We suggest you read the assorted works by best-selling author Richard Harland
I recently stumbled across Richard Harland’s young adult fantasy series, The Ferren Trilogy. The text is full of game-changing cliffhangers at the end of almost every chapter, that solidly boost a reader’s momentum, as well as create integral bridges across the gaps between chapters. I had the honor of seeing what made Richard into the author he is today.
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What inspired you to write a book?
I first thought how great it would be to be a writer when I was about ten. My best friend and I had this area like a junkyard at the back of his house – all sorts of junk, like packing cases, old tin baths, metal drums, carpets, pipes, wire, everything you could think of. We used that junk to build submarines, airplanes, fortresses, tanks – and we built on a big scale, big enough to walk around in the sub or airplane or whatever. Andy supervised the construction; he was very mechanically minded, but I took the lead when we’d finished building and started making up adventures that could happen to us in the things we’d built. Wave after wave of attackers coming against us in the fortress, some traitor letting them in, a fire, pinned in a single last tower … Or attacked by an enemy submarine, forced to hide under an ice cap, running out of oxygen, surfacing through ice and ripping holes in the hull … We came back after school every day and added to the story, and some of our stories went on for weeks.
Then, one time it rained for day after day – did I say I was living in England back then? We couldn’t get out to our junkyard, called ‘the Chicken Run,’ and we were so bored that we decided to write down some of our stories, like pretend books. So that passed the time – but then Andy’s older sister Kitty, who was as bored as we were, started reading some of our stories. “Hey, these aren’t bad,” she said. “Why don’t you try selling them?”
She had an idea of how to do it, too. We had to copy our five or six best stories using an old-fashioned duplicator (these were the days before computers!), and then we took them to school to sell in the school playground. Only we didn’t exactly ‘sell’ them, because none of our friends had spare money or didn’t want to part with it. Instead, they did swaps for our stories: candies, comix, and even some of their school lunches.
I guess that’s when I first learned that being a writer isn’t the easiest route to being a multi-millionaire. But I learned something else, too – that there is no better feeling in the world than to have someone read a story you’ve written and say, “Hey, that was great; you got another one?” And then you know that something you imagined inside your head has gone into someone else’s head. They experienced it, too! Absolutely no better feeling – it makes your heart beat faster!
That was when I thought how great it would be to become a writer. But, years later, when I applied myself seriously to making the dream come true, that’s when I hit writer’s block. Twenty-five years of it! As I described in my bio … there were many stupid reasons why I could never finish anything I started, stupid reasons like manic perfectionism, being too proud to listen to advice, trying to produce literary forms of fiction that didn’t come naturally to me, etc etc. But the one thing I did right through all those twenty-five years – I kept on trying; I never gave up!
What inspired me to write my latest fantasy, Ferren and the Angel, was a strange and vivid dream that gifted me the first ten pages. A great war between the armies of Heaven and the armies of Earth, and seeing an angel shot down and crashing to the Earth close by… But that’s another tale.
Was there a book or author that you admired that played a role when developing your book?
I’d have to go back to all the research I did when my dream of a war between Heaven and Earth required a whole vast creation of background. So I had to explore the old esoteric lore of angelology – and, since this was before angels featured on the web or Wikipedia, the only way was to dig into forgotten, dusty corners of research libraries. Gustav Davidson’s Dictionary of Angels and the Fallen Angels was my first and best guide. I also read widely in the not-quite-orthodox religious texts such as the Apocrypha – The Book of Enoch was a particular goldmine.
It is often said that to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?
Interesting question for Ferren and the Angel! The backstory for the novel – the start of the war between Heaven and Earth — is that human medical scientists overcome the boundary between life and death, bring the brain of a dead person back to consciousness – and discover that there is a life after death and the deceased person’s soul has been with the angels in Heaven. Led to the most significant media news sensation ever, competition between the great powers, ‘psychonauts’ sent up to explore the divine realm, and the outbreak of a terrible, destructive war that lasted a thousand years by Ferren’s time.
But do I believe in Heaven and a life after death? I’d call myself an agnostic – my head doesn’t think, not without proof, and my head calls the shots right now. But I’ve been told I’ll probably end up a deathbed convert, and maybe it’s true! I’m not religious, yet religion stirs me deeply and always has. I don’t know why; I don’t come from a religious family. But the rituals, the mythology, the sheer beauty of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic system of angelology fascinates me, speaks to me, calls to me. I guess the heart says one thing, and the head says another.
So, to answer your question, I don’t believe believe, but I think I have the kind of belief necessary to create convincingly. Maybe ‘belief’ isn’t the right word; maybe it’s a sort of love that doesn’t require me to decide true or false. Perhaps it’s an atavistic thing in the blood that comes to me from the long tradition of religion in human history.
Looking at it from the other side, I don’t think I could have created the world of Ferren and the Angel if I believed with my head and heart. Because the story involves a whole lot of new mythology – like the Great Collapse, when immense portions of Heavenly ether crashed onto the Earth, setting fire to entire continents. Sometimes the new mythology draws on old mythology, like the belief of St Jerome and other early Church fathers that the Fallen Angels would eventually repent and be allowed back up into Heaven. But much of it is simply made up – and I hope I’ve made it up with genuine religious feeling, so that it has the numinous quality of a story out of the Bible. But let’s face it – if I believed with my head as well as my heart, I’d never have dared make it up at all.
Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
I had twenty-five years of writer’s block when I hung around waiting for inspiration! Inspiration got me started on book after book, but never carried me through to the end. I still have a wardrobe full of maybe a hundred unfinished manuscripts at home.
One of the things that helped me break the blockage was the realization that I don’t NEED to feel inspired to write. The total world and story of a novel are much, much bigger than a single good idea – and they’re present in the back of my mind the whole time, I’m not going to lose them overnight. So I start writing straight after breakfast every morning – bar Xmas and birthdays! – and very soon the world and story come back to the front of my mind and start pushing me on again. Maybe it seems unromantic and mechanical to have a totally regular writing schedule, but I see it more as a kind of trust in the fictional world and story. They’re bigger than me, they don’t need my small feeling-good-about-myself. I guess I’m more of a servant than a master – I let the world and story command my writing rather than the other way round!
Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
I’m a very visual writer. I picture things vividly, put myself in the shoes of the characters as if I was there, then try to record what they see, hear, think and feel in the simplest words possible. I don’t look for verbal pyrotechnics – the pyrotechnics are what happens on the other side of the words. I want the reader to experience that as clearly and directly as possible. People say reading my novels is like watching a movie, so perhaps that’s why.
The first draft of Ferren and the Angel was written in the present tense – and that’s still how I imagine every event, as if it’s unfolding right now. But editors didn’t like it, and they’re probably right – when readers expect past tense, a different tense is distracting and gets in the way of experiencing as directly as possible. But if I could somehow magically convert all readers into expecting the present tense …!
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing? What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?
The hardest thing is the middle of the novel where possibilities multiply, and it’s so easy to lose momentum when the build-up to the climax is still so far away. The easiest thing is when I’ve set up the beginning well, carried the development through the middle – and the story starts telling itself as I come towards the climax! I call it the toboggan glide! It’s absolutely exhilarating, best feeling in the world!
Are you working on something new at the moment?
Right now, I’m working on books 2 and 3 of The Ferren Trilogy – Ferren and the Doomsday Mission and Ferren and the Invaders of Heaven. It’s all coming together perfectly – each novel with its own complete story, but also building one on top of the other, larger and larger in scope. Ferren and the Invaders of Heaven really is about a full-on invasion of Heaven — by the so-called Humen who rule the Earth. Ferren, his friends and Miriael the fallen angel have to choose a side and play a crucial part in the fighting. Every book in the trilogy ends with a big rolling climax – and book three’s will be the ultimate!
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Only that Ferren and the Angel was released worldwide on November 6th and is now available from all online stores and good bookstores generally! Yippee! RRP in the US is $16.99 paperback, $5.99 ebook.
About Richard Harland
Richard was born in Yorkshire, England, then migrated to Australia at the age of twenty-one. He was always trying to write, but could never finish the stories he began. Instead he drifted around as a singer, songwriter and poet, then became a university tutor and finally a university lecturer. But after twenty-five years of writer’s block, he finally finished the cult novel, The Vicar of Morbing Vyle, and resigned his lectureship to follow his original dream.
Since then, he’s produced seventeen books of fantasy, SF and horror/supernatural, ranging from Children’s to Young Adult to Adult. Best known internationally for Worldshaker and its sequels, he’s won many awards in France and Australia.
He lives with his partner Aileen near Wollongong, south of Sydney, between golden beaches and green escarpment. Walking Yogi the Labrador while listening to music is his favourite relaxation—when he’s not writing like a mad workaholic, catching up on those wasted twenty-five years …
For all aspiring writers, he’s compiled a 145-page guide to all aspects of writing fantasy fiction at www.writingtips.com.au.
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