Thanks for your time David. Firstly... you've lived all over the world, but where did you grow up?
I grew up in the south east of England, just to the west of London. My parents owned their own business and worked themselves hard, so my two elder brothers and I were left to our own devices a lot of the time. They were loving parents, but they were still absent a lot of the time and that was tough. On the other hand, when they did have time off they loved to travel, so we were pretty worldly by a young age. They were keenly interested in other places, cultures, and history, and I think we inherited that to a large extent. More than anything I think their curiosity has stuck with me the most.
Can you remember your first written words?
I don’t recall writing down my first words. What I do recall was my first book, which I self-published at the age of four! My mother had helped me cut and fold all the paper, stapling it together, and I’d written a story about butterflies. It was the first of many, and I loved it; I’d created something new and original, that was inherently mine. It’s become a practice which I’ve tried to continue with the new generations of our family.
When not creating my own books, or running around playing make-believe, I would also be playing word games. As a result, even at a young age my vocabulary was quite extensive, and I still find it interesting when I come across new words. The greatest thrill however has always been to string them together, to build a sentence and feel that it’s good; that it flows with the correct rhythm, conjures the right imagery, stirs the senses. More than anything, that’s what made me want to be a writer.
Did you go to University?
I studied at the Farnham University College for the Creative Arts, ultimately graduating with a degree in Journalism, though I actually started out studying Photography. At the time, I wanted to be a travel writer, capable of capturing the spirit of a place in image as well as in text. I had decided that of the two skill-sets, my photography was the weakest and so that was where I should focus my efforts. After a year however I was so dissatisfied with my choice that I transferred; the photography program at my university was too heavily art focused for my tastes, and I felt like I wasn’t developing in the direction I wanted. Journalism proved a much better fit for me, focusing on topics I found interesting, equipping me with useful new skills, and expanding my thinking significantly.
I graduated happy and content, confident and keen, straight into what is largely considered to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Trying to find work at that time, as a new graduate with virtually no practical experience, was incredibly tough. After a few months of struggling against what seemed like insurmountable odds, ultimately competing for unpaid internships against a couple of hundred other candidates, I decided enough was enough. A new plan was formed, in which I would effectively flee to Thailand; the idea was to work as a Dive Master, live on a beach for a month or two (long enough in my mind for the situation back home to improve), and then head back and pick up where I left off.
Little did I realise that the conditions would not improve any time soon, and I would remain on an island that was barely eight square miles for almost a year. When I finally returned to the UK it was to a job in the tech industry; not exactly what I had envisioned for myself, but it was a paid position and at the time that felt like a godsend. Two years later, the same company would pay me to relocate across the planet and join their Australian branch, where I stayed for another four.
Tell me about your very first writing engagement.
My first writing engagement was incredibly unglamorous; technical documents. Part of my role in the corporate behemoth I had joined was translating the clunky and confusing text of engineers into something that new-hires and customers could actually understand. It sounds dull, and this is certainly true, however it taught me a great deal about writing; in particular, how to be concise, accurate, and intelligible.
In time I went from technical documents to corporate blogging. It was the same premise, but a different presentation, which in turn meant developing a new skill; writing to an audience that you had to entice, and then hopefully retain, rather than simply instructing an audience that was essentially guaranteed.
It was around this time that I realised I began to feel unfulfilled, and honestly, bitterly depressed. My life was missing something and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what. Eventually, the obvious dawned on me; I’d always wanted to be a writer, why wasn’t I doing it? I’d lost nearly ten years! I quit my job the day after, and after an incredibly brief foray in copywriting decided that this too was not quite the right fit. I didn’t want anything to do with corporate writing anymore, or even journalism! I wanted to be creative, to write fiction!
What really inspires you?
I find inspiration all around me. Everywhere I go, and everything I do, builds up experience and material, no matter how mundane or trivial it may seem at the time. I recently had to spend roughly three months cutting my way through Indian bureaucracy in order to get my marriage registered; it’s been one of the most long-winded, convoluted, and frustrating experiences of my life, however, going through it I know I now have an interesting story to tell, an experience I can draw upon, and a perspective that would be impossible to understand otherwise.
I think part of this rationale is what has enabled me to travel the world as much as I have. Every journey is an experience, and I simply see every new place as a research stop. I’ve lived in a city alongside eight million people, and I’ve inhabited a hut nestled amongst just 1,400. I’ve settled in places where I don’t speak the language, where the culture is about as far removed from what I’m used to as it could possibly be, and where I’ve been forced to adapt. Every new residence adds to who I am, and to who I can create upon the page. At the moment, India is home, though the very idea of ‘home’ is entirely fluid to me, and I’ve never been happier.
What interests you more than anything else?
As for what really peaks my interest above all else, I’d have to say the seemingly impossible or just downright improbable.
What is the process of transforming that initial moment of inspiration, or idea, into actual words on paper?
Everyone is different, and I’ve tried various ways to effectively get a story down onto a page. For some authors it’s all free-flow; for others they have to first plan every part in detail. For me, it’s a balancing act. If I write totally free-flow, with no firm plan in place, then ideas tend to run away with me as I go, and backtracking and editing to incorporate them becomes a nightmare. If on the other hand, I consciously lay out every event before I even begin, I find the process restrictive and unenjoyable. By working through an idea, getting to grips with just a rough outline in my head, I get the most freedom and pleasure from the writing, without it being too unpredictable and erratic. That said, I will often begin a story unclear of exactly how it will end, and the writing will ultimately just take me there.
From a more practical perspective, people talk about the horrors of a blank page; they stare at it, or even just picture it, and are unable to write a thing. They seem to think that if it’s not perfect from the outset, it shouldn’t be written down. I don’t let myself get caught up in that. My first sentence could be anything, could become anything, or could be lost entirely, and I know that from the moment I write it down. However, I’ve written it down, and that’s the important part. The page is no longer blank.
Do you have a particular writing location?
To the annoyance of everyone that has ever lived with me, I absolutely have a specific writing place. If I’m not there I’m uncomfortable, fidgety, and prone to random flights of fancy; the seemingly critical need for another cup of tea, biscuit, or completion of some other utterly unrelated task that could otherwise quite easily be put off. In the last two years, I’ve moved country three times, continents twice, and home four times. An already painful task, for me it carries the added burden of locating a new writing place in which I can actually work; somewhere that fits, where the words flow, and where I can write for hours. I am blown away by my wife’s patience and understanding, particularly as our last move involved three days of trial and error, at the end of which I found my writing place and my wife could finally begin planning the rest of our home around it; the fact that it was she who insisted upon this process gives an insight as to the size of her heart, and the reason I married her is abundantly clear.
As to the writing space itself, I cannot write if there are things nearby to distract me, and people talking to me or even around me, is a form of creative death. Unfortunately, as easy as it would be to sequester myself in a dark alcove somewhere underground, devoid of anything but the bare essentials, for the words to come I also need light, fresh air, and an open and uncluttered space.
Tell me about the projects you are currently working on.
The majority of my time at present is devoted to what is effectively a personal challenge and exercise; a collection of 100 pieces of flash fiction.
This wasn’t something I’d ever given serious thought to undertaking, however I’d just finished writing a children’s story and prior to starting my next big project I decided to tackle a series of competitions. One of the contests I entered was to write a short story to a given image. I ultimately didn’t win, however I loved the premise and decided it would be interesting to do a few more; I figured it would be challenging to create a new story every day, I’d build up a collection of pieces I could submit to future contests and publications, and if I kept myself open to any and all images then I’d be forced to write outside my comfort zone and expand my repertoire.
I’m currently 75 pieces down. In the beginning I never had the firm goal of 100 in mind, however as I progressed I found myself increasingly enamoured with the practice. Every morning I wake up with no idea what I’m going to write about that day, and the pieces I’ve written thus far cover genres and themes far wider than I would ever previously have considered, the research for each building up a huge store of information that I can later refer to, as and when required. Most importantly of all however, every time I write I can feel the words coming smoother and more easily, the writing building in flair and technique.
What are your plans for the future?
At the moment, my plan is to slowly build back up to novels (of which I’ve already written two but not been sufficiently satisfied with either). After I complete my personal challenge of 100 flash fiction pieces I want to focus for a while on competitions and contests, starting with short stories and moving up to those aimed at novellas. I already have a few new ideas for more full length novels, but I want to build up some support first, establish a readership base, and develop a ‘resume’ of sorts so that when I submit future works to publishers I can show them convincingly why they should consider adding me to their list of authors. It’s a more practical approach, and lessons I learn from every piece of flash fiction, every novella, can be applied to my next novel, helping me make it the best it can possibly be.
Name your THREE most favourite books and why.
My favourite genres, both to read and write, are sci-fi and fantasy. I believe books can give us a window into another world, one in which anything is possible, and the only boundary is the imagination. I still read other genres, however they will rarely hold the same appeal. Books are a form of escapism, and how far have you really travelled if you’re just imagining yourself leading someone else’s life, in the same basic world? Change the world completely however, and look how much farther you can go…
It’s really hard to narrow down my favourite books! Authors would be so much easier, and I could list off writers such as Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Roald Dahl, Terry Goodkind, Ian M. Banks, William Gibson, and Isaac Asimov in an instant. To narrow it down to specific books however, I’d have to say Use of Weapons, Battle Royale, and The Freedom Swimmer.
Use of Weapons is an Ian M. Banks novel, part of his Culture series, and I loved the style of narrative; a sci-fi biography, fractured and erratic, recounting a man’s attempts to come to terms with his past. It’s an engaging story, and part of the reason I was so taken with it was that I’d previously read Ian Banks’ other works, which were more mainstream fiction. I found it fascinating that a writer could address two such different markets and genres, and excel in both of them.
Battle Royale is a dystopian novel by Japanese writer Koushun Takami, in which junior high school students are forced to fight each other to the death in a program run by the authoritarian Japanese government. It came out in 1999, and I’d never read anything like it (the similar and much more globally popular and recognised Hunger Games series came out afterwards in 2008). The story is brilliant, discussing themes such as psychology, morality, and loyalty, and even its style of presentation was something I’d not seen before. It helped me consider that there were other ways to write!
The Freedom Swimmer is a much lesser known work, only recently published (2016), however it holds special meaning to me as it was written by a friend of mine, Wai Chim, based on the extraordinary life of her father, who escaped from Communist China by swimming through shark infested waters to British occupied Hong Kong. It’s an incredible book, recounting a piece of history I’d never heard of, and the story is very moving. I had the distinct privilege of being given a draft copy of the novel prior to publication and asked for my feedback. Her success (not only of ‘The Freedom Swimmer’ but for all of her previous works) helps inspire me to keep writing and reaching for my own goals.
Lastly... what does writing MEAN to you?
Writing for me means freedom. It means stepping away from what I always thought was expected of me, the 9-5 grind in a ‘responsible’ career, and embracing what I’m passionate about. It means allowing myself to drift away into the depths of my imagination and be truly creative. It means finding stories, narratives, and anecdotes, that make me smile, and sharing them with others. It means giving people a place to escape to, because at some time or another we all need and deserve one.
Thanks so much David, and thank you for your wonderful contributions to HAPPY. Don't stop writing!
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