D.C.J. WARDLE is the author of humorous novels Trading Vincent Crow and Vincent Crow: Export. In January 2013 he was author of the month on www.lovewriting.co.uk.
Holding post-graduate qualifications in development management as well as community water supply engineering, over the past fourteen years, he has worked in developing countries in Africa and Asia, managing emergency and development programmes.
1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?
I started taking creative writing seriously 15 years ago whilst living in a small village in Cameroon. It was my first overseas posting and I was a lone volunteer managing the construction of a water supply project. The village was remote. There was no TV, telephone, or electricity. We did, however, boast a village chief who was the most powerful of all the witches in the region, and the villagers lived in fear of his dark magic. There were ceremonial rituals involving the village elders and a number of unfortunate goats, dancing around the drums in the firelight, and various adventures to different parts of the country. Consequently, for the first time in my life, I had a lot to write about, and began to really enjoy sending letters home about my adventures. I then decided to write a short story about the band that I had played in at college. I wrote it on scraps of paper, and found myself cutting out paragraphs from different pages and sticking them at the sides of others with duct-tape. The resulting collage of scribbling needed instructions to negotiate. After discovering the pleasures of this creative process I went on to write longer stories about my adventures in Cameroon and the subsequent places I’ve worked.
2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?
When I worked in rural Cameroon I believe I read most of the English Literature A-level syllabus as these seemed to be the only books I could find second hand in the local markets, so I was very tempted to go back to the UK and take the exam at the end of my contract.
Through my subsequent travels I've generally delved into whatever books previous travelers have abandoned to lighten the load of their backpacks, so I’ve enjoyed the chance to experience a range of authors I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered.
Some of my favourite books are from the Jeeves and Wooster series by P.G.Wodehouse. I also enjoyed some of Gerald Durrell’s books as he has a pleasant way of being entertained by peoples’ (and animals’) eccentricities without judging them.
3. What was the inspiration behind your novel Vincent Crow: Export and its predecessor?
The broad idea of the book Trading Vincent Crow relates to a man in America who swapped a paperclip on e-bay and after many more swaps he eventually got himself a house. This idea was taken to the extreme that the main character has to trade his entire life every 3 months until he gets to where he needs to be. The book is quite episodic, as each trade-up is in a different place with different interactions and characters. The title evolved from this twist on the idea of ‘trading’.
For Vincent crow export I decided it was high time our hero (of sorts) was taken out of his developing comfort zone and was set some real challenges, as far from home as possible. The first Vincent Crow book plays out in a number of locations in the UK, and by the end Vince gives the impression that he is starting to cope a bit better with his social ineptitude. I have travelled to, and worked in, a number of Asian countries, and so in writing this book I've enjoyed the opportunity to draw from my wanderings and create the background against which Vince's new adventures unfold.
4. You've done humanitarian work in Africa and Asia. What made you want to work in that field?
My interest in development came through watching the media reporting on issues in developing countries, and then studying related subjects, firstly through a geography degree and then through more targeted post-graduate courses. I never had any real aspirations for a career path in the UK. Also, I'm not very good at going on holiday. I'm not a patient observer of historic temples or a 'colourful local market visit' person. I wanted to travel, but to be able to appreciate new places by becoming more involved and part of something through working with people.
5. How does that influence your writing (if, in fact, it does)?
I've pulled a little on my traveling experiences in my writing, particularly for the most recent novel Vincent Crow: Export which is played out in Asia. However, the writing primarily focuses on the characters, the relations between them and the unexpected scrapes they get in to, more so than the location itself. So I think my actual 'day job' itself has a limited direct influence on my writing, although of course how I evolve as a person and a writer is inevitably influenced by my experiences, travels and people I met. For me, writing, as with reading, is an opportunity to step outside of reality for a while and I try to keep the two quite separate.
6. Vince, his Nan and Natalie are all very...colorful characters. Where did the inspiration for them come from?
They are quite colourful characters. It's difficult to say exactly where that came from but the more colourful they became the more fun they were to write about. I think they evolved from the situation that I developed for them. Trading Vincent Crow is set in the West Midlands of the UK which is where I originate from. Each of them have their linguistic quirks which are not uncommon in certain parts of that area of the world. As for Nan, I've met a number of people who get slightly less 'appropriate' or less self conscious as they get older. Even for myself, the ability to hold a train of thought seems to become increasingly challenging some days. I just took the opportunity to embellish and exaggerate some of these elements to create larger than life characters.
7. Did you ever have the idea to "upgrade" your life in the way that Vince decided to in the story?
I've had quite a lot of different jobs and roles in my working life. As with Vince I started off by doing quite a lot of washing up in restaurants and pubs. However, much of this is idea is about having aspirations to improve our lives and experience new things, which is something a lot of people do and can relate to. Vince just takes that a little further than most.
8. Why did you choose to write comedy as opposed to all of the other genres you could've chosen?
Throughout the travel and working abroad that I have done I've kept diaries of my experiences. Much of that writing was done with a humorous slant rather than a dry account. This was primarily so that I would be entertained by it when I went back to read it later on, but also the humorous side was the part of the writing that I enjoyed. When I started writing fiction, it followed that for me to enjoy the process then it was going to need to be funny (at least to me anyway).
9. Will we see Vincent again in the future?
I'm currently working on a novel about a rather unusual heist of a provincial bank, which is providing a fantastic back-drop for some very enjoyable and humorous mishaps. There are of course considerable options for some more Vince in the future. However, I don't want to rush into a third volume just yet. For Vincent Crow: Export I had so many new ideas and fun plots crammed into my head that it was fantastic and enjoyable to be able to get them down and shape them into the story. It was a lot of fun to write. I will now need to wait some time to allow for a similar build-up of creative pressure in my head before Vince can embark on his next adventure.
10. What authors (dead or alive) would you love to collaborate with?
I don't see myself as a particularly collaborative person when it comes to creativity. I need to be lost in my own thoughts and imagination with no distractions to get any writing done. I'm not sure I would fit in as a team writer.
11. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
I intend to continue to write. However, my motivation comes at times from a frustration of not having sufficient time to write, and frantically getting ideas down. I worry that by taking that away I would be less inspired, and so for now I am happy with the current balance between my day-job and writing.
12. Would you like to see any of your works made into films? If yes, what actors would you like to see play your characters?
I would love to see my books become movies. Better yet, I would envisage them more as mini-series as the plots are quite episodic. As for casting, that's probably best left to someone who knows what they're doing. I'd probably just pick people I wanted to meet or go for a beer with, rather than whether or not they had any suitability for the role. Also, people conjure up in their own imagination what a character is like when reading a book. Defining a character through a link to a specific actor can take away the pleasure of that process.
13. Thank you for participating in the interview! Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
I recently had my palm read in Myanmar and learned that my unlucky curry was the chicken curry - surprised me anyway. He also told me that I was a 'realist', which I thought was fantastic, but it means that I've been stuck in a philosophical loop ever since (as if I'm a realist I probably shouldn't believe the palm reader, but it was the palm reader who told me I was a realist, so then if I do believe him then perhaps I'm not a realist but I should believe that I am according to him...anyway, you see the dilemma...).
I have a three and a half year old Yincin 110cc motorbike and everything on it still works. Well, apart from the fuel gauge which is on full right up until the point it runs out of petrol and then drops to empty as you push it to the fuel station. And the brakes as well thinking about it. And the rear light and second gear.
I congratulate my cat each night when he brings in mice in the hope that positive reinforcement on the rodent front will help curb his previous interest of wanting to bring in live snakes. I'm worried he'll start to see through this though, as its quite hard to feign enthusiasm in the early hours when your extracting mice from a wide-awake smug cat and taking them back outside. I'm considering installing an amnesty box next to the cat-flap.
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