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Andrew Richardson

'The Wood' Interview
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The celebrate 'The Wood's publication, I was interviewed by fellow-writer Carole Ann Moleti.  This first appreared on Carole's blogs:
 
 
 
Carole Ann Moleti lives and works as a nurse-midwife in New York City, explaining her love of the paranormal, urban fantasy, and space opera.  She is a staff reviewer for The Fix and a regular contributor to The Internet Review of Science Fiction.

In addition to professional publications, Carole also writes memoir, features, and opinion pieces that focus on political and women’s issues. Her work has appeared in Tangent Online Review of Short Fiction, Vision Magazine, Oasis Journal 2008, and Noneuclidean Café.

But her first love is science fiction and fantasy because walking through walls is a lot less painful than running into them.
 
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I've known Andrew Richardson for the last three years, ever since I had the good fortune to choose his novel The Pool to critique on www.critters.org. I was hooked after the first chapters by Andrew's evocative writing style. I trust him to always freak me out, but he always warns me what's coming. Suffice it to say his novels are not for the squeamish, but if you are looking for a riveting read and can sit thorough the average horror flick without hiding under your coat, you'll be fine.

 

All of Andrew's stories are heavily based on myth and legend, mainly Celtic, and he weaves his archeological and anthopological knowledge into every story. The verisimilitude is so great I will often look around expecting to see a raven staring at me, or a Celtic warrior popping out of a peat bog to capture and drag me back to antiquity.

 

His newest book is The Wood, just published by Eternal Press.  

 

http://www.eternalpress.ca/


 Hi, Andrew!

 

Tell us a bit about The Wood, and where the story idea came from.

 

Hello Carole! Thank you for having me.

 

The Wood is a horror/fantasy about a group of modern adventurers who find themselves in an alternative world – the Celtic ‘Otherworld’. It starts off as a darkish fantasy, then slips into horror as the characters come face-to-face with beasts and beings from Celtic myth.

 

The idea for The Wood came from a mixture books and films – Alien, Predator, The Shining, The Descent and similar. These are all stories in which the characters find themselves in some sort of narrow passage – a cave system, corridors, or thick undergrowth – while trying to escape whatever is behind them. I wanted to try something like that, but in a unique setting. The idea to use lines of heads on poles as the passage, using the Celtic belief that evil won’t pass skulls, came as a slow struggle. Once I had that, though, developing the rest of the story wasn’t particularly difficult.

 

 

How did you get involved in writing in general, and in the genre of supernatural horror in particular?

 

I’ve enjoyed writing stories for as long as I can remember. At school, I used to get a buzz from what was called in those days was called ‘creative writing’. I never really pursued it at the time, as typical teenage interests and then adult life took over. Then I saw an advert for a correspondence writing class and decided to give it a go. I didn’t really benefit from the classes apart from them rekindling interest; practice and interaction with other writers has been much more useful.

 

I can remember a teacher reading Beowulf when I was eight or nine, and I was spellbound by the genre (okay, Beowulf isn’t strictly horror, but I that was when I first realized I like dark stories). In my late teens I used to watch and read as much horror as I could find. They say you should write what you know, and having read so much I reckoned I knew the elements needed in a horror story. I’ve critiqued a sci-fi novel and a fantasy novel over the last year, and I was defeated by both. I simply didn’t understand the structure and needs of the different genres.

 

I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a supernatural writer, but more of a ‘horror generalist’. But I suppose as long as I enjoy myself, and while people are reading what I produce, I don’t have a problem with a label.

 

 

Where do you get your ideas, and how do you nurture them into stories?

 

I steer away from what I suppose would be thought of as common plots – haunted houses, possessed kids, knife-wielding maniacs and the like. I try to think of situations or settings that are both unusual and unpleasant, and then build stories around those. The skull-lined path in The Wood is an exampleI’ve recently finished a novella that started with someone waking up at the bottom of a dried-up well. My other passion is football, and I’ve drafted a tongue-in-cheek story about a team that sacrifices opposition supporters to try to get better results. Once I’ve got that sort of general idea, the next stage is to build a storyline around the situation. It’s at this stage I work out the characters I need, and I suppose I follow the general steps that all writers take.

 

You are a very prolific writer, Andrew. Can you tell us about your strategies for time management? I’ve personally used your idea to limit new projects to one chapter a week, to focus on detail as well as allow time for other projects. But I’m still amazed at how much you get done while also working a “day” job.

 

I don’t think I’m prolific. It probably takes me a year to write a novel, which isn’t particularly fast. I am a meticulous planner, though, and although it’s time consuming, planning does seem to speed up the entire process in the long run.

 

Having a nine-to-five job helps with a routine, so I can write at the same time each day. I also limit myself to a few hundred words at a time, which works out at about a chapter a week. This leaves time for critiquing, revising, football, and the family. It also means that a story moves along at a pace that leaves room for sub-plots and similar to be slotted in as ideas arise.

 

 

Your content can be considered “extreme” at times. But your writing style entrances me so, and gives such believable, understandable motivation to the villains that it never feels gratuitous (even though it keeps me up at night when I am drawn to continue reading a scene I know I shouldn’t).

 

I, being squeamish, can only take so much of the horror elements. But I find your erotic scenes very well done, and admire your ability to write them in the female point of view with such accuracy. You've inspired me to push the boundaries and use more erotic and horror elements in my stories.

 

How did you develop the confidence to take on such topics in your writing, and how have your other readers responded to it? Do you have any advice for writers who want to push themselves but just can't seem to get the words on the page?

 

I genuinely don’t think what I write is extreme. I’ve certainly borrowed more extreme horror from the tranquil surroundings of the local library! I hope this comes over as I intend it, but I would be a little worried if some readers weren’t put off by what I write – I’d think of myself as a failure at writing horror if everyone liked it! As to whether it’s gratuitous or not…I’m happy for readers to judge. Some like it, others possibly find me too ‘edgy’, and I do know people who haven’t been able to finish my other published novel. Personally, I just enjoy writing the stuff!

 

I do violently dislike writing erotica because it needs a technique which I’m not comfortable with. If you think these scenes well done, then that’s a relief and a compliment. If I never had to write another romantic scene I’d be delighted, but sadly erotica is more or less a requirement of the horror genre.

 

The female viewpoint thing comes from a short story I wrote long ago that had to be written from a female point of view. It just seemed to work, and I was as surprised as anyone else when someone wanted to publish it! In horror, readers and editors possibly let you get away with more when the lead is female, for two reasons. Firstly, your readership is likely to predominantly male, and is going to be perfectly happy reading about someone who is decorative and cute, and will probably be more willing to forgive the odd character flaw. Secondly, you can get away with a slightly more wimpish or naive female character than you can with a male lead, which I find useful for drawing the plot out. Before the hate mail comes in, I fully accept that both points are sexist and don’t reflect real life!

 

The confidence to use “extremes” and female characters came by reading other writers. Richard Laymon in particular does both brilliantly, and if he can get away with it, then I can at least try it. Laymon also has (or, rather, had – sadly. R.I.P.) a wonderfully simple way of writing, with short, sharp sentences and paragraphs. I know not everyone likes that style, but I find it works for me.

 

I don’t feel particularly qualified to offer advice, so I’d suggest to anyone who wants to give it a go, to just do it. A good critique group will tell you whether it works or not, and if it doesn’t work, will offer suggestions for improvement.

 

I just want to comment on two things you just mentioned. You're being very modest about your qualifications to offer advice. Honestly, the back and forth with you on critiques, both your crits of my work and mine of yours, has taught me a tremendous amount about dealing with, let's say, disturbing material.

 

And your female protagonists are not wimpish or naïve. They may make some odd choices which lead to interesting consequences, but again, your characters are true to their personalities. I don't find your work sexist (and I am an ardent feminist), though it does often portray the brutal realities women faced, and actually still do in some societies.

 

 Andrew, what is your educational background, and how does that influence your writing? Does your current job provide you with inspiration and ideas, or does it get in the way of them?

 

My favourite academic subject was easily history, and probably the only one I’d claim to be genuinely good at. I wanted to be an archaeologist from an early age, and managed to study the subject to degree level. A career in history didn’t happen for several reasons, but I’ve worked on a couple of digs, and history still fascinates me. I’ve probably bored my family on too many occasions by dragging them to hillforts, tombs and stone circles whenever we’ve been near one.

 

They say you should write what you know, so it’s probably not surprising that horror is my chosen genre, and that a lot of my subject matter is historical. I do feel confident incorporating historical periods I’ve studied into my work. I struggle with some aspects I never formally looked at, though, such as ancient religions, but I thoroughly enjoy the research!

 

The day job is in science administration. Science was a weak point at school, and I suspect my science teachers would be having breakdowns if they knew British science was resting (even to a small extent) in my hands. A few things that happen in at work have found their way in to my stories. Colleagues have occasionally suggested I set a story in an office, but sadly I’d probably fall down on credibility – the wildest fantasy story is much more believable than what goes on in the average office!

 

And anyway, it’s probably more interesting for the reader to have a character who’s an archaeologist than an administrator.

 

Tell us about your other novels and new projects on the horizon. My personal favorites are The Pool ( still can't get that one scene out of my head) and Doe and Dragon, which is based on Arthurian legend.

 

My other published novel is Andraste’s Blade, from Dark Realm Press. It’s a historical fantasy/horror based around Boudicca’s first century revolt against the Romans. It was great fun to write, and I approached it as a hobby rather than anything serious. I wasn’t expecting Blade to make print but as I’d made an effort to write it I sent it off to a couple of editors and more or less forgot about it. I was as much surprised as pleased when it was accepted.

 

There are a few other projects that are ongoing. I’ve just finished the first draft of the novella I mentioned – about a woman who wakes up in a dried-up well, and how her story entwines with a teenage boy who is stuck up a pine tree.

 

The novel set in Arthurian North Wales is going through the critiquing process. Feedback so far is generally favourable, although I’ll be the first to accept that more work is needed. The novel may or may not be any good, but this is the time and place I studied for my degree and North Wales is an area I visit regularly, so I’ve got a soft spot for the story. My heroine’s settlement is based on the remains of one I helped survey years ago, and it was particularly nice to bring it in. 

 

Another story I’ve already I’ve already mentioned is due for rework. The Mound is about a football team who sacrifice away fans to ensure a win, and very tongue-in-cheek. This was heading for the ‘throwaway’ pile but I put a few early chapters up for review and it was better received than I’d expected. 

 

My next new work is still at the planning stage. It’s set in a remote Scottish castle, and anyone who’s seen Highlander will probably recognize the fortress I’m using as a template. I know the area, and I’ve visited the castle in the film a couple of times and it’s brilliantly atmospheric – just asking to be used in a horror novel.

 

Before signing off I’d like to thank you for having me, and also acknowledge those people who’ve helped me get two novels published. My name may be the one on the covers, but I have had so much help from a lot of people. 

 

I’m very grateful to the people at Eternal Press and Dark Realm Press who have taken on my work. In addition, a lot of people have looked at drafts and helped with technique, or with encouragement when writer’s block has struck. This includes you, Carole, of course, and other Critters who are too numerous to mention but who will know who they are. I don’t like singling people out, but Cathy’s help with the mythic element of The Wood was possibly the difference between it being published or not. I must also make a very special mention of Phil, who is an established author himself. As well as looking at my first drafts and telling me what does and doesn’t work, he also encourages me through lean times. And as far as my son is concerned, Phil’s generosity in ice-cream shops raises him to hero status!

 

Thanks for hanging out with me, Andrew. Here are the links to Andrew's blog and website:

 

http://andy-richardson.livejournal.com/ 

 

http://ajrichardson.tripod.com/ 

 

Be sure to stop in at the book release "party" at Eternal Press on April 7.

 

http://groups.yahoo.com:80/group/EternalPressReaders/

 

Andrew will be checking in on my blogs all this week, so if anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to chime in.

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