Today I’m chatting to David Wake, who writes wide-ranging (and eclectic) varieties of science fiction.
David tells me he was the proud inventor of the literary form of the Drabble, stories of exactly 100 words. He’s worked in theatre as a playwright, technical stage-manager and director. He co-founded New Street Authors, an indie publishing collective, and he’s been a guest of honour at two SF conventions.
Tell us something about your books, including your genre and your characters and/or themes.
I’ve been described as an ‘eclectic’ writer, i.e. someone who is all over the place. But then I find most readers are ‘eclectic’. You fancy this, then you fancy something else and if you read, say, too many serious pieces, then you want something comic and vice versa.
So, I’ve been using the by-line “Science-Fiction, Steampunk and more…”. Science-Fiction ranging from the comic with I, Phone to the more serious police-procedural Thinkersphere series; Steampunk is my Derring-Do Club adventures about three sisters, Earnestine, Georgina and Charlotte, set in the late Victorian era; and ‘and more…’ would be my political romance Crossing the Bridge. In the pipeline is a revenge tale set in Ancient Japan, so that’s more ‘more’.
What inspires you to write? Who are your favorite writers?
The desire to write is simply an infection I caught somehow when I was young.
I think my favourite writers have to be those I’ve met: Douglas Adams, Iain Banks, Bob Shaw; as well as all the SF greats, Asimov, Clarke, Philip K. Dick. At least in terms of influence. My favourite writers are really those writers I meet in the pub from New Street Authors and those I meet at SF conventions.
How do you start writing? Do you have a process or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I’ve done all of these. I try different approaches partly because I’m interested in the process of writing from an academic viewpoint. I like knowing how others go about it and try that for myself.
So, I’ve done heavy plotting using Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and various screenwriting methods, and I’ve done the ‘Once upon a time…’ and kept going to ‘…and they lived happily ever after’. (Well, not literally those phrases, but that approach.)
Mostly I think I’m what’s called a ‘puzzler’ in that I write random bits and pieces before trying to fit them all together.
How has your writing process changed since you started writing?
For The Derring-Do Club in Death on the Suez, my most recent book, I tried following a method of Agatha Christie’s. She can’t have done this with all her books, but she would devise a scenario with nine suspects as the human brain can’t follow that many characters, so slipping in red-herring is easier. She’d write about three-quarters of the story, and then work out the least likely person to have done it before rewriting it to make that suspect the murderer.
What I learnt from that process was not to do that again. Not only can the reader not follow nine suspects, but the writer finds it difficult.
The main gain has been confidence. When you write your first novel, you aren’t sure if you can pull it off. Once you’ve proved you can climb Everest, then it’s coming up with new routes to the top.
How long does it normally take you to write, and what proportion of the time is spent doing what?
I’ve published ten books in nine years, but I also did an MA in Creative Writing in the middle of that. So, I’m averaging maybe one and a half novels a year, so each baby takes about nine months. However, I tend to work on more than one thing at a time in that when editors and beta-readers are looking at one story, I’m busy on another.
I do seem to spend more and more time on rewriting and checking.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
The gap between projects is delicious –the feeling that you could do anything. Then I get antsy and have to start something.
And there are those deluded moments when I feel I’ve written something brilliant. I came across a sentence I’d written recently that described someone transcribing Egyptian Hieroglyphics; they finished by ‘…dotting the eye and crossing the ankh’. I thought that was quite good.
But mainly it’s basking in the adulation of my fans. Seriously. Perhaps not phrased like that, but it is wonderful to discover that your scribbles have been appreciated. I write for my stories to be read, so my favourite part often happens with other people when I’m not around.
Do you involve other people in your writing, as collaborators or editors? How do you make this work?
Yes, I do.
After a while writing something you get too close to it and lose all objectivity. That assumes you had any objectivity to start with, of course. I belong to a group, New Street Authors, and we swap work back and forth for editing, beta-reading and comment. I think it’s absolutely vital.
And I spend a lot of time editing others because it exercises your critical faculties, which is useful for your own work, and, mostly, I want to give as good as I want to get.
Do you have any writing tips you’d like to share with readers?
Practice makes perfect, or at least better.
How are you published?
Everything of mine is indie published. I didn’t really choose this model as such, but rather discovered it. I’d written a near-future SF novel, I, Phone, which attempted to predict five years into the future. (It still does even after all this time which is frankly amazing. Maybe it’s set ten, fifteen or fifty years in the future.) I’d done the ‘going to panels at SF conventions, asking advice, talking to editors, making the pitch, sending it off, hearing nothing, still hearing nothing, feeling despair and abandonment’, only to discover that they’d taken two years to admit they’d lost it, then another year before saying it wasn’t their cup of tea. That would be fair enough, but that response was so fast after another pester that I suspect they’d not read it. If it had been accepted, then it’s 18 months for them to publish it and 6 months more for the marketing department to get it into the shops. By that time, it would be shelved in ‘alternative history’ rather than ‘near future SF’.
Near future as a sub-genre doesn’t exist in book shops and from traditional publishers.
Anyway, I started giving my MA final project tutor, Andy Conway, lifts home from University. Over the course of several journeys, he wore my objections down and persuaded me to self-publish. I’ve not looked back. After selling a few books at one convention, I was at another convention when a bloke bounded up to me and said, “I read your book. Brilliant!”
That’s validation. I’d found an audience.
How do you keep in touch with your readers?
SF conventions. It is brilliant to be able to sit down with people who have read my work and have a natter.
I’ve gained ideas this way too. For example, I can think of a specific moment in a restaurant when a fan waxed lyrically about a certain element and I thought, right, I’ll put more of that in the next book.
Are there any tips you’d like to share with readers?
Andy and I wrote a book together on this very subject. It’s called Punk Publishing and it’s all about why you should self-publish and then exactly how to go about it. It’s available at Amazon in paperback and as an ebook.
Before we got it our guide out, one of our beta-readers followed the instructions and published her own book.