Interview: with David Stevens
David Stevens lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and children. His fiction has most recently appeared in Three-Lobed Burning Eye and Liquid Imagination, and also amongst other places in Breach, Crossed Genres, Aurealis, Pseudopod, Cafe Irreal, Kaleidotrope and the anthologies Love Hurts, At the Edge and Chthonic. He blogs irregularly at davidstevens.info.
Hi David, please tell us a bit about yourself. Hello Bartholemew. I am married to a wonderful woman and we have four children, three of whom still live with us in Sydney. I have been a criminal lawyer for nearly 30 years. After almost 25 years with the same organisation, I was made redundant, and the last five years have been an unexpected and amazing adventure. For three years I worked overseas for international courts; I taught international law and legal history at a university; I have begun a new career in Sydney; and I started publishing my fiction.
There are millions of people around the world with great story ideas, but who never even start to write them down. What drives you to sit down and aim for finished, published stories?
Writing starts with reading, and I have always been a voracious reader. From a young age, I have always wanted to be one of those people who produced the wonderful things I read. For good or bad, I thought being a writer was one of the best things you could be. I enjoy the process of writing and self-editing, of being in the flow and trying to shape and polish a piece just the way I want it. And in terms of finished, published stories – I can be a driven person, and in recent years I have been proving a lot of things to myself.
Are there any horror/fantasy/sci-fi tropes or sub genres which you feel are played out? And vice versa, what tropes would you like to see more of?
I don’t like paranormal romance, but it isn’t meant for the likes of me. I am also a little tired of stories of governmental paranormal agencies. However, I make an exception for anything done very well, for example, Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series. I understand why a lot of magazines have editorial policies frowning on some hackneyed genre fundamentals, like vampires and zombies, but I think they have it wrong. There is just not enough good stuff. I would love to read a truly good vampire novel, but I think there are only 3-4 in existence*.
I would love to see more of anything that is brings a fresh twist to old tropes – give me a great vampire novel and I will be very happy.
Do you have any particular writing rituals you are comfortable sharing?
With a busy job and a family, I don’t have time to write every day. I concentrate on short pieces because I know I will get to finish them. I go through long dry spells. However, I keep notebooks in that time, which keep ideas and notions and especially images alive. I try to grab time to write when I can. For example, the first draft of Baby, cold outside, was written in free time on a work conference in Krakow, the day before we travelled to Auschwitz. I’m not sure if the story was informed at all by the impending trip, but certainly my mood was.
More important to me than writing rituals is my writing attitude. I struggle with perfectionism, and in my youth, I thought I needed to be very serious in my writing: meaningful themes, social issues, political commentary, and a sombre tone. I thought I had to be someone else, and it was awful. Now that I am (much) older I am liberated from most of that. Now I try to write David Stevens stories, not [insert name of Faber and Faber writer or Granta Young Novelist] stories. They are my little gems. They will never be reviewed in The Guardian. They are unlikely to win prizes. They will be rejected by a lot of venues (I have been rejected 127 times so far this year). And all of that is ok. When a story is picked up by someone like your good selves, it brings a huge smile to my face, and I think, okay, here we go.
How important is social media to you as an indie author?
I blog and tweet about stories as they are published, but I don’t have books to promote (yet), or a brand to push, so not very important. But please come and visit me at davidstevens.info - I like comments and chats. What books are beside your bed right now?
Too many! Now that I have a long commute again each day, I am getting through a lot. I have just read and really enjoyed The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts (Blindsight was a favourite of mine, perhaps I should add it to the list of excellent vampire books); Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky (with an unexpected appearance of my old work place, the International Criminal Court); and Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory. On the reading / to be read pile are: The Fisherman by John Langan; The Wizard by Gene Wolfe (I recently finished the preceding book, The Knight); Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer; God is Not Nice by Ulrich Lehner; and India Conquered by Jon Wilson.
*If you are interested: Dracula; ’Salem’s Lot**; and The Golden by Lucius Shepherd, are definitely on the list.
** According to Wikipedia, because ’Salem’s Lot “was his favourite, King was planning a sequel, but … because The Dark Tower series already continued the narrative …, he felt there was no longer a need for a sequel”. Incorrect, Mr King.