Interview with David Dixon

What made you become a writer
I was extremely fortunate in the teaching I received at school. I had always enjoyed reading - the usual stuff from comics to boys adventures and war stories - but once I arrived at my secondary school my English teacher Mary Stuart showed me that I could express my feelings in written words without embarrassment. She encouraged me to write poetry and dramatic pieces. She drew heavily on the literary heritage of the local county; William Cowper the poet had lived just a few doors down from the school; Rupert Brooke had written about the villages we knew; TS Eliot's Little Gidding was a bicycle ride away. Inside her classroom we were reading 'The 39 Steps' rather than Dickens - at least at the outset. In later years I learned that Mary was married to the Oxford crime writer Michael Innes and this undoubtedly influenced her views of how to convert reluctant small boys to the world of words. As time went on, and with a change of school, I came to prefer the study of history to the formal world of English literature, and later went on through four years of art school to train as a painter and designer. But at the back of my mind my formative years left me with a nagging insistence that someday, somehow I would turn my enjoyment with words and language into more than a hobby. Within just a few years I began that process by gaining a job as an advertising copywriter and it was during the MadMen years that I began to write other non-commercial items for newspapers and magazines, as well as scripts for radio. I wrote an unpublished 90,000 word first novel 'Splinter' at around this time, but with a family to support and a mortgage to pay I was never willing to devote enough time to what is a speculative aspect of writing.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Apart from school work - and once I acquired my first typewriter - curiously it was a short story about an old man who had fallen out of step with the world in which he found himself. Eventually he was - I suppose 'sectioned' would be the best description - to live back in a closed community surrounded by the trappings of the late 1940's. At a stroke he was back with the music, entertainment, films and clothes of the past. It's somewhat worrying to think that now, some fifty or so years on, I find myself
pre-occupied with the events of the past...
What is your writing process?
Over the years I have written dozens of radio and film scripts for events set in the past, dramas set everywhere from the mediaeval world to the 1950's and I found that the music of the particular period was a great starting point - conjuring up something of the mood of the past. For 'L'Affaire Valentine' I immersed myself in the music of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and the French jazz style of Django Reinhardt. Once in place musically, I can begin to find a starting point in the narrative. This will invariably be the section that will eventually be cut. But it starts the process off. And after that it's simply a case of sitting down and getting on with the words. Having written commercially to often very tight deadlines for so many years I can work solidly for hours on end. Then with a print out ( I can't edit on screen properly) it's back to the re-writes.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I suspect it was called 'East India Adventure' - though I can't recall the author. It came as school prize around about 1951.
A historic account of a boy's adventures within the East India Company, set in the 18th century, it set my mind racing back to exotic foreign lands - I particularly remember reading about cargoes of spices and rare fruits. To an 8 year old boy living in the Britain of post war food rationing and like it was like opening a door to another world.
How do you approach cover design?
As with the music of the period - so I generally have in mind the type of image associated with the period I am describing.
I originally trained as a painter and have gained a broad knowledge of different artists and their work. I also found that the skills involved in learning to draw helped me in later years when it came to visualising film sequences and the like. Most commercial publishers keep authors at arm's length from cover designers - it's one of the bonuses of the Smashwords process that the creator can have a hand in the presentation. Whether this produces the best results is not for me to judge; the cover design for my book was based on a photograph taken by my wife on one of our French jaunts - and the design was tidied up by an old friend Eric Gilchrist - with whom I last worked together on a children's film back 'Dinosaurs, Fun Fact and Fiction ' back in the 1980's. I wrote the script and he wrote the songs. I gather it's now in sections on UTube !
What are your five favorite books, and why?
'The Enchanted Wanderer' by Nickolai Leskov - magical realism a century before it was invented, in a wild tale of old Russia.

'The Cossacks' by Tolstoy - one of the great lessons of life told in a remarkable narrative.

'Back in Jug Agane ' - Geoffrey Willis and Ronald Searle. Weird English humour. And worryingly enough the origin of a kind of public school shorthand that I have heard quoted by mysterious figures connected with the UK intelligence services.

'The Great Gatsby ' - Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece ..

'The Philadelphian ' by Richard Powell. A family saga that rolls on through the first half of the 20th century. Comfort reading from my youth.
What's the story behind your latest book?
'L'Affaire Valentine' had about three starting points. The first was the account of the Nazi takeover of Interpol in 1938, which I came across in the memoirs of Sir Ronald Howe 'The story of Scotland Yard'.I began to wonder what this would mean to the established order. The second was the discovery among my late great Aunt's effects of a small hardback book called ''Paris for Everyone' published in the 1920's and later updated, which held street maps, hotel and cafe listings as they were in the pre-War era. Finally whilst watching an old newsreel based documentary I spotted a young man of about 30 leaning over the rail of a TransAtlantic liner, as it prepared to leave New York in the early 1930's. He was smiling and confident, and heading for Europe - I imagine - for the first time. Who was he ? Could he be Patrick Valentine ? In the months that followed i researched the historical background of France in the late 1930's. Every factual reference within my book I have verified so far as possible:
using the old street names, and small details like the fact that in those days the Metro had first and second class carriages !
At a more critical level I discovered that the planned US export of American military aircraft to France in the Spring of 1939 was cancelled at the last minute and that the liner Paris was destroyed in an act of arson - but by who ? All grist to the mill.
And over about two years I tried to invent my narrative around such events - at the same time walking the streets of Paris
to check out locations and background - making notes as I went. .
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Anno domini chiefly. At 71 years of age - as a previously unpublished author - I faced something of an uphill struggle.Although
I had earned a living as a writer for over 40 years, virtually all my commissioned work was in scriptwriting and business writing.
I had a literary agent for about six years back in the 1980's but she dealt solely with my broadcasting work, and I simply hadn't the time back then to devote myself to writing fiction. My first attempt at fiction 'Splinter' - a political thriller - which I wrote in the early 70's was reasonably well received by readers, and I was recommended to one of London's top agents. But that was as far as it went. My second attempt 'Smartieland' - a humorous narrative written in the early 1980's - received a good reception and yes: :'normally we would publish this except we are now a nation in recession.' Again commissioned writing took over and literary ambitions were put on the back boiler. Today when publishers ( with just one or two exceptions) won't even open submissions from outside the world of literary agents, the agencies hold far too big a sway. Now even most of them won't consider additions to their lists, if an author is unlikely to prove financially lucrative in the longer term. As one who has been a member of the Writer's Guild and of the Society of Authors here in the UK, I am better placed than most to know the names to contact and the ways to go about this - but ultimately the time delays involved in submissions wear people down.
A friend suggested Smashwords as an alternative. And now my offering has the chance to stand or fall on its own merits, regardless of the opinions of agent's editorial assistants or the price of fish..
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
In former days when I wrote hundreds of gags and sketches for BBC radio and TV, the live audience reaction was the greatest reward in the world.To see something I'd dreamed up that morning performed in the early afternoon and broadcast that same evening was incredibly fulfilling. When writing broadcast drama the joy was in the read through - when a disparate group of actors sits around in a drab rehearsal room - and you hear your dialogue come to life before your ears. Characters from your imagination emerge from the page - and invariably improve the script enormously as they adjust accents, pauses and emphasis often in ways I'd never imagined. When it comes to writing fiction I'm still on the nursery slopes. I suppose the greatest joy lies in the mysterious way characters take over the story. It happens in the oddest ways - unconsciously some minor character from chapters back will re-enter the mind and insist on a re-appearance.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Apart from the garden and the demands of living in a somewhat elusive off-road location, since moving to the south coast I have become involved in various local activities. I ring the local parish church bells as part of a team - returning to a hobby I first learned back in the 1950's as a schoolboy, and abandoned for almost fifty years. My wife and I also work for the Hastings Talking Newspaper as editors and readers - one of six teams producing speech versions of the local newspapers each week for blind listeners throughout our part of East Sussex. For my sins I'm officially Head of News. But then again I suppose that's still a kind of writing...
Published 2014-05-09.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

L'Affaire Valentine
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 58,970. Language: English. Published: May 2, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Spies & espionage
In the Spring of 1939 Sally Peterson arrives in Paris to oversee the shipping of almost a million dollars worth of paintings for the New York World Fair. But from the moment she meets newsreel man Patrick Valentine at a U.S.Embassy party, life takes a sinister turn. A story of espionage, treachery and murder, L'Affaire Valentine mixes fact, fiction and romance to recreate an extraordinary era.