Welcome to my weekly slot – Author Interviews.
This is where I get to find out about the author behind the book and glean some insight on what life is like for other writers.
This week it is the turn of historical fiction author Tony Riches to climb into my red chair.
Welcome Tony, please have a seat!
Tell me about yourself and the book / books you have written?
I am a full time author living in beautiful Pembrokeshire, West Wales. I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, which features prominently in my new sixth novel, the second book in The Tudor Trilogy. JASPER follows the amazing true adventures of Sir Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, son of Owen Tudor, the subject of book one, who founded the Tudor dynasty.
The great thing about writing a trilogy is that readers are already looking forward to reading the next one – and often ask when it’s going to be published.
I have also written successful non-fiction books on subjects ranging from the story of Scott’s Antarctic ship, the Terra Nova, to Atlantis, about the last flight of the NASA Space shuttle, although now my focus is very much on the fifteenth century.
When did you write your first book?
My first novel was Queen Sacrifice, set in 10th century Wales. My original idea was to bring a famous chess game to life, with the whole of Wales as a ‘chessboard’, complete with castes and bishops, knights, kings and queens. I enjoyed working out the ‘back stories’ for sixteen pawns – then realised I only had two female characters, so I invented some wives for them, as well as a sister for one of the queens. The real challenge was to make sure the narrative faithfully followed every move in the real game, as I had to find ways to explain why, for example, a pawn had ‘killed’ a bishop.
How long did it take to write your first book?
The whole process took a year, as I allow about six months for the first draft, then another three for editing and revisions. I try to have a long summer break, as my main interests are sailing and sea kayaking, so I like to have the best of the weather. I also do most of my reading during the summer months – and I have a long list of books still waiting to be reviewed.
What was your motivation to write your first book?
I’d always written for magazines and journals and liked the idea of becoming a full time novelist. I read somewhere that a page a day is a book a year, so set a target of writing at least one chapter a month, and the rest, as they say is (literally) history!
What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?
My main problem was finding a good editor, as I read so quickly I easily miss mistakes. After several attempts I’m pleased to say I finally found the right person (through personal recommendation) and we’ve worked together ever since.
Did you go through any bad writing patches during writing your book – what kept you going?
I lost several chapters of my first book through a laptop problem, and didn’t have the latest draft backed up, which was nearly enough to make me return to writing magazine articles! Fortunately we now have the ‘cloud’ for backups that will still be there even if the house burns to the ground. I learnt the hard way how important it is to do daily backups – and I also keep copies on SD cards, which are so cheap now – but small enough to lose.
Are you a plotter or do you just write / see what happens?
As a historical fiction author I have the ‘framework’ of my historical research and all I have to do is fill in the gaps. It’s important for me to know what month and year I’m writing in, so I can make sure actual events stay in the right order. I’ve developed a great system of writing 25 chapters, each around 4000 words long, to arrive at a first draft of 100,000 to reduce in the editing process by around 5000.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
I have to say it really makes it all worthwhile when a reader tells me they read my book and loved it, either in a review or just a ‘tweet’. Since I’ve been writing historical fiction I’ve also been able to introduce interesting people from history, such as Lady Eleanor Cobham, and Warwick the Kingmaker, to a whole new audience.
What is the worst thing about being a writer?
Waking up with a head full of great ideas but finding you don’t have a pen a paper to write them down. I try to keep a pad and pen handy by my bed now! I should also add that although I should know better, one negative word in a review can bother me all day.
Have you ever considered quitting writing and if so how have you worked through this?
I can’t imagine a life without writing, as I have so many great book ideas yet to explore.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I like an early start, and try to deal with emails and social media in time to catch the US and Australia, then read through a few pages of the previous day’s writing to remember what comes next. As I’m a historical fiction author there is always a huge pile of research books for cross-checking facts, so there’s a lot of reading to do.
I keep a spreadsheet to track my word count, so I usually review progress on the chapter before setting a target for the day. I write on a high specification laptop which I chose for its excellent speakers and like to have music playing while I’m working. (Anything from Katie Melua to the Vikings soundtrack)
Do you suffer from procrastination and if so how do you handle it?
I have to be quite strict with myself to make limited use of the Internet while I’m writing, as it’s so easy to fall into the trap of spending far too long on social media. To keep this manageable I’ve focussed on using Twitter, but now I have over 20,000 followers there is always something interesting (and diverting) in my timeline.
Which is more important – plot or characters and why?
If you can get inside the skin of the characters, the plot doesn’t matter half as much as what they are thinking and feeling, how they interact with their environment and those around them. In my new book, Jasper, some of the most interesting chapters to write were when he was in exile, languishing in a chateau in Brittany with nothing much to do.
What have been your 3 biggest learnings during your writing career?
1. Write every day – and enjoy the challenge. Even when I’m on holiday abroad I still take a notebook and pen to try out new ideas.
2. Invest time in building a great writing blog and use it to support other authors with new book launches and reviews, as well as sharing your own work. (Mine is The Writing Desk and I regularly have over 12,000 visitors a month.)
3. Keep looking for that unexplored ‘niche’ and use it well when you find it. I was amazed to find there were no novels about the life of Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who married a queen. (As well as being the first, mine became an International best seller.
What do you wear whilst writing?
I used to wear a complete suit of armour to get me in the mood but it clanked a lot in the morning so now I prefer to work in authentic Tudor doublet and hose, wearing my medieval shoes with fashionably long toes.
Thanks Tony, great interview…..your last answer on your writing outfit has left me in a bit of daze…sigh!
Moving on, I have taken so much from this:
- I love the idea of a wordcount spreadsheet. I might try that myself.
- I like the idea of searching for the unexplored niche.
- I never thought historical fiction could be so much fun.
- I adore your video.
- I think your writing outfit is amazing!
Tony’s new book is available here.
Next week author and blogger Helen Jones takes a seat in my red chair.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/79577679@N00/5448848999″>the chair in the attic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>