Usually when people sing along to the “Ghostbusters” song by Ray Parker, Jr., and they get to the “Who you gonna call?” part, they don’t yell out, “MY! AGENT!” But as writer Dan Hanks explains in the following email interview about his British folklore- and nostalgia-infused supernatural fantasy adventure novel Swashbucklers (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), that’s exactly what he did…when he got home.
Photo Credit: Janet Broughton
To start, what is Swashbucklers about, and when and where does it take place?
Swashbucklers is a story about former child heroes who once (secretly) saved their town from an ancient evil and have to team up again as adults to do it all again. However, this time they have to juggle school runs and everything else that goes with being a parent.
It’s set in a not-so-fictional version of the town where I live, and it takes place this Christmas 2021.
Where did you get the idea for Swashbucklers?
It’s a long story, but the idea for the characters and their predicament came from two words — “teenage ghostbusters” — that popped into my head when my kids and I were listening to Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” song in the car on the way to school several years ago. Those two words made me write a book about teenage ghostbusters and led to me getting signed with my wonderful agent, but although a deal followed, it didn’t eventuate.
A year later, the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. I knew I wanted to tell more stories with them. So I had a think about what else I could do and the idea popped into my head that I could write a sequel where they’re older, that could actually act as the first (or only) book. We’d only hear snippets of their original adventure, and it would be focused on them being middle-aged, parents, struggling with adult responsibilities, and generally exhausted by life — yet they have to reunite to save the day again somehow.
It’s a little like if we got a Goonies sequel now, but never had the first film. What would they remember from that adventure when they were kids? Would they have had successful lives? What if one of them hadn’t been able to let go of that moment of excitement and adventure, would that have affected how they’d grown up? Aside from the fun of having parents as ghostbusters, there were some other interesting ideas in there I wanted to play with.
And is there a reason why you had the ghost also be a pirate as opposed to the ghost of a serial killer or insurance claims adjuster or something else?
Ha! No good reason — I just thought it would be cool. Where we live is in the middle of England, in the hilly Peak District, so I thought it would be surprising and fun to have a pirate associated with this land-locked town.
Although the insurance claims adjuster is now going to appear in future books, thank you for that.
You’re welcome. I’ll send you my routing number for the royalty checks. Anyway…it sounds like Swashbucklers is a supernatural fantasy adventure story. Is that how you’d describe it?
I would have said that perfectly describes it when I started writing. But there is a strong theme of nostalgia in here, and so somewhere along the way it took on a whole British folklore vibe as well, which is a lot to do with my childhood love of a couple of books: Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood and Sheila K. McCullagh’s Tim And The Hidden People. So there is a little bit of genre-mashing.
Swashbucklers is your second novel after Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on Swashbucklers but not on Captain Moxley?
Stephen King’s It played its part, although I strived to make sure I treated the idea of adults returning to fight the same evil they encountered as kids as differently as possible. The aforementioned children’s books were key, too. Plus, admittedly, I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of all the ’80s pop culture references in [Ernest Cline’s] Ready Player One and wanted to play with that nostalgic element in my own way here.
How about non-literary influences; was Swashbucklers influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Ghostbusters and Goonies are the obvious two. Gremlins for its horror-at-Christmas fun. And more recently Stranger Things, although I suppose that doesn’t count as it itself was a mix of all those ’80s adventures (but I will mention it anyway because I love it).
And how about your fluffy sidekicks, Indy and Maverick? What influence did they have on Swashbucklers?
They ensured I got to make a joke about always having poo bags on you. Seriously, you just keep finding them, wherever you are and whatever you’re wearing. Plus, I love them so much I merged them together to become the character of Einstein, Jake’s family’s dog.
Now, in the previous interview we did about Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire, you said that book was hopefully going to be the first book of a trilogy. Just so we’re all clear, Swashbucklers is not the second book, right?
Swashbucklers is definitely not the second adventure of Captain Moxley, which is extremely clear from the very first page and the spooky baby monitor.
So then is Swashbucklers the start of its own series or is it a stand-alone novel?
There is more story to tell for sure and I would love the chance to get to tell it. I can’t explain more for fear of spoilers, but I definitely hope we get another book. (Mainly because it’s mostly written…)
And is this going to be another trilogy?
I see it as a duology. The second book would ideally have the same title as the one that originally sold, Panic Stations, because I love it, but there would be no overarching title. However…there is certainly scope to tell more stories in this version of our world. So I wouldn’t rule that out completely?
Some people — upon hearing that Swashbucklers is the first book of a duology — will decide to hold off and wait until all of the books are out, and maybe even read them in back-to-back. But do you think people should wait?
Honestly, because this story is set in our very real world this Christmas, not long after it’s released, I would personally enjoy reading it just for the fun idea that, “it’s taking place right now!” Pandemic allowing, I will definitely be doing my usual visit to the Christmas Markets in Manchester, UK, this December with a far more wary eye than normal…
Also, while I do sometimes enjoy binge-reading or watching stories, sometimes I quite enjoy the anticipation that comes out of an ending which leaves you wanting more. If you can get more straight away, it’s almost too much of a good thing? I don’t mind savoring what I’ve just read and having to wait a little while for more story goodness.
Also, while I have you, is there any news on the second Captain Moxley book?
No official news, but I have a title, a story, and I’ve started writing it. We’ll have to wait for all the global crises to subside before we look at it properly, but I’d love for readers to get another adventure with the Captain, so we’ll just have to see what happens. Feel free to pester Angry Robot about it though, just to keep it in the forefront of their minds.
Earlier we talked about the movies and whatnot that had influenced Swashbucklers. But to flip the script, as you kids probably don’t say anymore, do you think Swashbucklers could work as a movie, TV show, or game?
Swashbucklers would be a very fun movie, but now you’ve put the idea in my head it could also be a lot of fun as a TV show — exploring parenthood while ghostbusting in a sort of “monster of the week” serial like we sometimes got with The X-Files. Either way, the book and I have representation in L.A., so let’s see what happens.
And I will never say no to a game version. Somebody get on that, please.
So, if someone wanted to turn Swashbucklers into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as the main characters?
This is a tricky one, because I have absolutely no idea. With Captain Moxley I had specific actors in mind, but for Swashbucklers I just don’t know. And perhaps that’s a good thing, because maybe it would work better with unknown actors, to really convey that sense of slightly unkempt, worn down, real-life parents struggling to save the world.
And if someone wanted to turn Swashbucklers into a game, what kind of game should it be and who should make it?
I would take a video game in the style (and with the writing) of Uncharted, please.
Finally, if someone enjoys Swashbucklers, what novel of someone else’s that’s in the same kind of vein would you suggest they read next?
Honestly, I’m in the middle of Deep Dive by Ron Walters which is out in 2022 (with Angry Robot!) and it’s so good. It really takes the parenting gut-punch of Swashbucklers and goes to town with it, but in a Matrix meets Inception kind of way. It’s awesome.