Monday, 7 April 2014

Dan Tunstall

One of the pleasures of being a small publisher is that you often get to know your authors well, sometimes making long-term friendships, sharing in their individual joys and pain as they do in yours. Sometimes the relationship is brief but intense, going quiet once the book or books in question are out of the way. Sometimes your authors die. Five Leaves has lost several writers and editors over the years. In no particular order these include Adrian Mitchell, Ray Gosling, Stanley Middleton, Walter Gregory, Richard Boston, Michael Hyde, Daniel Weissbort and Colin Ward. Leaving aside that they are all men, what they have in common is that even though some died before their time, and all are missed, none were young.
It was a shock this morning though when the agent Penny Luithlen rang to say that our author Dan Tunstall had died yesterday, it seems by his own hand. Dan had been troubled for some time, but we all hoped that he would pull through. He was only in his forties. It was a difficult conversation with Penny, who had done so much to try to help Dan. Agents, perhaps more than publishers, can get very involved with their clients.
Penny came to me some years ago about Dan. I knew her slightly. She wanted me to take a risk on a young, new writer with a challenging book about football hooliganism. I doubted we would sell a lot of copies but Penny persuaded me to take the book on on its value, but as a great agent she wanted to get Dan's career going and he needed that book to do that. In fact the sales were pretty good.
Being a book on football hooliganism it required careful editing and the three of us had great fun in a cafe counting each individual swearword and working out whether they were necessary. ("I'll trade you one XXXX for one XXXXXX."). We had to get this book right as it was his first book and because it was a difficult subject. That we did so was marked by Dan's Big and Clever being shortlisted for the Bradford Boase Award for first young adult novels. Joined by Carey, Dan's wife, we had a tremendous night out in London, which included Jacqueline Wilson being photographed with Dan, or was it the other way round? It was a real publishing highlight for us, though we did not win.
Dan's second book was Out of Towners, a young adult novel about a group of lads on their first holiday away. It was another great editing experience. We could not get the cover right, and eventually it was designed by Dan and Carey - Dan providing possibly hundreds of versions of the agreed artwork! By now Dan was doing school visits. He was particularly popular with teenage boys who could identify with his characters, and with Dan himself as Dan could with them. We were not surprised when his next book was for a bigger publisher and he then contributed to a four-author anthology with Alan Gibbons and others. Our job was done.
Though Dan continued to write, he ran into personal problems which he could not overcome, with the result we know.
Dan was great company, a talented writer and is a great loss. He was mentored by Bali Rai and had a number of other writer friends who tried, as much as they could, to support him through his difficulties which we all knew. Dan and Carey also designed the cover of Bali's book with us and Bali and Dan were close.
Most of the Five Leaves writers in the East Midlands knew Dan of course, and will join with Pippa and I in sending our condolences to Carey and the girls. This has been a sad day.


Ash Wordsmith said...

A great talent and such a sad loss, for the book reading world as well as his family. Thanks for sharing your memories, Ross.

Rob Bullock said...

So sorry to hear about Dan. He was a great writer but much more importantly a lovely guy. I knew he was seriously depressed but I hoped he would pull through. A loss to everyone who knew him personally, though his books and online. Sad news.