David Massey, Senior Technician in Film, TV and Radio, is well-known in the School of Media for his exemplary career in broadcasting. Some of you might not be aware that he also has a highly successful, award-winning career as a novelist. We speak to David about his inspirations for books, his motivations for writing and the most rewarding part of his career.
Media and communication graduate
How does David find inspiration for his books?
David’s inspiration for his stories derives from experiences he has had in life or from things he witnesses in the media. In particular, the inspiration for his first YA novel TORN came as a result of the Romanian Revolution. As the revolution was coming to an end, David organised a trip to take aid to Romania and he had been asked by organisations such as the Red Cross to find any orphanages there due to hearing some horrific stories.
After arriving in Timișoara, where the revolution had started, the first person to come up to them was a young, scruffy street kid and he showed David’s group where people had been shot in doorways and other shrines where people had been killed just a couple of weeks prior. The horrific reality of the war ultimately inspired David to write TORN as nobody was telling the story of what happens to civilians on the ground and what happens to the children they are with, hence why children are featured a lot in this novel.
Another big inspiration for David was the cover of National Geographic where a photographer had captured an image of a young Afghan girl with piercing blue eyes who had been bombed out of her house in Afghanistan and had to flee to Pakistan. This whole encounter made David think about kids in war environments, what they go through and the fact that nobody tells their story. He hopes readers can learn compassion and to think about things from different perspectives because it’s easy to judge someone without walking in their shoes.
What motivates David to keep writing?
The primary motivating factor that keeps David writing is receiving feedback from readers because, regardless of whether they like the books, he enjoys hearing other peoples’ thoughts. In fact, he loves it when people don’t like his stories because it helps him think of how to improve and this motivates him to continue writing.
“It’s really interesting because, until you get published, writing is a very solitary career. It’s only you or your closest who read your stuff and you never hear real criticism coming back”.
The feedback from readers has also motivated David to stand his ground more in the publishing process. In his second YA novel, TAKEN, there is a scene where a character sees their star sign written in the clouds but the editors requested the scene to be removed, claiming it was unrealistic and unbelievable for readers. However, this is something that David had actually experienced in real life; his wife came out with a camera on a sunny day and written in the clouds above their heads was ‘Leo’ in capital letters. She said, “wouldn’t that be funny if that was your star sign?”. It turned out that it actually was his star sign, so she took a picture of David and he thought “I’m going to put this in a book someday”, hence why it’s included in a scene in TAKEN.
Has anything surprising or unexpected happened in his writing career?
Winning several awards and nominations for his work was a complete surprise for David. His first novel, TORN, won the Lancashire Book of the Year in 2013, and it was long listed for both the Branford Boase Award and the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. The novel was also nominated for the Georgia Peach Award 2014/15. His second novel, TAKEN, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and won the Dudley Teens Book Awards.
David received criticism from some readers regarding a storyline for one of his characters; the critics claimed it was completely unrealistic for anybody to be a medic at eighteen and on the ground in Afghanistan. However, during a fan signing, a young girl aged seventeen came up to David saying she loved the story and was in fact training to be a medic. With her eighteenth birthday coming up, she was about to go on tour to Afghanistan, which was a bizarre experience for David.
Another surprising experience occurred during research for TAKEN. The premise for this novel focused on injured soldiers who had lost limbs in Afghanistan and were organising an around-the-world yacht trip which goes badly wrong. As part of the research, David visited Headley Court, a rehabilitation centre for injured soldiers, and met a major who was part of the rehabilitation team.
He asked the major whether people with injuries could man a yacht and strangely enough, the major had just returned from taking a group of injured soldiers on a yacht trip to the Arctic. He shared how he helped a double amputee off the boat and onto an iceberg to fulfil his ambition, explaining how these people would be able to operate a yacht. The whole encounter was surreal as somebody had accomplished such a feat at the same time David was planning to write a story about the same very thing.
Advice for students
David emphasises perseverance is key for success because there will be a lot of rejection in a saturated market, and to not expect to make major money out of writing unless you have that big break.
“Self-belief is much underrated. Everybody has a talent. I’ve seen thousands of people over the years, lots of whom don’t believe in themselves, and I can guarantee they will have the talent they can develop and take to another level”.
Given the impact of the current lockdown in the UK due to the COVID-19 pandemic, David has seen a lull in his motivation to write due to the uneasiness around the whole situation. With that being said, he is currently working on a new novel. The premise is based on identity and it’s set on the planet Mars at a time when the atmosphere is seeded and people can choose virtual identities, which reflects a big trend in youth culture at the moment.
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