The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Richard Denning

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The Interview: Bookbag talks to Richard Denning

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Summary: Richard Denning's Tomorrow's Guardian is an action-filled children's story about the quest to save two universes, that will really appeal to many younger readers, especially if they're interested in history. We couldn't wait to interview him!
Date: 6 January 2011
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Richard Denning's Tomorrow's Guardian is an action-filled children's story about the quest to save two universes, that will really appeal to many younger readers, especially if they're interested in history. We couldn't wait to interview him!

  • Bookbag: Close your eyes and imagine your readers. Who do you see?

Richard Denning: I would always have imagined that the book would appeal to the younger teenage group (11 to 14s) and certainly most of my readers are in that age group, but actually it seems to have gone down quite well with the older teens and even adults. I know of several 40 and 50 year olds that have read and enjoyed it. I think well written Young Adult fiction can and does appeal to adults as well as to teens.

  • BB: There’s lots of action in Tomorrow’s Guardian and time travel doesn't come across as being quite as much fun as we might think. What inspired you to write the book?

RD: I have always found time travel a fascinating idea – right back to the early days of Dr Who (I started watching that in about 1970), the time travel stories in Star Trek like City at the Edge of Forever, where, by saving a woman's life, McCoy changes history, and movies like Back to the Future. So it is very much a common theme in everything that I enjoy reading and watching. I am also a big fan of history and love visiting castles and ruins and battlefields. The idea of being able to meet people like Alexander the Great, visit important events like the Great Fire of London and see the wonders of the world always appealed to me too. So when I started writing it seemed so obvious to do a time travel adventure where the hero gets to do just that. But I wanted to explore the hazards and dangers of time travel, not just the opportunities.

  • BB: We know that you're a doctor. If you could give up the day job and write full-time, would you do it?

RD: I think anyone who writes dreams of making a full time living from it. However, the actual number of writers who can live off their earnings from books is very small. A larger number manage to earn enough to maybe go part time, and for a still larger number it's a hobby and little more. So whilst I would love to write full time, I am realistic. I would consider I had succeeded if I could give up even half a day a week to focus on writing.

  • BB: With a day job like yours I can’t imagine how you find the time to write. How do you do it and where and how do you write?

RD: It is not easy. General practice is a busy job and with the NHS reforms, likely to get more so. That said it is a matter of being organised. GPs tend to have a long morning and long early evening surgery but a bit of a gap in between (traditionally many GPs would do an afternoon clinic in a local hospital in this time, maybe visit a nursing home etc). So - such as I am doing right now when I am writing these answers - you have to grab that time and use it. I am also a bit of an owl – typically not going to bed till 1am or even a bit later. So after the children are in bed there is time late in the evening for writing. I am fortunate to have an afternoon off a week already actually, so that provides some time. Finally I don't watch a lot of telly! It's quite striking the time I was able to find by only watching a small amount of TV.

I usually write on my home PC. But what I will typically do when writing a book is first spend a fair while plotting it. Time spent getting the story and plot right early on pays dividends later. Same is true of characters. I try and work out what a character's motivation is first. So then when they are in a scene I know how they will act. That actually speeds up the writing later a lot. That early plotting usually is done in a notebook. Once I have sketched out the book I then start laying out each chapter and scene as a single line in Word or Excel. Only then – when I know what will happen - do I actually start writing. Of course a plot may change later when you think of other ideas but having this type of approach makes it all a lot faster.

  • BB: Who's your favourite character from Tomorrow’s Guardian and is he based on anyone in real life?

RD: I would have to say Septimus Mason. He is a bit of a rogue, a mercenary and opportunist but turns out OK in the end. I have to confess a little bit of Han Solo and a little bit of Jack Sparrow is in his make up.

  • BB: Did you have to do a lot of research before you wrote the book? I'm thinking particularly about time travel which must be quite a difficult concept to convey to young readers. Did you feel that you had to restrict what you said?

RD: I did research time travel a bit actually. There is an American Professor (Ronald L Mallett) who is REALLY working on time travel theory and his story is that his father died of a heart attack when he was very young. His drive was to build a time machine so he could go back and visit him. The book is fascinating and worth a read – it's called The Time Traveller. Anyway, I based some of the theories on his work and others. But I did not want Tomorrow’s Guardian to be a science book, so I tone it down and keep it non-technical. I did want to explore some of the theory first in order to make my method of time travel consistent. I then also had to research history. In this case the Zulu War, U-boats in World War Two and the Great Fire of London. As I say, I love history so this was a pleasure not a chore. I wanted people to FEEL like they were really visiting the times along with the hero, Tom.

  • BB: You've taken the unusual step of publishing the book first as a hardback and then a revised edition in paperback. What made you do this?

RD: The hardback was actually a bit of a mistake. 12 months ago, I was keen to get the book published and in some ways rushed the process. I have learnt a lot in 12 months and one lesson is that paperbacks – especially from new writers – sell better than hardbacks. Trying to get paperbacks into shops is a lot easier than hardbacks. I had also met several authors and Jo Field – now my editor – who enjoyed my books but felt that I would benefit from professional editing support. What many people don't realise is that most published fiction has been thoroughly edited. We just think that is a good book, but don't stop to consider that what we read is not the author's first, third or tenth draft but has been tidied up by an editor. Having an editor helps a lot because they spot little errors and flaws. These are more than just spelling errors. So having had the book edited I thought why not release it again, with a nice new cover. I am working on the sequel (due out this summer) so wanted a new edition that would be consistent with the look of that book(Yesterday’s Treasures).

  • BB: What were your favourite books when you were a child? Do you still have copies and have you ever gone back and reread them?

RD: I would have to say The Narnian Chronicles, The Hobbit, The Three Investigators (Hitchcock), books like the Famous Five and Secret Seven all stick in mind, and yes I have many of them and read them again to myself or to my children.

  • BB: Which do you prefer – writing for children or for adults?

RD: I guess because I actually read a lot of Young Adult fiction – like Harry Potter etc – that I naturally tend to find writing at that crossover level – books accessible from 10 to 100 appeals. Even The Amber Treasure – historical fiction in the Dark Ages - whilst written for adults seems to have been read by some teens and enjoyed. People say writing for children ought to be easy but it is not. Children and teens are very sophisticated readers and they want to read a good book just like any adult would.

  • BB: What's next for Richard Denning?

RD: The sequel to Tomorrow's GuardianYesterday's Treasures is being edited right now and I plan a release in the early summer. I am starting work on the sequel to The Amber Treasure (early research on that time period). I would not rule out an entirely different book as I have some other plots worked out. So there is plenty going on but for now I am content to push on with the Hourglass Institute series, which starts with Tomorrow's Guardian.

I would like to thank you for this interview and thank the reader too. Hope you enjoy the book.

  • BB: You're very welcome, Richard. Thanks to you too, and good luck with the new books!

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