Team Kitaab is in conversation with writer and screenwriter Derek Judge where he speaks about life as a writer and his recent releases under a joint pen name.
Derek Judge grew up in the UK where he was active in student theatre, serving on the Oxford University Dramatic Society committee, and producing and acting in plays in Oxford and the Edinburgh Fringe. After a detour via London, Manchester, and Sydney, Derek settled in Singapore where he continued his part-time interests in performing arts and creative writing.
In 2009, Derek graduated from a screenwriting course conducted by Oscar-winning writer Pamela Wallace and Emmy-nominated writer Ellen Sandler. He devised and successfully pitched the concept to Mediacorp for Point of Entry, a 1-hour TV drama that ran for four series. He then wrote episodes for Point of Entry, Silver Lining, Incredible Tales, In Cold Blood, for Mediacorp, and The Paranormal Zone, for Syfy.
Derek has written several short stories, with The Chairman being published in the Balik Kampung collection in Singapore, and Glorietta being shortlisted in the Myriad First Drafts competition in the UK in 2016. He has also written and consulted on short films, with screenings at international film festivals in the US and Europe.
In 2017 Derek attended the Penguin Random House courses for Creative Writing and Constructing a Novel. Following the course, he completed the first draft of a novel in 2019 and wrote and produced a private memoir project. He then co-wrote a science fiction thriller which is being published as an ebook on Amazon from 2021 to 2022.
Derek served on the committee of the Screenwriters’ Association (Singapore) from 2011 to 2019 and is still an active member. He is currently working on several writing projects ranging from TV concepts, research, and screenwriting, to novels and short stories, either alone or in collaboration with fellow writers.
Team Kitaab: Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
Derek Judge: I love telling stories, and hearing characters come to life and tell their stories. But most of all, writing helps me to gather my thoughts and understand more about myself.
Team Kitaab: Share a bit about your writing journey so far. How did you start? Any roadblocks? Who were your strongest supporters? Any tips to share with aspiring writers who are just beginning their journey or are about to begin it?
Derek Judge: I started making up bedtime stories for my kids, then I attended a screenwriting class at Singapore Media Academy. That led to screenwriting work, mostly with Mediacorp, and serving on the committee of the Screenwriters Association (Singapore). Later I attended an online novel-writing course by Penguin Random House and started writing short stories and prose projects.
My strongest supporters are my fellow writers – in particular the Screenwriters Association members and my classmates from the Penguin online course.
Any tips? Signup for classes with experienced teachers, especially if there’s the chance to pitch projects at the end. Spend time with other writers, aspiring or otherwise, and do your best to support and encourage each other.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing/editing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
Derek Judge: I’m currently co-writing and publishing a Science Fiction thriller called The Holy Experiment, under the joint pen-name of Jude Gulbeck. The first three parts were published in 2021 as ebooks on Amazon, and the final parts four and five will be published in 2022. We’re also looking at possibly releasing them as audiobooks, which is really exciting.
SF is something I’ve always enjoyed as a reader, and back in 2019, the opportunity came up to collaborate on The Holy Experiment. I liked the concept and outline and felt like exploring the genre as a writer. We’re hoping this can be a vehicle for co-writing several follow-up books in the future, where we can expand on and experiment with the characters and their universe.
Team Kitaab: Describe your writing aesthetic.
Derek Judge: Direct, active, and engaging. I try to play my part in the war on adverbs, and I’m always looking for ways to bring my writing closer to the reader.
Team Kitaab: What/ Who is your writing inspiration?
Derek Judge: My fellow writers and collaborators are my biggest inspiration. They always encourage me to go beyond my comfort zone and make the most of my writing.
Team Kitaab: How do you deal with writer’s block?
Derek Judge: I don’t generally suffer from writer’s block, but if I get stuck on a scene I either break it into smaller beats or make myself come up with ten different things that could happen – which is easier said than done.
Sometimes the very first page is the hardest, and I’ll just make myself write whatever comes out, with no filter, and then go back and edit (or just cut) it later.
Team Kitaab: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Derek Judge: Both. Making up bedtime stories for the kids was a full-on pantser, but screenwriting is all about structure. There are pros and cons to each and usually, I’ll use both in an iterative writing process, whatever the writing project.
Team Kitaab: Who are your favourite authors/screenwriters?
Derek Judge: I love reading or watching material that comes from a different place and surprises me or gives me a different perspective outside my own echo chamber.
So many great writers to choose from, but in the last couple of years I’ve really enjoyed reading books by Charles Yu (How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe / Interior Chinatown), A.M. Homes (May We Be Forgiven / The Mistress’s Daughter), and Tania de Rozario (And the Walls Come Crumbling Down).
On-screen my favourites in the last few years have been co-writer/director: Jordan Peele (Get Out), Edgar Wright (Cornetto Trilogy / Ant Man), Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). I think it’s harder to push the envelope as a standalone screenwriter, and a lot of the films/TV I enjoy the most often turn out to be adaptations of novels, graphic novels, or webtoons.
Team Kitaab: What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
Derek Judge: I wrote a few episodes for the second series of a docudrama called In Cold Blood, in a fairly straightforward style. But when they asked me back for series 3 we agreed to structure the material in a non-linear format. It was quite a challenge for me to build out the story as accurately as possible, and at the same time use a non-linear structure to make the material simpler and more compelling to watch. Very glad to have done it though, it was a great experience.
I’m also working on a novel based on a short story that was shortlisted a few years ago in a competition by Myriad Editions in the UK. The challenge is that the point of view and protagonist in the short is too conventional and shallow to sustain a full-length novel – but when I started thinking about flipping the story to focus on the antagonist and her point of view it all came to life. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but I already have a full draft and I’m hoping to complete it in 2022.
Team Kitaab: What’s your idea of bliss?
Derek Judge: Enough time to write! And a conducive place to write in – I love the reference floors in the National Library. Other than that, holidays with the family are my blissful indulgence.
Team Kitaab: What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Derek Judge: Somewhere along the way, I stopped being angry – or at least, I realised that when I’m really angry it nearly always means I’m stressed, anxious, or afraid of something. So, I try to figure out what that problem is first before I let myself go all-out-smash-the-china raving mad.
There are definitely things that concern or bother me, but I’ll try to figure out if there’s anything I can do to help. Most of the time getting angry doesn’t help. Right now, the things that bother me are ideological polarisation, misinformation, and confrontation without looking for discussion and compromise. If we could rewire everyone to avoid these, the human race would be fine and I’d never be angry again. (Sounds like an idea for a story!)
Team Kitaab: What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
Derek Judge: I’d take the “to be read” pile of books teetering on my bedside table, most of which arrived for Christmas thanks to family and friends! It’s a quite varied pile of contemporary fiction which I’m looking forward to reading. To break it up a bit I might just add in a couple of pop maths/science books which I like to read once in a while.
If I thought I could be single-minded and focused enough though, I’d love to take a selection of Greek and Roman classics and histories and immerse myself in them. It’s such a foundational area for so many writers and I’ve rarely dipped into it.
Team Kitaab: Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
Derek Judge: My memories.
Team Kitaab: Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Derek Judge: Life’s too short to be miserable.