Interview: Daniel Kemp – From a London cab to a $30m movie

The story of Daniel Kemp’s writing career is just as thrilling as the tales he has put to paper himself.

The London cab driver was hit by a reckless driver at traffic lights in 2006 and was left mentally shattered by the experience. Diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, Kemp suffered from crippling spells anxiety for four years following the accident.

But it was during those dark years that Kemp started to write. His first title, inspired by his horrific experience, was called Look Both Ways, Then Look Behind. It caught the interest of a literary agent but no publisher.

Kemp was encouraged by his agent to write another book, good advice it seems as The Desolate Garden was published in March 2012 and was optioned by a London film company for a $30 million movie.

Kemp still doesn’t feel like he’s earning a living from book sales (although the release of The Desolate Garden on the silver screen will hopefully change that) but he’s clearly moving in the right direction. He spends more time promoting his literary work than driving his cab these days. That’s got to be a sign of success in anyone’s book.

Give us an idea of the some of the other things you’ve worked on over your writing career…

Since The Desolate Garden was picked up for a movie, I have written articles on my experience, along with thoughts on the publishing world, for various magazines and newspapers around the world.

I’m lucky that my short stories along with poems, plus a comical saga involving a boy aged fifteen who has problems with girls and everyday life, are shown in Female First, the UK’s most popular online celebrity gossip magazine, weekly.

In November 2013 a novella, in paperback, entitled Why? was published, and a few weeks later Anything But Hackneyed, a collection of rhymes and poems, was made available on Kindle.

What’s an average day like for you?

I work as a London taxi driver, but not as much as I should. Most of my waking hours are spent promoting and marketing my work. As well as the obvious places on the internet, I concentrate on bookshops where I have had success with signing events, particularly in Waterstones where to date I have done 20. There will be more in 2014 concentrating on Why?

When the filming starts I expect my life will become even more hectic, but I welcome that challenge.

Your first book was picked up by an agent. How did that opportunity come about? How did you make it happen?

I sent a typed manuscript of that first story to about a hundred or so agents, receiving only a few replies all of which were negative. One night the telephone rang and it changed my life. On hearing an agent say that he was interested, I really did think I had made it. How wrong can you be? That’s when the hard work started, and it’s still going on.

The fact that The Desolate Garden has been optioned (I have now been paid twice for that privilege) is no guarantee of acceptance by readers nor outlets. Sheer persistence and self-belief are the only tools that you, as a writer have. They must be used to the fullest extent.

What advice would you give to a new writer looking for an agent?

You can operate without one, but they know the business far better than the average writer, so again it’s that quality of being persistent and believing in you and the work that is created.

First find a list, then research what each agent specialises in. Send them whatever material they require, and then cross everything and wait.

You went down the self-publishing route. What are the benefits with that option and what are the drawbacks?

The biggest benefit is that you as the writer retain all the rights to your own work, in some cases this is lost within a traditional arrangement. Remuneration is another factor to be considered. Most traditional deals allow the author to make around 7% of the sale price of their work. With self-publishing, up to 70% can be earned.

Advances nowadays are not normally of great financial worth, nor is the budget for publicity a traditional house will set aside. They will though, provide at least one editor and possibly a proofreader. With self-publishing that is all down to the writer.

I have a traditional deal now, in so far as I no longer pay to be published. However, I still retain all rights to my work.

How do you publicise your work when you’re self-publishing?

The internet is the main focus, but telephone contacts and building a list of people one meets is equally important.

At what point did you feel you were actually making a living from writing?

I haven’t reached that point and, although sales have been good, at roughly £1 income per novel sold, it will take a huge amount of sales to achieve. In my case the film is so important as that will raise my profile, making my efforts to write attractive to those who only read the famous.

If you’re an aspiring writer starting from scratch, what’s your first move?

Write a great story, then grow another layer of skin to divert all the unjust criticism, unfounded jealousy and disappointment you will encounter. Speak, and listen, to your immediate family, as it’s them that will bear the brunt of all your disillusionment.

Any other bits of advice for us?

Learn quickly from your mistakes, not many will give you a second chance. If I have come across as a little cynical in these answers, then that is because I am. I have met a great deal of insincerity along the way. However, each step I have taken since The Desolate Garden was published has awoken new ambitions inside myself and I have no intentions of ending here.

I have heard this quoted on more than one occasion: “Manage your expectations well, and you will then manage life well.” To some extent that is true, but I would spin it around a bit: Have high expectations of yourself, then life will manage itself.

Find out more about Daniel Kemp at his blog, read a review of The Desolate Garden or the first chapter of Why?


4 Comments on “Interview: Daniel Kemp – From a London cab to a $30m movie”

  1. Danny Kemp says:

    Thank you for this, very much appreciated.

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