John Ritchie Interview
Posted on 18 July 2012. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to flash fiction and short story writer John Ritchie, aka WriteWords member Prospero
Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing
I have written on and off since I was around five years old and even managed to make a career out of it for a while when I became the Technical Author for Emirates Airlines I.T. department in Dubai, where I spent twelve years writing computer user manuals.
My wife, who I met in Dubai, was the Editor of a popular life-style magazine there and in return for writing the first drafts of restaurant reviews and travel articles I got to accompany her to hotels and restaurants all over the Middle and Far East.
I also wrote fiction in my spare time, as a member of a local Writers Group, and was placed twelfth out of twenty-five in a United Arab Emirates-wide literary competition.
I currently have over 370 pieces of work in my WriteWords archive and lots of other bits scattered around the place, such as a Doorknobs and BodyPaint Anthology, the Heavy Glow Anthology, an Every Day Fiction Anthology, MicroHorror, Bewildering Stories, Duck and Herring, Mytholog, etc.
I am presently pretending to write a novel, but fooling no one, including myself.
One of my earliest memories, circa five years old, is having the writing desk, paper and pens I had asked for, for Christmas, and then saying ‘What shall I write?’ I knew I wanted to, I just didn’t know how.
I learned to read at an early age, and read widely and indiscriminately, before trying to emulate what I had been reading in my own writing. Each subsequent reading discovery setting me off another hopeless Quixotic quest, culminating in an Open University degree in English Literature and some new writers to admire and attempt to copy.
What other work do you do besides writing?
My first editing job was for ‘Daylight’ the magazine of Petts Wood Young Conservatives. I had no interest in politics, but I did have some cracking girls doing the typing.
I was also the Features Editor for the Kinloss Focus, the station magazine at R.A.F. Kinloss, when I was in the service and, once upon a time, did some story selection and editing for the online magazine, Mytholog.
I have done a lot of Am Dram, acting and directing, and that has often helped when visualising situations for my stories, I can ‘see’ the characters moving around and thus know what they are seeing and how that affects the development of the story.
I flatter myself I have occasionally helped other writers. In one case I showed someone how to break up a long passage of dialogue with bits of action. In turn I have been helped, encouraged and inspired by some seriously talented and generous people here in Write Words.
Who are your favourite writers/influences and why?
THAT is the question. Just a sample: Jerome K. Jerome, ‘Three Men in A Boat’ sublime silliness. Shakespeare, simply sublime. Arthur C. Clark. ‘2001’ – a real mind blower. J.D. Salinger, ‘A Catcher in Rye’, deceptively simple. Robert M. Pirsig – ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’; read and re-read. George MacDonald-Fraser – very funny. Ian Rankin and Peter James – opposite ends of everything: country, style, format, but cracking writers both. Recently discovered: Gordon Ferris, Glasgow as opposed to Edinburgh, but another excellent noir crime writer.
I suppose I favour tight, economic writing that is witty and intelligent. I hate being spoon-fed and much prefer to work at a text to tease out the deeper meaning. Unfortunately, this tends to inform my writing and I have been accused of being obtuse.
How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication? Can you tell us about the process/journey?
Now this is really tricky as I can’t really remember which story was the first one to be taken up and published, but I do remember entering a competition in Doorknobs and Body Paint in 2005 with a story called ‘Last Rites’ and winning. That was my first piece for that particular publication and my first win – ever.
What's the worst thing about writing?
Not having enough time and/or money to devote yourself entirely to it. Though even as I write that, I know it is a cop-out. You can always find what you need of either, if you really want to.
Okay, the next worse thing is doubting yourself, and your ability to write. That can get you into the dreaded Ground Hog Day where you write Chapter One Page One over and over again as you seek that elusive perfection. AARRGGH!
Maybe I should just leave you with this - The problem with being a writer
And the best?
When people tell me I made them laugh, or cry, or I made them spit their coffee all over the keyboard, or as someone once wrote: “If I read that story as the opening page of a book, I would buy the book.” YES!
Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing.
Whenever I write and publish something on WriteWords I always tick the ‘Go on I can take it’ box. Hopefully, that encourages people to write and tell me what they really think. I like to know if people like something, but I also need to know if something I have written stinks: hard to believe that I could be that bad, I know, but apparently it does, sometimes, happen.
When I get responses I look for commonalities. If I find several comments hit on the same spot then I look at that more closely, particularly if people tell me there is something about that part they don’t like. One thing that really gives me a buzz though, is when I get a discussion going, with people either arguing about what I mean by what I have written or whether I should have written it at all. I love to feel I have stimulated debate with my writing.
What was your breakthrough moment?
I think it was when my Dad told me I have an easy, readable style. That is my favourite comment ever. Now when someone actually likes what I write I get that thrill over again. It’s lovely, and its spurs me on to write something new.
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