Welcome to the three hundred and thirty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with young adult sci-fi, historical fiction and historical fantasy writer Richard Denning. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Richard. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Richard: I was born in Ilkeston in Derbyshire and live in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands of the UK. I work as a General Practitioner (family doctor) with a North Birmingham practice. I am 44 and married with two children. As the day job is full of the gritty reality of day-to-day life (drugs, abuse, life threatening illness and disability) I find that when it comes to reading, TV, movies and hobbies I shy away from modern day reality. I have always had a strong interest in historical settings as well as horror and fantasy. My preferred reading would be say Bernard Cornwell or Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Tolkien. TV watching would include Dr Who, Star Trek, Blackadder, Buffy and historical mysteries like Cadfael. I enjoy board game and roleplaying games like the often maligned but entertaining Dungeons and Dragons. I have even designed and published my own board game and run the UK’s largest hobby game convention. All this goes into the pot when it comes to writing. Some writers write to right injustices, talk about the gritty real world. Not me! For me it’s another form of escapism really. A writer can make up their own reality and populate it as he sees fit.
Morgen: I have a feeling I know what you’re going to say to this but what genre do you generally write?
Richard: I am a young adult sci-fi, historical fiction and historical fantasy writer. Often friends say that I should write about the day job. But I don’t because of the reasons I gave before. If I ever did write about a doctor it is likely that something weird would happen like the practice building be haunted!
Morgen: That sounds like fun. What have you had published to-date?
Richard: I am self / indie published via my own Mercia Books rather than via a self publishing company. I have four books published thus far in three separate series with another book (maybe two) coming this year. The series are The Hourglass Institute Series (a young adult Time Travel Series) – Tomorrow’s Guardian and Yesterday’s Treasures; The Praesidium Series (Historical Fantasy in 17th century). The first book of that series is The Last Seal and is set in the great Fire of London with a fantasy twist; The Northern Crown Series (Historical Fiction in 6th and 7th century Dark Ages Britain). The First book is The Amber Treasure (my best seller at present) and the sequel Child of Loki has just been released.
Morgen: A great mixture of books you have there. Before you self-published did you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Richard: Many over the years. You get angry and then philosophical, your doubt your own ability and almost give up. Then, two or three years ago, I had one that was three pages long which analysed all the good things in The Last Seal (with the odd comment about improvements) and finished by almost apologizing that they only took on 1 new author a year and could not publish me. I looked at that letter and thought ‘hang on a mo. If they took the effort to write a three page letter I can’t be that bad.‘ So I decided to self publish.
Morgen: Wow. Even a tick-box reply is a rarity these days. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Richard: Occasionally I have got to later stages of some competitions but ‘nothing to write home about’ events but again I have had some encouraging comments back.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Richard: No I don’t. I am makings sales but at a moderate level. There are many advantages to having an agent and publisher and I would encourage writers to always try that route BUT the world is changing and self published authors do something break into the best seller lists and it is certainly possible to get a readership on your own efforts so I don’t think authors should just give up IF they cannot get an agent.
Morgen: I didn’t. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Richard: I have a kindle and an Ipad and do read books that way BUT also adore physical books. It is clear that just the way that music is now mainly downloaded (rather than bought on a CD or vinyl) that a revolution is under way and to deny that transition will occur is to stick one’s head into the sand. AS a writer you MUST adapt. The story is the thing that matters NOT the format. So yes ALL my books are out as e-books and all my future ones will be. I converted them myself. I am getting a steady trickle of sales via this route.
Morgen: Me too. I started with Smashwords because of the daunting 70+-page formatting guide but in the end it wasn’t that bad and now have a template so it’s easy to put new things up (which I plan to do shortly). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Richard: I write a marketing plan each January (for the last three years at least). I have a variety of approaches. I am active online on Facebook, twitter and Google plus. I try to contribute to some online chats. I have a blog and do guests posts occasionally. I do school visits (15 last year, one of which lead to an awesome 40 sales). I take the books to some book fairs and other events like my own UK games Expo which is mainly about games but gamers read too!
Morgen: They do, and it sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Richard: This is a hard one. I usually say my favourite is the one I am currently writing. So at the moment that is the Saxon series. But probably the one that would make a seriously cool movie would be The Last Seal: Imagine a world of Gunpowder and Sorcery in 1666. Magic and demons, schoolboys, thieves and secret societies against the back drop of the great fire of London. My most favourite character here is either the cavalier Artemis (maybe Alan Rickman as he was as the sheriff in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves rather than as Snape, amazing as he was in that part) or the little thief Freya for which we would need a feisty teenage girl. The only issue here is that my daughter (a keen 15 year old actress in the making if she got her way) would love the part. 😉
Morgen: 🙂 As you’re self-published, presumably you chose your titles, did you design the covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Richard: Yep! Because I am the publisher BUT I don’t do it all myself. I have an editor who professionally edits the books and I used Avalon Graphics to do the covers.
Morgen: I have an editor and apart from finding occasional glitches she comes up with wonderful suggestions. And I have two first readers who are vital. No-one should go it alone. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Richard: Child of Loki is my latest book, a sequel to my dark ages historical fiction set in the early years of Anglo Saxon Britain. I am also writing a children’s historical fantasy set in the same period but aimed at primary school age group which blends the historical world with the mythology of the Saxon period.
Morgen: Both popular genres. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Richard: I do try to. It can be hard with the day job but I try and get a paragraph a day done as a minimum – more would be the aim. If I hit a dead end or block I work around it – maybe jump elsewhere in the book, start a new project, do research, do marketing etc.
Morgen: That’s the key; variety. You can’t get bored then. And 300 words a day equates to 100,000 words a year so very doable. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Richard: I try to have what I call my working document which is an outline of the story and characters BUT no story survives the first draft without changing somewhere along the way. So it’s a hybrid approach. Sooner or later you find that a new idea pops up and you add that in.
Morgen: You do. 🙂 Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Richard: I try to write down major characteristics, motives, strengths and weakness so that when I put them in a situation I know how they will react. Names usually flow from the period concerned.
Morgen: Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Richard: I maintain a blog: http://news.richarddenning.co.uk which is about history and also some science fiction and fantasy. I sometimes write reviews on books on Goodreads and also on board game review sites.
Morgen: We mentioned editors, do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Richard: I think and hope it gets better but I think all authors need an editor. They work with you to spot errors (and here I am not talking about a missing comma BUT proper continuity editing which makes sure the book makes sense).
Morgen: They do, and it’s much easier by not knowing the meaning behind the story. Do you have to do much research?
Richard: Yes – a lot when writing about historical periods but that is fine as I love history and enjoy going to the places in my books if I can.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Richard: No never tried 2nd person. The Amber Treasure is first person. Tomorrow’s Guardian is third person but from one viewpoint only. The Last Seal is Third person from several viewpoints. I think they each have their merits and work in that particular story.
Morgen: It does depend on the piece. I’d recommend every writer having a go at second person. It’s like Marmite: I love it but others hate it. It’s certainly an acquired taste, although I acquired it as soon as I found out about it. 🙂 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Richard: Oh, bits and bobs of short stories (I am not keen on short stories to read or write), outlines of novels that may go nowhere – we shall see.
Morgen: They were practice, at least. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Richard: It is wonderful when a story comes together and readers tell you your books are good. My least favourite would be the sheer hard work of getting attention for one’s work.
Morgen: It is. Marketing has been most interviewees’ bugbear but these days it’s essential, even for already established writers. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Richard: Read a lot both to see what is out there but also to see how good writers construct books. Reading heavily is the basic training of a writer. Then write and write and write, revise lots and keep working at it. Write the book you want to read NOT the one that others might think you should.
Morgen: Absolutely. If you don’t enjoy it then your reader likely won’t. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Richard: Well I am pretty good cook if I do say so myself. At university I would throw dinner parties on Saturday nights for all my mates in halls that did not have food provided at the weekend, but unlike me did not have facilities. Probably my best food is curries – at least that is what I get asked to do a lot. I would love to meet Tolkien as his work is the basis of all fantasy fiction. Wellington is a bit of a military hero – the master of defence and the man who beat the invincible French in the Napoleonic wars. Then maybe Alexander the Great to try and bottle the energy that drove him half-way across the known world.
Morgen: I’ve been asked how I get mine from to do so much on this blog but I say it’s easy; I’m passionate (OK, obsessed) about writing so I just do it. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Richard: I have links to New Writers UK – a sort of self-help group of writers who assist each other in various ways. I am an occasional reviewer for the Historical Novel Society of self-published books and will be attending their annual conference this year to be part of a table linked to self-publishing.
Morgen: I don’t think I’ve heard of New Writers UK but it sounds great. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Richard: As I said I am a very keen player (and designer) of board games. That zeal also led to me setting up the UK’s biggest hobby game convention – UK Games Expo. Now in its 6th year it attracts 70 traders and 3,000 gamers (and family audience as well) who come to play non-electronic table-top games which are fun and allow for social activities.
Morgen: Sounds great (and a lot of hard work, I’m sure). Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Richard: It is more of a case that by being active on Google Plus, twitter and Facebook that I pick up links to many sites (rather than just one or two). So the key is to branch out and link to authors and writers, chat to them and then pick up hints and tips.
Morgen: LinkedIn is great for that. Put a question or comment on and there’ll always be someone to help / reply. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Richard: I hop in and out of http://www.goodreads.com and also http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk. I am also involved with and blog on http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com – a group of historical fiction writers.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Richard: The new world of ebooks and self-publishing means that the market place is full of thousands of authors. Some are good, some not so good. I hope I am in the former. But market forces will decide what happens to us all. Can we get an audience? There are lots of opportunities but also many challenges.
Morgen: I do think that the writing will speak for itself, and reviews be the judges of that. An author can only have so many friends. If a book has 100 reviews and they’re all 4-5* then it must be good (you would hope anyway!). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Richard: My website http://www.richarddenning.co.uk is the best starting point. You can read bits of my books and find out about the characters etc.
Morgen: A very handsome site. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Richard: My work is fast-moving and I hope exciting. It is designed to be entertaining whilst involving accessible interesting characters. A chance to gallop around history and have fun. Give them a go!
Morgen: 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Richard: I would like to thank you for the opportunity to do this interview.
Morgen: Oh, you’re very welcome. Thank you for agreeing to take part.
I then invited Richard to include an extract of his writing…
Dismayed, Ben surveyed the devastation. The fire must have surged down Fish Street while they slept, and now, as Freya had grimly pointed out, they were too late: it had cut off their means of passage to the south. He looked back at the billowing clouds of smoke, quick to realise why the fire had progressed only halfway across the bridge before dying down: the wind had changed direction and was now blowing strongly west and north, driving the fire away from the bridge and along Thames Street, through the small alleyways and passages, such as those Ben and his friends had come through just a few minutes before. What he also saw was that the fire, in its full terrifying fury, was already surging past them.
“Oh God!” Ben shrieked, as only yards away the flames drew level to where they stood, destroying forever the shanty town of the poor and breaking with avarice into the first of the great trade halls. Ben’s throat tightened with fear and ‒ panicking now ‒ he screamed, “My God, the fire is moving too fast, we’re going to get cut off!”
A determined look sprang into Freya’s face. She seized Ben by the elbow and pulled him back along the waterfront. “Bloody demon’s not won yet. Come on, we have to move fast!”
Richard Denning works as a GP in the West Midlands. He has always been fascinated by historical settings as well as horror and fantasy.
Other than writing, his main interests are games of all types. He is the designer of a board game based on the Great Fire of London and the director of UK Games Expo, the UKs biggest hobby game convention.
He is married with two children and his author website is www.richarddenning.co.uk.
Update October 2012: First I have new books out in 2012: The sequel to The Amber Treasure is out: http://www.richarddenning.co.uk/childloki.html and a new Children’s series starts with: http://www.richarddenning.co.uk/shieldmaiden.php.
The Amber Treasure was awarded a B.R.A.G Medallion: http://www.bragmedallion.com/medallion-honorees/2012/the-amber-treasure, as was the Last seal: http://www.bragmedallion.com/medallion-honorees/2012/the-last-seal and I just heard that Shield Maiden is a CLA finalist: http://www.clcawards.org/untitled1.html and has their seal of approval: http://www.clcreviews.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/shield-maiden-earns-our-seal-of-approval.html.
Congratulations, Richard. 🙂
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