by Richard Denning
Some writers can point to early success, awards and pundits for their writing from their school years. This was most certainly not the case for me. I loved reading from a very early age and can remember devouring books like The Famous Five, The Secret Seven (Enid Blighton) and The Three Investigators (Hitchcock). Anything with a mystery or from Sci Fi and Fantasy Genres was my staple diet. My favourite book has always been The Lord of The Rings – indeed my parents bought me a boxed set I still own as a reward for doing well at ‘O’ Levels at the age of 16. So I loved to read BUT I hated English and English Literature lessons – they just seemed to take the fun out of a good book. As such I certainly did not win any awards for my writing in my school years. This is not to say that I was not writing. My first novel (now lost) was “The insect invasion of Earth” about an invasion of giant insects and the war to defeat them. It is probably good THAT book was lost!
I decided to become a doctor and went off to the university of Manchester. 5 years of medical studies were followed by several years of long hours in hospital and then finally a permanent position in a GP practice in Birmingham. Through those years I did not do any writing BUT my imagination was being stimulated still. To begin with, in my first year at university, I discovered the first of Terry Pratchett’s amazing Disk World books. I have read every one and love his writing. Many other fantasy books followed of which the best were by David Eddings and Raymond Feist as well as Young Adult fiction including Garth Nix’s superb Keys to the Kingdom and of course Harry Potter. At the same time I became a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Historical Fiction and similar author’s work. I also have always been fascinated by history (despite this being another subject I did not enjoy at school) and love visiting historical sites as well as reading about them. So hundreds of books (and many holidays) later my favourite genres to read and write fall into that area of cross over between historical fiction, scifi and fantasy and Young Adult novels.
Just as I spent many hours reading about these subjects my main TV and movie viewing also fall into these areas. I am really not keen on reality TV, Soap, much sport (apart from Cricket) and chat shows. On the other hand I have absorbed thousands of hours of Star Trek, Dr Who, Buffy and Angel, Stargate, Babylon 5, comedy shows like Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Monty Python and documentaries galore on the History Channel.
All that helped stimulate the imagination but it is playing games that brought it all together. I love board games, card games, miniature gaming and roleplaying. In particular I am a game designer and have tinkered with designs and ideas for games for many years although my first published board game only came out in 2010 – The Great Fire of London 1666. I have also run many roleplaying campaigns. When you are the “dungeon master”/ games master/ umpire or whatever you have to invent and populate the world that the players will explore. Then, as they decide what to do and where to go, you must determine who they meet and what those people want. The process of running a good roleplaying game is really the same as writing a book. Having run campaigns set in Spy Genres, aboard space ships, in deep dungeons and in the Wild West (and many more) I can honestly say that I have had to come up with a lot of ideas to keep the story going. All those NPCs (none player characters) need motives, reasons to exist and thinking up those reasons is really just the same as thinking up a good character.
So over the last 10 years as I started to try and write fiction all those elements – all the books, all the visits to castles and battlefields, all the movies and TV and all the games plus a fair helping of having seen a bit of the world as a doctor – all of that went in, subconsciously mostly, into the pot. I have had to learn a lot about writing and have much to learn because this process is ongoing but I hope this little piece explains something of what makes me tick.