Den Of Shadows by Christopher Byford
The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?
While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One chance to change your fortunes. But once on board there is more to the show than meets the eye: enter Franco, the elaborate ringleader, Wyld the stowaway thief and Misu the fire breathing showgirl.
In a kingdom ruled by the law Franco ensures his den remains in line. But when he’s faced with saving the fate of the train, and those on board, he may be forced to break his own rules. Life on the den isn’t just a job but a way of life and once you’re in you’ll never be able to leave.
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
A) Den of Shadows is an adventure following those aboard the Gambler’s Den, a casino train that travels a desert region bringing entertainment to the downtrodden masses. The accompanying shows are grand affairs, extravagant, causing word of mouth and rumour to fuel excitement about its arrival. Ran by the enigmatic Franco Del Monaire, he trusts those under his roof, a legion of showgirls, to exhibit the upmost professionalism and, more importantly, obey his every word. With costs rising and an already dangerous region becoming increasingly lawless, Franco accommodates a travelling thief who dutifully pays her way. Things soon spiral out of control as the local lawmen begin to particular attention to the owner of the Gambler’s Den and the shady company he keeps. To complicate matters, the criminal element have taken notice of the Gambler’s Den too…
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
A) Den of Shadows started off as a daydream. I was 18, in a college class and found my mind wandering when working away with my headphones on. The Spencer Davis Groups’ hit “Gimmie Some Lovin’” was nestled away on some obscure compilation album. As soon as it started playing, I had the striking image of a roguish individual hanging from the boiler of a moving steam train, wearing a cheeky smile like an expensive suit as he focused on a sand soaked horizon. Thunderstruck, I immediately wrote the first chapter, and emailed it to myself, but never really found time to develop the concept. After being hospitalised and diagnosed with an aggressive form of UC, my priorities shifted and the idea of writing took a back seat. With health and life getting in the way I wouldn’t pick it back up until my mid 20’s, when I moved across the country and found the freedom to pursue my ambition of being an author. I spent six months completing it, a good chunk done whilst working on nightshifts before self-publishing the title on Amazon under the name of the train itself, “Gambler’s Den”. Despite moving onto other projects, I was so affectionate about the concept that I approached agents and publishers to see if anybody wanted to pick it up. I received the usual swathe of rejection letters but I stubbornly persisted, most of the query letters being sent out after a glass or two of whiskey. At this point I was working full time, coming home and sinking another five hours a night writing whilst waiting for my wife and I’s first child to be born. To top things off, I found out I was to be made redundant soon after the baby arrived, bad timing one would think, but an unusual silver lining was starting to appear. I decided to seriously make a go of things, using the redundancy money to finance the following year. I had a number of titles on Amazon but could never really crack the market given the constraints of working full time. Being able to devote myself to the role would allow me to be significantly more successful than what I was, at least that was the plan. I committed myself and during one of the queries, I was contacted by HQ Digital, an imprint of HarperCollins and agreed on a phone call to talk about it. During the call they asked me how I would feel about them publishing the entire series, being that I was working on the third at the time. After coming to terms with the fact that yes, this was actually happening, I agreed.
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) I’m a sucker for anything by HP Lovecraft. I still find things I had never noticed before in rereading, plus the concept of cosmic horror fascinates me. Neil Gaiman has a special place in my heart simply because I found that he can jump from subject to subject almost effortlessly, Neverwhere, Stardust and Sandman: Dream Hunters in particular I found to be standouts of his. Gaston La Rouxs’ Phantom of the Opera was my first exposure to something utterly alien and I still give it a go through every year. Philip K Dick scratches my sci-fi itch whenever I get the bug for that. I’m reading a lot of George Borrow at the moment, who was a guy who walked around England and wrote about his experiences with the people he mingled with.
Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
A) I consumed anything I could when I was younger. James Herbert was a staple in our household and I usually ended up flicking through a well dog-eared copy of one of the books from his Rats series when it became available. Shakespeare was a favourite, being that I enjoyed the prose more so than most my age would admit to, especially in As You Like It. Flowers for Algernon stayed with me after reading it in school and still remains one of my favourite books of all time given the subject and use of diary entries for the narrative. Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park ignited my imagination at an impressionable time and Douglas Adams with the Red Dwarf series is still my go to when it comes to comedy. I went through every single Fighting Fantasy book by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone that my local library had in stock. I also became fond of Byron’s works and even now I find myself picking up a collection of his and devouring it.
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) Seeing your work thrown about and spoken about with passion is still quite astonishing to me. It’ll never get old. I suppose if I had to pick just one, it’s that I can say that I’m managed to achieve the one thing in my life I always aspired to. That’s not a bad thing to be proud of at all.
Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
A) I’ll win no points for originality for this, but it’ll have to be my wife, Emma. One of the first things she did when we first met was encourage me to pursue writing. She’s been my muse from the start and I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for her. We co-write a series together which results in a lot of discussions regarding refinement and critique. Admittedly there are times it can be brutal, harsh even, but I would rather suffer that than be aimlessly nodded at. After all, it’s how you improve.