Eugh. Talking about myself… Not my favorite subject.
Where to start?
With the hard questions I suppose.
So what is it I get called again?
Ah yes. “Hey, you.” or ” #@$%#.” or “Monkey”. My mother called me ‘David’ for the last forty years or so, when she was mad at me. No one else ever did.
I am a New Australian and an ex-South African of half Scots, half Yorkshire and half Afrikaans descent, which explains a number of things: My logic, my mathematical skill, my attitude. These days I live on a remote island in the middle of the Bass strait, only reachable by plane or an 11 hour ferry trip – where you would have to disguise yourself as a cow, as they do not take human passengers. You can read about it on Flinders Family Freer.
I started life as a little shriveled scrap and went downhill from there. Having had really severe respiratory problems as a babe, my parents had to ship me off to high dry climate when I was six. It sorted me out. However, it also explains why I will not voluntarily sit still, stay indoors and point blank refuse to spend more time in bed than absolutely necessary. This naturally explains why I am a writer, a profession that requires a great deal of sitting still indoors. Fortunately, most of the writers I know seem to be chronic insomniacs, so I do win on one point. So how come the love of books? I was addicted before I was really able to behave like hyperactive lunatic. How do I manage to read? Well, very, very fast. I make up for this by writing very slowly and with great difficulty. Therefore according my logic I am now a career writer. I did try almost every other alternative along the way.
As a place for a town kid to choose to grow up I was very lucky. I grew up right on the edge of a city, on the margin of a nature reserve of five hundred acres or so of native coastal bush. The bush ran all the way from the canefields to the beach, and so did we. My Old Man crewed on an old commercial fishing boat, operating out of Durban harbor, weekends. Commercial fishing boats are the most egalitarian meritocracy I’ve ever come across, something which I guess has colored my thinking. I grew up between the bush, beach, and the harbor with school as this sort of unwelcome add in. Then, at 14 or so, I was sent off to boarding school where I learned all the other important things that every boy should: Smoking, strong drink and pursuit of wild women. To be fair, they weren’t curricular items. None the less they were mostly what I learned, and were of great value to me. I was able to move on instead of waiting for university to get these done.
However, before this ‘moving on’ my country decided that they really needed me, because they’d got themselves involved in a little war in Angola. As I was only seventeen at this time, I suppose I should have been flattered. As they seemed to want all my peers too, I personally just thought they had a lack of discernment. Conscription was still brand new and any kind of resistance to it and support for those who didn’t want to go was embryonic. My choices were five years in jail, leave the country, or go in for a year. I’m a strong swimmer, but the Atlantic seemed too large. The Pacific more so. The interior of Africa including the Sahara lay between me and anywhere I could go that wouldn’t either kill me or send me home, so, like a wimp, I went. It was only a year… We were offered a choice of unit. I volunteered for all the things which I thought I might enjoy. As a diver, seaâ€‘fanatic and rockâ€‘climber I tried for: Navy Divers, Parabats. Being young, foolish and unaware of how the military mind works, I wrote ‘or anywhere but the medics.’
I don’t have to tell you where I was called up to, do I? Or that the one year got ‘upgraded’ to two? Ah well. I learned a lot. Saw things I won’t forget in a hurry. And there were nurses. And that’s enough about that.
I came out, and eventually loud noises stopped making me take cover. I met a girl who was intelligent, beautiful and wanted nothing to do with me. Situation normal. Then I met one who was even more intelligent, prettier, and rock climbed too. Barbara Gordon Bagnall… She also, alas, had suddenly developed an appalling taste in men: she liked me. Eventually she even married me. And to her other qualities add tolerance and stamina, because we’re still together, despite me, despite a life which has been… varied and bizarre. We have two sons, proof that there is natural justice, because they are very like I was. (I’m allowed to say this sort of thing about Paddy and Jamesy, but God help anyone else who does.) They’re now at Uni, doing Physics and Comp Sci, and Physics and Geology, proving they have their mother’s brains and merely, poor children, my obstinacy. They make me very proud and feel rather inadequate as a parent. But I guess that is normal too.
Along the way I went to university became an Ichthyologist. I was the research officer for the Western Cape commercial shark fishery. I wrote some amazingly dull papers on the subject too. Because research is badly paid, and because I had kids to feed… I moonlighted as a commercial diver for a mussel farm. It just happened to be one of my main shark sampling grounds. The water was a delightful ten degrees Celsius. Working at 10-15 meters down in the stirred up muck, visibility is two or three centimeters. I knew exactly what was in that water. You do all sorts of things for money. I seem to attract those sort of jobs. From commercial fishing to cleaning plants off church steeples. I get to be Father Christmas quite a lot too. On the way from there to here I became a fish farm manager. This taught me more about plumbing, rough welding and how to fix damn near anything in a hurry, than I wished to know. I can also gill and gut a trout in 3 seconds. It is a skill every aspiring author needs.
When the fishmeal (the principal ingredient of farmed fish food) price trebled, the farm I was on was suddenly facing the wall. I was wholeheartedly tired of busting my ass for someone else. I’d written a few pieces, principally back when I was a full-time scientist, relying on fish catches that relied on weather. (I was based in Cape Town. It’s a beautiful place. Unfortunately, a lot of the time if you face into the wind, it’ll blow snot out of your ears. Of course sometimes it doesn’t do that. Then it rains, but that doesn’t stop fishermen. There are naturally, beautiful, still days when the wind and sea are tranquil and sun pours down. I can confirm two things about these days:
- 6.5 out of 7 of them fall on weekdays, outside of holiday times…
- You don’t catch fish on these days.)
As a fish farmer I hadn’t really had the time, or by the end of the day the energy to write. (Take my advice â€‘ if you’re going to write choose a day job that does not involve physically picking up and running with 6 tons of water and fish every day. Choose something which makes low physical and mental demands. I loved fish farming (I never grew up properly I still like fish and don’t mind being muddy) but it was the most physically demanding job I’ve ever done, even more so than commercial fishing, which is no holiday camp. But next time around I’d choose being an undertaker or, if I could stomach it, a politician.)
Hmm. I seem to have waffled off the track. Anyway, Barbs helped me choose one step better. She went back to work, and I wrote and looked after the kids. After all, it couldn’t be that difficult to get published. I’m not ‘naturally’ good at anything, but I work hard. I don’t fail (i.e. I’m bloody pigheaded). In year or so of real work (which I was sure these other writer types were totally incapable of) I’d be there. And then we could settle down somewhere in the back country. I could work mornings, fish afternoons, climb and dive weekends… ha. If ignorance is bliss, I must have been orgasmically happy. I was vain, and stupid to boot. Anyway, six years, several million words and seventyâ€‘four rejections later, with a part time job as a reliefâ€‘chef at a couple of luxury lodges (these jobs just happen to me. Blame genetics or something)… Jim Baen ‘phoned up.
I thought he was one of my friends having me on.
I nearly told him that he did the phoniest American accent I’d ever heard, and put the phone down on him.
That was a couple of years back. The Bear (Eric Flint) and I teamed up, and later I got involved with writing with Misty Lackey too. I’ve written or collaborated in a lot of novels for Baen Books. I’ve also written a lot of shorter work, been the art director for Jim Baen’s Universe, and even ended up as the GoH at a couple of fantasy and sf conferences. Now, hunched, red-eyed and gnomelike I stare at this screen… what is water?… what is sunlight?
It’s fun though. Addictive too. And every so often I go AWOL.
See yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
What struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Though hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His riband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind,
He looks and laughts at a’ that.
[footnote says birkie = fellow; coof = fool]
‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’. Robert Burns, 1759-1796.