Michael Ritchie [michaeljritchie]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I've read for as long as I've known how to read. My parents don't really read themselves, but they instilled the concept of "bedtime story" in me from a very early age. When I was able to read myself, I did, and I did to excess. I would read practically everything put in front of me.
I guess I was around seven or eight, possibly even younger, when I realised that there was always a person behind those stories, and that gave me the idea that that would be an awesome job to have. I've wanted to write for as long as I am able to remember.
I suppose my parents would have read my very early stuff, although there was a girl in primary school with whom I collaborated on a couple of stories, I seem to remember.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
All reading inspires me. Good writing inspires me to match it. Bad writing inspires me to better it.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
I am perfectly happy in either. I enjoy first person because you can go deeper into the emotional recesses of a character and really feel what they feel, but you are limited to tell the story through only their knowledge of events. Third person is great for huge sprawling things set in alternate realities that require a lot of exposition.
I enjoy writing things that have more than one narrator (I'm working on one novel that has ten or so) and sticking in first person for them all to get an in depth look at each character. It also allows me to show how they each interpret different events. Everyone's truth is different.
What well known writers do you admire most?
I am very fond of Agatha Christie's work, although did not discover her properly until a few years ago. Now, I simply can't get enough. She basically invented the whodunnit and is responsible for most of the tropes we now know from the genre. Hell, any twist ending you can think of? She probably invented it.
Douglas Coupland is another author I admire greatly, as he is so in tune with the current attitude of the Western world, and indeed has been for over twenty years, that he's almost clairvoyant. I don't feel he gets enough recognition.
Another one with not nearly enough recognition is Jasper Fforde, who has created several incredible, intelligent worlds and series. If you love reading, love books, love stories, he is the man for you.
Finally, I greatly admire J. K. Rowling. Not necessarily for her novels because, while Jo can build an amazing world, and can produce characters in three dimensions every single time, she is not the best writer we've ever seen. However, she has spent much of her life during and since Potter working with charities and supporting reading programmes. We are indebted to her for making reading "cool" again and getting children to read. She will have my gratitude for the rest of time for that.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
Characters need to have flaws. Perfection is over-rated and impossible anyway, so having a character who can never do anything wrong is awful. Characters generally also need to be sympathetic, although not always. For example, J. K. Rowling's character of Professor Umbridge is simply one of the most incredible creations in all of fiction - someone who doesn't exist but whom I hate so much it makes my blood boil because of her actions.
I create my characters usually by taking a fairly regular person, although perhaps with a unique feature (an unusual name, a fondness for a peculiar hobby, etc) and plopping them down into the world. Sometimes the characters will run away and the story will progress with them, and that's a sign that you've created a good character. If you can't imagine the character doing anything while you're not around, you're not doing your job properly.
They say that to really know a character you need to know two things about them. Firstly, you should be able to know without looking how much money they have in their pocket. Secondly, you should know who they'd call at 3am.
Never be afraid to ask questions about your character, and always ask "Why?" A character may not like dogs, but why? They dye their hair, but why? They went into a profession that their parents did not approve of, but why? Ask yourself that and you'll begin digging into the backstory. It can be surprising what you find already sitting there.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
While I wish deeply that I was, I'm not. At least, I can tell a good story of something that really happened, but I cannot dictate fiction off the cuff and am in awe of people who have brains that work that fast.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
As ridiculous as it probably sounds, I write for the world. I want to have something to say, I'm just not sure I've found it yet.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Yes, absolutely. Studying Creative Writing at university was brilliant because it put me in a situation where I was surrounded by like-minded people. We were all there with similar intentions and with a certain understanding of storytelling. My parents don't really read, and my friends at the time didn't really either, so it was difficult to show them anything because their feedback, while recieved gratefully, was often difficult to listen to as, pretentious as it sounds, they don't really know what they're looking for.
One of the core foundations of my course was that the students critiqued, evaluated and analysed one another, even using other people's stories as the basis for an essay occasionally. Getting feedback from someone who knew what they wanted in a story was an amazing feeling, and really allows you to craft your writing. Of course, opinion is subjective, so not everyone will think the same, but if most people don't like the way you ended chapter three, you might want to think about changing it.
Don't be stubborn. By all means, write for yourself, but if you're planning to publish, it will be out there for the world to see.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I've been writing for a decade and a half, perhaps, so I have been through much in that time. The style I write in is not at all the one I used to write in, although that may have something to do with the fact I'm not nine years old anymore.
Generally, I'm aware of a voice I have, one that is casual, chatty and informal. It's not very funny, but that's OK. However, I do occasionally slip into another voice which is somewhat grittier. Perhaps I'm still looking.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I am very undisciplined when it comes to my writing, which I'm sure many of you will tut-tut me for. I find that when I force myself to sit down and write for a morning, nothing happens, but when I have other things to be doing (usually sleeping), I will have ideas churning around my head like otters chasing butterflies. I have been known to eat almost continuously instead of getting words down, but at the same time skipping one or two meals to write. I think that setting goals is absolutely fine if you work that way, but I've never found it useful.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I write practically everything on my laptop now, although I would love an old-fashioned typewriter. I rarely print my work, preferring to edit onscreen, but occasionally if I have something that requires a lot of work and a long train journey ahead of me, I will print it off and edit it with a red pen as I travel.
Word processors have been an absolute boon to writers simply because it allows you to move the text around and edit everything with a detail previously unthought of.
What are you working on now?
Actually, I trawled through all my old files the other day to find out how many ideas I had done and how many things I'd started. Turned out that it's seventy-one novels, thirteen short stories, four anthologies, three sitcoms, two drama series, an essay, personal memoirs and a musical.
I could be so prolific if I only had the energy.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
As someone notorious for doing this myself, I'm going to give you the advice I am trying to follow - show someone. I've found that occasionally I will dig through old work and find myself pleasantly surprised by how good it is, because I'm distanced enough to, in a way, forget that it was mine. It's a nice sensation because it proves that you are capable of doing well. Sometimes we need reminding. I think any old stuff should be examined. It could be that it isn't as good as something you've written more recently, which is often the case, but there may be a line, an idea, or a character in there that you want to return to, or maybe steal and use for a new thing. Cannibalise your old work and don't feel guilty about it. Got characters with no plot, and a plot with no characters? Combine them. Magic might happen.
Is it possible to teach creativity? how?
It's possible to encourage it. And I believe that everyone is creative and has the ability to create. People just need to practice and be allowed to express themselves.
What hobbies have you got?
My hobbies are predominately reading, writing, walking, going to the theatre and comedy. I also enjoy swimming and computer games occasionally.
In moments of tension, what techniques work in calming the mind?
A glass of wine, if possible! If it's not appropriate or available, a few deep breaths will help and tunnel vision focus.
A simple pleasure that for you is quite big or important.
Reading. Always. Books are magical - they can take you from a busy train to an unexplored moon, or your kitchen in the modern day to a fifteenth-century ballroom. I always encourage people to read because it has an incredible power and will always rank high on my list of pleasures.
Something in which you are completely incompetent.
Being an adult.
Don't grow up, it's a trap.
What toy gave you the best moments of your childhood?
You can still buy these actually, so you should.
Basically, it was a battery-operated stairs-and-slide combination, with an escalator in the middle with a slide weaving around it. Only small, and on it were three penguins who went up the escalator, then slid down the slide again. Incredibly simple, with no real purpose, but it remains my favourite toy from my childhood. I had two back then and last year I found one for sale and my mother bought it for me as a birthday present.
What was your first vehicle?
My first car was an old Nissan Micra that actually belonged to my grandmother originally. I had it for most of the time, but if she needed it, she took it, since she was still paying for stuff on it.
I currently drive a Fiat Panda and I adore it.
To which other place in the world would you move without hesitation?
There would always be hesitation, because I'm like that. But if it was a case of not worrying about how I was going to transport all of my stuff, I would move to Edinburgh.
Did God create the world in seven days, or do you believe in the theory of evolution?
Evolution is a theory as much as gravity is a theory. When I get some proof from the existence of a God, and that does not include people insisting that the world is proof, or that the Bible is factual, I will maintain an atheistic stance. I know that religion is based on faith, but I'd much rather base my philosophy of life on fact.
Do you think tipping is a good custom?
While this doesn't mean that I don't tip, I don't agree it is a good idea. The trouble is that because it isn't standardised, it's very difficult to know if you're being rude or not. I tip waiters, but not bartenders, and I never tip taxi drivers, although I'm not sure if that's OK or not. I think tipping can lead to bad feeling and awkwardness, or maybe that's just because I'm British!
Do you defend animal experimentation for the development of medicine that can save human lives?
No. As we all know, there are various diseases that only affect certain species, so trying to cure something in a different species is not really a viable option most of the time. Different creatures will react differently to things and while something is going to cure a mouse of cancer, it may not have the same results with a human. Bananas share 70% of their DNA with us, why not test on them?
Do extraterrestrials exist?
Either they do or don't, and either option is terrifying.
I believe that there is life on other planets, yes, but I don't strictly believe that it has or ever will come to Earth. I think we don't understand quite how big the universe is. There is almost certainly life out there, and intelligent life at that, but I doubt we'll ever be able to communicate.
What do you use: Mac or PC and why?
I use a PC because it performs as well as I need it to. I understand why people use Macs if they're creative professionals because the tools and software available seem better suited to artists, photographers and film makers. However, I use my laptop to write, surf the Internet and play a few games. A PC does that perfectly for a fraction of the price, and I have never had a problem with one.
Do you believe there is excessive sex and violence in the media?
Yes, but only because the media puts it there.
You can't complain about films, video games and television shows containing too much sex and violence when anyone can turn on the news and see the same. The media enjoys hyping things up and they have more power than I think they realise. If they were to begin using the news to celebrate the goodness in the world, perhaps the world would become a better place.
I'm not saying that stories about war or violence are not to be shown on the news, of course they are, but they do dominate.
What sports do you play and how often?
I only show an interest in sports when the Olympics is on, at which point I become madly obsessed. I think it's all the lists and statistics - I'm a sucker for a chart.
However, I have been known to swim and, on very rare occasions, play squash.
What do you have in your wallet right now?
My wallet contains the following: £11.10 in cash, three receipts (two from cafes, one from a pub), a condom, a business card for a bookshop in Chichester, a post-it note, a book voucher, store cards for Boots, Foyles, Costa and Waterstone's, two debit cards and my driving licence.
Do you think religion has a place in politics?
No. I think that religion is fine for people who want to believe it, but societies should not be run based on the opinions of a percentage of the population. Practically all countries in the world are now multi-faith to some extent, so trying to use religion to impose rules on everyone is not a viable option.
Do you believe in any of the conspiracy theories regarding 9-11?
Given that everyone slated Bush and his government for being stupid, I find it impossible to believe that those same people think he was capable of being behind such a thing.
9/11 was a shocking, powerful moment, and the moment when we, as I read somewhere, "entered the third millennium in a fireball". The footage of the second plane hitting the tower is something etched into the memory of everyone who was there. I will never forget that, and never forget the horror in the voices and faces of everyone on the news. Until the second plane, everyone thought it was just a terrible plane crash. The second one made people realise that this was premeditated and you just heard the panic in the voices of news anchors the world over as, live on television, they realised that America was under attack.
I believe that it was what it was. I like a conspiracy theory as much as the next man, but I'm yet to be convinced by any of the ones about 9/11.
Should homosexual couples have the same right to adopt as heterosexual couples?
Yes. End of. This should not be up for debate.
If the ticket price for a football match is twice the regular price for those 12 years of age or older, and your child turned twelve yesterday, what age would you say your child is?
I say that my child is eleven. I think we all would, wouldn't we?
On your death bed, what do you think you will regret not having done more of in life?
I think I'll regret not being more spontaneous and making the most of the free time I had. I've spent far too much of life already sitting around, clicking on websites and ignoring the things I could be doing that are far more interesting.
And no matter how much I read, I will always regret not reading more.
What is most important to you in a relationship?
Honesty, trust, companionship, understanding, acceptance, humour and a good kisser.
I don't think those are particularly high standards.
Is conflict sometimes necessary to fuel love?
Conflict is vital to storytelling. Without conflict, there is no story. As such, I believe that any relationship in which there is no conflict would be boring and draining on both parties. I'm not suggesting people should be at one another's throats all the time, but some arguments are healthy.
Should we accept being alone or seek a way out as soon as possible?
I don't think that there is any shame in being alone. Being alone and being lonely are two very different things, anyway. I am single and very happily so because I have a wide, strong network of family, friends and colleagues so I never feel lonely. I have felt true loneliness. I have been there and it hurts like you couldn't imagine.
I don't think you should get into a relationship just to avoid being single - that is not a good reason for a relationship at all.
Do you keep friendly relations with your exes?
One out of six of them.
While it seems impossible that one can go from treating someone as the most important thing in your life to not speaking within a matter of weeks, days or hours, sometimes it makes sense. The promise to stay friends is difficult, especially if you did not know the other person before you were dating. Afterwards, there is no hole for them to go back into as they weren't in your life aside from as your "other half". As such, they leave.
Sad, but true.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to flirt with you?
I'll flirt with practically anyone, but if someone was flirting with me I suggest they don't be too full on and don't be an obnoxious show-off. Confidence and intelligence are both phenomenally sexy, but only if not overdone. Take to me about books, perhaps, but actually listen to my answers. Let's have a discussion, a debate, a friendly one.