‘you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.’
Steven King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
Speaking to Daniel Cullen, in his shed studio a week after he released his debut novel HOBS, he told me he had been sitting on the notion of writing a story about the cave dwellers of Derbyshire for around seven years before finally getting it to print. The original idea came from a conversation with his mum, but he sat with it for ages before ‘it was stitched into another story’ he was working on.
A combination of lockdown, and the desire for his son to be the right age to read and enjoy it, was the push Dan needed to prompt him to get his book published. The time he gained during the initial lockdowns allowed him the space and perspective to weave together the separate sections into a finished folk tale, that I believe will capture the imagination of young and old readers alike. In the same way that the cult Netflix series Stranger Things appeals to adults, with significant nostalgic references and a heavy dose of childhood magic, I believe it is a book that has universal appeal – especially if you were lucky enough to grow up in a Derbyshire village like me and are more than a little bit familiar with the local dialect the characters use.
I read HOBS over the bank holiday weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed escaping between the pages that reward with vivid description, discernable emotion and a sense of pace that makes it difficult to put down. I was on tenterhooks with every turn, I just had to know what happened next! Not only that, the book contains some of Dan’s hauntingly beautiful illustrations, a nod to the supernatural events contained within. It also helped that the font is larger as I couldn’t find where I had put my reading glasses at the time!
As you immerse yourself in the narrative, you sense danger and intrigue right from the start and quickly learn of a malevolent force deep beneath the quarry. You meet a security guard who is scared of the dark, a wild haired wise old crone and of course the protagonist himself Jac, who having been displaced in a strange new life, wearing a heavy cloak of melancholia, seems to find trouble round every corner. But there is also a tangible sense of hope for Jac, both in a new friend and the strange happenings late one night where an explosion of light changes the course of his existence forever.
Dan tells me his favourite writers growing up were Eoin Colfer, Douglas Adams, Stephen King, John Banville, Phillip Pullman, Charles Bukowski and Neil Gaiman so it’s no surprise that his own writing contains elements of mythology, fantasy and science fiction. It definitely gets The Beestonian Team seal of approval, and we are glad you were ‘brave enough to start’ Dan!
Just like Jac (the main character of the book, HOBS) I moved from inner-city London to a tiny Derbyshire village when I was 12. It was a difficult time; I was scared, alone- I didn’t fit. But, despite all of that, the place intrigued me. Instead of concrete and glass, there were woods and dales (and caverns!) It was actually kind of magical. As I made friends, I heard stories of the Hob; those weird, mischievous creatures that lived in underground caves and came out at night. To some, they were more than legend, they were an accepted fact, so much so that local farmers would leave bowls of milk out for them. I loved that! In a way, those stories helped me accept my new home.
I now work as a designer and illustrator in Beeston, but the Hobbs stayed with me. And now they’re set loose in a new book: Hobbs, the first in the narrow dark series.
BLURB: “Ah told yer lad, this ain’t no fairytale! The legends are true: HOBS are real. Except these aren’t Pixies or elves or any other such fairytale nonsense; they’re aliens.
Stranded on earth for hundreds of years, the HOBS have made a new home, deep below the English countryside; a secret city called Narrowdark. It’s hidden, secure, and safe. But when an ancient power is released into the world above, they have to act.
Because all that power just crashed into a rather shocked 12 year old human, called Jac…
Set in a small village in Derbyshire, an inspired by old middle- England folk tales, HOBS is a stunningly original adventure where classic legend meets thrilling sci-fi.
You can buy your copy of the book using the link below!
Remember though…it’s ain’t no fairytale.