Hello David. Can you please introduce yourself?
I'm David Thorpe, I’m based in a beautiful part of south Wales, near Llandeilo.
How long have you been writing?
All my life, though only recently have I been able to make most of my living from writing.
What first got you interested in writing?
Reading! I devoured virtually all of the books in my local children’s library, which is why I am a big supporter of libraries now.
I was very much the same. I think I spent more time in the library than I did at home. Do you attend a writing group?
I helped start the Machynlleth writers group about 9 years ago. This changed a lot over the years, as many people moved away and new ones joined. Unfortunately I have now moved away myself, so I hardly go to any meetings. I’ve been looking for a writers group in my new location, but haven’t found one that I’m happy with.
Why do you attend a writing group?
It’s great to get feedback from other writers, to hear what they are producing, to share news and gossip. Only other writers can understand what is that one goes through in the course of producing a piece of work. We are of varying levels of skill and we have different strengths and weaknesses. Plus, we’re not all working in the same field. Some of us work or have worked in theatre, television, children’s writing and poetry. It is fascinating to get different perspectives.
What is the most valuable thing you've taken away from your writing group?
The ability to take constructive criticism and never feel defensive or precious about my work: all feedback is good feedback.
What genre(s) do you write?
I write non-fiction books and journalism on energy and environmental matters. My creative writing is focused on young adults. It tends to be speculative fiction. I take a trend or theme that might be social, political or technological and extend it slightly into the future.
That sounds interesting. Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
I am not particularly interested in mystery. It lacks a psychological level.
What types of things do you write?
I am the news editor of Energy and Environmental Management magazine. The discipline is to produce a 1000 word story from nothing every morning by 10 o’clock. This is a fantastic discipline as it not only involves researching and writing but editing and proofreading then uploading it into the content management system to a very tight deadline.I also write scripts when given the opportunity: my qualification is in scriptwriting for film and television. It was the best course I ever did. It taught me all about plotting, structure, characterisation, suspense, dialogue and transitions. This is applicable to novel writing as much as screenplays.Before that I wrote for Marvel Comics. I love comics and thoroughly enjoyed writing them still although sadly I do not get the opportunity very often. I was a big fan as a child, and it was my ambition to work for them when I grew up. Luckily I was able to achieve that ambition. I tend to see things visually and so this is excellent for producing screenplays, comics and even writing novels when I describe what I see.I have written poems and songs, both the lyrics and the music, though less so these days due to time constraints. I love poetry because it allows one to focus precisely on the choice of the right words and imagery. This is a great discipline when it comes to writing novels and short stories.I don’t tend to write many short stories because there is a lack of a market, but a couple in an American anthology were published recently.
Wow, you're a busy bee! Have you had anything else published?
My 1st published work was for Marvel Comics: Captain Britain. Since then there have been many comics published, and the Hybrids novel published by HarperCollins. My non-fiction publishers have been Earthscan, now owned by Routledge, Oxfam. TouCan, Eclipse, and a new publisher of e-books for business, Do Sustainability.
Have you ever received any rejections?
Yes, I still get many rejections. Far more rejections than acceptances. It goes with the business. You’re lucky when you don’t get a standard rejection. This will contain particular advice if you’re even luckier. When you get this advice listen to it very carefully. It’s very valuable feedback.
Would you consider self-publishing/e-publishing?
Yes I have done this. I have self published a novella and an e-book: Doc Chaos: The Chernobyl Effect. It’s a huge amount of work, the majority of which is in the marketing. The ease of publishing an e-book has prompted an explosion in the self publishing industry, making it far harder for an individual writer to get attention for their work. It works best if you are appealing to a particular niche audience and you know how to reach them.
Do you have a writing routine?
I write as often as I can, whenever I can.
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
A complete idea–it saves drafts. Or so I tell myself.
Do you have an editing process?
As many people as possible will read it and feedback. I also look at it in different formats and print it out several times. I have also used professional editorial critique services. These are invaluable and far better value than going on a writing course.
Who/what influences your writing? Where do you get your inspiration from?
My biggest fiction influences have been William Burroughs, Philip K Dick, Orhan Pamuk, JG Ballard and, latterly, David Mitchell. George Monbiot has significantly influenced my journalism. My favourite comics writers are Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. The best comics blow your mind. I love the way they deal with cosmic and political or social issues and are unafraid to be completely imaginative and radical.
How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities?
Names: I take an existing name and change it slightly to make it memorable. In Hybrids the main female character is called Kestrella. I knew someone called Kestrel, it was a French Romany name. I added the ‘la’ to make it distinctive. Her surname is taken from her father, who I made Japanese. It’s a mother who is French. Because of this exotic background she became interesting. She became even more interesting because her mother is a former model, and her father is the marketing director of a pharmaceutical company. This means that she had a privileged but protected upbringing. So, thinking about the background of the character helps you to think about her personality. Then, by bringing her into contact with the other main character in the novel, called Johnny Online, who at the time we meet him is living on the streets, this is a real eye opener for her. I bear in mind the surrealist maxim, drawn from Arthur Rimbaud, that the most powerful image comes from the juxtaposition of the most extreme opposites. This creates the most potential for drama. Johnny Online himself is given further character depth by the fact that we discover later on that his parents are not whom we thought they were.
Have you ever attended an open mic event for spoken word performers?
Yes I have, it is very enjoyable if nerve wracking.
It does get easier, the more you do it. Have you ever entered any writing competitions?
Yes. I entered the HarperCollins competition to find a new children’s writer and won, much to my amazement.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
I enjoy every part of it. The worst thing though, is that it takes so long to produce a novel and there are no shortcuts. The one I’m currently working on is in its, would you believe, 12th draft.
I can completely believe it. I'm the queen of editing and rewriting! What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever been given?
As JG Ballard said: “follow your obsession”.
What advice could you give to a new writer?
Read, read, read. Read as widely as possible. Think and analyse how the writer achieves their results. Try to copy their style. Imagine, if you are studying art, the traditional way is to copy the old Masters. There’s nothing to be ashamed of by doing the same with writing. There is too much emphasis on “originality” at the beginning of learning the craft. You should study how other pieces are constructed and stylised, how the author achieves their effects, and this will help you to develop your own style.
That is brilliant advice. Writing is a craft and it should be studied. Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
Music, I play the guitar, bass and piano. I like cycling and gardening.
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
That's an absolute classic. Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/songs, or any favourite literary quotations?
The art of our necessities is strange that can make vile things precious, from Shakespeare's King Lear.
What are you working on at the moment?
We Can Improve On You, a novel about a teenage girl who is replaced by someone who was exactly like her in every way but better. The fake beats her up and tells her that if she ever comes back she will kill her. She persuades her parents and all her friends and teachers that she really is the original girl. Who is she? Where has she come from? How will our heroine get her life back?
That sounds really good; my kind of book. Do you have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook dedicated to your writing?
Would you be able to provide a short piece of your writing?
This is the beginning of Hybrids:
1. The Twisted StrandsI’d almost forgotten that I’d arranged to meet her. But as soon as I saw a beautiful girl pushing open the door, I remembered I’d told her where I hang out. Francis, the owner, often let me sit here in the Twisted Strands, a back-street café for losers, nursing the same drink for hours.
She shook off the street as she paused in the doorway, trying to spot me in the shadows. Compared to everyone else in the place she stood out like a sixth finger. Way too beautiful - Oriental eyes - designer clothes - a sense of style. Watching her, I felt in my genes that something was going to change. A rush in my circuits that said ‘opportunity knocks’.
But I was scared of change. Change was not my friend.
Before I could compose myself she’d sat down opposite, and was trying to peer under my hood.
I grunted through my speakers.
“Am I late?”
“I wasn’t keeping track of the time.” I could see her getting used to the sound of my electronic voice and my ‘face’. “It’s ok to stare,” I said. “I’m used to it.”
“I’m sorry,” she blushed. “I’m a bit nervous. I’ve never met anyone I’ve chatted to online before. Papa told me never to. But this is an emergency.”
“So you said,” I replied, putting a flashing exclamation mark icon on my monitor that reflected off her own face. I observed her confusion in its light; it was one of a number of reactions people have to the way I look. “Why not buy me another coffee and tell me all about it?”
She went to place an order. Francis handed her an all day breakfast - juice, sausage, egg, toast - which she came back with and placed in front of me.
Too bad I couldn’t eat it. I took out my flask, poured the juice in, connected my tube and began to suck it down. She didn’t gawp like some.
© David Thorpe
Thank you very much, David.