15 August, 2011

An interview with David Baboulene

Every time I start to question the importance of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, I come across individuals, interacting with whom in some way or another revive my faith in it. Earlier I had the opportunity to interact with Ronnie B Goodwin, a filmmaker whose shorts, Shooter and Fly, are simply amazing. Recently, I had the opportunity to converse with a multi-talented author and individual Mr. David Baboulene.


David, besides having tremendous patience (I took more than a month to get my interview questions to him) is a writer, a writing coach, and a film producer. Not letting go of the opportunity, I asked him a few questions about his life and career. His replies proved to be extremely insightful and interesting to say the least. So read on because I guarantee you laughs, lessons in life, and a look into a life lived wonderfully.

Interview with Mr. David Baboulene

Raghav: David, you seem to have quite varied interests from writing children's books, to humorous travelogs, to providing writer and producer services. How hard is it to jump from one mind frame to another?

David: It’s not hard to switch between frames – I find it actually helps to refresh the mind by switching – but it’s not a very clever thing to do business-wise. The commercial world and your ‘public’ want to know what kind of animal you are, and if you don’t specialise by genre, it confuses the world, dilutes your potential and reduces your sales. I would strongly advise aspiring writers that if you want big success you should pick one genre and stick to it.


Raghav: You've written three completely different genres of books. Children, Travel & Humour, and a Guide to help writers; which of the three have you enjoyed writing the most and which has been an ordeal?

David: I find all writing a joy when it is flowing well. I absolutely loved writing the humorous travel books, because it was so wonderful to re-live the adventures through the writing. Having complete strangers contact me from the other side of the world to tell me I made them laugh their heads off is one of the best things that happens. What part is an ordeal? The marketing is an ordeal, not the writing. I don’t like people ‘selling’ to me, so I feel embarrassed selling myself. It’s a necessary part of being a writer, but I do find that bit really hard work.


Raghav: Can you please tell us a little about the film you are writing and producing? At what stage is it, so we know when to expect it?

David: The film is called HeartStoppers. It’s an uplifting story of a man who has a knack for finding people their soul-mates. He can look you in the eye and know exactly who you should spend your life with. The project arose from story consultancy I did on some other films that taught me just how easy it is to get a film made on a shoestring these days. The problem that is rife across the film industry is that the story doesn’t get the focus it needs. Projects turn into a frenzy of budgets and film-making, and the story gets trampled underfoot, so I am blogging my progress to show firstly, that the whole project should be driven by the story-telling, and secondly, how anyone can get a film made from a starting point of a 25-word idea. I have some great names attached to my project, including a potential A-lister whose name I can’t use yet and several other ‘name’ actors. I have a great director, great editor and director of photography, sound girl, stills photographer, design and artwork person, composer, choreographer (there is song and dance in small ways in the story) – just about everything I need, including equipment. The trickiest things are to do with finding the right location and getting it to look right – woodwork and signmaking and preparing the location - and dealing with the council and police and permissions and insurances and the rest of it. All this non-film stuff that I don’t understand is expensive and requires real skills I don’t have (if any of your readers are administration Gods and want to get involved…?!). The blog of HeartStoppers’ progress is at www.thescienceofstory.blogspot.com .

Raghav: Tell us a little about your life outside of your profession? How do you unwind and as some say "get away from it all"?

David: I have 4 children, so it is more about trying to find the time to do my work rather than finding time for recreation! I love football – I play regularly and follow Brighton – and I have a music studio at home. I used to be a professional musician and have the embarrassing photos to prove it. More recently I have produced a couple of albums for a young band. Great fun!


Raghav: Wow a professional musician. That's another feather to the hat. We will obviously be asking for those photographs you mentioned, but tell us about some of your work and also a story or two about playing in a band? Is it really as much fun as we commoners see and aspire to have?

David: I was in a number of bands way back when but mostly got work as a songwriter. I had around 20 songs published and a few made it onto records and I played some big gigs to a thousand people or so once or twice. I worked with a couple of ‘name’ bands, and a couple of amazing organizations, including working for Channel 4 on their music requirements and at Rock City – the music studio that used to belong to The Who on Shepperton Film Studios Complex. It was owned by Gary Numan when I worked there. I didn’t stay in music though for one simple reason. I was crap. Seriously, there were guys around who were so much better than me, and they couldn’t get anywhere, so I called it a day after a while. All my stories from those days are pretty much the same as anyone else’s. I remember travelling back from a gig once, in the very back of a van, in amongst all the equipment. The keyboard player was in the back with me. We’d been drinking, and it was bouncy in the back and he needed to throw up, but we couldn’t communicate with the driver to get him to stop, and the keyboard player had nowhere to go to be sick, except right there where we were sitting. Oh, man… But it had to come, so I was treated to the sight of someone trying to control the shape of his face during the act of throwing up, in order to try and sick it up into the hole in the top of an empty coke can. He tried to get his mouth to be that same small, oval shape as the one in the top of the can, and I will never forget as long as I live the expression it gave him. I laughed so hard, and I laughed some more, until in the end… I needed a coke can myself… Two of us there stuck in the back, desperately puckering up, with wide eyes and keyhole shaped mouths into empty cans. Ah, those were the days, eh?!

Raghav: As a traveller what has been your most memorable and scariest memory?

David: The scariest moment was undoubtedly fighting for my life against pirates who were boarding our ship off the coast of Nigeria. I am lucky to be alive. That story is told in full in my books. Happily, I have many, many good memories as well, of course. I guess you learn that travel is more about people than places, so perhaps overall for me the most special times were deep sea, with just your shipmates and tropical air in your face, a thousand miles from land, a panoply of stars above and where the sea is five miles deep. You get a real sense of the enormity of the world and you feel very humble and you think deep thoughts… until one of the lads puts a mantis down the back of your shirt and sends you dancing round the bridge trying to get it out. That’s the value in my travel books, I think – that contrast between the learning and experience, the deep thoughts and world understanding – and the childish reality of travelling with a bunch of ridiculous blokes.

Raghav: Have there been anyone who has inspired you in anyway and also influenced your writings?

David: Really interesting this, particularly for other writers. My hero is PG Wodehouse. He wrote 100 books and was considered a genius even in his own lifetime. I got hold of some of his earliest writing – some stories he wrote at school that were published many years later once he was famous. I read these rarities… and they were rubbish. I mean, really - not good. Now, I don’t mean to be unkind to my hero – I worship and adore him – but I found it so, so powerful and inspiring to know that even PG Wodehouse had started from somewhere I could relate to. He wasn’t just a genius – that label doesn’t do him justice – he was a normal human being who worked hard at his craft and had a great work ethic. His early writing gave me the confidence to try to write humour and to believe I might get somewhere. The message for us all is that the opportunity is there – if you have belief, and discipline, and learn about story and make yourself highly productive, you can make it too.

Raghav: David, you have worked with some famous and talented individuals in your career. Who would you say was the most fun?

David: All of them have been great fun in their own ways. I shouldn’t single any one out, but for me, the most fun was Bob Gale, purely because he was also my hero (he wrote my favourite film, Back to the Future). Just going to Hollywood was amazing, but to spend two days with my hero at his amazing house in Hollywood - I think I probably spent the first five minutes when we met just standing on his doorstep screaming like a teenage girl meeting the Beatles or something.

Raghav: I met you on Twitter. You have also been an active blogger. Wasn't writing books enough, or do these forms of social networking serve other purposes professionally or personally?

David: As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like marketing, so a form of marketing which is just another type of writing really suits me well. I can do my thing just being me, and let people decide for themselves, on the basis of the quality and nature of my blogs and social networking, whether my books are for them or not. We’ve all seen shops where a salesman stands in the entrance and starts on you the moment you’re in range. He puts you off immediately. Your social network presence is the same. I would advise anyone not to simply see your twitter/facebook/blog as a sales tool and start using them to force your work on people. Try to join in and be interesting or useful or funny and contribute to the community in order to attract people and let them get to know you. If you do that well, people will buy your books. I find this kind of networking is great fun and I can be myself and be sincere and – as a by-product – it’s a sales tool that’s led to me making thousands of sales a month these days on kindle alone. It works and I recommend it, but only if you’re going to join in the community and be sincere.


Raghav: Can you please give one tip to all the budding writers, in any field, that would help them the most?

David: I did a ‘top ten tips for writers’ post not so long ago that is available now on my blog, but for me the top tip that people won’t have heard anywhere else has to be to understand subtext. To understand story you need to understand subtext. I’m doing a PhD proving that subtext is the key to story power, and I genuinely believe that my findings will revolutionise how stories are evaluated and created in future. My advice: build writing into your daily routine so you can write at least 1000 words every day; accept rejection as a part of your day, not as a devastating blow to your ego (rejection is rarely on the basis of the quality of your writing, so just get on with the next one); – and understand subtext so you can make the most of your story ideas.

Raghav: To end the interview on a high note, please tell us something funny from your past experiences as a writer or traveler?

David: Hmm… How long have I got?! I write funny travel stories for a living, so I guess the glib answer is to point people at my travel books: Ocean Boulevard and Jumping Ships, and my humour blog at www.properdog.blogspot.com.

I would like to thank David Baboulene for taking out time to answer my questions. I sincerely look forward to reading your next book and eagerly await the release of your movie.

Location:Gurgaon, India

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