TToday we have a special treat for you – it’s less than a week before the publication of his latest novel, A Life Eternal, and to mark this exciting occasion we got the author, Richard Ayre in to do a virtual, fully socially-distanced interview with us.
Richard is not only an amazing author, he’s also an all-round great guy with a fascinating story to tell. So, without further ado…
Hi Richard. To start, could you tell us a bit about yourself – how did you start writing and why?
I’ve always been an avid reader, which is what I think is important as a writer. When I was younger I always had several books on the go; one in the bedroom, one in the sitting room and usually one in the bathroom too. Either that or I’d be reading the labels on shampoo bottles.
I loved writing as a kid and at school English Lit was always my favourite lesson because I got to write stories. I still remember writing a dystopian future story in Middle school, and the teacher telling me it was really good and that I had a talent for it. I liked that praise as I was never the most diligent student. Writing was my thing. I loved creating characters and settings and seeing how things would turn out.
When I was in my twenties, back in the late eighties, I began work on a story that would eventually become ‘Point of Contact.’ I sent it round to all the agents I could find and they all rejected it. With good reason. When I eventually returned to that script in 2016, I could see what an affront to their professionalism it must have been. It was awful! However, the kernel of a good story was there, and after ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ was published I went back to it and changed it round and made it better. It remains one of my favourite stories to this day.
However, before I went back to POC I had an idea for a horror novel, based on my love of rock music and horror books. I was (and still am) a huge James Herbert fan, and I’ve been told that my writing is reflected in this. But anyway, I wrote Minstrel’s Bargain (by hand, I’ll have you know-all 116,000 words of the original text) but again, it got nowhere. By this time it was the early nineties and blood-soaked horror was not in vogue at all. By this point, my eldest daughter had been born so the manuscripts of both Point of Contact and Minstrel’s Bargain went and lived in the loft where they sat for the next twenty years as I concentrated on bringing up two children and working on my degree. It wasn’t until 2015 that I pulled the MS of Minstrel’s Bargain out again. By this time there was a slew of small publishers around and one took it on! That didn’t work out, as it happens, but it gave me my love of writing back again. I soon re-wrote Point of Contact and then decided that Minstrel’s Bargain needed a sequel, and that then turned into a trilogy. So, after a hiatus of a couple of decades, my love of writing has returned. Hopefully to stay.
With no spoilers, tell us a bit about A Life Eternal and what prompted you to write it.
A Life Eternal is a story, in essence, about the meaning of life. I had an idea about a man who aged, but aged very slowly, so he seemed to be immortal. However, when I told my wife about this idea, she gently pointed me in the direction of ‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig. So I found that my idea had been nicked! Anyway, I thought that was the end of that, but the idea would not go away.
I began to think about what the reality of being immortal would be-what it would really be like to live forever-and I decided that it would be awful. How could you fall in love if you knew that, one day, that person would disappear from your life while you remained young and vital? What would that do to your humanity? I also did not really like the idea of someone living for hundreds and hundreds of years-I thought that this would drive anyone who suffered it mad. And so the main idea of A Life Eternal was born. I would tell the simple story of an ordinary man with an extra-ordinary life, based in the 20th Century; a time, perhaps, of the biggest changes of the human race. It remains the fastest story I’ve written; it seemed to pour from me and I completed the first draft in about three months. I’ve never known that before, and I hope it bodes well for the book.
Your previous novels were a mix of music and horror – so A Life Eternal is a bit of a change of scene from that! How did you come up with the inspiration for the story?
I think the idea for the story, and the character of Rob Deakin, came from my love of history, I am a history teacher, after all. The First World War was an industrial war-it was a war of factories and steel and explosives-and it has always interested me how it must have affected the men who went through it and survived.
The Prophecy Trilogy (Minstrel’s Bargain, Minstrel’s Renaissance and Minstrel’s Requiem) tell the tale of a demon who possesses the souls of people who hear his music and, for a rather convoluted reason, they commit horrible murders and acts of violence. The horror is very real in these books, they really are full of blood and guts. Proper early James Herbert! Point of Contact is a slightly different kettle of fish as it is more sci-fi than horror, and I also indulged in my love of the action genre in that one; it is rather fast paced towards the end if I do say so myself.
But I wanted to stretch my writer’s muscles if you like with A Life Eternal. I wanted to write a character-based story, even though I still wanted that fantasy element. I wrote a short story called ‘Reflections in Silver and Gold’ a few years back, a story about an old man who had met the love of his life in World War 2 and returned to Rome where they had first met to put right a mistake he had made when they were both young. I found that I liked writing about the inner torment of this character, and that’s probably where Rob Deakin came from. I wanted to write a story about a man’s life and his loves and losses and triumphs. I wanted to explore emotion, rather than events.
Is Rob Deakin – the main character in A Life Eternal – based on anyone you knew?
I suppose Rob is based on all those men we see in flickering, black-and-white footage of the war. Unlike Phil Sturgess, the hero of the Prophecy Books, who is very much me, Rob is from a different time. His background is farming and hunting, whereas mine is in coal-mining and industry, but I still wanted him to be from Northumberland, like me. So he is not based on anyone I know.
However, there are a couple of characters in the book based on real people, none more so than the man Rob remembers who is saved from being eviscerated by shrapnel when it hits his rifle and snaps it in half. That man was my own grandfather, who I unfortunately never met as he died before I was born. That happened to him. He joined up and went to war at the age of seventeen, and I can’t imagine what he must have gone through and how lucky he was to survive. How lucky all of them were who survived. He served in World War 2 as well. Mad when you think about it. So the inspiration for the story was a combination of my love of history and my admiration for those youngsters who went and fought as men in that awful conflict.
A Life Eternal includes a ton of historical events from the 20th Century. What time and place would you most want to visit and why?
God, I honestly don’t know. There’s so many. Not a war, that’s for sure-I’d be rubbish. I think, instead of a time period, it would be who from history I’d like to meet. That would be Horatio Nelson. He’s a man who was about eight stone soaking wet, was sea-sick every time he went to sea, lost various bits of his body, always leading from the front, and eventually died fighting at the age of only 48 or so. I’d love to sit down and talk with this man who had his weaknesses and knew it, and yet was a leader who inspired confidence and even love from the men he commanded. I based Captain Jonathon Greene on Nelson.
Tell us about your writing routine and where you tend to write.
I tend to write in the evening and at weekends, although recently I’ve found that the well has dried up somewhat. The strange times we’re all living in at the moment have made it difficult for me to concentrate. I have a little room I grandly call ‘the office’ where my laptop sits and stares at me reproachfully as I scan Facebook or Twitter instead of writing. I’m hoping to break back into the habit of regular writing soon, and I’ve recently written a short story to get me back into the routine. I tend to see my stories as movies, and I think that’s how they play out on the pages. Everything mentioned is important, including the music. So, for example, the Billie Holiday song in A Life Eternal is, for me, an integral part of the plot, and I hope that readers will go and listen to it. The lyrics add another level to the experience of reading, I think.
How did you find the editing and publication process? (Don’t worry about hurting our feelings – we’ve got thick skins…!)
I found the process exciting, but difficult. It’s hard to kill your darlings, as they say, and some of the things Burning Chair wanted me to change, hurt. But the finished product shows that they were right. I think the hardest thing was changing the title. The title is always the first thing I come up with, and it tends to tell the story that I’m writing, so to change that was difficult… but again, I think it was for the best. The new title better describes the essence of the story than the original did.
Overall though, I actually enjoyed the process; just having a publisher who was so evidently interested in my work is a new experience for me, as the two publishers I’ve used before this were sadly remiss in their input. I can’t describe how excited I am about it coming out!
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
I’ve written about 11,000 words of a new story provisionally entitled ‘Godlike’. I don’t want to say too much about it, except that it has gone through many different stages, but has now settled into something I can get cracking with. It’s a story about two strangers who become linked together after a car crash. The reason for this becomes clear through a series of regression sessions by a clinical psychologist, and the truth leads to a bit of a showdown. It asks the questions of what is good and what is bad, and can bad things lead to good results? It’s going to have a bit of mystery, a bit of speculative fiction, a bit of action and even a bit of politics. Now that I’ve finally worked out what the hell it’s about I’m looking forward to getting on with it.
Sounds exciting – keep us in mind for that! Finally, here’s our infamous Quick Fire Round – one word answers only…
1. Plotter or Pantser?
2. Stephen King or Clive Barker?
3. Pen or Keyboard?
4. Character or Plot?
5. Early Bird or Night Owl?
6. Crossword or Sudoko?
Crossword. Always crossword!
7. Sausage or Bacon?
8. Asking Questions or Answering Questions?
Answering questions. I love talking about me.
Thanks Richard – been a pleasure as always!
A Life Eternal is out as an ebook on Amazon from 15 June 2020, and a paperback at all good online and offline bookstores on the same date. To find out more, click here!
And you can also read an extract from the book for free by signing up for Richard’s readers group by clicking here!