Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ten Questions with Richard Blackburn

International novelist Richard Blackburn was born in England during the 1940’s. He grew up on the site of a 12th Century castle, and this provided inspiration for his historical time-travel series. In The Gatekeeper, a woman named Jenny is transported to the year 1347 via Stonehenge, and gets caught up in the conflict between two feuding castles. In Rudigor’s Revenge, Jenny returns to save her friends from the Black Death. Both The Gatekeeper and Rudigor’s Revenge are available from Zeus Publications. Richard Blackburn is currently working on the third book in the series. He lives in Brisbane, Australia. 


 Tell us a little about yourself as a writer. Do you outline, or wing it? Do you write daily, or in snatches?

I retired nearly a year ago, so I have more writing time these days than when I started, about six years ago. I’m now a full time domestic servant but I can perform these duties early and devote a lot of the day to my writing.

I’m a very undisciplined writer, otherwise. I write only when I’m in the mood but, fortunately, that’s a lot of the time. If I’m not engaged in new writing, I’m engaged in something to do with writing. Having two books published, I have booksignings to organise and attend. I give talks at meetings of Probus, Rotary, National Seniors Clubs etc. I give talks at high schools on creative writing. I’m involved in young readers’ holiday activities in a number of local libraries.


When – and why - did you begin writing?

I’ve been a story teller for a lot longer than a writer. My father told great stories. The family is Manx (from the Isle of Man – a self governing British dependency of about sixty thousand people and uncounted mystical creatures like the Phenodderree, the Bougain, the Fowar and the Morde Doo.)

My grandmother wouldn’t have electricity in her thatched cottage because she said it was the work of the devil. She kept the house spotless, especially the hearth because she said the Little People could rest there in the warmth in the night if they were tired or cold. She always left the back door slightly open and a saucer of bread and one of milk each night, which were always consumed in the morning. It was years later I realised; the stray cats in that area were never hungry.

So I grew up with exciting stories. When my first two children were growing up in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Highlands, there was no TV and they grew up with stories in the evening.

I met the young lady who would become my wife when I was in Australia on a break from PNG and corresponded with her for the twenty-one months. She told me I should write seriously, and as all women know, a man always does what his wife tells him to do. So about thirty years later I started to put finger to keyboard and create stories.


Tell us about your process writing this series. What inspired you, and what did you struggle with?

My inspiration for this series of historical adventure stories is that I was brought up on the site of an ancient castle. West Derby Castle was mentioned in the Doomsday Book (1086) but was in ruins in the late Middle Ages. When I was a kid it was a number of lumps and bumps in the field in front of our house and an earth embankment behind. Our house was just outside where the walls had been, actually on the site of the midden. So I have the distinction of having been brought up on an old rubbish tip.

I also chose to have a heroine because of school-days experiences of both my daughters. Both wanted to play games like rugby football and were included in the teams, but they weren’t allowed to play in serious matches. They were girls. There was quite a bit of this institutional discrimination so I was certain that the MC in my books would be a girl and she would kick a... well, whatever she had to kick.

I struggled at first because of the amount of research necessary for a series starting in the year 1347. My wife is an internetaholic and we had only one computer with internet access. So I had limited time to use that amazing resource. It’s surprisingly hard to find an authoritative statement that in those days there was still the three-language system in England, with the church and higher professions speaking Latin, the upper classes (including Parliament) using French and the common people using Anglo Saxon. Everyone admits it happened, but when did it end? And the constraints imposed by the Sumptuary Laws. Where can I read the wording of these.


Tell me one thing I wouldn’t know about your books by reading the blurb.

Just before I secured my first book contract, everything went wrong for me at work. I came down with ‘severe clinical depression’ which ended my working life. My wife dealt with the publisher to get the book published and didn’t do any marketing the first many months. I am still suffering from this dreadful problem but my writing has brought me back into the World to the extent that I am now. I owe a lot to my own creativity!


What was it liked getting published? What was your publishing journey?

I was a bit impatient when I started. I had no help from anyone who knew anything about the process. Unfortunately it was a long time before I knew about AW. I studied the books of my genre in bookshops and looked up the publishers on the internet. Many wouldn’t accept proposals from the author direct and I didn’t realise the importance of trying to get an agent. So I sent a couple of proposals and, in twelve months, received two rejections. I thought I’d be published posthumously if I kept on like this but by this time I’d been told about a small publisher actively looking for authors. 

Zeus is a partnership publisher. I had to pay money but they’ve done everything traditional publishers would do, except they haven’t got the clout to get it to all the book shops. And Zeus markets in Australia only. So when my first book was doing quite well, I looked overseas. I was accepted by the first publisher I approached. Lachesis doesn’t charge for any of their services – they are a traditional publisher with the one exception, they don’t give an advance on royalties. But that doesn’t worry me – they pay royalties quarterly.


How have you grown as a writer?

In my writing, I’ve developed hugely since I joined AW. The editor employed by Zeus was not very strict, believing that a good story was worth publishing whatever. Lachesis is a lot stricter but it was through reading about things like said-bookisms, dialogue-tag adverbs and limited POV that I’ve understood why it’s best to observe a strictly correct style of writing. And once I corrected my work, I saw why this is necessary. So I’m now a better writer technically.

I also go to a number of writers’ groups. I find that helping others helps me. I hear other people’s ideas and discuss matters with them and it must rub off. I don’t look at other authors, even in my genre, as opponents. I think a well written book is always an asset on the market and the more good books people read, the more they will want to read.

I have to get working and get the next book out there. And it has to be at least as good as the last one. So, at 64 years of age, I’ve had to grow up!


Here on Headdesk, I have a minor obsession with the rules of writing. Is there any particular rule you write by?

Accuracy was important to me. I have two friends who are members of re-enactment groups and they treat it as a religion. If I got anything wrong they’d crucify me! So they became two of my beta readers.

With historical fantasy, I keep as near as possible to historical accuracy. I like to include interesting facts which educate and entertain. Did you know the Sumptuary Laws forbade the wearing of grey fur (imported from Germany – Britain’s native squirrels are brown) was restricted to people with an income of over five thousand pounds? In those days a free labourer earned sixpence a week. Anyone wearing grey fur, then, was earning the equivalent of over two million pounds a year! I use footnotes for things like this.

I keep my story as lean as possible, preferring to rocket from one thrilling scene of action to another. I don’t dumb my writing down. If it is the right word, I use it. I don’t describe the characters more than absolutely necessary. I love it when young ladies tell me they felt that they were actually there, as the MC, when they read the story.


How do you handle writer’s block?

As I said before, I write when I have the urge. Otherwise I’ve lots of editing and peripheral work to keep me busy. So if I get writer’s block, I don’t recognise it.


What’s next for Richard Blackburn?

I want to write a few more spec scripts then work on getting an agent for the script of The Guardian of The Gate. The book will be out very soon in Canada/USA and I want to make a marketing visit next year, so I hope to spend some time in LA if I can make script marketing coincide with my movements.

I’m working hard on four novellas and hope to have them to the publisher within a few weeks.

And the third book in the series. I’ve got to get into that again very soon. So it’s all go.


If knew you a teenager who aspired to be a novelist, what would you say to them?

I’d encourage reading and joining AW to interact with other writers and learn heaps. Join local writers’ groups and write as often as you can. Read and try writing poetry. Having rhythm in your writing is really an advantage. Be interested in words. Enjoy using them correctly.


Thanks, Richard. Good luck with the next book in your series.


Coming soon:

Interview with Cindy Pon, debut author of "Silver Phoenix"

Interview with Jennifer Zeigler, author of "How NOT to be Popular"


Annie King said...

Hi Mandy (Amanda?), Thank you for a great interview! ~ Annie

Creative A said...

Hey Annie. Thanks for commenting! Mandy works fine - less formal than Amanda :)

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