Peter Hallett Interview – Inspiration, Dragons, and Vietnam

What was the inspiration for this book? Are dragons a hobby of his? Did writing the torture scenes ever make him cringe? How much research did he have to do? What are his thoughts on self-publishing?

There Be Dragons by Peter HallettWhat was your inspiration for this book?
I have an unhealthy interest in cryptozoology and have studied it extensively, for my own amusement, for years. Not to the extent of going in the field, or though that would be cool, I do fancy myself as an Indiana Jones type, but via books and documentaries. You know, the non-dangerous way.

For those of you who don’t know what cryptozoology is, it’s the study of hidden animals, perhaps the most famous one being the Loch Ness Monster.

For years I’ve wanted to write a novel featuring some of what I’ve learned from my studying. I wasn’t sure how to do it though. Maybe an adventure book, horror, or just pure action. In the end, I went somewhere in the middle of all three. I also didn’t know what animal to pick, as there are many to choose from.

I settled on dragons because they are something that most people, learned or otherwise, consider to be mythical, but yet there is strong evidence to show otherwise. Some of which are mentioned in There Be Dragons, although not too much. I didn’t want to bog the story down with information and conjecture.

This gave me a chance to indulge in another area of interest of mine, conspiracy theories. So you get a sprinkle of that in the novel too.

dragons, public domain

dragons, public domain

Why did you decide to combine dragons and the Vietnam War?
I’ve always loved books/movies that combine genres. When I was studying at college I wrote ten thousand words of a zombie novel, which was also crossed with another genre. That section became the opening of There Be Dragons. It was extensively changed, but it was a good place to start.

Are you really interested in history, specifically the Vietnam War?
History was always one of my favorite subjects at school. I think that came from watching all the old epic historical movies with my mum as a child. I’m not sure why, but the Vietnam War has always interested me.

who doesn't love dragson,

who doesn’t love dragons,

Some people collect pictures or sculptures of dragons, while others really like to read about them. Are dragons a hobby of yours in some way?
Not really. I’m not even much of a fan of fantasy books. Dragons have always been around me though, as I’ve studied martial arts since the age of ten or eleven, but it wasn’t until I got into cryptozoology that they really started to interest me.

Your descriptions are very vivid and really bring the book to life.  Did writing the torture scenes ever make you cringe or make you sick to your stomach?
The slime pit did a little. The others, I was fine with.

Horror, suspense, and visceral experiences are hard to gauge when writing. I have no idea if they’ll be in the book and to what extent since I can’t stand removed from the work as a first-time reader would. Of course, I try my best to write in a way that facilitates the possibility they will be there, but it’s from reader reaction that I find out if I’ve been successful.

Peter Hallett

Peter Hallett

How long did it take you to complete this book?
There Be Dragons took about a year. One or two months of research, three months of writing, four months of forgetting about it and the rest editing it. I doubt anything else I write will take so long, but this was my baby, plus a massive learning experience.

Which character was your favorite? Was there a character you just didn’t like?
I kinda don’t want to say. I’ve tried to make all the characters have qualities readers will love and hate. I think that’s all part of creating complexity in their natures, although Dragon Master is just a full-on, over-the-top genre villain. I had fun writing him.

How did you choose the names for your characters?
Sometimes I look around my office and see if anything inspires me. I’ve taken surnames from the most random of objects.

I called a character in a screenplay I wrote Harvey Candy Cavendish. I got the Cavendish part from a jar of candy I had on my desk. And of course the candy part from what was in the jar.

Other times I choose names that mean something to me but most people will never know which ones they are.



Do you plan out the entire book before writing it?  Or do you just sit down and write?
How completely do you develop your characters before beginning to write?
Was there a point where your characters took control of the story?
I’ve combined the answer for all these questions into one, as I feel they’re all very closely connected.

My rule is to let the shit hit the fan first and then panic about how the characters can dodge it. So with that said, I never plan a book.

I have key scenes I want to write; sometimes the places in the story where I want them to be, but I let it all happen naturally. So those key scenes and the places I’ve marked constantly change.

I’m continuously surprised by what happens in the story and by what my characters say. I don’t know which characters will survive, what trouble they’ll get into and how they’ll get out of said trouble. It helps to keep me interested throughout the creative process.

I don’t know if I tap into a higher source or something mystical like that, but it seems to work. I just sit at a keyboard and try to capture my dreams as they unfold.

Which scene was your favorite?  Which scene was the most difficult for you to write?
I think my favorite scene is the first battle. It had to be long, epic and intense. The novel had been building awhile till that point, so I didn’t want to disappoint with just a little affray. I wanted carnage. I wanted horror. It wouldn’t have done the people who served in the war, the people who died in the war, any justice if I sugarcoated it. Even though the dragons are perhaps the biggest horror element of the story, I wanted the combat to be just as scary.

I also really like the scene in the line drawn between the middle and the bottom of the top of what is known and what is not.

The most difficult to write was the scene when the soldiers are on their mission at the NVA/Russian POW camp. The section in which they are creeping around in silence has to be the most edited section of the whole book. I got many a headache for that.

Here be dragons, 1265 Psalter world map, wikipedia

Here be dragons, 1265 Psalter world map, wikipedia

How long did it take you to decide on a title for your book?  Were there many other possible titles you had picked out?
It didn’t take me long at all. I knew the title as soon as I started writing it. I love those old maps that have a section marked: THERE BE DRAGONS.

How much research, if any, did you have to do for this book?
Heaps of it. I wanted to set the book firmly in reality, even though it deals with some pretty unreal things. To do that, I had to read a bunch, ‘bunch’ probably doesn’t do it justice, about the Vietnam War. I already knew quite a bit about the conflict, but it wasn’t enough for what I wanted to achieve.

Do you have a set time to write each day?  Or do you wait to be inspired?
For There Be Dragons I started writing at, about 12 pm and just kept going until I finished a scene or section.

self-publishing, flickr

self-publishing, flickr

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
It’s an amazing time for writers. We have so many options, options that never used to exist.

If you write good books, price them accordingly, you’ll get noticed. You don’t need a New York publisher behind you to make a go at it anymore.

It’s so much easier to get your work into the hands of the people that really matter, the readers. They decide which book is good and what’s not.

How important do you believe having a good editor is for the success of your book?
I used an editor for There Be Dragons. I felt it would be foolish for me to not do. It’s my first novel; I needed to listen to someone who knew more than me. Someone I could trust and wasn’t afraid to give me a reality check about what was working and what wasn’t.

The first brief look the editor took and the feedback he gave me really gave me a kick up the butt and improved my writing immensely. The second pass didn’t need many changes.

I don’t think I’ll be using an editor on my next book, as I am my own worst critic anyway and I’m really good at killing my own babies (Don’t panic! I don’t mean children). It will take me longer before I get to a final draft, but I’m fine with that.

This all ties into the self-publishing question. You, as an indie author, have got to compete with the big names. You’ve got to apply what they do, an editor, a proofreader, a great cover designer, and a professional typesetter.

You’ve also got to remember it’s a business, and because of that I’m trying to cut down my costs on each book, which is another reason I won’t be using an editor on my next book, but I’ve still got keep the quality of the work high.

Editors are great and I’d recommend them. Make sure you find one whose opinion you trust. Art is subjective but bad writing isn’t.

writing, pixabay

writing, pixabay

When did you first have a desire to write? How did this desire manifest itself?
It started when I was about eleven. I read a few movie tie-in books by Steve Perry set in the Aliens universe and they gave me the want to write.

I’d rush home from school, get my pad and pen out, I didn’t have a computer or typewriter, and I’d write stories based on my favorite movies. I guess it was fan fiction.

I managed to get a few things published while still in high school, then I went to study film and my writing started to focus mainly on scripts until I went to another college to study creative writing.

There I tried my hand at everything and ended up with a job writing for a movie magazine reviewing genre titles. I also got to pitch an idea to the BBC, which didn’t go well, but it was a fun learning experience.

Some of my scripts were turned into indie movies, some of which I directed myself. I started to become very dispassionate about making movies though. I was working with limited budgets, which in turn limited my imagination. That’s what led me back to novels. My budget it limitless now.

Since we’re talking about movies, I might as well tell you my favorite: Big Trouble In Little China.

Do you ever become bored with what you are writing?  If you do, how do you get past that point?
I wouldn’t say I become bored, but I’m not a fan of research. I seem to hit a barrier when I get to thirty thousand words. So I take a few days off, clear my head and then I can push through it.

horror, pixabay

horror, pixabay

What is your favorite genre in which to write?
Perhaps action. I have a huge love for 80’s and 90’s action movies. They’ve really influenced my writing. I want to give readers, who are longing for the days when action movies were good, a wild ride, just like those movies used to give me.

Horror is another favorite. It really pleases me to scare people or freak them out. Is that wrong?

What kind of books do you like to read?
No surprises here, action and horror. My favorite book of all time: The Beach.

There Be Dragons by Peter HallettHow do you manage to balance your time between family, friends, and writing?
It’s pretty easy. I have weekends off and stop writing before the evening. It doesn’t affect my productivity and I get time to relax.

If you could spend one hour with just one person, dead or alive, whom would you choose? Why?
I think I’d choose a family member, my nan (grandmother). I could show her There be Dragons and say, “Look. I told you I’d do it one day.”

Do you have any advice for writers who are striving to be published?
Write and write, then write some more. Be hard on yourself and strive for perfection. You’ll never reach it but it will keep you writing.

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