A Couple Of Questions
Written by Dave Hendrick
[Note: this piece was originally posted at http://www.davehendrick.com/ and is reposted with permission]
Recently I’ve found myself in the fortunate position of being a person others ask questions of. Sometimes those questions are along the lines of “Dad, where are my shoes?” or “Why does snot happen?” but sometimes people, like people I didn’t have a hand in creating with their own careers and priorities and abilities have asked me questions about writing and that’s a real honour (the other stuff is also great but probably only to me and two thousand words on being a father really wouldn’t hold your attention). So yeah, I’ve been asked a few questions that I’ve asked all the folks that I would go to signings or conventions to see and to be honest that’s a really weird thing to happen to you. To go from being the fan in the audience to the guy with the microphone is both daunting and absurd, but is pretty awesome in an enjoy-yourself-now-’cos-this-will-all-end-pretty-quickly kind of way. So I’m going to try to answer some of those questions here and now. You may find it helpful, you may find it grating but I’ll try to be honest and succinct and hopefully we’ll get through it together.
Ok. Here goes.
First up the one question I’m asked more than any other is how did you get into writing?
This is a tough one, for starters it’s two questions (or it certainly is when I ask it of other writers). In the first instance it’s asking me to explain the path that led me to being a writer, but what’s that? I was writing stories as long as I could put a sentence down on paper, whether it was the tales I spun about my GI Joes or the poetry competition that led to my first published piece (more on that later) I was always scribbling away. Growing up in the wonderous age of the licensed property or as you normal folks call it the ’80′s meant I was exposed to quite intricate story telling from an early age. The aforementioned Joes V’s Cobra, while on the face of it were simplistic enough stories of good versus evil, opened me up to a much more nuanced world where absolute good was never a reality. Snake Eyes was a good guy, but, he was a ninja and once it registered with me what ninjas actually do – well he was never going to be the white hatted sheriff in my eyes ever again. The comic books that complemented such properties delved deeper into these themes, Larry Hama to me back then – and still today – is a giant of storytelling. His silent issue, now currently available from IDW as a hardback is a master class in how comics should be made. No dialogue, no captions he simply shows the story without ever telling it, which is exactly what a comic book writer should do.
The UK stories were hugely influential to me as well, Simon Furman’s Transformers work holds a special place in my heart, it showed me just how engaging a multi part spectacular ongoing comic could be and I still think Target 2006 is the best TF story ever written. So I guess the answer to how I got into it was that I – through the benevolence of my mom who had the presence of mind to encourage reading in all forms – was exposed to comic books at a very early age and once I’d seen just what could be done with the art form I wanted nothing else from life but to be part of it.
In the second instance the question’s self serving as it’s really asking “how can I get into writing like you have?”, do you know how I know this? Because every time I’ve asked a writer how they got into writing I was really asking them to hand me the keys to the store. The thing is, and it took me a long time to figure this out, is that if you are already writing then you’re already in. You’re doing the work, it’s irrelevant if anyone’s reading as long as you’re actually working. I’m a firm believer in writing the crap out, ie you’ve probably got to get a 100,000 or so words out before you’re happy with your output, so if you haven’t done the volume stop reading this and get back to work.
So say you’ve got the crap out and there’s a piece of work there that you know is good, that you know deserves a wider audience than your significant other, or your folks or your cat, what do you do then? That’s the magic bit and everyone works their magic differently. There’s never been an easier time to push your content as there is now. All you need is some bandwidth and a blog. Trouble is everyone else knows this too so while it’s easy to get your stuff up there how are you going to make it stand out? Sometimes and when I say sometimes I mean 0.00002% of the time the work speaks for itself and is instantly adopted by an enthusiastic reader base and away you go onto the top of the NYT best seller lists, but in all likelihood it’s a slog and like any career you have to put the hours and the effort in. So what to do? I can’t say what works for me will work for you but there’s one thing that’s been incredibly valuable for me and that’s networking. I can’t impress how necessary it is to consider every creative event, every convention, every signing, every after party and panel as an opportunity to network. Granuaile : Queen Of Storms would not be coming out if I hadn’t met certain individuals over the last two decades. That’s the bottom line. Sure I’d still be writing and putting things out in my own piecemeal way but there wouldn’t be a book if I hadn’t met Will Sliney who I got to do a few things with who then went on to put CuChullan out with O’Briens, who then happened to introduce me to them. Also I wouldn’t have been introduced to Luca if I hadn’t been at DICE that first year and Dec Shalvey who I’d formed a friendship with a few years earlier hadn’t sat us down and said “Dave this is Luca he’s a great artist, Luca this is Dave he’s a….writer, you guys should do something” (or words to that effect). So you see my point? Get out there, talk to folks, show them you’re an ok person, obviously don’t be overbearing or horrible, just be pleasant and show an interest and who knows? The worst thing that could happen is you end up with a new friend and really how terrible would that be? So to recap – if you’re writing you’re already in and if you’re in let people know, show up at things – there’s a lot of things on these days. Between DICE, Dublin Comic Con, Comic Jams, Laydeez Do Comics events and then there’s store signings and screenings there’s a lot of opportunity to hang out. Social media has a role to play but really it’s a supportive one, it connects you and your work with the world but it also lets you follow up on your initial contacts at shows and signings etc., make sense?
Anyway, moving on….
What do you write about/where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t think there’s an actual answer to this. If I was to tell you I got an idea for a recent story about a family conspiracy from scraping congealed breakfast cereal from the kitchen sink would that suffice? No? But I did! It just came to me while I was cursing the chemical engineers who created cheerios. Honestly I don’t know where ideas come from. They’re probably informed by deep seated emotional responses to external stimuli that were learned in our formative years just rising to the surface but I’m no shrink so what do I know? I can discuss ideas in terms of what I’m interested in writing about. But to do that I think we need to go back a bit. I had a pretty conventional upbringing for a middle class kid in Dublin, I went to a religious school, coasted most of my way through it and really only responded to the classes I was keenly interested in. No surprises for figuring out they were English and History. Throw in an obsessive interest in comic books and you’ve got a kid who’s got most of the teaching faculty as well as most of the kids on his back. So I used what I could to keep out of trouble. For the most part that was my sense of humour and an ability to question authority and to this day they are the two aspects of life that enthuse me. Power structures tend to get under my skin, if there’s something to rebel against you’ll find me there.
Back then it was the education system “forcing” me to study subjects I thought redundant (I was super-wrong by the way, I use maths daily and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t lament not being a fluent Irish speaker), these days it’s organised religion, government policies (you may have seen me being vocal about arts policies recently) and pretty much anything where the little guy gets squeezed out. I’ve always been the kid who questioned why something was the status quo, I still do it, although I’m by no means a kid. I think the reason why or at least one of the biggest contributing factors to my attitude to power goes back to my very first published piece. It was a poem in a primary school anthology. Our teacher Mrs Jennings had encouraged each of us to write a piece for a nationwide poetry competition and I did just that. My piece was beyond earnest and questioned authority in the massive way kids like me do. I can’t find it right now but when I do I’ll publish it here but the main theme of my 5th class opus entitled “JUSTICE & CRIME” told ya it was big, was that these two forces were with humanity since we could think for ourselves and would be until the last of us fell into oblivion.
So pretty standard fare for a 5th class nerd.
I submitted it and a few weeks later the news came through that I was in! I can’t tell you what that meant, to be published, to have your words in a book! Well it’s why we do what we do isn’t it. Anyway the day came and the books arrived, each of the kids who got a piece of theirs in were given a complimentary copy which we all tore into to find our own work. Flipping through the book I panicked, I couldn’t find my poem, maybe there’d been a mistake, maybe I’d somehow been overlooked (I’m a middle child so that’s always a worry), but no, there it was, towards the end of the book, my words in bold print JUSTICE & CRIME with my name and everything. I gave it a quick read through, something was wrong, it seemed shorter than I’d remembered. I read it again, definitely something was missing. I plucked my English copy book from my bag and flicked back to where I’d written my first, and only draft, and with the book open on my desk checked each line off. There it was in my copy book an entire couplet on slavery and apartheid but where was it in the book. The absolute BASTARDS had edited it out. Thereby neutering the piece and making it as banal as the rest of the book – except for Geoff Collins’ brilliant “I Am Me” a lyric any poet would be proud of. So with that particular fire started by the good people of “I Can Sing A Rainbow 2” I immediately learned to distrust any and all power structures (especially the publishers of children’s poetry anthologies). Which brings me to Granuaile : Queen Of Storms, Grainne herself was someone I could identify with, a child who was imbued with a natural tendency to question everything around her. Why couldn’t she sail in her father’s fleet? Why should she accept the encroaching British horde? Here’s a character I could relate to. Once I’d made that connection writing her became something of a pleasure not a chore. The other voices in the book serve to temper or at least attempt to temper her attitude but really they only push her further in her quest for natural justice, something I’ve been doing since that line was edited out. So in a sense all of that rebellion, and there was a lot over the years, has been poured into my writing and why wouldn’t it? It’s integral to who I am and a part of the writer will always come out in their characters. So I hope that helps with that particular question. Anyway I’ve gone on for far too long and I’ve got to put the kids to bed so I’ll sign off. I’ll tackle another couple of questions soon.
Dave Hendrick’s graphic novel Granuaile: Queen Of Storms will be launched at The Big Bang, Dundrum on February 18th with a signing by Dave, Luca Pizzari, Dee Cunniffe and Peter Marry.