This time two years ago the Celt was reporting that unknown writer DAVE RUDDEN had signed a breath-taking book deal. Ever since Dave has been crammed inside the cannon, helmet strapped on, and waiting to explode into the public consciousness with ‘Knights of the Borrowed Dark’, the first in his fantasy trilogy. Now finally, finally the fuse sparks are about to ignite gun powder. Watch him go.
When the Celt speaks to Dave Rudden on Thursday he’s just finished interviews with the Times and the Examiner. A launch in Smock Alley awaits that night and a radio interview with Tubridy is scheduled for the following morning. When publishers Puffin push, doors open. He even has the celebrity endorsement of Artemis Fowl creator Eoin Colfer, who is clearly smitten: ‘Dave Rudden is more than a rising star, he is a shooting star’.
Once Ireland’s media have been charmed, the Bawnboy man will head east and do it all again in Britain. As far as anything can be certain, Dave is on a seemingly unbreakable trajectory to literary success. The reason behind all this media-percolated giddiness is Dave’s creation: thirteen-year-old orphan Denizen Hardwick, a reluctant adventurer in a shadow world where he and his fellow Knights of the Borrowed Dark confront an unseen enemy.
At a mini-launch in London last week his publishers rented a castle and recruited actors to teach the guests the “ways of being a knight”.
“It was ri-dic-u-lous,” recalls Dave, still transmitting an air of awe. “I was just giggling hysterically for most of it. I just couldn’t handle that this much effort had been put into something that I came up with.”
It must be strange to think that everyone will soon have an opinion on your imagination.
“Luckily I’ve had two years setting myself up for this. I’m fully prepared: if people don’t like it that’s fine, if people do like it that’s obviously better.
“I’m proud of the work, and a lot of people have spent an awful lot of time on it and I’m really grateful for that. The last test, the last thing now is for me to let it go and be its own thing in the world, and see how it gets on.”
Dave’s been struck by the amazing goodwill he’s encountered, an eagerness for him to become the latest in a proud tradition of Irish fiction writers.
“I’m slowly coming around to the idea that a lot of it could be that they like the book”, he tentatively offers, as if that might be a preposterous idea. “As a writer you have to be self critical because you are your own editor and you have to really interrogate every single word to decide whether it fits here and it’s hard to switch that off. When people come up and say ‘I really like the book’ I’m like ‘Really? Did ya?’
“Someone sent me a pic of a kid in a hammock at a party and they just could not get the kid out of the hammock because he’s reading the book - he was like, ‘Leave me alone till I’m finished!’ That’s who you’re doing it for.”
Officially Denizen is aimed at readers aged 10-plus, but Dave hopes that ‘plus’ “goes all the way up to 100”.
He wrote a novel that he would have wanted to read as a teenager complete with “memorable monsters”, however, Denizen’s USP is that he is “a hero who isn’t sure he is a hero”.
“As a 12-year-old you’d read heroes in fantasy books with a lantern jaw and six pack - I wasn’t like that as a 12-year-old and I’m not like that now. And I don’t think a lot of 12-year-olds are. This amazing heroic self belief; I wanted to write a protagonist who was a lot more normal, and had a lot more self doubt. He was a lot less sure of his chances of actually doing any good in the world or even surviving - I think that’s a bit more fun.
“You have the character in books who is automatically brave, and I was like - that’s great to read about, but I think in real life bravery isn’t something you are, bravery is a choice.”
In preparing for the interview, the Celt checked out a video of Dave reading a scene taut with suspense in which Simon - Denizen’s best friend in the orphanage - is hiding in a closet from a terrifyingly destructive woman who gives a new meaning to light snacks - she devours lightbulbs. Dave doesn’t read the setpiece so much as perform it.
The Celt was struck by the quality of writing in lines like: ‘Linens were experimentally sniffed before being idly tossed aside, forming lonely snowdrifts on the floor.’
You don’t expect this in kids’ fantasy. “I think people are sometimes hard on fantasy. But quality isn’t genre specific - you can have amazing westerns, you can have amazing romances, you can have amazing horror books. And I just put as much care in a fantasy book as you would in whatever.”
He agrees that his writing has a strong cinematic quality.
“I want to appeal to all the senses in the same way that a film would, I like things to be as visual as possible, I don’t think that is just a feature of children’s fiction.”
It’s therefore understandable why the trilogy attracted so much interest for the film rights. Ideas Media, who are behind the comedy detective series Dirk Gently created by the late Douglas Adams, hold the option.
“The producer is so enthusiastic about the book,” says Dave. “He likes the exact same things about it as I like, which is really reassuring because books are always going to change on the way to the screen, and I’m glad we’re on the same page, and I’m going to be a consultant on the script. We are a little bit off going into production or anything like that, because it all depends on how the first book does, but hopefully there will be a Knight of the Borrowed Dark film in the future.”
Book deal, launches, films - Dave’s living out a fantasy of his own making. However, the Celt notes that often the quickest way to dull a passion is for it to become your job. He insists it hasn’t yet become work.
“I’m really enjoying it. I think that’s really important about writing, you should never write something that you are not finding fun. I have an awful lot of fun in putting Denizen through absolute hardship, I really do. Probably too much fun.”
Book two is ready for “spit-polishing”, as he puts it, and the final book is well shook.
“I can picture exactly how the final scene plays out,” he assures. “I’ve been thinking about the final scenes for about three years now.”
Such foreward planning means that the trilogy is almost completed before the weight of expectation generated from the first book can become crippling. Even writing from the shadow-world of obscurity, Dave says it was “hard enough” navigating the early drafts of the sequels.
“I was constantly comparing this really messy draft of book two to a really polished draft of book one; even though they are completely books. So I really like the fact that book two is done and finished and it’s not going to change.”
Before he gets the chance to finish writing the trilogy finale, he’s devoting time to writing something else - his autograph.
“My agency got me a proper signing pen. They’re like, ‘It writes in space!’
“I’m like, ‘Woh! I can’t wait, I’m sure I’ll use that.’”
He got to put it to use, sadly under the confines of gravity, at the London preview.
“A bit of both,” he replies on whether autographing is embarrassing or a proud moment. “It’s really lovely, but it comes combined with - I’m a massive worrier as a person - what if I misspell somebody’s name? What I forget somebody’s name even though I’ve known them for years?”
Have you worked on your signature to make it really cool?
“No it’s still a bit childish, like big child kind of font.
“By book two I’ll have a really cool little squiggle.”