Christine: How do you find the time to juggle work, family, writing, and game design?
Richard: It is true that I seem to spend a lot of time exhausted but I think the day job has helped here. I am a GP – a family doctor. So I am used to trying to keep to a fairly tight schedule and working fast. We have 10 minute appointment slots. So it’s a case of buzz, next patient please, what’s the problem then, let’s take a look at it, here you go take these and out the door onto the next! So all that teaches time management. General Practice also has a peculiar pattern of working hours. I am in the building fairly early and do my admin stuff, then I do a surgery and see twenty odd patients. By 12.30 or 1pm I am done and get home for lunch. Evening surgery does not start until 3.30 so in that gap (when a lot of other doctors do a hospital clinic or visit nursing homes) I am usually alone at home and can get quite a bit done. At night the chaos of family life subsides by about 10pm, my wife likes to watch a bit of telly late evening and often I have a few hours again then. I am a bit of an owl really. What it does mean is a)I don’t myself watch MUCH telly and b)I don’t sleep much. I have two nights a week when I have friends round to play games OR I go to a club so a lot of game design and testing happens then. I try to makes sure the other three week nights and weekends have gaps for family stuff.
Christine: You have mentioned that you develop board games, what sort of games do you develop? Tell us about your most recent project and when it will be released.
Richard: I have been a player of games of all types since an early age. I play wargames occasionally (toy soldiers), roleplaying games and mainly board games. The board games tend to be those that involve a fair degree of strategy and thought and limited luck. I enjoy them because they stretch the mind, usually involve escapism and fun and are social occasions. Nothing better than getting mates round a table and playing a game. Anyway the game I have published in 2010 was The Great Fire of London (which came out of the same research I used for The Last Seal.) In Great Fire players are men of wealth and standing who own property around London. They can use the trained bands to fight the fire, use demolitions to destroy blocks of housing to prevent the fire flowing or turn a blind eye and allow the fire to spread and damage rival’s property. Victory can belong to the player with the most property left but putting out fires can give you a boost. In addition each player will have several hidden objectives which might include helping another player or protecting parts of the city. You can take a look at the game here: http://www.medusagames.co.uk/ It is out now. I am currently working on a card game of the Battle of Hastings and a game based in a museum .
Christine: You've been stranded on a desert island, you've been give a chance to take three things with you to help aid you in survival. What do you bring?
Richard: Well I guess two objects had better be practical. A good knife is essential. Make mine a Seax – the long bladed knives the Saxons carried. Good for chopping up food, cutting skins for clothing and chopping wood and defence too. A means of making fire is also vital. Might have to last a while so matches are out. Maybe a flint and strike a light – again Saxon stuff. Finally I need a luxury. I am taking The Lord of The Rings. Lots of reading there AND if I am low and stressed I find the start of that book in the Shire relaxing and enchanting.
Christine: Everyone has their own story, how did you stumble into a writing career?
Richard: When I was at school I enjoyed writing BUT got into Sciences and then medicine. Through the long years of hospitals and GP life I have read voraciously – devouring Cornwell and Pratchett in particular. About 12 years ago I started to have ideas for a historical fiction and the circumstances at the day job had improved. Evening visits and weekends became covered by out of hours services and GPs no longer had to up and out doing visits all the time. I got back hours in the week. I also gave up an afternoon clinic in a psychiatric hospital and it was then that I wrote The Amber Treasure (my Dark Ages Historical Fiction). It took years to pull it into shape. About 3 years ago – having had years of “encouraging rejections” from agents I decided to go for it and look to self publish. I have spent a couple of years learning about how it is done, now have an editor and a cover artist and in the last 12 months have been publishing books, getting reviews and trying to build a readership.
Christine: You write mostly fantasy and sci-fi fiction, what would you say inspires you the most when you are developing a new story line?
Richard: Fantasy, Sci Fi and Historical as well. There is usually a historical element as history fascinates me. I love the pivot points in history. I like to look at some of those critical moments. I cant actually visit the wonders of ancient world (as most don’t exist now), I can’t actually meet the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of history BUT that is the fun part of writing. I can have my characters do it – whether 6th century Cerdic fighting a climatic battle that helped forged England, 17th Century Ben witnessing the Great Fire of London or time travelling Tom who gets to see a lot of history. What I try to do is develop interesting characters with their own motivations and have those motivations drive the story.
Christine: Tell us about your book, The Last Seal (how long did it take to write? What was your inspiration for the book?)
Richard: I have always found The Great Fire a fascinating subject. It was a defining moment in the 17th century and radically changed an entire city as well as the lives of thousands.
When I researched the fire though I found that there was a lot of superstition and belief tied up with the time period – fear of omens, witches and magic. That made me wonder about a fantasy explanation. It was also the case that there was a lot of paranoia about enemy spies and plots against the king. So all that came together into a story. Because I had done a year or two of research for the Fire a lot of that work had been done. The plot sprang almost fully formed into my head over a summer and I think I wrote the first draft in feverish excitement in 3 months. BUT it took a year or so after to edit it and get it into shape.
Christine: If you could eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Richard: Oh that is hard. I love food … a bit too much. I adore sea food, love curries, thai food, Italian, Greek and Spanish but also enjoy good well cooked English food which gets a bad rep but unfairly so. A good steak and kidney pie is awesome. We have some great soups too. But the thing is I am eating this morning, lunch and dinner. The only food I could stomach at all times of the day would be a full English breakfast – with black pudding, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, even kidneys and maybe tuck in some American hash browns! No wonder I need to lose weight.
Christine: You also have a young adult time travel adventure series out and coming soon (Tomorrow's Guardian and Yesterday's Treasures) tell us a bit about those books and your inspiration behind them.
Richard: Well I touched on this a bit earlier. If I had the ability to travel in time I would use it as a time tourist. I would be going to the great moments in history – see the Spanish Armada, witness Caeser crossing the Rubicon, be there at the Battle of Hastings, witness the signing of Magna Carta. Then I started to think whether travelling in time was a gift or a curse. In Tomorrow’s Guardian, Tom – a schoolboy- discovers he can travel in time. This draws him to the attention of those who would change history. His family is wiped from existence and he must choose to save them or the world. It is a fast moving adventure story that both middle grade and young adults have enjoyed as well as adults.
Christine: Tell us a bit about your publishing venture, Mercia Books. Are you planning on picking up any other authors under your publication label, or is this strictly a personal publication label.
Richard: It is a very hard time to get published. Most publishing houses just don’t seem to be taking on many new authors. I was getting good feedback on my books (some very good ones) but just not getting that break. Then I decided with e-books expanding and self publishing easier than in the past and perhaps with less stigma than before, that I was going to have a go. It is a perfectly achievable route for the author BUT not without technical difficulties. You will have to register with Nielsen and get your own ISBNs. You then have to get a printer and distributor. I use Lightning Source who at least get the books listed on Amazon and elsewhere. It is important to have the books professionally edited, get a good cover design and layout. As for expanding to take on other author it’s not impossible BUT not yet as I am still trying to establish myself, get some sales and it would not be fair on another writer to pretend that I can sell their books or pay them anything. I am very happy to give a bit of advice on the process however. Loads of info on my blog:http://news.richarddenning.co.uk/ about the process. I also advise for UK writers to join New Writers UK to get lots of advice.
Christine: Tell us the best and worst parts of establishing your own writing career.
Richard: The best part is that I have done it. I have 4 books in print and others in the pipe line (including a sequel to The Amber Treasure I am writing at present called Child of Loki). I have had pretty good reviews on all the books (all writers will get a mix of reviews in time but overall they have been decent). I have had sales. Not huge as yet and most have been at fairs I have attended or e-books but folk have parted with money to buy the books and quite a few have afterwards complimented me on the books. When you get an email from a complete stranger praising a book it gives you a buzz. The worst part is that is VERY VERY hard work to pull off. To get the books finished and in print is hard enough but then the real work begins of trying to get some interest. But you just have to keep plodding away at it, writing articles linked to the books, blogging and tweeting and getting reviews. Not for the faint hearted this business.
Christine: I would like to thank you for taking the time out to answer these questions and also wish you lots of luck with the book sales.
Richard: Many thanks for having me on the blog.
Without further ado, let's jump into The Last Seal...
*Book review is pending in a separate blog and will be added momentarily!