A Scottish historical and fantasy novelist known for setting his work in far eastern lands, David Walters is currently working on his eighth book, the latest in his Samurai’s Apprentice series. David is also part of the team designing the Way Of The Tiger roleplaying game, based on the gamebooks of the same name from the 1980s.
As part of Waterstones’ The Book That Made Me campaign David talks about how he got started writing as well as his influences.
Tell us a bit about where you grew up.
I grew up in a small Scottish village in Dumfries and Galloway. It was largely the village that time forgot, and all the issues of the world seemed very far away, at least until the Lockerbie air disaster occurred nearby and ruined it all.
I love the countryside in the area, and used to go jogging along it. When I left at seventeen I had a real sense of displacement, and I tried to really tap into that sensation in my novel Dragonwarrior: Tao Of Shadow to represent a man out of time and place.
Were you interested in writing from an early age?
Oh yes, I was always writing. I was in a wargaming group and I used to spend more time writing stories about the battles than actually fighting.
When at school I knew that being a writer would be my dream job. At secondary school I was given a creative writing assignment and since no word limit had been set I started writing a novel. I was advised to abandon it by the teacher though who didn’t want to have to mark something too long.
What’s the first book you remember having an impact on your life?
I loved the Way Of The Tiger series (which I first read as a child in the Eighties), and I’m now writing for them with a role playing game, so it feels like I’ve come round full circle.
The series was about a ninja on an epic quest in a fantasy world, and this has influenced me in writing my Samurai’s Apprentice series and my novel City Of Masks. As the Way Of The Tiger books were gamebooks, you got to play as the ninja main character, and I remember wishing I could have been as super fit and skilled as that character. Hopefully these books will be re-released soon.
What attracted you to writing about Japanese history?
All my writing has some sort of a far eastern flavour. The Dragonwarrior trilogy is about ancient China, and the Samurai series is obviously the one focussing on Japan.
Even from a young age I was always drawn to anything about the history of these cultures, since they had a great sense of mystery and spirituality about them.
Some people take a Eurocentric view and see samurai as knights and the Japanese Emperor as some equivalent of a pope, but for me they misinterpret the unique Japanese psyche that sets the country apart. One only has to look at the ritual suicide of seppuku to get a sense of the deep family ties, the strict moral code and the distinct sense of otherness of the culture. There is an interesting duality to a culture that is ruled by a warrior class but that is also primarily Buddhist and vegetarian.
Novels are the vehicle by which you can go back in time and see through someone else’s eyes, know what they thought and experience the world that they lived in. What is sometimes surprising to me is how relevant some of the ancient wisdom is to the modern world.
What authors inspire you in your life and writing?
I have been working recently with experienced authors Mark Smith, Jamie Thomson and Dave Morris on the Way Of The Tiger RPG and other side projects. In many ways they blazed a trail on the eastern influence and gamebooks in general, and it is wonderful to work with such vastly experienced authors.
As a reader I tend to read historical novels, such as those by Conn Iggulden or Harry Sidebottom: people who really know their subject matter. I also like reading some science fiction and science fiction including Roger Zelazny and Piers Anthony.
Recently I have been reading The Silent Traveller books by Chiang Ye, who was a Chinese writer and artist who visited various places during and after the Second World War. In one book he journeyed around Edinburgh (where I now live), but also he toured Japan and so I got to read about a direct comparison of Chinese and Japanese culture.
Have you ever had anyone tell you that any of your books have had a positive impact on their lives?
Books can be very personal things for a reader and I’ve been humbled by the many positive comments about my work.
In particular I’ve had a few younger fans let me know that they really enjoy reading my books. For me, the fact that young people are enjoying reading books is a positive impact of itself – there is so much competition for their time and attention these days.
A few people have also advised me that my work has inspired them to try to write, so maybe I’m creating more competition for myself!
What is your favourite book and why?
I don’t have any one book that stands out above all others, and that is one reason why I became a writer so that I could write it. Dragonwarrior: Tao Of Shadow was my first attempt at that.
I want to read exciting stories with an eastern flavour, that have thoughtful twists and aren’t filled with pages of exposition, interior monologue or description. So that is what I set about trying to do.
The Way Of The Tiger series comes closest to a favourite – perhaps with the fourth book Overlord! as the best. A ninja gets to rule a city and battle other ninja, and I don’t think it can get much better than that.
Do you have any advice for budding writers who want to take their first steps into writing a novel?
A lot of people have good ideas, a few start to write them down, and even fewer complete anything. So my advice is that whatever you do, you must deliver – even if the quality of what you do isn’t very good initially. Through writing more you will hone your skills. So start writing something short and finish it, then go for something longer.
As Bruce Lee said, ‘Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.’ I have a giant picture of that quote on my wall at home, and it greets me whenever I open the front door to remind me that a writer is nothing unless he produces.
I’d also advise any aspiring writer to serve their apprenticeship by learning their craft: join a writer’s group, study the art of writing online, go to book festivals, attend workshops, or buy a book about writing. Some people try to take a shortcut but it is a hard craft to master, and there are seldom any shortcuts to any place worth going to.
My novel Samurai’s Apprentice started out life as a short story entry for a local writing competition. It won the competition, and then the short story became chapter one of the novel after encouragement from the author who was adjudicating. It is now a series of four books and counting.
Anything else in the pipeline soon?
Later this year you can expect a limited print run of the Samurai’s Apprentice series with some added content. Also, over the next six months or so I’m hoping to release my eighth novel (the fifth in the Samurai’s Apprentice series), and also a couple of gamebooks (more details will come out by the end of the summer about this).
Next year, I’m planning to release Dragonwarrior 3, the Way Of The Tiger role playing game and another secret project I’m working on. I’m in the very fortunate position of having to turn away work at the moment as I’m so busy on these different writing assignments.