David Quantick is an Emmy-winning television writer, a radio broadcaster, novelist, journalist and author of the best-selling writing manual How To Write Everything. He has just published How To Be A Writer which features interviews with famous writers, performers and industry insiders including Jon Ronson, Emma Donoghue and Caitlin Moran. Here he interviews himself with questions selected at random from the book.
QUANTICK: Before you’d actually written ‘Chapter One’ on a piece of paper, who were you?
DAVID: I was a schoolboy. I was writing bits throughout my teens. Some of them were just guides to imaginary countries, some were poems and one was an attempt at a novel in a parallel world called THE DAY THE INCAS SHOT THE GOVERNOR. I liked having ideas and writing pastiches and parodies but they were always like extracts from something bigger that didn’t exist.
I finally wrote something bigger when I was about to leave university – a private eye parody called LOVE AND THE GUN, about a PI called Lennox Vendetta. It was published in City Limits magazine. I did write a whole Lennox Vendetta novel, I’ve just remembered. I think it’s in a box somewhere.
QUANTICK: Most writers have their own individual quirks or idiosyncratic ways of working. What would you say are yours?
DAVID: Being annoying, judging by the old NME reviews people send me. Gushing and being sarcastic. Over-writing and over-emphasising. Shouting. I like comedy similes and rhythmic sentences. I don’t like lots of adverbs. I don’t like synonyms for “said”.
“I can’t remember anything I’ve written.”
I like to write on trains and I wear headphones even when I’m not listening to music. I work like a sprinter, fast splenetic bursts, rather than steadily. I try to get away with never revising stuff and I don’t read my short pieces back. I can’t remember anything I’ve written.
QUANTICK: What’s your working environment? Is it full of busts of Shakespeare or is it a blank wall?
DAVID: Trains, quite often. I have an office with two desks. One is a nice old Victorian desk which is too small for my computer, so I work on a computer on an Argos kitchen table next to the Victorian desk. I have posters and pictures related to things I like (the Soviet space programme) and people I’ve worked with (Savage Pencil and Steven Appleby, among others). My mantelpiece has awards on it, cunningly arranged so that when I am Skyping someone, all they can see is me flanked by awards.
QUANTICK: Is there such thing as writer’s block? What methods do you use to generate ideas? Are you quite contemptuous of the fairy dust school?
DAVID: I am sure it exists, but mostly it’s actually tiredness or laziness. You can usually write your way out of it, like an escapologist wriggling out of their bonds. I go for a walk to have ideas and let them mug me in parks. As for fairy dust, lazy fairies never get good.
QUANTICK: What are your interruptions, welcome or otherwise?
DAVID: Children, house stuff, trips to London, and lunch. Also Skyping and – very much – the internet. If I wrote on paper, 98% of my interruptions would go away.
“If I wrote on paper, 98% of my interruptions would go away.”
QUANTICK: How do you organize your breaks? Are you a ‘Can’t stop! I’m on a roll!’ person or a long distance runner who paces yourself?
DAVID: Interruptions tend to organize my breaks for me. But when they don’t I’m a ‘can’t stop’ person.
QUANTICK: How, if at all, would you justify your life as a writer to some sort of weird supernatural court?
DAVID: “I can’t do anything else, give me a break here.” And then I’d tell them the “What? And give up showbusiness?” joke (see end of 52 First Impressions Episode 1, Series 2, on iPlayer now)
QUANTICK: From your personal point of view, what are the best and worst things about working with writers?
DAVID: Best: they have ideas I can’t have and I have ideas they can’t. Worst: they think their jokes should go in. I think my jokes should go in.
QUANTICK: Do you find writers to be undisciplined, scruffy and drunk in their approach to things? Describe some characteristics of writers.
“Other writers seem clean, sober and neat compared to me.”
DAVID: I find I am. Other writers seem clean, sober and neat compared to me. But lots of us write because when we speak, food comes out of our teeth. We are full of ideas so we’re either thinking about those ideas instead of being sociable or we’re telling people those ideas instead of being sociable.
QUANTICK: What do you think are the universals for writers? What have you got in common with writers in general?
DAVID: Most writers seem to see writing as like the contents of a boil that keeps filling up and has to be lanced regularly, or even the contents of a bowel that keeps filling up and has to be emptied regularly. Writing does feel like someone keeps cramming your brain with stuff and you have to get it out so you can sleep or go dancing.
QUANTICK: What five things would you tell an aspiring author?
- Write a lot.
- Find what you like writing.
- Write it a lot.
- Find someone who publishes writing like yours.
- Keep writing even if everyone hates it.
“Keep writing even if everyone hates it.”
QUANTICK: What are writers for?
DAVID: Writers tell us things we don’t know but would like to. And they tell us things we do know but would like to hear again.
QUANTICK: And finally, why write? Why bother?
DAVID: I can’t help it. And sometimes I get paid for it.
David Quantick is an Emmy-winning writer and broadcaster. He has written for many TV shows (Veep, The Thick Of It, Harry Hill’s TV Burp), radio (The Blagger’s Guide, One, Broken Arts), and comics (That’s Because You’re A Robot). He is the author of the novels The Mule and Sparks, and How To Be A Writer is the sequel to the chart-topping writing guide How To Write Everything.