Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Interview: Richard Newsome

Hi Richard, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Let's start with an easy one, what are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished The Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle. I had no idea he also wrote Bridge on the River Kwai. I picked this book up because I’d heard it was so much better than the Hollywood adaptation, and it is. It is a very French novel and covers some interesting philosophical issues, as well as satirising various social classes. It is about as far from Charlton Heston as you could possibly get! Next on the ‘to read’ pile is either Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel or Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.

Tell us about your latest book, The Mask of Destiny.
It’s the third part of the Billionaire’s series and wraps up the mystery surrounding 13-year-old Gerald Wilkins, his massive fortune and why it seems everyone is out to get him. The action takes place in France, Italy and Greece and covers history dating back to ancient times. I had a great time writing it and it was with a sense of enormous satisfaction, and some relief, to type THE END. I’d started the initial story 12 years ago so I was delighted to finally get it out of me. It was like the world’s longest gestation period. I had to have a Bex and a lie down.

Are Gerald or any of the other characters based on real people?
There are a lot of bits of real people mixed into the cast of characters. Gerald is probably how I would like to have been as a 12 or 13-year-old but never quite got there. I stole a few names for the supporting roles from famous actors; people like Mrs Rutherford and Mr Fry. I nicked the personas of Margaret Rutherford and Stephen Fry to help me picture the characters in my mind’s eye and the names sort of stuck. Same with Mr Hoskins (Bob Hoskins) and the school teacher Mr Atkinson (Rowan Atkinson).

The action in your books takes place in all sorts of fun and exotic locations, is it important for you as a writer to travel to the places you write about?
I try to convince friends that my research trips aren’t junkets to interesting places, but arduous explorations into the deepest regions of my soul. They don’t believe me. My first job out of school was as a cadet newspaper reporter so I do place a lot of importance on actually going to a place to faithfully describe it. And I get great ideas from being on the ground – ideas that I would never have had if I locked myself in the library. In The Mask of Destiny, Gerald discovers the hiding spot of the ancient city of Delphi. The setting was inspired entirely by a hike my wife and I took into the rocky hills above the ruins of Delphi in search of a series of caves. 

Where did the inspiration for the series come from?
I actually came up with the ending of the third book more than 12 years ago, and worked backwards from that. I’m not sure if there was a single inspiration for the story other than a lifelong desire to write a book. I’m very glad I persevered.

When you were writing The Billionaire's Curse, were you planning a trilogy or did that decision come later?
It was always a story in three parts. When I first conceived of the idea, I knew it was going to take a long time to tell. Middle grade books usually don’t go more than 75,000 words and I was never going to be able to condense the scale of the tale into that. So three parts were needed. In fact, a massive clue to the secret behind the mystery is contained in the first three words of chapter one in book one.

You got your big break by winning the Text Publishing Prize, what led you to enter the prize in the first place?
A complete failure to place the book anywhere else! The Billionaire's Curse was knocked back by a dozen literary agents before it found a home at Text. And I’m glad that was the way it worked, otherwise I would never have got to work with an amazing editor in Jane Pearson and a formidable publisher in Michael Heywood. The book is now in nine countries, including the US and Germany, so fate has worked her marvels well.

Will you miss writing the Billionaire's trilogy now that it's done?
Funny you should ask that, because I’ve just signed on to write another three books in the Billionaire’s series. Same characters but a whole new adventure and a whole new mystery. So it will be a six part series. I’m drafting the fourth book right now. It has the working title of The Man with the Silver Nose and will take our heroes into adventures in the United States, the Czech Republic and a tiny speck of an island in Sweden. And yes, I am just back from my research trip.

What has been the highlight of your career as an author?
The unsolicited feedback from parents and readers. Letters from Chattanooga in Tennessee and from the suburbs or Perth. I did a Skype author visit to a class of year 5 kids in Sioux Rapids in Iowa, and they told me how they spend their winters hooning around on snowmobiles. In my next book I decided to include some snowmobiles and since I’ve never ridden one, I emailed these guys and asked for some details. I received a heap of great stories about the risks of riding on frozen lakes and rivers so that’s all going in the book. Fun.

What are you working on next?
Part 4 of the Billionaire’s series, which hopefully will be out in time for Christmas 2012.

By the way, another author tells me it's your birthday today! Happy birthday!

You know, I’m not sure if that author really should be walking the streets without her court-ordered supervision. You might want to call the police.

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