I met Richard Hardie, walking Benji, whilst walking my first dog, Gracie, in the Hiltingbury Recreation Ground. Not only did we have dog walking in common, we soon discovered we shared a love of books, especially Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and creative writing.
Richard has two books published for young adults – Leap of Faith and Trouble With Swords featuring his Temporal Detective Agency. His take on Merlin is different too!
Allison Symes interviews Richard Hardie
Richard introduced me to Chandler’s Ford Today, so thank you for that, Richard, and here we go with a question and answer session.
Allison: Had you always wanted to be a writer or was it something that developed over time? I have long held a dream of having a huge bookshelf with books of my choosing on it with some to have my name on it as my publications so what was the start of your writing journey?
Richard: I’ve always been a scribbler, but the idea of being an author was something that didn’t evolve until well after I wrote the first of five Gang Shows for the Scouts and Guides. I always thought one of the shows had a good plot that could be made into a book if only I could find time to work on it!
It took nearly ten years, multiple edits, several rewrites and two agents before Leap of Faith saw the light of day as an eBook, and a further two years before Crooked Cat Publishing took the book on as an eBook and paperback.
The book is now available on Amazon and in most independent bookshops in the UK. It was also a finalist for the People’s Book Prize 2014 which I had to attend in full evening dress just in case it won. It came 4th which was not a bad result.
My Trouble With Swords, the second book in the Temporal Detective Agency series, came out late last year and the third book, nearly completed, should be released later in 2015.
One of my greatest thrills is signing my books in an independent bookshop and seeing my books on a shop display shelf. Here in Chandler’s Ford, the W.H.Smith Local shop in the Fryern Arcade has my books on prominent display and has a complete shelf devoted to them.
Our local library has both of my books in its Young Adult fiction section.
Allison: You now have the great news your books will be stocked in libraries and schools throughout the country so many congratulations for that, but do you know when this will take effect? Would you count this as your biggest writing success to date? If not, what is?
Richard: I must admit this is wonderful news and I’m thrilled to bits. There is one company that supplies most libraries and schools in the UK. They have a display library in Birmingham where their clients can browse but they can only show a small percentage of all books approved for sales, especially to schools.
The company has been reviewing both of my books for some months now, so when I spoke to one of their directors recently and was told the review team loved my stories, I was staggered when she added both books had been put in stock as well as in their library.
Both books are also prominently promoted on the company’s two websites. One of their websites is for schools and the other is for libraries. This is a massive opportunity for me and the sort of visibility normally only famous authors receive.
I would say this was the greatest thing that has happened for my Temporal Detective Agency series so far, although establishing a network of shops that sell the books throughout Southern England and getting them to host book signings was also pretty important.
Another success: My books on a world tour on the Queen Mary 2
Another success was in getting the company that supplies books to most cruise ships that sail from the UK and Miami was a major coup. My books are currently on a world tour on the Queen Mary 2! I offered to go with them but sadly that was declined! If sales go well on the Queen Mary 2, my books will then go on all cruise ships so if you are planning a cruise from Southampton, please look out for and buy Leap of Faith or Trouble With Swords.
Tales of the Gang Shows
Allison: What made you decide to write for Young Adults? Was it a decision consciously made or something you realised would be the case as your stories came to life on the page?
Richard: Writing the Gang Shows and working with young people, boys and girls, as a Scout leader made me think like a kid and I find writing as a Young Adult comes naturally to me. Mind you, writing as a 14 year old girl who narrates my books is a challenge (!), but also great fun. One day I might write something for adults but not yet.
Unfortunately the Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh Gang Show gave its last performance 5 years ago though there was a time in the 1950s and 1960s when the Gang Show was big business.
The main one, run by Ralph Reader, went to the London Palladium for two weeks every year and also took a prime time Saturday slot on TV with anything up to 20 million viewers. The Shows then went around the country and were put on by major Scout districts under the stewardship of the Scout Association HQ.
The best were allowed to award the red neckerchief to their cast and crew once they had performed five shows. Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh was one of the best.
The shows were a mix of sketches and songs written by Ralph Reader to being with and to deviate from was frowned upon. That attitude gradually changed. In 2000 our local show put on The Voyage which was a space saga with the universal theme of good versus evil. The songs were mostly modern pop with some of Ralph Reader’s songs included.
Timescape followed in 2002, which I wrote and produced. It used songs from Pink Floyd, amongst others, and this was where Terry Pratchett co-wrote and acted in one scene. This plot, after many changes and editing, became the basis for my first book in the Temporal Detective Series, Leap of Faith.
Allison: This confirms that (a) no experience is wasted for a writer and (b) material can always be revamped and given a new lease of life!
Allison: What would you like to achieve with Leap of Faith and Trouble with Swords? I’m still aiming for book length publication but given you are at that stage, what do you want to happen next with your books?
Richard: I’d love to see my books in all school libraries and every young adult reading them. This is probably a bit ambitious but I can dream…
A well-known UK TV personality and broadcaster is a fan of my Agency books and believes they would make an excellent TV series. I’m not arguing with her though maybe a couple of Hollywood blockbusters would be better!
I’ve nearly finished the third book in the series and have planned the plot out for the fourth.
The fifth will be interesting because it is planned as a cookery book, which seems strange but anyone who reads Leap of Faith will understand the logic. A friend of mine who writes vegan cookery books is collaborating with me on this and is already researching strange recipes throughout the centuries. Jamie Oliver needs to watch out!
Your inspiration in writing – where are your settings?
Allison: I sometimes use local settings, in particular Hiltingbury Lakes, to inspire the description of some of the settings in my stories. Have you done the same and, if so, which settings did you choose?
Richard: Most of Leap of Faith is set on the Gower Peninsular in South Wales in the year 1734.
I grew up on the Gower and honestly believe it’s one of the UK’s most beautiful areas. It was also a perfect setting for the Temporal Detective Agency to have their first adventure. Anyone who reads the book can go to the Gower and trace the footsteps of the Agency cave by cave and cove by cove.
Trouble with Swords is set in ancient Rome, Egypt, Shakespeare’s London and Camelot. To be honest, the Agency goes wherever it needs to do so to solve its cases. The world and time are its lobsters! I’d love to be able to say I’ve been to all the locations I use in the Agency books but I’d be lying. A lot of research comes from books.
What inspired you to write for The Shambelurklers Return?
Allison: There is dyspraxia in my family, which is on the lower end of the autistic spectrum. This is one reason I’m really pleased to support and write for The Shambelurklers Return, which is raising money for the National Autistic Society that covers such a wide variety of conditions under that spectrum.
What attracted you to supporting this book?
Richard: I’ve known Marit Meredith, who edited the book and encouraged authors to contribute, for years. She’s a lovely person and very supportive of new, struggling authors.
I really couldn’t resist when she asked me to contribute to the book with a short story or poem. Two younger members of my family are autistic to some degree so I know the impact it can have.
W.H.Smith Local in Chandler’s Ford have a stock of The Shambelurklers Return and actively sell it to help raise funds. They also stock and sell my books.
Pradeep Athwal, who owns and manages the shop, is keen to help local authors and has a shelf of my books in the store.
Highlights of the writing year
Allison: One of the highlights of my writing year is going to the Winchester Writers’ Festival (as it is now known), which inspires and supports new and established writers. What are the highlights of your writing year?
Richard: Now that the first two books in the Temporal Detective Agency series are available in all independent bookshops, I must admit every time I do a book signing is a highlight. There is no greater thrill for an author than to be asked to sign a book someone has just bought!
Now that the series has been approved for purchase by all UK schools and libraries, I’m looking forward to giving talks, both on being an author and about my books. I am a bit of an actor at heart!
Who should play your lead roles?
Allison: If you could cast actors in your lead roles, who you would choose for what role and why do you think they would be suitable?
Richard: Casting Tertia and Unita, the two lead teenage girls, would be difficult.
However I based the persona of Tertia, the narrator of the series, on a girl Scout from the troop I used to help run. She had all the attributes I wanted in Tertia. She was feisty, a black belt in Tai Kwando, a county netball player, an excellent footballer and played in a brass band! Marlene would be played by Miriam Margolyes without a doubt!
What is your favourite adaptation of a book?
Allison: The Lord of the Rings films were, to my mind, one of the best movie adaptations of classic books ever done and rank as one of my favourites. Another is Oliver Twist, featuring Alec Guinness as Fagin. What is your favourite adaptation of a book?
Richard: I agree that The Lord of the Rings films were excellent. I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter books and films, though for a 65-year-old author to say so probably isn’t cool! I also thought the Sky films of three of Terry Pratchett’s books were wonderful.
Allison: To write well, authors need to read well. What are you currently reading? What has helped your writing the most?
My favourite non-fiction author is Peter Ackroyd, who writes incredibly vivid historical and biographical books. I’m currently reading his book on the Jacobean period and the English Civil War.
I think historical accuracy has helped me no end. For instance, the final showdown in Trouble With Swords takes place in the Roman Coliseum. I wanted Nero to drop a handkerchief to start the gladiatorial fight, but I discovered he died 70 years before the Coliseum was planned. I write historical fantasy but if I use fact as a basis it must be accurate.
Actually it wasn’t a book that helped my writing, it was my first agent. She made me rewrite and edit so many times and always maintained your book wasn’t ready until you hated it! She also made me put a piece of paper above my keyboard with G.O.W.T.S. on it. It stands for Get On With The Story and it’s the best piece of advice any author can have.
Allison: I’d back that 100%. My favourite writing advice comes from P.G. Wodehouse, who advised writers to apply the seat of their pants to the seat of their chair. There really is nothing to beat just getting on with the work.
Let’s talk about your characters in your novels
Allison: How do you feel about your characters?
Richard: I love all the characters I’ve invented and seeing them grow and mature as the series progresses is a joy. Long may it continue!
The writer’s journey never really stops
Allison: Many thanks, Richard, for such interesting answers. I love reading interviews with writers as I always learn something which, hopefully, will help me improve my own work. It has been a great pleasure to conduct such an interview for the first time too.
The writer’s journey never really stops (unless they do and in many cases not even death stops it entirely given so many of our best loved novels live on long after their creators!) so it will be interesting to see where your literary career takes you next. Here’s hoping there will be no bumps in that road!
Richard: Let’s hope not! Thanks for the opportunity to tell my story, Allison.
Allison: And thanks to Janet Williams of Chandler’s Ford Today for the chance to spread the word about local authors and their works. As a certain advert once said, “every little bit helps”!
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 3rd April 2015.
Visit Allison Symes’ website: Fairytales with Bite
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.