Secondary English

Thoughts on Writing (and your questions answered!) – Derek Landy

I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot lately.

I’ve just finished the eighth Skulduggery book, and I have one more to do and then the series is over. So now, in the few days between ending one project and starting another, I’m wondering what my next series will be about. And that’s got me thinking about creativity.

The idea for Skulduggery came in the blink of an eye. His name flashed into my head, telling me everything I needed to know about him. Ideas don’t usually come so fully formed. Usually you get a hint of an idea, a nugget, a seed that you plant in the tastiest corner of your mind and hope it takes root. As it grows, you add to it with other ideas. You cannibalise your abandoned and forgotten attempts at writing because everything is useful, nothing is ever really thrown away. Taking that initial idea and nurturing it into a WORKABLE idea takes time — and yet with Skulduggery it was instant.

Basically, Skulduggery spoiled me.

But the thing about creativity is that the more you try to create, the easier it becomes. Whatever neurons are firing, whatever connections are being made when you’re using your imagination, they hang around. They don’t fade away. Creative people don’t have any more imagination than “non-creative” people — we’re just able to indulge in it more. And the more we indulge, the more creative we become.

I’m a writer. Daydreaming is my PROFESSION. This inclination of mine, which got me in trouble in class, which meant I could never focus on subjects I didn’t absolutely love, which meant I messed up in school and I messed up in college and set me on a course to become this aimless, underachieving slacker my mother was always worried I’d become … this inclination is now rewarding me in so many unbelievable ways. But I had to learn to channel it, to focus it, and to take it seriously.
THAT’S the difference between creative and non-creative. We don’t allow our daydreams to be dismissed as silly little wastes of time. We value them for what they are — excursions into imagination — and we use them, we work at them, and we embrace them.

Mr. Landy, what’s your advice for children who want to start writing stories? [from All That Magic ‏@all_that_magic12]

Write whatever makes you happy. When I wrote Skulduggery for the first time, I made it a fantasy/adventure/action/horror/crime/comedy book, because there was no one around to tell me that I couldn’t combine all those things. I didn’t know any better and because of that, Skulduggery is fairly unique.
If you enjoy telling a certain type of story, you can be pretty sure there is someone else out there who’ll enjoy reading it.

Questions from an English Teacher:

Describe your writing and editing process.

I think of the cool scenes that I can’t wait to write, and I write them first. Then THESE scenes throw up more scenes, and I go and write THOSE scenes. I focus on having the maximum amount of fun when starting off.
When it’s all done, I’ll rearrange the scenes I’ve written, viewing it as a jigsaw that I can change at any time. Once everything is in place, I’ll go over it and start to fill in the gaps.
Editors are there to make your story BETTER. That is their function. If I agree with a suggestion, I’ll make it gladly. If not? If I know better? I’ll stand my ground, because I’m the writer, and I’m in charge.

Thoughts on use of language while describing scenes.

Writers starting out get too hung up on sounding like writers. Your sentences don’t have to be poetry. Your sentences have to make sense, and they have to do the job. As a writer, you are serving the reader. The reader’s the one who is important here, not you.

But you can still slip in metaphors and the like if you’re subtle about it — ESPECIALLY in descriptions. The important thing is not to go overboard. An obvious metaphor is clunky and awkward — a subtle one adds to the atmosphere without even being noticed.
So while elaborate language has its place in writing, always remember that there is elegance in simplicity.

Question from Bence Csiba, Year 8, Mill Hill County High School, London

Why didn’t you make Valkyrie an orphan?

Ah, interesting question. In a lot of children’s books, the main character is indeed an orphan. Writers do this for two reasons: it means they don’t have adults worrying about them when they’re off on their adventure, and it allows them to start on the Hero’s Journey, where they discover true independence. I was determined that Val should have a family because I wanted somewhere that she could go after her adventures to be normal, and safe, and loved.

Derek Landy is proof, if proof were needed, that there is hope out there for students who always find it difficult to keep their minds on the subject at hand. Having failed his final exams at school and having been kicked out of art college, Derek wasn’t exactly looking forward to the wasted life of mediocrity that stretched out before him. So he decided to finally take something seriously. Much to the delight of readers everywhere (he’s sure), Derek focused on the one passion that had never let him down – writing. He struggled, he worked hard, and after getting two small Irish films made his life changed utterly when Skulduggery Pleasant appeared in his head. The world has been a much better place ever since.

Skulduggery Pleasant is featured on Collins Book of the Month – visit us for exclusive free teaching resources.

2 Comments

Leave a Comment