Michael Ridpath Interview
Posted on 27 August 2010. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to bestselling financial thriller author Michael Ridpath
Tell us something about your background.
My first book, Free To Trade, was published in 1995. Since then I have written seven more financial thrillers. A few years ago I decided to change genres and begin a series about an Icelandic detective named Magnus. The first book in this series, Where The Shadows Lie, was published this summer and I have almost finished the second.
I have been wary of doing work outside my own novel writing, I am afraid it will distract me and be counterproductive in terms of income earned. But I have no proof that this is the case.
How, when and why did you first start writing?
I was working in a bank as a bond trader yelling on telephones and writing nothing longer than my signature on a dealing ticket. I wanted to do something more creative, so I decided to write in my spare time as a kind of hobby. I bought a couple of `how to’ books on writing. The first exercise I tried was to write the first chapter of a novel. I took a recent deal I had been involved in and embellished it.
I loved it. Not so much the chapter itself but rather the process of writing it. So I decided to forget the other exercises and go ahead and write a whole novel. Four years later the result was Free To Trade which reached No 2 in England and was translated in over 30 languages.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
There are two I suppose. Dick Francis wrote thoroughly enjoyable thrillers about a subject (horse racing) that didn’t interest me particularly. I wanted to recreate for other people the pleasure I received from reading his books.
William Boyd is not afraid to try different approaches to writing novels. I admire his courage and the way he sometimes achieves real genius.
How did you get your first agent/ commission?
How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication? Can you tell us about the process/journey?
I wrote and rewrote my first novel, Free To Trade, over a three year period before finally deciding it was good enough to send out to agents. I drew up a list and sent off the first two chapters, two by two. The second on the list, Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann asked for the rest of the book. A couple of weeks later she rang me at work and asked me round for a cup of tea. She and her partner Julian Friedmann asked if they could represent me. I thought it over for a second and said yes.
Carole sent the manuscript out immediately with an enthusiastic letter to all the top publishers about how she had discovered an original first novel. A bidding war ensued and after another couple of weeks, Heinemann had bought the novel for a record advance for a first-time novelist.
It’s a cliché, but it’s true so I will write it: the whole thing was like a dream happening to someone else. In fact in the following year I thought I would wake up and discover that everyone would realise they had made a mistake and the book wasn’t any good at all.
What's the worst thing about writing?
Rejection. All writers experience it at some stage in their career, usually at the beginning. For me it was in the middle. You know you shouldn’t take it personally, but it is impossible not to. I sometimes think successful people are just those who don’t give up.
And the best?
Writing a scene very rapidly, usually involving an argument or some moments of tension, punching out the full stop at the end with a flourish and realising that you have written 2,000 words. It is almost as if you have spent the last couple of hours away somewhere else and have just returned to reality exhausted, but also invigorated.
Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.
I often receive e-mails from readers telling me that they have stayed up all night to read my book in one sitting. These make me feel I have succeeded. Sometimes when I am considering the trade-off between pace and some other goal (description, characterisation, background information) , I remember these readers, and go for pace.
What was your breakthrough moment?
Carole’s assistant somehow managed to sell a serialisation of Free To Trade to The Daily Telegraph over Christmas in 1994. I am sure this really helped sales when the book came out in January.
A couple of years later the assistant left Blake Friedmann to become a singer. Silly woman, I thought she had a promising career in publishing. Her name was Dido Armstrong.
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