CrEePs a novel by Newfoundland-born author Darren Hynes is so arresting, it snatched book deals on two continents. At the center of the book is fifteen year old Wayne Pumphrey, who is somewhat a hybrid of the troubled little boys Charles Dickens writes about in his books.
Before CrEePs, Hynes had authored Flight, a thriller that made the hearts of his readers pound with the flip of every page. Here he is, discussing the writing process, and his life as an author.
Would you say you were born to be a writer?
I don’t know, I sort of think that what people end up doing with their lives is a product of their accumulated experience. I wasn’t one of those kids with his/her nose in a book. In fact, I loved movies and thought I was supposed to be an actor, which I was for nearly fifteen years. But then one day about ten years ago I opened my laptop and starting writing and never stopped. Turns out it was a writer I wanted to be all along. And certainly the writing life appeals to me as I’m sort of introverted and enjoy solitude. I once asked an actor friend of mine who was a voracious reader why he didn’t write and he said: “Because I don’t have anything to say.” I think that’s what separates writers from non-writers, this aching to say something, to communicate.
So you were born in Newfoundland.
Yeah, I was born in Fogo Island, which is a tiny island off the Northeast coast of Newfoundland but I moved to Labrador City when I was three. My father got a job at the iron ore mine there and the money was good and he had eight mouths to feed. Labrador City is in western Labrador, on the border with Quebec and I remember never-ending winters and summers that were over before they began. Once it snowed in July!! I felt very isolated there and lonely and dreamed of escape, like my two main characters in Creeps. I had the opportunity to go back a few years ago after being away for nearly eighteen years and it was amazing. Walked the old streets and visited the house I grew up in. A lot of what I write has been informed by my time there. I did go to university in Corner Brook, Newfoundland however, and half of my family still lives on the island, so I go whenever I get the chance. I feel very at ease near the ocean.
Bullying is definitely one of the themes of your novel. Were you bullied when you were little?
– I did have a few bad experiences, but I wasn’t bullied on a regular basis. I was certainly an easy target: small and short, but one weapon I had that saved me was my sense of humor. Making people laugh became my way out of tough situations. Hard to beat someone up when you’re too busy laughing. I did witness others being bullied though. Once, I watched one kid make another kid eat sawdust. It was in Industrial Arts class. I never forgot the humiliation written on the victim’s face. A few years ago, I learned that my nephew, Liam, was having a very difficult time at school. He became the inspiration for the book.
Did you have instances of writer’s block when you were writing?
Not really. I’m always able to write. However, most of what I get down on paper in the early stages of writing a book gets thrown out. I literally write hundreds of pages before I know what it is I want to write about. Then I toss it all and start again. I did that with my first novel, Flight and certainly a lot with, Creeps. In fact, an earlier draft had nothing to do with bullying at all.
What are your tips for revising?
I generally revise as I go, but then, after the whole draft is written, I put it away for a while, like a month or two. Try not to think about it, and even start working on something else. Then, when I eventually do go back to it, it’s with fresh eyes. I think my main tip for revising is: you have to step away from the material sometimes, because you get so close to it in the process of writing that’s it hard to have perspective. For me, time away from the manuscript is the most important element in the revision process. Also, less is more. Say what you have to with as few words as possible. So cut, cut, cut.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
I think if any writers out there have the means and a good product—especially that—then: Go for it. As for myself, I don’t think I’m organized enough to do all the legwork…finding an editor and an artist for the cover art and the layout, etc… Self-publishing seems to be the way for a lot of writers these days, as it’s increasingly difficult to find a traditional publisher. It’s a good alternative to getting one’s work out there.
No, that’s not bad…Being an author is exciting stuff. What have you enjoyed the most thus far?
Yeah, I guess it is kind of exciting, but the novelty wears off pretty quickly when you realize that making stuff up every day isn’t easy. So much of the process involves being alone with your thoughts and sometimes that can be unpleasant. But generally I feel very privileged to live in a country where I can write freely without censorship. What I’ve enjoyed the most thus far is when I held my debut novel in completed form for the very first time. Surreal and gratifying. My imagination, and years of work, in my hands with a cover and pages and my name on the front. Nothing has compared to it since.
Did you have a hand in deciding the cover design of your book, the trailer, and other marketing aspects?
Penguin Canada has been amazing and generous and receptive to my input. As it turned out, I was so happy with the cover they’d sent that I didn’t have a single suggestion to improve upon it. In fact, it was better than anything I’d imagined in the weeks and months prior. They have a great marketing team at Penguin, but are gracious enough to run everything by me first. I’m lucky to be in such capable hands.
Any special tips for new authors?
Never give up. Write and read and live. Especially that. And notice things. Be present, alive in every moment. Be grateful.
Where do you think the publishing industry is heading?
I think we’re going to see the fading away of the smaller publishing houses and independent bookstores and an increase in the popularity of electronic publishing…basically more of the same. But good stories will always be in demand, so that’s good news.
What are you cooking up next?
Another YA novel about a boy in search of a mother that went out for Pepsi and never came back. It’s a story about loss and addiction, friendship and hope. Acceptance too.