David Hill answers questions from Lottie Keogh and Caitlin McDonnell
David Hill answers some questions from Lottie Keogh and Caitlin McDonnell (year 9 students at St Mary’s College in Wellington, who have been reading his book No Safe Harbour in their English class).
Why did you decide to become a writer? Why become a writer? Because it’s my job – it’s the way I pay the bills. Also because when you write something, you’re making something that never existed before. It’s a very special feeling. And because I was a high school teacher for some years, and I taught kids who were so lovely, or so sad, or so unusual, that I wanted to remember them, to respect them. I wanted others to know their stories. I also wanted to write about my own kids, who of course were the most special small humans in the world.
Was there anyone who inspired you to become a writer, and if so who? Not really. There are lots of authors I admire – Maurice Gee, Joy Cowley, Jack Lasenby. I look at what my friends do, and I think “That’s great; I’d like to write about that.” But no single individual – more a case of things which lots of different individuals have done that impress (or depress me).
What was your favourite book as a child or young adult?
I read The Boy From London when I was about 10. It’s about an orphan in the United Kingdom who runs away from his cruel stepfather, helps a gypsy kid, makes new friends. Very corny, very old-fashioned, but I read it over and over. It showed me how plots need to keep moving, and how important friendships are in stories for younger people. I read a lot – you should if you’re a writer – and I’m always getting new ideas from others.
What is your favourite book that you have ever written? See Ya, Simon is special, because it’s about my daughter’s friend dying when they were in year 10, and because it was my first one for young readers. My Brother’s War, because my Great-uncle Fred is the basis for William in the story. Books which include kids I taught: Right Where it Hurts; Fat, Four-eyed and Useless; Coming Back. You always hope the next book you write will be brilliant!
Why do you like to use historical events and settings in your novels? Because I’m an old guy! And because I don’t know much about the technology that is so much a part of your lives now. And because I like showing that even 100 years ago, people had the same feelings and hopes that we have now.
Do you come up with your characters based on historical people, too, or are they based on people you know in real life? All mine are like jigsaw puzzles – they-re made up of bits from several people I know / have known, plus other details I’ve made up. I can hardly ever say that a character “is” someone in real life; they’re always that composite. But yes, I do steal habits, appearances, events from people, including my grandsons!
What do you like about using children as the main characters of your books? Because they’re / you’re coming to certain experiences / stages in your life for the first time. A lot of things are fresh and new to you, and that makes them intriguing to write about. Also, because young people are so idealistic – they have such strong beliefs and feelings – so they make strong, interesting (I hope) characters.
Why are wars and disasters such popular topics for books? Wars and disasters involve CONFLICT, and conflict is always a promising topic to write about. It doesn’t have to be a war or disaster; it can be an argument, a difficult choice, a misunderstanding, anything where the character has to make a decision one way or the other.