Danny King

“I get my ideas from a number of different places; experience, observation, fantasy and research, to name but a few.

The Burglar Diaries was drawn largely from experience. Back in my misspent youth, I spent a couple of year breaking into houses, shops and warehouses, stealing cars and all sorts, so I have scores of memories from that period, though The Burglar Diaries isn’t autobiographical or anything, more just a work of fiction inspired by personal experience.

There are lots of true incidents and anecdotes in the book, but more often than not these incidents have been enlarged, twisted or taken on a couple of beats to make them more palatable and satisfying for the readers, or to make them more relevant for the book.

Here’s an example of a true incident that didn’t make it into the book. One night, while we were out breaking into a factory, my partner cut his arm on a shard of glass while trying to climb through a window. He must’ve nicked a vein because it wouldn’t stop bleeding, so we made some bandages, wrapped his arm up and called off the job. The factory was only a short walk from my partner’s home, so we hadn’t driven, but as we walked back, Darren’s arm wouldn’t stop bleeding and dripped blood from the broken window almost to his front door. This stopped Darren from going home because the police could’ve easily followed the very visible blood trail, so we ended up walking in circles as Darren got weaker and weaker until he could no longer stand. Eventually, I flagged down a passing car and made up some story as to how Darren had come by his injury and the driver very kindly took Darren to hospital. Darren had four stitches and was put on a drip, but he discharged himself the next morning in case the police called at the hospital as part of their enquires [sic]. And as Darren had given the doctors a false name, we were never connected with this job.

Now those are the plain facts of the job, but there’s a lot more you can do with this story. You could have something occur at the hospital, or you can make it so that the passing driver has some relevance to the story, or you could have Darren drip blood up to a rival burglar’s door in order to incriminate him instead or any number of things. You could also go the DNA route and bring that into the story or you could even just abbreviate it and use it as part of a greater story, so that it’s a little anecdote that one burglar (or policeman) tells another.

So there are plenty of stories in the book that take real life incidence and use them as a starting point in my books (and not just The Burglar Diaries either).

Your ideas don’t have to be so grand or fully formed as a burglar cutting his arm on a window, ideas can spring from anywhere. I saw a woman berate a guy on the bus yesterday for not standing up for a pregnant lady, and quickly made a note of it as I thought it was a great image and an interesting incident that could be made more of somewhere (I didn’t stand up for her either as I was far too busy scribbling in my pad).

And ideas also come from conversations I have with friends and family. If a friend says something interesting, tells me a particularly interesting or funny story, or even just cracks a good joke, I’ll often scribble them down when no one’s looking and use them later on, as they’re a great source of material.

I never usually have anywhere specific for these ideas at the time, but I scribble them down all the same and add them to an ideas folder. I have a great database of ideas, incidents, anecdotes, characters and snippets of dialogue that I’ve collected over the years, 90% of which I’m sure will never see the light of day.

Occasionally though, I note down a thought or an idea, and three years later when I’m working on something else, I’ll find a way or using it, often connecting it with several other ideas to come up with a whole new story. It also helps, if ever I’m stuck, that I’m able to trawl through my ideas folder and find an idea that fits or pushes the story forward, takes it in another direction or adds a sub plot to a larger story.

The interesting thing that nobody ever tells you, is that the more you
write, the more your eyes open to the world around you and you discover just how much there is to write about. When I first started writing, I thought ideas were like gold dust because they were so hard to come by. But really they’re like apples in an orchard. The really secret is training your brain to recognise them. Though that’s not to say every incident is worthy of reporting. A good writer can make a dull incident sound interesting, but a poor writer can likewise make an interesting incident sound dull.

It all comes down to the way you write. Your writer’s voice is more
important than all your ideas put together. Once you discover your style, the rest usually falls into place pretty quickly afterwards. And the key to discovering your style, is usually just being yourself.

I’m a great daydreamer. I often walk around with my head in the clouds or picture certain incidents from my life and wonder what might have been if things had turned out differently. This is a great source of ideas because there’s not limit to your imagination. Look at action films like Die Hard, Under Siege and Universal Soldier. These are ultimate boy’s own fantasies made into films and I expect they started out as escapist daydreams flouting around their writers’ heads as they sat through some boring studio meeting or lunch date. I don’t know this for a fact, but it’s how it works with me. I drift off and imagine all sorts of nonsense whenever I get five minutes. It’s like a free movie show in my head, and I’m always the hero (I’m also always a bit thinner and harder too).

As a matter of fact, James Bond occurred to Ian Fleming as a fantasy while he sat in a casino in the 1950s watching a couple of guys from a Russian embassy play poker. He imagined what it would be like to play them in a high stakes game and bankrupt them so that they’d have to defect to the west, which was where he got the plot for Casino Royale. In reality, he didn’t actually do very well at the tables himself that night, but he hit the jackpot with his idea.

Few things force open my mind to ideas like new knowledge, and whenever I research a subject, I usually start with one direction in mind but often end up with something completely different the more I discover about an idea.

If I’m going to write about a certain place (ie. a train station, a museum, supermarket or docks or wherever etc) I always try to visit it first and think about what scenes I’m going to set there and how they’d pan out. It’s a good way to fix specifics into my mind and I often see things I didn’t anticipate (ie. an abandoned railway signal hut, a secluded stairwell, an emergency exit, a jetty etc) that affects the story.

Reading up on a subject likewise opens doors in your mind, the same way that actors are able to improvise so much better when they’re holding a specific object in their hands, a writer should be able to write better when they’re holding specific facts in their mind.

The final place I get ideas is probably the most prolific. I just come up
with ideas as I go along. I could have a hundred and one ideas and a dozen chapters carefully mapped out, but it’s only when I actually sit down and start writing that the whole machinery starts to turn over and ideas really start to flow.

Often, ideas that I’ve specifically set aside for a story go by the wayside when better, or more relevant, ideas come along in the process of writing. In this instance, I find it’s always best to discard my original idea (or more over save it for another day) and go with the new stuff, rather than try to force the story’s direction in order to shoe horn my original ideas in.

This is basically how I work. It might well be different for other writers and I’m sure it is, but like I say, everyone has to find their own voice, their own style and their own methods. There’s really no blueprint I’m afraid. Which is a shame really as I reckon I could make millions if I came up with one.”

– Danny King
(from an e-mail)

Before becoming a writer, Danny King’s history seem to be perfect fodder for his stories. From his birth in a bedroom in Slough to working as a journalist for a porno magazine to a stint as a burglar, King has channeled his experiences into the somewhat-autobiographical Diaries series.

His first book, The Burglar Diaries, was hailed by critics and was televised by BBC3 as Thieves Like Us, a six-parter sitcom.

Since then, King has written several more installments of the Diaries series and other works.


~ by croatoa on March 16, 2007.

One Response to “Danny King”

  1. […] of mine where their wellspring of creativity… well, sprung from. I had some humorous answers, in-depth ones and curt […]

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