20 questions for Tarn Richardson
1: Have you always wanted to be a published author?
Yes, from the age of eight! Our class teacher at the time, Mrs Jones, read us The Hobbit and it had a profound effect on me. The words they seemed to talk directly to me. It was exciting, captivating, foreign and yet was a world within which I felt completely at home. I was transported to Tolkien's brilliant mind and sometimes wonder if I've ever really left! About two thirds the way through the story we were asked to write the ending. I wrote pages and pages and pages of it and remember standing up in class reading my version out, all the songs and dances and dialogue I had created. The lot! All nonsensical, of course, but that was it for me. I was hooked and knew what I wanted to do with my life.
2: So why so long from then to getting published?!
Life! You have things like friends, family, girlfriends, then a wife, then children and mortgages which get in the way, all of which cost money so you need a proper job and sometimes they all get the better of you. And in all honesty, I don't think I ever could have written this book (The Damned) until now. I've never stopped writing. It's just taken me this long to find my true voice and discover the genre I feel most comfortable writing.
3: You run your own web agency. Running your own business and writing? Do the two go together?
What running your own business instils in you is discipline and determination, to keep at the coal face day in day out, year in year out, even when things go wrong and clients cause you no end of grief. It's a trait much the same as with writing, to sit alone in a room for month after month, beavering away. The only difference is that story lines are usually the thing which go wrong and cause you the grief!
4: How much do you think your childhood has influenced your work?
Massively. Those early years are what shape and make us. I had a very happy childhood, but growing up in a huge old farmhouse, much of it on my own with only the resident ghost for company, did have an effect on me.
5: In what way?
I'm a loner. I'm quite happy in my own company. Which is useful when it comes to writing.
6: And you believe in ghosts?
Absolutely! I spent eleven years growing up with one just outside my bedroom door, so I am bound to! Whether they are the lost souls of the living or energy, who knows, but I think there's many more crazier things which people are happy to give credence to.
7: You used to write murder mystery dinner games. How did they help with writing?
I'm not sure they helped with writing novels, but they helped me earn my first money from writing, which was hugely exciting, that I could do this thing I enjoyed doing and make money from it - even though it was pennies. I suppose they helped me plan complex plots, as well as learn about spinning red herrings and springing surprises on the reader.
8: Define the 'dark fiction' you write.
It's a slight misnomer I think because, whilst it does have a lot of dark within it, there's also a lot of light too. In order for everything to balance, you need light. Not everything can be black. I find much of what I write strangely uplifting, moving and underpinned with a lot of love.
9: What made you decide to write dark fiction?
It wasn't a conscious effort. I'm not a 'dark' person, far from it, although there is a melancholy within me which does seem to bubble up when I write and which I seem to channel. It is just the style I feel most natural writing. I've always been one for the minor chord over the major! I never try to sit down and write in a particular style or tone. I set out to tell a story and my style just comes out of me, from somewhere buried deep.
10: You're not what you would think of as the standard template for a writer, ex-student of literature or a journalist. So how come you've been able to write?
I've never felt you need all those qualifications or experience in a professional sense to become a writer. After all, anyone can write, if they put their mind to it. It's just whether or not you have talent and passion, not forgetting an awful lot of luck to become a published writer. I think the most important aspects for becoming a writer are determination, vision, drive and, of course, ideas. You have to love what you do, the simple act of writing, and desire to write every single minute of your life. Of course, you need to perfect your art, find your voice. It's taken me twenty odd years to get to where I am. I spent years writing aimless, directionless rubbish. But it was never wasted work or effort, at least not to me. As the great late Iain Banks said, you need to write a million words before you can consider being published and I think he's right.
11: Do you believe successful writing can be taught?
I think writing can be taught, just like anything. But practising theory, getting letters after your name for literature or having a brain worthy of a Nobel Prize won't make you a great writer. You need to passionately believe in what you write and write because you quite literally 'need' to write. I write because something drives to me do so, to expel the demons, to get the words out. It is a passion to me. Every single thing I write comes from the heart. After all, I've got nothing else because, on paper at least, I'm a dyslexic, wannabie-artist, techie, who likes comics, alcohol and daydreaming. And not necessarily in that order. But I feel passionate about telling the world about things I believe in and care about. I also love love love writing. Nothing gives me more pleasure.
12: How do you write?
First thing I don't think about it. I just sit down and get on with it. I'm not a procrastinator. I hate sitting around and not doing anything. And usually I have ideas screaming around in my head, demanding to be typed up. As long as I have my laptop, I can write pretty much anywhere. I'm not someone who needs particular conditions, like utter silence or a hotel lobby! As long as it's vaguely quiet, I can get on and get stuff done. Years of living and working in a house with two noisy children, I suppose. But there can never be any music. That is an absolute must.
13: But I've heard music plays a big part in your writing?
It does. I use it to help imagine scenes and story lines, dialogue and characters. All the big musical story tellers I love. Dylan, Eels and Neil Young are all great, and a stupendous Norwegian black metal band called Kvelertak are amazing for getting you in the mood to write war scenes! They take you places. But when the writing starts, the music stops.
14: Do you have a set routine for your writing day?
Because I have a 'proper' day job, I need to write around that. But I do have a routine which I stick to religiously. I write for one hour in the morning before starting work, one hour over lunch and then, most often, in the evenings. So, I try and get at least four hours writing in every day. On the weekend, regardless of what I've been up to the night before, I am up early and writing and I will write until the kids, the wife or DIY calls me away. Even if I'm not in the mood (which is rare), I am at my desk.
15: Do you write directly onto the computer or longhand?
Must be onto the computer. My handwriting is appalling. I cannot read what I have written down so typing solves that. I also write as I think the words. I tend to switch off the brain and write in a stream of consciousness, particularly when the writing is going well. I can type fast. It's one of my few skills. So my typing can keep up with me and not break the flow whereas handwriting, forget it. There's no connect there.
16: Do you map out your stories beforehand or do they come together as you write?
I very rarely write anything down, in terms of plans or notes. Certainly nothing fixed or restrictive. You'll find no notebook in my pocket! I always have an idea of where I'm going with the story, at least in my mind, the key milestones and pointers. The characters are always there, etched in the brain. It's then just a case of sitting down and going with it. But I want to be entertained by the story as much as the reader and writing like this achieves that.
17: Tell us about your first novel 'The Damned'
It was 2012 and I had just come back from France where I had been visiting the trenches with my father and brother in law on the trail of two great uncles who fought out there, one who came back and one who did not. It was an incredible trip, really moving and inspirational and I just felt I had to write about the experience.
18: How did you come up with the idea for 'The Damned'?
So, when I got home from France I started planning this grand epic of World War One, sort of like Game of Thrones meets Band of Brothers. Which no one really wants. And pretty soon I had got myself tied into knots and wasn't making much progress. Then one night I was sitting down and reading Artemis Fowl to my youngest son Will and he stopped me and said that it was 'boring'. "Boring!" I exclaimed. "This is one of the greatest books ever written for kids!" But he wasn't having any of it. So I went off to find something else, and got the same reaction. So I asked him what he would write a book about and he immediately replied, "World War One and werewolves" and a light came on in my head and after that I was off and running!
19: How did Tacit arrive?
In an early draft he was a Russian Major. But then I rewrote the entire thing with the Inquisition and he re-appeared as an Inquisitor. I've read that writers of songs say that some of their best ideas just come to them out of the blue, like gifts from heaven. Tacit was like that. He just came to me. I really liked the ideal of someone who was a hero but fundamentally flawed.
20: Do you have any advice for would-be writers?
Write! Write every single minute you can. The more you write, the better you will get. And as your skills develop, you'll find your voice and once you have found your voice, writing will come easier. Sometimes...
Also read everything you can, from all genres and from all kinds of writers. Good and bad! You want to see what you're up against, what other people are writing that works and what doesn't work. You want to be inspired by the best writers for whom you dream one day you will match and by writers who have been published and you know you can write better them.
Also keep alert and alive to everything around you; people, places, songs, films, TV programmes, comics, art. Everything can help inspire and drive you to create those characters and scenes which will stay in the imagination of the reader for a lifetime.
Listen and act on the advice you are given by people in the know, the agents and the authors who've been there and done it. Don't be arrogant enough to think you know better because you probably don't.
And keep going! If you have the passion and determination to keep writing regardless of the rejections and the humiliations, you have a fighting chance of making it.