This is how I get stuff done – David Riley

Today, we are absolutely delighted to introduce you to David Riley, who is a hard-working, passionate and humble writer and teacher, who champions other writers stories with skill and alofa through his company, the Reading Warrior. We first met David in 2006, when he and his senior English class at Tangaroa College, came to support and interact with theatre peeps at the Pacific Playwrights Development Forum at Aotea Centre. His career as a teacher, steadfast faith in his Creator and humility in his humanity and passion to help others means David is a wonderful and memorable person.

Fa’afetai tele lava/Many thanks David for sharing your wisdoms, experiences and wit with us.

We’ll let his words speak for themselves in our interview. Enjoy!

Can you please introduce yourself in 25 words or under? (family whakapapa and title
you use for your work)

I’m a Kiwi with Irish, Scottish and Isle of Man heritage. I grew up in Mangere, south Auckland. Now, I live in Clover Park, Manukau, with my wife, who’s Samoan, and our two daughters. I’m a teacher and a writer and a learner.

When did you know you were creative? Was it a singular moment or more gradual?

First of all, I think every single person is creative because we are all made in God’s image. God is the most, amazing, creative force ever, if you believe in God. Just take a look at a sunset or a human and see what amazing creations they are from an amazing Creator. If we’re made in God’s likeness then that means we’re creative too, all of us. It’s in our DNA! I first wanted to be a writer when I was about 10 years old, when I discovered the novels of Barry Crump, because the characters in them, reminded me of my father and other men at the rugby league club (Manukau Magpies), where we used to spend a lot of time. The stories were funny and they were normal Kiwi guys and the things they got up to.

What does the word creative mean for you? What made you get involved with creative projects?

I never met a writer growing up, never knew anyone who did that, no writer came to my school that I remember. So in my mind writers didn’t look like me or come from where I came from. They were rich people who wore suits and lived in places like New York. It seemed like such a mystical process to being published. Who am I to think I could be a writer! So I just wrote for myself and did random writing things.

Thirty years later I was a teacher at Tangaroa College and couldn’t find books that my students wanted to read, books where they could see themselves in and recognize the characters like I had been able to. “What do you want to read about guys?” “Benji Marshall … but there’s no books about him.” I thought to myself, “I love league, I love writing, why don’t I write a book about Benji Marshall for these young people!” That’s how I started writing and publishing.

What does a typical day look like working with you? What have been the top 3 (It can only be one or two if you like) highlights of your creative practice?

At the end of 2020, my writing projects started to become more intense so I spoke to my wife about it and thought we’d give it a go to do this fulltime, leave teaching, and see how it goes. So then I finished teaching, which I had done for 23 years and decided to go full-time, just doing projects as a writer and help other writers work out how to publish their own work. It’s working so far. I’ve been doing different things, including speaking in schools as part of Read NZ’s Writers in Schools program, which has been really helpful in keeping us afloat.

Is anyone in your family also creative? If so, do you work together or not and if so, why? 

My daughters take from me and my wife exactly what they need for their own lives. As they get older, you start to see them as themselves. I never think “Oh that’s me”. I remember reading about the word, influence” the other day and it has to do with water, “in flow” how water flows into things. So I think that all of us being together, will naturally flow together, them to me and me to them. I think that’s awesome that we all help to grow each other, in between peeing each other off!

What are your top 3 tips for finishing a creative project?

  1. Know your best time of day for getting stuff done and smash into it.
  2. Don’t be too quick to finish that you miss the little things e.g. in books that’s spelling, punctuation, fact checking, double checking the ISBN number is correct, one thousand little things that are important!
  3. Love what you’re doing.

How do you measure your creative success?

What I really love doing is helping people, esp. Pasifika people, especially of their older parents and/or relatives to write and publish their own stories. It’s been really awesome to help people do this. I always ask them, “Who is this for? Who are you making this work for” and that tends to guide the process. It’s usually positive stories for their descendants, so they can remember where they come from, a clear reminder of their DNA being passed on.

Recently, Kim Meredith from the Coalition of Books asked me to hold talanoa sessions with Maori and Pasifika people who are interested in publishing their work. I remember when I first started out, I thought writing and publishing my own work was impossible but as time has gone on, it’s more possible than you think.

What is one thing you’ve never shared about your creative practice to anyone that you would like people to know about you?

I like listening to classical music. I got into that music when I was at school (Mangere College). I don’t have a musical bone in my body but I loved studying the set pieces and was really inspired by the teachers. Recently, I dropped my elder daughter off at the train station for her to go to university. As I was driving home, I turned on the classical station and a melancholic piece was playing and I looked up into the sky and the sun was behind the clouds, I started to feel really sad. It reminded me of how I missed taking my daughters to primary school so I quickly changed the radio station to George FM. I am a nostalgic person so I have to watch out what I listen to! 

How do you close out or finish a project? Any special rituals?

I just move on to the next thing. I don’t really celebrate, as I can’t wait to get on to working with others and to the next project. There’s so much urgency for this work!

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