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Interview with Tony Richards
by Wendy Zazo-Phillips
Interview with Tony
Tony Richards is a prolific British author who has written over seventeen published works, including The Harvest Bride, Our Lady of the Shadows, and the “Raine’s Landing” series (Dark Rain, Night of Demons, and Midnight’s Angels). His latest short story, featuring the immortal Sherlock Holmes, can be found in Edge Publishing’s Dark Aracanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes; three additional Sherlock Holmes short stories are also available on Kindle, which were self-published by the author.
Wendy: I think it’s safe to say that you are primarily a horror writer. What draws you to this genre?
Tony Richards: I originally started out wanting to be a science fiction writer. I read copious amounts of that stuff when I was a kid, and all of my earliest publications were in sf anthologies or long-defunct sf mags like Ad Astra. But then a horror editor — Mary Danby — noticed my work, and asked me if I’d like to try my arm at a tale for her latest Fontana Book of Horror. It was called ‘Headlamps’ and came quickly and easily, and was well received. So I thought I’d have a go at another. The second one was called ‘Child of Ice’ and was based on a recent visit to Toronto, Canada. Then I started looking around for someone to publish it and came across the Pan Book of Horror, and they took it.
Halfway through my visit to Toronto, I caught an overnight Greyhound bus to New York City, and I stayed there a few days. And so the next story I wrote was a ghost one, set in Greenwich Village, and that sold to the Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Herbert van Thal. He asked me to write another, and I haven’t looked back since.
What draws me to the genre? Back in those early days, I was really only writing to entertain people, the way a really savage rollercoaster entertains them, by making them yelp and feel the fine hairs on the backs of their necks stand up. And I still do some of that. But the fact is we live in a pretty scary and confusing world these days. A great river of digital information surges around us constantly, most of it beyond our reach and without our even knowing. Family and society are not what they used to be. A peculiar handful of people are determined to kill us for no sensible reason we can understand. And the darker reaches of fiction seem to be the best way to explain all this. I’ve written stories, the last few years, about drugs, street gangs, terrorism, blind computer dating. About people who are just scraping by, and about people who live beyond the normal reaches of society. Could a respectable ‘literary’ writer broach those subjects any better? I think not.
Wendy: Who is your audience?
Tony Richards: Unless he hires an extremely busy private detective agency, a writer can never really know who his genuine audience is. He can only hope who they might be. And I hope my audience isn’t simply in it for the storyline, however interesting that might be. I hope that they appreciate good writing. I hope that they appreciate the occasional outburst of wit. I certainly hope that they’re into the characters that I create, particularly in my novels. And most especially, I hope they’re looking for a far-reaching imagination. That’s confined to no particular age or social group — it’s down to the individual. And if you judge that thing by the reviews that I’ve received the last few years, then that audience is definitely out there.
Wendy: When you adopt a well-known character like Sherlock Holmes, you must satisfy two groups of readers: the fans (or potential fans) of your work as well as the fans of the character himself. Can you tell us more about how these two groups will be satisfied with your new collection?
Tony Richards: Charles Prepolec, who’s edited several Sherlock Holmes anthologies in the past, approached me at a convention and asked me if I’d like to contribute to his upcoming Dark Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes. And I kind of twitched nervously and muttered, “Er, I’ll think about it.” Because until that point I’d never once considered writing anything about the Great Detective. Part of the problem was — with the exception of one story called ‘By a Dark Canal,’ which was about the early life of Abraham van Helsing — I simply do not write period fiction. I base my work on my own experiences and the places I have been, not on reading stuff in history books. So I struggled with the concept for about two months. And the solution I finally came up with was as follows … Holmes dies at the Reichenbach Falls in ‘The Final Clue,’ right? Then eight years later he reappears in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles.’ Isn’t it possible, given those circumstances, that he is immortal. That he just pops back into existence like Captain Scarlet in the old Gerry Anderson show. Given the enduring nature of the Sherlock Holmes character, the way it has imprinted itself on worldwide culture, that seemed to make sense. And so I went ahead and wrote a story setting Holmes in modern-day Las Vegas, sent it to Charles, and he was delighted with it.
But the fact was I had as much fun writing that story as anything I’ve ever written, and I decided to do some more. Three of them, two more stories and a novelette, are out on Kindle. But they’re just a sampler, because most of a full-sized book, ‘The Astonishing Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century,’ is currently with my agent.
My usual audience will enjoy the huge amount of imagination and the sense of adventure that I bring to these new tales. And I hope Holmes fans will appreciate the fact that, despite the change of setting and the modern age he finds himself in, Sherlock Holmes is still very much Sherlock Holmes.
Wendy: In your Sherlock Holmes stories, The Great Detective clashes with supernatural elements in present day. This is quite a change from the original series, where Holmes’ continuously proved that what seemed unnatural in his cases were actually quite natural and explainable. What was the genesis of this new twist, and how does Holmes cope with this new, unexplainable phenomena?
Tony Richards: In the original stories he debunked a lot of myths, for sure. He was presented as the triumph of intellect over superstition. But the fact was, Arthur Conan Doyle was, in real life, a pretty superstitious guy. He attended séances. He was attached to the Theosophists. And that shows through in his fiction … there was always the potential that Holmes would come across something spooky and inexplicable. He still triumphs in most of the tales I’ve written. He wins the day and solves the case by observation and by figuring things out. And the fact that he himself has turned out to be immortal opens him up to brand-new possibilities — I say as much in the very first story. So there’s no real conflict. It’s a natural progression.
Wendy: One of my favorite stories from Our Lady of the Shadows was “Real Life,” which was about a writer who starts to see his fictional characters around town. Do your own characters haunt you this way sometimes?
Tony Richards: Haunt me, no. Live with me, yes. The ones that particularly do are Ross Devries and Cassie Mallory, the protagonists in my Raine’s Landing series of novels. The central premise of the books is this — Raine’s Landing looks like a perfectly ordinary town, albeit deep in the heart of the Massachusetts woodlands. But it’s actually the place the real witches of Salem fled to just before the Trials in 1692, and down the centuries it’s become full of strangeness and magic. Bad things happen. Ross and Cassie are the only ones with the real strength and sense to sort them out.
I’ve written four books set there so far, and am halfway through a fifth. And one of the real points about the novels is that — unlike some series — the characters evolve. They go through changes in their lives, and their experiences transform them. By the end of the third book, for instance, Cassie is expecting a new child, and since she’s a tough action-woman that is a colossal upset, altering her life completely. And it’s not only those two. Characters like police lieutenant Saul Hobart and like Lauren Brennan — who was introduced in book two and becomes a regular fixture by the end of book four — find their lives being overturned as well. And you simply cannot write about that — simply cannot visualize it — unless these people become real to you. You have to care about them, otherwise who else is going to do so?
Wendy: Was going to the library a part of your childhood? Do you still go?
Tony Richards: It was a colossal part. I was in and out of both my school library and my local one the whole time, and found out, through those venues, about Ray Bradbury, Raymond Chandler, and even Ernest Hemingway, three writers who’ve had a massive influence on my own fiction. These days, unfortunately, I prefer to purchase books than borrow them. That’s slightly weird, because I never re-read anything. There’s always so much still waiting to be devoured. But if I’ve read a book, I like to keep a copy of it on my shelves … it’s part of that whole ‘reverence for the printed word’ thing. I used to still visit libraries for the purposes of research, except these days there is the Internet. So I’m afraid the fact is for the last couple of years I’ve only visited libraries when they’re selling off some of their older novels — I’ve got hold of some genuine treasures that way. But libraries continue to do an amazing job, particularly when it comes to introducing younger readers to the world of books. Whenever I pass one and see small kids going in there, I think, “Mini-me.”
Wendy: The purpose of our website is to help librarians make well-informed decisions about which horror-genre books to purchase for their collections. What books do you feel are “must have” titles for libraries?
Tony Richards: My recent Our Lady of the Shadows — from Dark Regions Press — is a collection of my ghost rather than horror work. It has some chilling tales, but some gentler and more humane ones too. A couple of the latter are based on my experiences in the Far East, and I’m extremely proud of them. My first collection with Dark Regions — Shadows and Other Tales — is very much a ‘best of’ collection of my horror fiction, and encompasses nearly three decades of publication in mags and anthologies. Any of the three Raine’s Landing novels currently in print — Dark Rain, Night of Demons, and Midnight’s Angels — would also be good.
Wendy: What projects are you working on now?
Tony Richards: I’ve already mentioned Raine’s Landing book five — Speak of the Devil — and the Holmes collection. I also have a supernatural horror novel, set in the Caribbean, with my agent and doing the rounds. And although I turned away from sf, I never totally gave up on that genre and am currently putting together a collection of my best science fiction stories, some of which first appeared in magazines like Asimov’s. And I have a second fictional town — Birchiam-on-Sea, on England’s south coast — in which subtler strange things happen than in Raine’s Landing. The first story set there, ‘The Waiters,’ appeared in Weird Tales and I’ve had four more published since then. And I’m hoping to produce enough of that kind of fiction the next couple of years to bring out a Birchiam collection — provisional title, Moon on Dark Water. So I’ve got plenty keeping me busy.
Wendy: If you could suggest one book for librarians to purchase to introduce their patrons to Tony Richards, which one would you suggest?
Tony Richards: It would have to be the latest Raine’s Landing story, Midnight’s Angels, also from Dark Regions Press. It’s had rave reviews, each of them expressing the wish to read more about that curious town, and the characters really come into their own in that novel.
Wendy: More and more, we are receiving requests to review independent and self-published works. How has the industry changed over the years, and what do you think the future holds for authors?
Tony Richards: A simple zero and a one have changed the whole world, haven’t they? I’ve just this year begun self-publishing on Amazon Kindle — I’ve ten titles out so far. I don’t see it as a career change, simply as another string to my bow and a way of introducing my work to new readers. But what you genuinely notice these days, whenever you go on the Internet, is that almost everyone is trying their hand at writing and getting published somehow these days, and they’re all vying for attention. What this will produce in the end I simply do not know, but the days of a few big publishing houses calling all the shots are well and truly over, and the smarter publishers are taking that on board and adapting to it.
The biggest concern — and I thought this as soon as I heard about digital publishing — is piracy. And the best thing that I’ve found out recently — talking to people on media like Kindleboards — is that there are plenty of readers still out there who on principle will not download pirate copies. But there are other people who simply go, ‘Hey, it’s on the Internet, it’s free!’ They’re ripping off creative people and don’t even acknowledge that they’re doing so, and that’s a worry.
Wendy: Is there anything else you’d like librarians and readers to know?
Tony Richards: One of the things I’ve genuinely come to enjoy over the past few years is reading my work out to an audience. I read at most conventions I go to, and I recently read for a charity event. And I know that distance is a problem, what with me living in London and all. But I travel to America a couple of times a year for conventions, and if I’m in your district and you’d like me to do a reading at your library or in front of your group, invite me. I’ll happily show up. There’s a contact button on the home page of my website: www.richardsreality.com.
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