Monday, 4 April 2011

Interview with David Robinson

David Robinson has been a professional writer for twenty-five years. He’s published six novels – chiefly in the sci-fi and psycho horror genres – has judged writing contests and is a seasoned blogger.
Blog HERE Website HERE
David's current novels:
Coldmoor (Stasis Centre)
The Dead Web (Stasis Center)

David's novels are also available in print. View his storefront HERE.

What was the first thing you had published?
A 500-word piece in my local newspaper, the Oldham Evening Chronicle back around 1985. I’m a Yorkshireman living in what used to be Lancashire, and the essay concerned the small differences between words and their meanings on either side of the Pennines. I moved 40 miles from my hometown and suddenly a bus became a buzz, a dent became a dinge, and when buying teacakes (which always contained currants in Yorkshire) you had to specify whether you wanted plain or fruit.

The editor ran my piece as a feature on page 5, and I recall it paid me about £8.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?
My two greatest strengths are the ability to ‘see’ a complete novel in my head, and my work ethic.

When I start any project, I can see the way the story pans out from start to finish. No individual scenes, just a start point, a theme and an ending.

Work ethic means I can sit at the computer for many hours hammering out the words. I have been known to put in a fourteen-hour day.

My weak points? A low threshold of boredom and a poor record on writing detached non-fiction.

I tend to get bored with projects quite quickly. I know what needs to be done, I know what needs to be written, but I can’t always be bothered to do it.

With non-fiction I can hammer out blog posts for fun, but they tend to be egocentric. When it comes to writing articles or book-length pieces from a detached, third-party point of view, I have great difficulty.

Do you have a writing routine or any odd writing quirks?
I get up about 5-ish every morning. I check the web to see what may have come in overnight in the way of emails, blog comments or tweets. I read the news on the BBC website, and then I begin to work. I work until my wife gets up at 7:15 and then take an hour off, usually because I can’t get anything done while she’s getting ready for work. She leaves at 8 and I write again until she comes home at 12. I then take two hours off and start again any time between 2-3 in the afternoon and work up until about 7-8 in the evening. Beyond that I’m usually fooling around on Twitter or Facebook or following football on the Web.

How important is it to you to plot your novels?
I don’t plot them at all. When I start a new project, I know where it begins, I know where it ends, I have a rough idea of how I’ll get there, but I let the characters and events take me there.

It’s not a system I would recommend for anyone new to writing, and it doesn’t work for non-fiction, but working this way, I wrote the original draft of Voices (120,000 words) in 33 days.

Beyond the first draft, things become more complex because that’s when you begin to see what does and doesn’t fit. Taking Voices as an example, I’d hacked 11,000 words off by the time it was finished; words that should never have been there.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?
Most of my secondary characters are based on individuals I’ve met somewhere sometime in my life, although they wouldn’t recognise themselves from the physical descriptions. Character is more about attitude and approach to life than appearance or mannerisms.

If I may give an example, many years ago I worked on a building site. It was my job to shift large retorts into place several times a day. For the rest of the time, I sat in the cab of my lorry, reading. When they needed a piece moving, the foreman would come to me and say, “We’ll just have this cig and then shift another one.” That verbal habit coupled to smoking his cigarette before getting on with the job, was written into a character in one of my early novels.

Who is your favourite author and why?
That’s a tough question. I have about half a dozen authors, any one of whom could be flavour of the month, and I may not come back to them for years. Right now I would go with Agatha Christie. She’s often criticised for lack of characterisation, but based on the answer to your last question, I’d disagree. Her prose is simple to read, easy to follow, but the plots are both ingenious and the endings always surprising.

How do you handle rejections?
A lot better these days than I did in the past! I’d get really annoyed when an editor or agent rejected my work. Now I take it in my stride and I try to learn from it. I ask myself what is missing that would prompt this person to reject my work? There are times when a rejection takes me by surprise. I’ve submitted novels, articles, book proposals which I thought were perfect and they’re rejected. Then I think to myself, “it’s their loss” and I get on with the job at hand.

What qualities do you think writers should have?
First and foremost is one that many commentators miss off their list. It’s a good command of English (or whatever your native tongue may be). “Sails figgers for the larst kwarta,” may have them rolling in the aisles on the Readers Digest howlers page but it won’t impress any editor. You need a solid understanding of your native language and how it’s presented in written form. If you don’t have it, get it.

Next: develop a thick skin. You’re going to get more rejection in the early days than you have ever known in your life. Learn to live with it. Even when you eventually become published, you will not please everyone and some critics will hammer you. Deal with it. Rise above and ignore it.

Learn to take notice of what’s going on around you because that is where you will get your ideas. If I may be personal once again, the catalyst for Voices was my own hearing loss, which produced phantom sounds in my head. The audiologist told me it was my brain tricking me, but I got a novel out of it. There are things going on around you all day every day. Notice them, learn from them, write about them.

They say that you should only write about what you know. There’s more than an element of truth about that, but you should also learn to learn.

Finally, here’s one piece of advice I repeat almost as a mantra: doubt everyone else; never doubt yourself.

What are you working on at the moment?
A novel. Its working title is Channels, but it’s a poor choice because the tale isn’t turning out as I’d expected – a consequence of letting characters dictate the story. I’m up around 40,000 words and the early chapters are already with a publisher. I anticipate completion around November this year (2011).

Beyond that I’m also working on the next book in the Stasis Center series, working title Layla’s Moon. They’re very much easier to write than full length novels because they’re quite formulaic and I’m using characters that I know quite well by now.

Finally, I have a couple of non-fiction pieces in hand which I potter with when I’m bored with everything else.

What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
There’s an old acronym – KISS. It stands for keep it simple, stupid, where stupid is you, the author. You have your story, you have your characters, tell it in plain simple English. No flowery, exotic language: that can come later, or it may never come at all, as in my case.

Get some honest feedback. I joined web-based writing communities like Writelink, and I received feedback from other writers and readers. More than that, I took the feedback on board. One of those pieces, a simple 2,500 opening chapter, which I put up in 2005, became The Haunting of Melmerby Manor (published by Virtual Tales in 2007) because I listened to readers’ critiques.

Don’t ask your mum, dad, boyfriend/girlfriend to read and expect honest critiques. They will tell you it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Get your feedback from other, unbiased sources.

Use a blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc, to ask for guidance. Most experienced authors are quite happy to help a newbie.

Finally, when you make it, when you have your name on the cover of a book, repay all those favours you took when you were struggling along, and lend your assistance to newcomers.

David Robinson was talking to Maureen Vincent-Northam, co-author of The Writer's ABC Checklist.


Rebecca Emin said...

What a great interview! Well done Maureen and David.
David - I am so green after reading about the hours you spend writing. Must be wonderful!

DW96 said...

Well done MO. This is a magnificent interview, with a riveting subject (do I get my cheque now?)

Maureen said...

Cheque? CHEQUE?

Thanks, Rebecca :)

Nina Croft said...

Great interview and great advice, David.

Cathy said...

Great interview and fantastic advice! I had never heard of writer's link but I am going to check it is so hard to come by honest advice - beyond just "that's good"; and I like what you said about "write what you know" but be open to learning; I love research - sometimes it keeps me procrastinating but It's so fun to learn about how others tick and if I can ever create a really well rounded character or sitatuon that goes beyond what i know, I'll be really excited! Thanks for sharing!

Maureen said...

Thank you, Cathy. Do try Writelink (you'll find their website link here in the right-hand column).

suzy doodling said...

Great interview, good advice as well.