I am always enthralled with debut authors and their new ideas, perspectives, characters and plots. Last year I did an entire end of year wrap up featuring debut authors and this year I am planning to chat to them and get them to answer a few questions!
First up in this new feature, which still needs a clever name, is Richard Pickard, author of The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy, published last month by Chicken House Books. Read on for the Q&A! Thank you Richard for your time!
• How long have you been hoping to become a published author?
I’ve loved the idea of being an author since I was small, but I was much more of an arty child and spent all my time drawing and painting. I did read a lot though and was very into film so have always loved storytelling. By the time I was a teenager I’d decided I wanted to be a director, which is when I began to write my own stories (and scripts for Buffy the Vampire Slayer)!
It was at university that I finally thought about getting a novel published one day. I’ve had all sorts of half-finished projects on the go ever since, but when I turned to middle grade fiction everything clicked into place. I realised that most of the novels that have stayed with me throughout my life are the ones I enjoyed as child, and that those were also the kind of stories I wanted to tell.
• What have been the greatest challenges in getting published?
Not many people knew that I was writing a novel in the beginning, which made it hard to find the time to get on and finish it in between work, seeing friends and all of my other commitments. I was too embarrassed to admit that I had this seemingly unrealistic dream of becoming an author, which meant I didn’t fully commit to writing or dare to believe that it would actually go somewhere. As such, the book was written very slowly across several long years.
I’ve also never been great at having to “sell” myself, which is why I thought the Times/Chicken House competition would be a good option when I finally did finish my draft. By entering, I knew that the novel would definitely be read even if the accompanying pitch wasn’t brilliant.
• What is the most surprising thing you have learned about publishing a book?
Writing a novel starts out as such a solitary task, but from the moment you sign your publishing deal it becomes a real team effort. Along with my editor, Kesia, there are a dozen or more people who have helped to polish the story, including my production manager, Laura, the copy editors and proof-readers, not to mention the rights team along with artists, designers, publicity, marketing and digital. . . So many people play a crucial role in getting you over that finishing line and I’m so grateful to each and every one of them.
• With hindsight, is there anything you wish you had known?
If I had known that one day I would actually be published, then I would have had a lot more confidence in my writing and probably finished it a lot more quickly! But my route to publication was so much about very good timing, with winning the inaugural Chairman’s Choice prize in 2019. If I had finished any earlier, then who knows whether it would still have found its home at Chicken House.
• Do you have other stories waiting to be written or published?
I’m currently working on the first draft of my second novel for Chicken House, with a deadline that is creeping up far too quickly for my liking! This one is a full-blown summertime adventure. Much less fish, but a lot more sun and sea, plus another very odd family mystery. . .
• What do you think makes a good story?
My favourite stories are the ones that keep me up late into the night, because I have to know what happens. That is usually down to a mix of things: an intriguing setting; a stimulating plot; and a host of quirky characters.
The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy started with a setting. An abandoned pier on the edge of a town obsessed with fish. This informed the odd type of people who would live in such a place, and finally, the secrets that those characters had to be uncovered.
I aspire to write stories that are fun, exciting, and a little strange, but I also want my characters to have learnt something by the end of the novel. The best stories are the ones that ask you see the world through a different lens, and I think that’s especially important in children’s fiction.
• What is your most interesting writing quirk?
It’s probably a little quirky that my best ideas come to me while I’m swimming. If I need to fix a problem in the story, or even just work out where the plot is heading next, I find that nothing works better for me than swimming lengths at the local pool or else tumbling about in the sea. When I’m in the water I allow my mind to wander while thinking about a character or plot point. I’ve come up with some of my best solutions and most exciting twists this way. The only problem is I then have to cling on to them until I’m dressed and can quickly write them down.
• Describe your writing space.
I don’t really have one at the moment as my partner and I are in-between homes, which is very bad timing! I dream of having my own little study lined with bookcases and framed film posters, with a nice big desk in front of a window that looks out across the sea. . . But for now, I’m writing at the dining table or on the beach.
Much of The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy was written at our family beach hut, which we sadly no longer have, but that was the closest place I had to a designated writing spot. I’m back down to the seaside next week, when I plan to write as much of my new draft as I can while lying on the sand instead – with an umbrella and a thermos of hot tea.
• How long do you spend writing on a daily basis?
In my day job I’m a freelance publicist, so I’m fortunate to have been able to set aside a few full weeks for writing with the aim of dedicating most of my time to this draft.
A good day would see me writing from around 10 or 11am until about 4pm, with perhaps a more relaxed little session from my lap in the evening. My brain doesn’t really work in the morning, so while I’m attempting to keep some regular daytime hours it doesn’t always quite work out that way. Plus, with my first novel having just been published, I’m trying to visit as many bookshops and booksellers as possible!
• What tips would you give to other aspiring authors?
The most important thing is to just get the words down onto the page – which I’m having to remind myself a lot at the moment. Do whatever it takes to make that happen. Get into a habit of writing every day – even if it’s just for an hour – and whatever you do, don’t start looking back at what you’ve written or even worse, editing as you go. Save that for the second draft, when I promise it will be so much more fun.
Thank you for having me, Erin!