You have had an impressive array of jobs, working for the fire service, the army and screenwriting for television, how does being an author of novels compare to your previous careers?
It’s very quiet. Most of my work when I was younger had a lot to do with being physically active and having the ability to communicate effectively with people. You can imagine the importance of using the right tone of voice in calming a stricken patient, or issuing fast, effective instructions to someone in a dangerous situation. Now, I tell the cat to get off my desk and she just purrs and ignores me.
You’ve written books for both adults and younger readers, which is harder to do?
Both are difficult. No one should think that writing for younger readers is easier. There’s a greater leeway when writing adult themes because a writer can use graphic images of violence and stronger use of language if the characters or the theme demands them. And subject matter varies and needs to be tailored accordingly. But the intensity of writing my character, teenager Max Gordon, in the Danger Zone series, was full on action. They were adrenaline-fuelled books with a strong emotional content and the threat of violence was very real. ‘Monkey and Me’ is a quirky look at life through the eyes of a 9 year-old. It’s all a case of putting yourself in those situations and letting your imagination do the rest.
What was the inspiration for your book Monkey and Me?
I’m not sure when it started to form in my mind. I was on a train, gazing out the window, thinking about this and that. I support a variety of charities, one of them is CLIC, cancer charity for young people, another is animal welfare. Somewhere out of this jumble of thoughts came the idea of a young boy who doesn’t quite fit in but wants to belong to his brother’s gang. Like me, as a boy, he was always getting into scrapes. And I wanted him to care for someone. I thought it would be interesting to have an escaped chimpanzee which then allowed me touch on different themes in the book.
What books did you enjoy as a child?
Comics and adventure stories. Knights of the Round Table. Treasure Island. Kidnapped. Any of the children’s classics because those were the books I was given. Christmas always brought a treat like the Lion Annual and the Eagle – which have long-since disappeared from children’s lives.
You've been a successful screenwriter for TV, do you have any tips for youngsters who'd like to get into that field?
Advice is always difficult to give in this business. Much of the work for television is done by professionals who have proved their reliability in delivering work under pressure and who are connected to producers. But, they had to start somewhere. I would say anyone who wants to write – books, films or television – should begin writing creatively as soon as they can. Film and television writing can be taught, it’s a skillset, but being able to tell a good story is the key in any form of writing. Write in school, enter competitions, develop your talent and don’t ever give up. You might be lucky and have a teacher who can see your potential – listen and learn. And read as much as you can. The evocative use of language is important and when I read a book the images on the page translate into a movie in my mind. Write what you see and feel. Film and television scripts can come later.
Describe your writing process, do you have a strict routine that you stick to?
I have to have a routine and be disciplined about it because I’m quite lazy. If I did not put myself in a chair and start writing I would sit and gaze out the window all day and watch the clouds go by and think of all kinds of things that I would like to write about. And then, they would never get written. I usually write for a minimum of seven-eight hours a day – then tinker and do rewrites. Sometimes I will get a second wind about 10 p.m., and fiddle about for another hour or so. I force myself to sleep because otherwise I would be there all night. I start the next day by going back to pick up on the rhythm of what I’ve previously written. I find the working hours have changed with my age. When I was younger I used to get up at 4 a.m., write until 7, go to work, come home at 6 p.m. and write until midnight. When I went full time as a writer I often wrote for 12 hours or more a day, desperate to get as much work done as I could. Now, I spend a lot of time doing research, so feel there’s a better balance. What most aspiring writers don’t realise is that writing is about rewriting your work until you reach a point when you just have to hand it over to your editor. And then you start again. You just have to stop being a wimp and get on with it.
Your DangerZone trilogy follows the adventures of fifteen year old Max Gordon, did you draw on your own teenage years in creating him or would you say you were very different?
There is always a strong emotional connection between me and my main characters. I was an adventure junky ever since I can remember. I really wanted to push the boundaries. My parents once told me I was always disappearing somewhere and would go missing for hours – sunrise to sunset. Even in Monkey and Me, where Malcolm gets in trouble, that was part of me when I was six or seven. I was always getting stuck somewhere. It was a wonderful carefree childhood where I was allowed to take risks and learn from them. When Max Gordon appeared I gave him that same energy but tempered it realistically with fear and uncertainty. I have been scared many times and it was important to ensure the character was not just gung-ho, but was intelligent enough to realise that there’s danger involved when you take physical risks.
The DangerZone books feature lots of different exotic locations, including Namibia and the French Alps, where is the most inspiring place you’ve visited?
There’s no single place. I love coast and mountains – rivers and lakes - landscapes connect me wherever I am. If I walk through my town and along the River Dart, there’s a beautiful vista at the end of the towpath where the broad river bends away below Devon hills. It’s beautiful.
You're stranded on a desert island, you’re only allowed three books, which would you choose?
This an awful question to answer. There are so many wonderful books, and the thought of abandoning those on my shelves at home despairs me. I’ll try, though: I would take a compendium of Charles Dickens; the biggest, most concise dictionary I could find because I love finding word and their meaning, and Grimms Fairy Tales.
How do you relax when you're not writing?
Relax isn’t a word I really understand. I’m not very good at being idle despite what I said about being lazy. I read books, magazines, watch films and catch up on box sets of drama series I’ve missed. I walk and think. Sometimes I just think. If I am ever in a warm climate I love nothing more than swimming in the sea. I suppose I am more ‘relaxed’ when I do physical work. I’ll rebuild the shed or chop next year’s wood for the log burner if I have the chance. I really enjoy that kind of thing.
Monkey and Me by David Gilman is available now, £6.99, Templar