Pascal Gorter writes and illustrates picture books and comics. Many of these stories are about current topics with a big social impact.
Author interview – Pascal Gorter
Morning, Pascal! It’s been so much fun talking to all these Dutch authors! Would you mind sharing with us when you first started writing, and why?
Ever since I can remember I make drawings. I did this the whole day: from the moment I woke up until late in the evening. That´s why my dad jokingly called me ‘a drawing machine’. When I started reading comics, I naturally started drawing and writing them myself. I liked writing so much, that I spend my classes in primary school thinking about stories I would write once I returned home. I even wrote my scripts on an old typewriter. Beside comics, I was often inspired by cartoons as well. For example, when watching The Samurai Pizzacats, I wrote episodes that were inspired by what I had seen earlier that day.
At what age did you take yourself seriously as a writer?
Ha ha, I think I have already been taking myself seriously as a writer since I was a kid. My earliest memory of me drawing and writing a comic was in primary school. I must have been around seven years old. It was a comic about Donald Duck (in the Netherlands, Donald Duck has his own comic magazine and is even today the most popular comic franchise in my country by far). It was always my dream to become a comic book writer and illustrator. Later, I became interested in writing books without pictures too, but I admit I only started writing stories for the other medium in my late twenties.
Do you prefer the term ‘writer’ or ‘author’, and why?
Someone told me a writer is someone who hasn’t got work published. An author has their work published. Since I publish my own work (as in self-publishing) both online and in print, I am technically an author. However, from a linguistic point of view, I’m neither. I’m a ‘person who writes’. I’m much more than just a ‘writer’ or an ‘author’. These are just labels people use to put on others.
How long did it take you to write your first book?
My first published work was a webcomic. It was eight pages long. Normally, one pencilled page takes one day. But I also did research, and I estimate that it took two to three days in total. Which isn’t much, even for an eight-page comic. And then I didn’t take into account how long it took colouring the pages. Plus, the work it takes to build a website or get to know a self-publishing platform, such as Webtoons.
I’m still proud of this comic and I’m currently recolouring it. Although my old digitally coloured pages have its strong points, I was still learning colouring when I made those and I think it is too sloppy. These realisations also make me remember that I grew and became more professional: I’m no longer satisfied with ‘just okay’.
What was your last book about?
My last finished book was a picture book about the coronavirus. It’s educational, and appeared both in print as online. It got positive reviews by websites for parents and teachers.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on different projects at the same time. One is a picture book, inspired by the paintings of a relative of mine. We work as a team, and we will use his finished paintings in the children book if it ever reaches the stores.
The other project is a series about a boy who can travel to the Middle Ages when he reads a magical book. I already made a webcomic. Now, I am developing his origin story and what comes after that. The new episodes are primarily made for print but will appear in online form too. I don’t want to tell too much, but the main person is called Joris (‘George’ in English), there are dragons and magical creatures, while he has troubles in the real world at the same time, like cyberbullying and sexting…
What is your writing process like? Do you plot or do you just dive in? How many drafts do you go through before the work is final?
I used to dive in, and fill in the gaps later. For my webcomic I read a book for kids in primary school about the Middle Ages. I also read interviews with victims of bullying after they took part in sexting.
Nowadays, I first do research online, and if I need more information, for example about a certain time period, I read a book. I also read books to make sure the information on the internet, like on Wikipedia, is correct.
I used to hate doing research, but I noticed that I’m becoming more professional as times goes by and that doing research is part of the job. I also feel safer when I have the character descriptions and background information written out.
I have to admit, sometimes I still start writing and do research at the same time. Like I did when I started publishing online, I now do when it comes to more advanced researching. That research is about general things. When I discover that I don’t know something during writing my scripts, I go back to doing research.
However, I don’t write everything down. And sometimes I only mark sentences in e-Books. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of e-books when ending my subscription for an online service, and with it the notes I made. So, it is still a process of writing things down in a way that I can still remember what I’ve learned.
When it comes to plotting, I have a general idea of where I want to go. For the last story I came up with, a potential spinoff that I forgot to mention earlier, I made an outline, but I don’t do that all the time.
It’s hard to say how many drafts I make. It depends. For my last children’s book, I made several versions of the story and I threw away half of what I drew and wrote. Generally speaking, I certainly write more than three drafts. I go back and rewrite scenes several times. And that’s just me having finished the first draft. After that, I ask someone to proofread and I make new corrections. As a rule of thumb, I make as many drafts as necessary. I think it’s a good idea to put your stories away for a while and look at it a few weeks later.
Stephen King swears by it and I tend to do the same thing. It just gives you that fresh perspective, doesn’t it? So, what do you struggle with most as a writer?
As mentioned in the previous question, (writing down my notes about) the research is the part I can improve the most on.
Have you always had that struggle or has it changed over time?
Well, in the past I did a minimum amount of research. But I like to know what I’m writing about, so I do much more research nowadays, since the topics are much more complex too. If I write about a disorder, I want to understand the disorder. Reading on Wikipedia or finishing a book from a professional in the health industry isn’t enough. You need to make sure you somehow get access to interviews with the subject of the disorder and/or arrange them yourself. When you get everything from books, you only learn stereotypes. You need to speak to the people you write about.
What advice would you give to writers dealing with the same?
Write things down on paper. And make sure you have a digital copy. But if you have writer’s block and you struggle to begin, just start. The most important thing is that you write. That’s why you do it. Not for your readers, your friends, or your mother. You do it for you. Because it’s what you love most. So, start doing that and don’t make any excuses. Lock yourself up in your room at fixed times of the day and write for an hour at the least every day.
Coming back to the research: another way to minimalise the amount of research you need to do is to write about what you know. One of the greatest books ever written, To Kill a Mockingbird, is written by someone who knew what she was writing about.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If yes, how did you overcome it?
No. I think most people have writer’s block because they want to do things perfectly. They want to write the ideal sentence. The perfect book. And that book is also an epic with a length that spans three galaxies. That sentence or book doesn’t exist, so you are free to write things down the first instant you get inspiration. First write, then improve. And write shorter stories.
What do you do to stay inspired?
I don’t do anything to write or draw. I believe that if it’s your passion, things will happen. But reading a lot, experiencing life, and being observant about what happens around you might be very helpful. And watch the news. There is always something going on in the news.
Who’s your favourite author?
I’m a big fan of Stephen King. This might not be a surprise since his writing style is close to how I used to write: follow your mind’s eye and write down what you see. Some critics say King is not original. I read mostly comics, so I can’t confirm or deny that (plus, the problem is that King’s books are not genre specific and include multiple genres). But Stephen King can write. And I believe that’s more important than having a good idea. I also have the same writing style: in the past, reflective, about people, and including a few fantastic elements in a mostly realistic world. So, of course, he is my favourite writer. The reason I won’t follow all of his advice is that I write about things I don’t know everything about. Which is why I have to do research.
What’s your favourite book?
The comic books that impressed me most in my younger years were part of an event that happened in several X-Men series. It was called The Age of Apocalypse. The writers, artists, editors, and everyone else in the comic book team changed over thirty years of history and turned it upside down. Good guys were bad guys and the other way around. There was also a visual change in style: instead of comic book realistic it changed to manga fusion (this is a combination between manga and the western style).
I consider the first part of A Study in Scarlet to be brilliant as well. After writing the first parts in his longer books, Arthur Conan Doyle seemed a bit confused though and started making all kinds of mistakes: long descriptions with a lot of additives, old writing techniques like letters in the middle of a book… But maybe I just love those books because I am nostalgic.
More recently, I read the whole Dark Tower series. The first book is one of King’s worst, the second is filled with action, and parts four and part five I considered the best. It’s a combination of horror and (portal) fantasy and contains great character work.
Now, I am reading Swamp Thing from Alan Moore. It’s his first work in America, and despite its age, I love the deeper themes. It is one of the few comics I would recommend to everyone. The editors changed the subtitle in ‘sophisticated suspense’. In my opinion, they aren’t exaggerating.
What’s your favourite book on the craft?
For novels: On Writing, by Stephen King.
Why does that not surprise me?
For comics: Scott McCloud, a comic book writer and artist, wrote a few ground-breaking books about the genre: Understanding Comics, Making Comics, and Reinventing Comics. These are all good books that discuss techniques to utilise the medium, but miss the writing parts like doing research and developing characters. For that part, I recommend Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics.
What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
I see King’s book On Writing as the Holy Grail: write every day for four hours and read the same amount. I know this isn’t possible for most people, but it is an ideal I strive for, for when I can make a living of my passion. I also take his advice about mastering grammar very serious.
I, too, love that book and it’s definitely something I would like to achieve one day. We’ll get there, one day. Until then, thank you so much for being here, and I wish you all the luck with your new projects!
Curious to find out more about Pascal? You can find him on his website, on Facebook, and on Instagram.
You can find his Dutch books here:
Drieflaand, geïnspireerd door de Groningse aardbevingen (picture book, print)
Drieflaand, geïnspireerd door de Groningse aardbevingen (picture book, e-Book)
Ziek, een coronavirus prentenboek (picture book, e-Book)
And his English books here:
Sick!: a picture book about viruses (picture book, e-Book).
The Medieval Knight (webcomic).