Writer David Hill is one of the most prolific contributors to The School Magazine. We've published some 160 of his works in the past 20 years. One of David's strengths is his versatility. He writes stories, plays, poems and articles for all four of our magazines. We asked him to give us some insights into his writing process.
A broad question to start with: why do you write for young readers?
Why young readers? I write fiction and nonfiction for all age groups, but I particularly like writing for younger readers because they are interested in so many topics and ideas, and they like new and unusual ways of writing. Adult readers seem more set in their ways. Also, younger readers seem to share my sense of humour!
Do you write using a computer?
I write my drafts with ballpoint on paper, then I transfer the draft to the computer. Writing with pen in hand seems to make ideas come more easily for me (and I'm hopeless on the computer). I think writers should do whatever feels most comfortable for them—if you like using the computer straightaway, then go for it.
Where do your ideas for your works of fiction come from? Do you start with plot, character or something else?
I love writing about mistakes and things that go wrong (funny ones or serious ones). Also about times you wish you could go back to, because they were great, OR because you messed something up and want to do it better this time. I keep thinking of moments in my own life I messed up, and a lot of my stories start from them. I also like writing fiction and nonfiction about space and astronomy because astronomy has always been one of my hobbies. In New Zealand where I live (in the little town of New Plymouth), I belong to an astronomy club.
Many of your stories, such as ‘A bit of a laugh' (Orbit 1 2012) and ‘Across the Milky Way' (Blast Off 8 2012) have first-person narratives. What leads you to choose the narrative perspective?
First-person or third-person? I've got no set rule for this, sorry. I just find I'm already writing from one of those viewpoints. Sometimes I try second-person: "You come round the corner, and you see ...". This can work quite well.
Can you briefly describe the writing process when you are writing a story? Do you write many drafts? Do you seek feedback or input from anyone else?
I take a lot of notes first, in the notebook I always carry around with me. It may take me a week or more to build up these notes, just 5 to 15 minutes a day. Then I write my first draft. I do HEAPS of revising on the computer. I keep reading what I've written out loud to myself, and I find that helps me notice mistakes and awkward parts.
Cartoon by Kerry Millard from David Hill's
article 'Head On' (Touchdown 1 2011).
Can you compare this process with the way you write a nonfiction article?
I write nonfiction mainly about my hobbies—space, astronomy, geology. It's like talking to someone about the things you like. So if there's some sport or hobby or place or skill or topic you like, then imagine you're telling one of your friends about it, and write it down.
How do you choose the genre to explore an idea?
I just find that some topics seem to tell me they're a poem or a play or a story. Sometimes if something isn't working as a story, I'll deliberately try changing it into a play or poem, and that sometimes helps.
Do you have any tips or words of advice for young writers?
Read! Read heaps! Every time you read a page, you're seeing the tricks and ideas that other writers use. Write about the
mess-ups you've made. Write about your friends—the weird things they say and do and like. Keep everything you write; sometimes you can come back to it a day or a year later and know what you want to do. And keep going—it feels really
good to see your name in print. Good luck!