surf break

An Interview with the author Gregg Dunnett

What is The Wave at Hanging Rock, and what’s it about?

It’s probably best described as a psychological thriller, although some have called it surf-noir. 

In part it’s a coming of age story about three young boys who grow up as surfers in a small village on the Welsh coast. As they get older, they become resentful about people coming to surf what they regard as their waves. Woven into this is a mystery about a young woman’s husband who goes missing in unusual circumstances. The two stories don’t appear connected at first, but when they do they combine in a way that has far-reaching consequences for all involved. 

Surf-noir? So is this just a book for surfers?

I hope not. I do think there are themes within the book which people who surf will immediately recognise (and like), but I think it can be read and enjoyed much more widely as well. In some ways it's more a story from the margins. Surfing takes place literally on the margins (where the land meets the water), and the same is true metaphorically, it’s not regularly covered by the mainstream media, when it is mentioned it’s usually in a very cliched way. I think anyone who is involved in any sport or activity that is sidelined in this way will recognise some aspects of this book.

But more than that, I hope it's a good mystery. I hope the plot is interesting and believable and the characters feel real.

Ultimately I believe this novel will appeal to people who, enjoy getting ‘out there’ somewhere - in or on the water, in the mountains, in the wilder places. And I suppose to those who actually prefer the idea of just reading about it, or find life has got in the way of getting out there. 

So why have you written a book about surfing?

Given how many people surf or have surfed (apparently 123 million facebook users are interested in it!) there are incredibly few decent surfing books around. I don’t know why that is, but I think many writers have avoided it because there are so many assumptions about surfers and surfing - that surfers are all bleach-blond layabouts, or adrenaline junkies, or too cool (or stoned) to read books. In my thirty years surfing (and windsurfing), and ten years writing about it I’ve met lots of people who aren’t like that, and many who have bemoaned the lack of a decent shelf of literature that represents and reflects what they do. With this book I hope I've done a little to fill that gap. 

What other books is it like?

There are a few classic books which particularly inspired this story. Some of these I read a long time ago but the feel of them stuck with me: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Alex Garland’s The Beach, and Tim Winton’s Breath. They’re not exactly literary, but they’re brilliantly written and they’ve got a depth to them that you really escape into. For different reasons I had in mind both Kem Nunn’s Tapping the Source, and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl as well when I was writing. I also felt a little bit inspired by a great movie, The Usual Suspects. Is it like any of these? Not exactly. But I hope readers will find themselves drawn into the story.

The book is partly written in the first person, why have you chosen this?

To be honest I didn’t set out to write a book in any particular style or way. I had this idea of kids who were isolated in some way developing their own warped interpretation of surfing’s infamous ‘localism’ problem, and once that came the voice of the narrator - one of these kids - just started talking in my head. I wrote the first draft very quickly, mostly because this character wouldn’t shut up. Unfortunately he only told me about half the story, so I then had to work a lot harder to work out how it ended. One of my favourite books in recent years is Tim Winton’s Breath, which features a pair of Australian surfing kids. In some ways I wonder if I just ‘borrowed’ one of his characters and took him to Wales and waited to see what he did there.

Why have you chosen to self publish instead of trying to find a traditional publisher?  

It’s famously difficult for unknown authors to get noticed, and I suspect my choice of subject matter hasn’t done me any favours. The most likely response to sending a surf-noir thriller to London-based publishers is a polite rejection, if they bother to reply at all. (Actually the most likely response to sending any book is a polite rejection).

On top of this the publishing world has changed a lot in the last ten years, and continues to do so. There’s a huge difference in the royalty rates an author can get from self publishing on Amazon (and other sites), and what they’re likely to get even with a good deal from a traditional publisher. I also enjoy the ‘publishing’ aspects of the work as well as the writing, so it made sense to me to give self-publishing a go. 

I’m not ruling out a deal with a traditional publisher later on, if any offers come in. Indeed, one of my hopes is that the book, and this site will eventually come to the attention of publishers, if enough people enjoy it. 

The Wave at Hanging Rock is the first book you’ve published, is it the first you’ve written?

No, but it’s the first that I’ve felt inclined to work up to a publishable standard. I’m one of those cliche writers with a drawer (or these days cloud storage space) filled with random beginnings of stories and novels. I really started in a serious way about five years ago when I wrote a story about a surfing photographer who lived and worked in the time when photography changed from film to digital. I got it up over 100,000 words and it wasn’t that bad, but I forgot to put a plot in anywhere. I don’t think it will ever see the light of day. You learn a fair bit from writing 100,000 words then throwing them all away. 

And do you surf as well as write about it?

Yes, but I'm not a great surfer. I grew up on the east coast of England where you don't really get waves. My dad was one of the early windsurfers, and I learnt before I was in double figures (along with a group of friends). I didn't start surfing until I went to university in Swansea, and it's a hard sport to learn if you don't start as a kid. But when stand up paddleboarding came along about eight years ago I got into that quite quickly, and now I'll usually surf on my stand up board. But whether it's surfing, windsurfing or paddleboarding, I think I'll always do one or the other to get out there and be amongst the waves.

Do you have any other books in the pipeline?

I’ve got several going at once. I’m currently working on a story that involves a trip to the southern deserts of Morocco and the inhabitant of a mysterious beach shack built from driftwood. But I’ve also got a political comedy I’m half way through. I’m not sure which I’ll finish first (you’d think it would be easy to write a comedy on the British political scene, but it’s so strange at the moment that reality keeps trumping fiction). One or the other, or both, or a different one I haven't mentioned here should be ready sometime in 2017. Follow me on Facebook and I'll let you know.