasons- I feel as though it’s my most raw work to date and the fact that I am scared to show it to people makes it my favourite- it feels like I have put some white card and a soft back cover over myself at my most vulnerable and I’m offering it out to the world to read and scrutinise. I think the book is the most emotional piece I’ve ever created and for a while I had 100 copies of it sitting in my room- I couldn’t even look at them, they made me feel too strongly.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time with your work?
I’d like to still be with my work in 10 years time- I hope I am still a working artist! If that’s the case, and I am happy with the work I am making in general, I’ll be content (hopefully).

What’s your ‘Something Out Of Nothing’? One of life’s simple pleasures that you absolutely love…
My whole artistic practice is based on the tiny fleeting moments that pass us by so I find this really difficult to decide on just one. I’ll list the ones that I can think of right now-
-The sound that frost on grass makes under shoes late at night or early in the morning.
-The way that the cobbles in Oxford feel like a rocky beach under your feet if you’re walking in the dark.
-When you are walking away from someone and look back because you miss their face already and they look back at exactly the same moment.
-Pulling masking tape away from a painting to reveal a satisfying straight line.

Hattie’s “I Will Write and Write and Write Until Everything Is Right Again” is in the process of publication and will be available to buy at the launch of Issue Two in June, as well as in select galleries across the United Kingdom.

Hattie’s Instagram