I’m joined today by Chris Rickaby, author of the splendidly named Billy Quiz and the Mission to Mars. Thanks for popping by Chris. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
I’m born and bred in Newcastle upon Tyne and proud of that. It’s a great city with a unique accent, and a working-class culture rooted in the mines and shipyards that have now, sadly, mostly disappeared. I have always been an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction. I used to play a lot of football when I was younger and these days play lots of tennis. I’m a big fan of Newcastle United which as footballing pilgrimages go has turned out to be a long, hard road!
What inspired you to start writing?
Initially, the love of reading, books, bookshops and stories I had as a child.
Latterly, I have worked as a copywriter in advertising for most of my career and then also got involved in writing and production for TV. So, starting to write novels has felt, for me, like a natural progression as I have always been involved professionally with words, ideas and stories.
Tell me about your journey to publication
A bit like being a fan of Newcastle United, it’s also been a long road.
As with many other authors, it’s been something of a rollercoaster ride with lots of ups and downs. I started to develop the story that became Billy Quiz on one of Curtis Brown’s creative writing courses which I’d recommend to anyone who wants to develop a career as a novelist. They are excellent. When I approached literary agents with the project I got a lot of interest and had immediate offers of representation from Conville & Walsh and Peters Frazer and Dunlop. The book was then pitched and, initially, garnered a lot of interest and positive feedback from publishers. But, over time, this interest waned. The main reason for this seemed to be that sales and marketing departments could not clearly see how to place the book in the marketplace – it doesn’t perfectly fit into an existing genre. I think also the first-person Geordie accent Billy Quiz is written in might also have been bit of barrier given that the UK publishing industry is very London-based.
Then, out of the blue, Gill at One Word – who had always loved the story – e-mailed and said she’d like to publish it. Which was great news.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
Assuming you mean Billy Quiz, not the one I’m currently writing? Newcastle 1976: As he struggles to overcome the recent death of his mam, 16-year-old Geordie brain-box Billy Quiz drops out of school and joins his dad working at the city’s main post-office. Soon, mysterious letters start to appear in Billy’s postbag written to people who, it turns out, are already dead.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The working title I had for the book was Letters to the Dead. Gill at One Word suggested using the character name in the title and together we jotted down some possibilities. The final title was one of Gill’s suggestions which worked really well.
How do you celebrate publication day?
When it comes to celebrations I’m on the opposite end of the scale to Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. The yin to Jordan’s yang. So, I’ll probably just go my local and have a couple of pints. But, seeing it’s a special occasion, I might go mad and have a packet of crisps as well.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
As well as writing under my own name, I also write as part of a team with the former FT journalist, Barney Thompson, under the pen-name Ben Creed. We have a debut coming out called CITY OF GHOSTS, a Soviet-era historical thriller, published by Welbeck in Oct of this year. I’m currently working on the sequel to that book with Barney.
You can read about it here: https://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk/ben-creed-author-interview/
I’m also jotting down some initial ideas for a new book for me to write on my own. But the Ben Creed sequel is my priority as it’s part of a three-book deal.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
I read a lot of non-fiction these days. My lockdown favourite was Dresden: The Fire and the Darkness by Sinclair McKay.
What are you reading just now?
Two things: Drawings From the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev a series of chilling depictions of torture and imprisonment under Soviet communism by an ex-gulag prison guard. That’s for research on the book I’m currently writing.
The other book is Prague Fatale by Phillip Kerr. One of the fantastic series of Bernie Gunther Second World War thrillers.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. It’s a very big twelve-novel sequence which spans a large chunk of the 20th century. It would provide a lot of island reading. I was a teenager when I first read it and have read it two more times since. When you read it at different ages it reads differently as you acquire more experience of life. It’s a very Marmite book series. Some people hate it. But I love it. It has a huge cast of characters most of whom come from very different – upper crust – backgrounds to mine but Powell manages to give a brilliant sense of the social rhythms of life – how people come and go in the course of an individual’s lifetime; being first at its centre, then moving to the periphery, finally disappearing over the horizon. Only to reappear many years later in a somewhat unexpected new guise – the ‘Dance’ of the title.
Is there a book you’d love to see made into a film?
Not a film but a Netflix series – Kerr’s Gunther books would be great and there are plenty of them to serialise.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I don’t do Facebook anymore but I’m on Twitter and Linked In. My website is www.chrisrickaby.com if anyone was interested to find about other creative projects I have been involved with.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
I’d like to be William of Baskerville in The Name of the Rose – a wise, patient and well-read Sherlock-Holmes like investigator because in real life I’m absolutely nothing like that. Save, perhaps, for the bit about having done plenty of reading.
You can order a copy of the Billy Quiz and the Mission to Mars on the publishers’ website here: Billy Quiz