John Richter - Author Interview
Welcome to my blog, Jon. Having looked at your website, the piece in your bio about you loving video games now makes me understand why the site is like it is. Unique, I would say. Anyhow, please tell us a little bit about Salvation Island and Chris Sigurdsson.
Haha I’m glad you enjoyed the website! I have three books to my name currently: one short story
collection (more on that later) and two novels, both featuring detective Chris Sigurdsson and set on Salvation Island.
Sigurdsson is an attempt to write an ‘anti-cliché’ – a detective who is not a grizzled, hard-drinking hard man, but who instead is wholesome, polite and friendly. Yes, he has his own challenges and a troubled past, with a menagerie of demons to exorcise, but I wanted to present someone relatable, rather than yet another taciturn tough guy.
The island is an amalgam of all my favourite settings: Silent Hill, Twin Peaks, Blackpool Pleasure Beach or any other faded British seaside resort, Okunoshima in Japan… a place of mist and melancholy, whose denizens are eccentric and rarely-glimpsed, aside from the wild rabbits that seem to infest the streets, forests and (of course) the sinister abandoned theme park. I wanted to create somewhere dripping with atmosphere, mystery and undercurrents of dread, and I do hope I have succeeded – more than any of the characters in the books, Salvation itself is the creation I am most proud of.
The question fascinates me, so please tell me what you enjoy most about the writing life and what do you enjoy least.
I will avoid the obvious answer here of ‘I love writing and I hate my real job’ because I think that’s true of any writer who hasn’t yet made the transition to writing full time; instead I will focus on the (frustratingly small) part of my life that I’m able to devote to writing.
In my case I love the actual writing process itself: planning, then writing, leaping on to the internet to do some quick research or to check a word definition, skipping back over the story to make sure of continuity, diving back in, writing some more, smiling as a particularly effective paragraph takes shape, cutting, pasting, editing, pressing on… it really is the most rewarding feeling in the world!
What I like the least is the solitary aspect. I am very much a ‘people person’ and so I find it difficult to decline social engagements to spend time writing alone – but at the same time, the spectre of your unwritten words can sometimes hang over you, a burdensome chore that makes you feel guilty for enjoying yourself at the weekend instead of being hunched over your laptop. So in reality it’s about moderation – finding time to juggle work, sleep, fitness, friends and writing. Easier said than done!
What prompted you to have your main character leave the police service after only one novel?
I wrote the original novel as a one-off with a simple elevator pitch: ‘a noir detective story about a murdered professional wrestler’. I had already invented and written about Salvation in various short stories before that, so that setting was an easy choice in terms of location, and cloaking the island in a week-long storm created a perfect excuse to keep the bizarre cast of touring grapplers together while the investigation unfolded.
I originally had no intention of writing a ‘sequel’, but over the subsequent months, I realised that Salvation had another story to tell, unpeeling the layers of its own history, and that story simply worked much more effectively if Sigurdsson was no longer constrained by his role as a Detective Inspector. I’d also been reading a lot about the Pinkertons, and become quite fascinated with ‘gumshoes’ in general; so it was an easy decision to have Sigurdsson become disenfranchised with his police career and leave the force to set up his own detective agency.
Given your love of nerdish things, do you see yourself moving away from the crime-thriller genre and into something more aligned with your pastimes?
It’s already happening! I’m currently working on a sci-fi detective thriller set in the near future, around twenty years hence; I think there’s a lot of sci-fi that envisages the earth in 2200 and beyond, with flying cars and dystopian cyberpunk cities, but very few that simply extrapolate current technological trends to see how different our country might become in the next couple of decades. Driverless cars, robots delivering your shopping, synthetic meat, human augmentation, ‘google glasses’ – there’s a huge amount of material to work with!
Readers like to know how books get shaped. Whether you’re a plotter or pantster, what is your usual routine when completing a new novel?
I love the phrase ‘pantster’ – I assume that means ‘by the seat of’?? Interestingly, I’ve always been a plotter; in other words I’ve always written out in reasonable detail exactly what’s going to happen in my stories, with the writing process simply fleshing this out and occasionally adding some interesting diversions… but my most recent novel, Never Rest, was very much written in a ‘just chuck everything in and see where it ends up’ type of way! This felt very uncomfortable at the time, but I was extremely happy with the end result, and am applying a similar approach to my latest project – but whether Never Rest was a breakthrough or a massive fluke remains to be seen!
Do you enjoy research or is it just part of the job?
That’s an interesting question. Sometimes it’s great fun; my short story writing in particular has led me down some fascinating rabbit warrens (most recently learning about polar bears, northern Canadian gun laws, and abandoned zinc mines!) but other times it can be frustrating, causing delays in the enjoyable flow of writing while you ensure that a plot point is realistic and correctly depicted. What I would love to do one day is devote more time to research, perhaps undertaking some global travel to seek out new locations in which my characters can suffer…
Do you write in bursts or are you a steady x number of words per day man?
My output is completely dictated by the whims of my work and social schedule – some weeks I write nothing, others I churn out 10,000 words. This weekend I’ll be delighted if I can just get 2,000 done… and time is ticking!
Which current authors do you admire most, and why?
Interestingly my reading lately has been more for research purposes than to enjoy fiction (I’m currently reading a fascinating – and somewhat terrifying – book about the rise of AI in the 21st century…) but the writer that springs to mind is the incomparable Kazuo Ichiguro, whose latest novel Buried Giant I read and loved recently.
I would also like to give a huge shout-out to all my Bloodhound Books label mates, including your good self Tony of course! David Lyons and Steve Liszka have also written fantastic thrillers that I’ve really enjoyed recently.
I’ve often thought that anybody can be taught to write, but that the imagination required to create a story is something you either have or don’t have. Would you agree or disagree, and why?
I actually think that talent is required on both fronts – some people are full of fantastic ideas but their actual writing is mediocre, while others are fantastic writers but the stories they choose to tell are dull or clichéd… all of which is completely subjective of course! I think the same is true of any work of art, whether it’s a movie, a sculpture, a novel, a video game: it requires a stroke of inspiration to come up with the concept, and then skill and discipline to bring it into being.
Having said all of that, practice and training can definitely help, and anyone who enjoys writing should not for one moment be put off just because they don’t believe they’ve been born with world-beating literary skills; and even for those who are lucky enough to be naturally gifted writers, practice and training can help hone those skills even further.
Do you take bad reviews (we all get the odd one or two) to heart, or have you become inured to them?
I appreciate any review and decided long ago that I wouldn’t ‘dispute’ any of them – people are entitled to their opinions, however wrong they are… ;-) However, I was particularly amused to recently receive a two-star review that read, ‘this is the weirdest book I’ve ever read’… which was precisely my intention! You can’t please everybody…
Do you still get a buzz out of wandering into a book shop and finding your novels on the shelves?
I’m very much a teeny fish in the writing pond at present, so my books have not yet reached that level of success: my first novel and my short story collection are available for eReader devices only, while my latest novel is available from Amazon in paperback. One day I hope to trouble the bestseller lists… but until then, the unbelievable thrill of holding a physical copy of my latest book in my hand will be hard to beat!
When you write a new main character, do you already know them well as you start writing or do they develop as you go along?
They definitely develop, although in my case they are always facets of my own personality. Chris Sigurdsson embodies all of my best qualities, while the protagonist of my current work in progress, Carl Dremmler, brings out all the worst of me… but I don’t spend a great deal of time writing character bios or anything like that. I prefer to just let them take shape as the narrative unfolds.
Do you find it easier writing protagonists or antagonists, or is there no difference for you?
I absolutely love a great villain, and have always felt a strange affinity for them… even as a young child I always wanted Dick Dastardly to win the race, or Wile E. Coyote to catch that annoying bird! However, writing them can be difficult, as it’s far too easy to allow them to become one-dimensional clichés, who are evil ‘just for the sake of it’… and that character has already been utterly perfected in the shape of the Joker, of course! The key thing I think, whether you’re writing a protagonist or an antagonist, is that they are interesting, original, have clear motivations, and the reader can empathise them to at least some degree.
Thanks for taking part, Jon. My final question to you is this: what common traps would you advise aspiring authors to avoid?
I suspect others have answered this question in the same way, and it’s the same guidance I used to receive time and time again when I stated my desire to be a writer, but it really is the best advice out there: if you want to be a writer, you must write! Only by forcing yourself to sit down and actually start something will you ever have a finished novel, and only by having a finished novel will you ever get one published!
One thing to try though if you’re struggling to get started is to write short stories: it’s a great way to get your ideas down on paper, and to find out which one really will expand into a novel-length project. If nothing else, you’ll end up with a great short story collection! That’s how Jon Richter’s Disturbing Works (Volume One) came into existence (I did promise I would come back to it!) It’s a compilation of some of my most deeply unpleasant ideas, all with a shocking twist, and is much closer to horror than my two crime novels. Highly recommended for those who like their tales twisted and have an iron constitution…
On which macabre note, I’d like to say a huge thank you for featuring me on the blog! It’s a real pleasure to be invited and I hope my answers have been vaguely interesting, amusing, insightful, or some combination of the above! I wish you and your readers huge success in the future with your writing endeavours.
Contributor Note: Jon Richter lives in London and spends most of his time hiding in the guise of his sinister alter ego, an accountant called Dave. When he isn’t counting beans, he is a self-confessed nerd who loves books, films and video games – basically any way to tell a good story. Jon writes whenever he can and hopes to bring you more dark tales in the very near future. If you want to chat to him about this, or about anything at all, you can find him on Twitter @RichterWrites, or on Instagram @jonrichterwrites; he’d also love it if you would check out his website at www.jon-richter.com. His latest book is available from Amazon for your eReader device, or in paperback, at https://amzn.to/2l3HYxX.
My thanks to Jon for a fascinating interview.