I’m absolutely chuffed today (U.S. Readers – that’s Brit for very pleased indeed) because I have a good friend coming to visit. I’ve tidied the Bingergread Cottage and baked a cake. There’s a hot kettle on the wood-stove, so let’s go and let him in …. it’s Richard Hardie!
RICHARD! Welcome to the witch’s cottage! Do come in and sit down. You don’t mind the dogs, do you?
Not at all. So this is what a witch’s cottage looks like. Blimey, it’s nothing like I expected. It’s lovely, warm and very welcoming. Actually, I wrote my thesis on witchcraft for my business degree (much to the horror and puzzlement of the examiners!) so I know that Wicca is a very positive force for good,. There’s no pointy hat and broom stick for a start. And where’s the famous oven? Ah! I can smell the cake. Lead me to it!
As to dogs… I love them, especially cocker spaniels. When I was a kid we had two at different times and they had such wonderful characters. After we got married, we decided to get two cockers so they could keep each other company. They lived for 15 and 16 years each and although we had a gap of 8 years before we got our present little chap, our current cocker is now 13 and still loves walkies. Up to a year ago I used to take him to the Gower Peninsular in South Wales for a week twice a year and we’d walk 10 to 15 miles a day along the coastal path before going back to our chalet and having an expertly cooked meal… yes I was the cook! I use to develop a lot of plots during those walks!
How lovely, that sounds like our camping holidays, so you won’t mind Titch sharing the sofa with you (and I do have a broomstick but I keep it in the garage, so much easier for quick trips up to the shops!)
Now, I want to start with you before we get onto your lovely books. I know that you worked with the Scouts. That must have been great fun. Can you tell me how you got involved and have you got any anecdotes about that time which you’d like to share?
How did I start in Scouting? Not for the obvious reasons! I had, and still have, a number of social friends who were all Scout Leaders. They met every Friday night and after “flag down” I’d meet them for a couple of drinks at our local pub. For an hour or so before that I used to play snooker with another friend of mine who I eventually persuaded to join us for a beer or two. Before I knew what was happening he’d been recruited as a Leader and I decided there was more of them than there was of me, so I decided to join as well! Sixteen years and many camps later I decided that it was time for younger leaders to take over, and one by one my social friends agreed with me and were demobbed. We still all go out for a drink on Friday nights but now we go out earlier.
I loved my years as a Leader and concentrated on survival and pioneering skills, so much so that I was a demon with knots could tie a Highwayman’s Hitch in less than 3 seconds. That’s the one cowboys use to tie their horses to the hitching post, or are supposed to!
Every week was a potential anecdote, but there’s none that I can tell you without someone recognising themself. One thing I can tell you is that Tertia, the narrator and heroine for my Temporal Detective Agency books, is based on one of the girls on my Scout Troop. She was an excellent Patrol Leader, county netball player, black belt in TaiKwando, played in a brass band and had exactly the feisty attitude I wanted in my main 14 year-old girl character!
Ye Gods! She sounds like an embyonic Riga from my novel too! So, did you do the Gang Shows? Oh I remember watching those on TV as a child (hums “Crest of a Wave” and wipes an eye) Did you have previous experience in drama or was this a new venture for you?
A Canadian called Ralph Reeder came over to the UK and created the Gang Show as a national institution. He used to audition from right round the country and have anything up to a hundred kids on stage. The show was mainly silly, jokes, sketches and songs. Many of which Ralph wrote himself. You obviously remember “Crest of a Wave”, or as many of the kids sing “Chest of a Slave”! They were great institutions and were sold out at the London Palladium for a couple of weeks, as well as being on BBC TV on a Saturday night at peak viewing time.
Later the Shows were staged round the country by the larger Districts and counties and those regional Gang Shows that met a certain high standard were awarded the prized Red Neckerchief.
I do have on “anecdote” from my Gang Show days. There was a young lad called Tom who was acutely deaf and had learning difficulties. He was a lovely lad and wanted to be in the Show. We gave him the part of Father Christmas which meant he was on the stage for half the show and had one line which he repeated several time “Ho, Ho, Ho!”. In one dress rehearsal one of the other kids also shouted out “Ho, Ho, Ho!” because it really was Christmas and we were finishing up. Tom shouted out “Hey that’s my line. I’ve only got one… but it’s MINE!” And he and the whole cast burst out laughing.
Sorry, Ailsa…. what was the question again? Oh yes, have I had any drama experience before the Gang Shows. Well, yes, I was in 3 school plays which were all very good, though my parts became smaller and smaller each year until in the last play I came on 5 minutes from the end and said “All is ready, Sire” and messed the line up. I was no actor! Though my work now means I have to do a fair number of presentations and quite a bit of public speaking, so I suppose any acting talents I have must possess have been honed by necessity!
I loved writing the Gang Shows and created five of them, and also produced the second one. I moved away from the original idea of a compilation of sketches and made the Shows into plays with music from all sources. I used Reeder songs (sort of obligatory!), as well as rock numbers by Monty Python and groups like Pink Floyd.
The second show called “Timescape”became the basis of the plot for my first book “Leap of Faith”, so I have a lot to thank the Gang Shows for!
Wow! That’s pretty impressive. What about your career? I know we writers tend to think of work as only being there to buy more software and USB sticks etc. but I’m interested to know what you have done for a living and how it has influenced your writing.
If someone asks me what I do, I have to admit I tell them I write books. On the other hand if they ask me what my job is, well that’s a different matter and I tell them I’m in sales management in the IT market. More specifically for the past 8 to 10 years I’ve been in charge of sales operations in Europe, India and in the Far East, concentrating on large scale software projects into the insurance sector. For the past few months however I’ve been working on a contract to help a local company set up its sales organisation in a new division, selling testing kits for illegal-drugs to both the commercial, the judicial and the rehabilitation sectors. It’s a fascinating departure for me and one I may consider doing full time, however I still hope to get back working with a major software company in the not too distant future.
Up to now I don’t think my work has influenced my writing at all, except from the point of view of available time. In fact my first book was mostly written flying Business Class to India on regular trips. There’s not much else to do except watch films on a tiny screen, eat, drink and sleep on the rare occasion!
I always use a laptop to write and I’ve been lucky in that all the companies I’ve worked for have either funded, or given me one. Currently I use a Dell Studio XPS 13 inch screen, which I love. The keyboard is beautifully made and compact and the machine looks stylish and durable.
As you’ve gathered then my years with the Scout Association was much more an influence than my daily work!
OK, so more facilitating the writing than inspiring it but having worked with young people, is that why you chose to write children’s books?
That begs the question as to whether I could write an adult book. JK Rawling must have been asking herself the same question when she wrote The Casual Vacancy. The poor woman couldn’t win, of course. It was always going to be compared with her Potter books, especially from the success point of view. Though I think any author would have been proud of writing such a well written-book and certainly bowled over by the sales figures!
I have to admit I love writing for kids (Young Adults according to publishers who love to categorise!) and it has been said I’m really a kid at heart myself. I think what convinced me to concentrate on children’s books was what a literary agent friend of mine said to me. She was emphatic that every author should establish his or her voice and not even think about getting published until their authorial voice has been discovered and set in concrete. I found my Voice in Leap of Faith and especially with young Tertia acting as my narrator. I’m not sure whether I’d have to find a totally new voice if I wrote for adults, or whether I’d evolve as JK R has.
We could debate that for hours, Richard, as I’m an inveterate genre-hopper! Coming back to The Temporal Detective Agency – it is such a fabulous (literally) idea. Were you an Arthurian legends fan or did the idea just come to you? I’m always very interested in how other authors dream up their original base-lines.
I’ve always been fascinated by Arthurian legends, and indeed legends from most countries. However the idea put about by Mallory that Arthur’s knights wore shining armour, took vows of chivalry and lived in turreted castles was silly. If they lived at all it was in
the 5th century when things were very muddy and unhygienic!
The idea for Leap of Faith came a few yeas earlier at a brain-storming session for the Timescape Gang Show. We hit on the Arthurian theme for the show, but when we came to cast it, the only person logically perfect for the role happened to be a female Brownie Leader which meant that a rewrite was in order. Merlin as a woman never looked back and when I wrote the book she stayed very much a female wizard with a sister called Marlene!
Originally there were 15 Merl’s Girls with Merlin as a semi-baddy, but as versions of the book progressed and the characters evolved, the number of apprentices became two and Merlin took a back seat to her dumpy, orange-haired sister.
I’ve actually read quite a few books now on the Arthurian legends and the most realistic by far, and the most fascinating is the Warlord trilogy by Bernard Cornwell. It also happens to be his favourite set of books I believe. In fact I’m in the process of interviewing Bernard at the moment for my blog (apologies for the plug!)
Please don’t apologise – I so agree. The Cornwell trilogy are my favourites too and I’m a myths and legends buff (fairly obviously!) So, time-travel! What’s your favourite period of history? If you could go back in time for a few days, where would you go? What would be the good and bad points about it? (apart from the lack of lavatory paper, of course – in-joke, go to Richard’s web page to find out).
That’s such a hard question to answer and therefore a darned good one to ask! Several periods in time fascinate me. In no particular order they are the Napoleonic wars, the Tudor period (especially Elizabeth 1, the Arthurian period (because I’d love to know if he really existed), the Viking period (to see how far they really got and what influence they had on the French and Greek civilisations), I’d love to see what really killed off the dinosaurs so quickly and find out why so many dinosaurs were so much larger and heavier than any animal we have on the planet today.
Those are time periods, but of course there are events I’d love to see, such as what really happened on the Mary Celeste, was Jesus really married to Mary Magdalene and who killed Kennedy in Texas?
Anyway, Ailsa, who says I haven’t really got a time machine and everything in Leap of Faith isn’t true? Hmm…. Now there’s a thought.
I did once think that time travel is impossible because if it did exist, there would be crowds coming from the future as day trippers, but there aren’t. On the other hand that only means that either time travel was never invented, or that that those who invented it kept it to themselves. I prefer the latter explanation!
Yes, for all I know I might be interviewing an under-cover Viking at this moment! Personal writing history though – it’s always said that “children’s books” is one of the hardest markets to break into. Did you find it so? How long did it take you to get that all-important first one finished, accepted and out on the stands?
The market for children’s books is certainly tough… and cluttered. It doesn’t help that kids are the most discerning critics ever to read a book. It’s also seems to be true that as soon as one author hits on a saleable idea like romantic vampires, or wizard boys and girls, the whole world of authors and “I always wanted to be” writers pens a look-alike book and the market is flooded. Publishers and agents encourage this because why change it if something works once…. flog it to death!
Leap of Faith was always the book I intended to write (honest), even though it went through multiple iterations and rewrites, let alone plot and character changes. I started writing the first version in 2003 and it was 5 years before an agent agreed to take me on. We’re still good friends, though she is no longer my agent. She taught me a tremendous amount about writing professionally and I still try to abide by the rules she set. “Get On With The Story” (GOWTS) being the most important! She also edited the book from its original 400 plus pages down to just over 200, a painful process that JK Rawling also went through, and made it readable.
In the end, not having managed to sell Leap of Faith to a UK traditional publisher I struck a deal with an American e-Publisher who did a great job in preparing the book, setting it up and putting it on Amazon professionally. He also published the second book in the series (Trouble With Swords) as an e-Book late last year. My dearest wish though, as it must be for any author, is to see my books as paperbacks, then I’ll know they’re real!
So from beginning to end, it took nearly 10 years to get the first book published, but only 1 year for the second to hit the market. A distinct improvement!
Oh yes, the “paperback in my hands and I WROTE that” feeling! Smashing! Would you say that your books are in that category of “hard to define”, appealing just as much (if not more so) to adults as to children?
Very perceptive of you, Ailsa! Being an adult and writing for kids I’ve always hoped that my books would also appeal to adults as well. I’ve tried to keep the plots, the narrative and the humour so they appeal to a wide range of ages and I worked on the basis that if I still liked each element then so would other adults. I always thought the great thing about the Harry Potter books was seeing businessmen on trains reading JK R’s books hidden behind copies of the Financial Times. The advent of the Kindle changed all that of course. Now businessmen can read anything they want and everyone thinks it’s the Financial Times!
(blushing furiously) Well hardly perceptive, Richard – your books appeal to me and technically I’m an adult so…. (ahem)! Finally, I’d love you to tell us about your newish venture of interviewing celebrities on your blog. How did you get into this? I’m not asking you to reveal how you make contact with them because that is your secret! Do share some thoughts with us on this subject.
At the beginning of this year I decided to make my blog more interesting and rather than post my own opinions, it would be far more interesting o interview other people and post their thoughts. The fact is that everyone has a story to tell whether they’re famous or not. I’ve also found that famous people are just as approachable as people like you and me, once they realise you’ve a real reason for getting to know them. Since then I’ve interviewed Carol Davenport (the actress who who played Helen in All Creatures Great and Small), Chris Tookey (the film critic and producer of West End plays), Helen Rappaport (the author of 12 history books and TV pundit), Sue Cook (the broadcaster and film producer) and I’m in the process of interviewing Bernard Cornwell (the author of the Sharpe novels). I have to admit I’m loving it! I even interviewed a Scottish witch who became a Shaman and healer in France. A wonderful person who helped me through a very difficult period.
I often think that too many people join Facebook and Twitter as well as starting their own blogs purely to put forward their own points of view, and it often becomes a case of who shouts loudest is the one that’s heard. I wanted to let other people do the shouting, whether it was about their life story, or their current projects didn’t really matter; giving them a voice was what mattered.
I try to post one interview a week, usually on a Friday evening and most of them average 200 views each, though a few make it to 300 and the one with Sue Cook obviously hi chords as it’s currently at 650 views and still climbing!
(giggling hysterically) Well if any good was done, I’m sure I can rely on you to spread the news about shamanism! I always look forward to your interviews and enjoy them immensely. People seem to open up to you and chat very naturally, which is such a lovely change from the formulaic “questions 1 – 6” format. So your up-coming interview with Bernard Cornwell will be a special treat.
I know you work in time-travel so I’d like to ask you about the future. Two questions really – 1) What are your plans for more books in the series? 2) Will your child detectives ever go forward in time from our perspective. I realise that they have already come into their own future from Camelot but … twenty-fifth century perhaps?
I have to admit the idea of sending Merl’s Girls into the future is attractive, though I have no plans in that direction at the moment. Tertia and Unita may have other ideas of course, and I wouldn’t put it past them. However I have the next three Temporal Detective Agency books pretty well planned and although time travel is pretty integral, it’s mostly into our past.
The one book I intend to bring out outside of the normal Temporal Detective Agency novels will be with a great friend of mine called Marit Meredith. I call her my Troll Lady because she originally came from Norway, but now lives in a village near Abergavenny. She’s a Vegan by necessity and writes (among other things) vegan cook books. She and I intend bringing out the Sir Galahad Celebrity Cook Book, highlighting a multi-course recipe from each century from the 5th to the 21st. Some are delicious, but some are disgusting. Kids of all ages will love it!
I hope the Temporal Detective Agency will go on as long as I have fun writing them, as long as my characters have fun being who they are and as long as a publisher is happy to bring them out to the big wide world.
Well do let me know when THAT is out because I’m a vegetarian struggling to be so in France, land of the carnivore! I will be ordering it pronto!
Fantastic! Richard it has been such a huge pleasure to have you here today. I’m sorry Cameron wasn’t around because I know he would have had lots of questions to ask too but we’ve probably taken up enough of your valuable time. Please do have another slice of cake and cup of something.
It’s been an absolute pleasure, Ailsa. The cake was delicious and I’ve heard so much about your twin brother, it’s a shame he couldn’t make it. I’ve loved everything about being here and as to the witch’s cottage… what a dream place to live in! I can’t wait for my next visit!
Well perhaps when your next book is out, Richard, we can pin Cam down and let him interview you instead. Yes, here in the cottage which I’m so glad you like. Don’t worry, I’ll make the cakes, he’s a rotten baker!
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