That’s a really good question, and one I genuinely haven’t given much thought to. There probably isn’t one clear answer, but here are a few possibilities. I enjoy aspects of it – not every day, but there is pleasure in having written a sentence or chapter or character or book that – on reflection – is quite good. I enjoy the ‘crossword puzzle’ nature of a story, making things just fit. Probably my favourite bit is the whole ‘communicating with people I’ve never met’ thing. That there might be, say, a Hungarian kid reading my book in translation, and whose language I can’t speak, but who is right now laughing at one of my jokes. Or, more likely, I suppose, groaning.
How did you come to writing?
I think there are two answers to that question. I started writing little stories when I was young – 7 or 8, and have been doing it on and off since then. And I came to writing as a job because I practised for more than 20 years, and found an agent that liked my work, and then publishers and, I hope, readers.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
I guess that the greatest obstacle is that writing is hard – and I probably overcame it by practising (though I didn’t see it as practice at the time!)
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
Looking back, it was probably harder to stay motivated in the years when I wasn’t published, but I suppose I had a big enough ego to think that I could do it – write books that people might want to read. I know I’m lucky to be a full-time writer, and I genuinely never forget that. I owe it to the reader to be as good as I can be. So that’s how I stay motivated and disciplined.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
These days, as I mentioned, I’m a full-time writer. I have a really supportive wife who works 4 days a week in a more traditional job (i.e. one that pays a regular salary!). I take my kids to school at 8.15am and pick them up at 2.45pm – and write in between (with breaks for cups of tea/lunch/walking/housework). This is a real luxury, I know. Before I quit my day-job, I used to squeeze writing in whenever I could – I’d get up really early and have 45 minutes before the kids woke up, for example, or for 20 minutes in my lunch hour.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I usually write on my back deck. It’s nice being outdoors. For the first draft I usually just have a pen and narrow-lined paper. I never type it up until it’s in a semi-decent shape. Also, a pad of paper doesn’t have the same distractions as a laptop (although I am a bit of a doodler). When it’s ready to type up, I use the laptop, then I print it out and scribble all over that – I repeat this a fair few times (10-20) before I let someone (my agent or publisher) read it.
What are your essential writing tools?
Pen, paper, laptop, tea, biscuits.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
There’s a quote from (I think) Peter Carey where he says if he’d realised when he was starting out how long it would take him to become a published writer, he might not have bothered. So, with that in mind, I’d be happy to let the young Dave keep going in complete ignorance.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
The slightly shameful truth is that since I’ve been writing full-time, I read less and less. I mean, I read more now than I’ve ever done, but almost all of it is my own works-in-progress, so that doesn’t really count, does it? When I do read, I don’t do it as ‘a writer’. I read for pleasure. I’ve toyed with reading books differently in order to see the nuts and bolts, but I think that might be like a filmmaker watching a thriller and paying more attention to the camera angles than the plot: you’d gain something, but lose something too.
When I do read: I read books with my kids. I read graphic novels. I love the humour of Roddy Doyle. Damon Runyon’s short stories. One Dickens a year. Some crime, some non-fiction. I try not to read fiction when I’m in the middle of something, in case I pick up something of the style.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
I haven’t had it, fingers crossed. I know this is tempting fate, but I’m not entirely sure it exists. I treat writing as a job. I sit down and write. Some days I’m fairly good at it, some not. But if I sit around waiting for the right wind conditions or for inspiration, I’m not sure I’d ever get anything done.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don’t think of yourself as an aspiring writer. Think of yourself as a writer.
Dave Lowe is the Brisbane-based author of 8 books aimed at 7-10 year-olds, which have won awards in the UK and been translated into six languages. The Stinky & Jinks series, starting with My Hamster is a Genius – about a boy and his grumpy, sarcastic pet – is published by Hachette in Australia. Three books in a new series, The Incredible Dadventure, are coming out in 2017 with Allen & Unwin.