Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the one hundred and tenth, is of mystery novelist, children’s and short story author Richard M Vickers.
Richard M Vickers was born in Manchester, England. A keen interest in all things otherworldly goes back to his early childhood and remains with him to this day. He still likes a good mystery and constantly finds himself in the centre of at least one on an almost daily basis. Sadly, they’re usually of the “Why aren’t the car keys where I put them only five minutes ago?” or “How come there’s a large blue stain on the carpet when everyone in the house swears blind they weren’t responsible?” variety.
Richard has written numerous magazine articles and short stories on supernatural and historical themes. He is also the author of The Tiger’s Tale, a mystery book for young readers. He is currently working on Mystery Island, a collection of short works tying together Britain’s supernatural and historical heritage. On those occasions when he doesn’t have a pen in hand he often has a whistle instead – maintaining his life-long love of football as a referee.
And now from the author himself:
Write about what you know. That’s the general advice often given to new writers. So I did. Of course, much of what I know wouldn’t ordinarily interest you, the reader. A lot of it doesn’t even interest me – though it can come in handy when hit with a quiz question on a subject so obscure nobody could reasonably be expected to know the answer. Better still, some of this seemingly irrelevant knowledge has found its way into the pages of my novel, Woodlife, where it does a more than respectable job of helping prop up the story.
Having rummaged around for some considerable time in that cluttered cranial basket marked “Things I Know”, I finally plucked out a few choice specimens I thought might provide suitably inspiring material. While it’s obviously impossible to know everything about any given subject, I thought with my initial selection I was standing on fairly firm ground.
Football – or soccer to those of you from the western side of the big pond – has been a life long interest of mine. I’ve played it, coached it, refereed it and supported it for more years than I care to admit. I just had to find room for it somewhere. Woodlife’s leading male character is Nick Wheaton, and I decided to make him an ex-footballer. He’s a pretty laid back sort of a bloke, not prone to overexcitement. Dependable and solid, he just had to be a former goalkeeper, the last line of defence in any football team. Nowadays, after a serious head injury ended his playing career, he designs and makes high-quality wooden furniture. As a former interior designer, I’ve been able to furnish him with a little of my knowledge of that particular industry. Please pardon the rather weak pun, those of you who noticed it.
Valerie Bain, Woodlife’s leading female character, is so spontaneously unpredictable it would scarcely have been fair to confine her within the limits of my own scant knowledge. Even I didn’t know how she was going to behave half the time. I cut her loose and we learnt together as the story progressed. From time to time I fed her pertinent titbits of information from my own memory banks which she often used to her own advantage. On occasion I had to turn a blind eye. She’s a little less fussy about adhering to the letter of the law than I am.
One aspect of novel writing where it makes perfect sense to rely on what you know, particularly in respect to contemporary stories set in the real world, is when choosing the locations in which your story will unfold. After all, if you’re going to take your readers to a place they’ve never been, you need to paint them an accurate enough picture that they can visualize being there themselves. You also want to convey an authentic atmosphere for the place, something that is extremely difficult if you’ve only ever visited via Google maps and street cam. Some of the settings in Woodlife are real; others are fictitious, though they have their real-world equivalents. I’ve visited them all at one time or another. If I can make the readers believe they are strolling the same street as Nick or peering in the window of the same stately home as Valerie, then I’ve done at least part of my job as a writer.
Pre-conquest British history has always fascinated me and has provided the material for many of my magazine articles over the years. Although the few thousand years between the Bronze Age and the fall of the Saxons have long fascinated scholars and romantics, little of the day-to-day life of that period has been documented by reliable contemporary sources. Most of what we do know comes courtesy of the archaeologist’s trowel, which, naturally enough, leaves plenty of room for conjecture – perfect for exploitation by the imaginative writer. I felt honour-bound to weave a good few strands of this mysterious past through the plot of Woodlife, though I did my best to ensure these tied in with the few known facts that are agreed upon by experts.
The largely rural English county of Wiltshire is the setting for much of the action in Woodlife. As the home of Stonehenge, Amesbury and Silbury Hill, it is inherently steeped in ancient history; yet few places also exude such an air of deep, spine-tingling mystery. If it isn’t its rolling fields peppered with mist-shrouded stone circles and Iron Age hill forts that leave visitors bewildered and bewitched, it’s the more contemporary enigmas of crop circles and UFOs. Probably that is why I’ve been drawn back so many times over the years. It would have been remiss of me at this stage not to also toss an element of the supernatural (another of my pet interests and an excellent tool for helping to blur the boundaries between the real, physical world, and that which exists only in our minds) into the melting pot. Of course, Nick with his psychic powers (a result of that head injury I mentioned earlier) might have a few things to say on the subject.
A couple of decades ago I spent some time working in a huge sports arena topped by an inflatable domed roof. The job was, more often than not, monotonously boring. At the time I would have been hard pushed to come up with an experience I thought less likely to provide key material for a suspense-packed mystery thriller. How wrong I would have been. The insight I gained into the operation of this type of structure played a crucial part in making the dramatic conclusion to Woodlife all the more credible. Proof indeed that even the most mundane knowledge can be transformed into something immensely useful with just a sprinkle of imagination.
And a little about ‘Woodlife:
Valerie Bain only ever plays by her own rather flexible rules. Unfortunately, when the self-styled ‘private facilitator’ takes on a risky yet highly lucrative assignment, she soon finds her mysterious new employers haven’t bothered to read them. Having to choose between life and death in order to collect her fee was one thing she never bargained on.
Nick Wheaton’s long football career was brought to an abrupt end by a serious head injury. The former goalkeeper now runs a moderately successful furniture manufacturing business, but the injury left him with a curious psychic ability which is at once a gift and a curse. It is only when the life of a former lover hangs in the balance that he discovers how powerful an asset it can be.
And deep in rural Wiltshire, the Edbury District Council is staging a pre-Christmas rock concert. Intended to help boost an ailing local economy, when event manager Ged Matheson does the maths nothing quite adds up. Strange townsfolk and an even stranger discovery soon have him yearning for a speedy return to the comparative normality of his London home, but fate has other ideas. Nestled at the feet of an ancient and enigmatic hill figure, Edbury appears to be the focal point for sinister forces whose tentacles reach far beyond the sleepy country backwater. When death appears to become an irrelevance, will Britain’s future be overtaken by her dim and distant past?
Woodlife is available from Amazon as a Kindle ebook. Sample chapters are available for download from Amazon.
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with debut novelist Robert Ford – the four hundred and fifty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.