- Guest Author -
Today I introduce a man who is a journalist, editor and author, a man who has written about one of the most beautiful places in the world - Greece - Richard Clark. Welcome, Richard ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I’m currently the editor of a mass-market weekly magazine in London, and have been a journalist for all but one year of my working life, since I graduated with a degree in English Literature in 1979. That year away from journalism, in 1982, quite possibly proved to be one of the most influential of my life as I went to live on the Greek island of Crete. While there I worked as a teacher to pay my way. I still return to Greece, usually a couple of times a year, and it is about Greece that I write my books. I feel privileged to be able to make a living by writing, so when I felt I was ready to achieve my ambition of completing a book it was natural to apply my journalistic skills to a subject that I knew about and loved, Greece.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I suppose I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been writing something. I won a prize in a district libraries competition at 5-years-old, and always enjoyed composition at school. I would do pieces of freelance reporting for the local paper when I was still at school and following my graduation went straight into journalism. My father was a novelist and so I have always lived in the sort of environment where creativity was encouraged. I have worked on Fleet Street, for the BBC and edited numerous national magazines and websites. I published my first book The Greek Islands – A Notebook in 2011, followed a year later by Crete – A Notebook. I have just completed the third in the series about Rhodes, which should be out this summer.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I like the control I have over my work and the discipline of creating something. To an extent I can write about anything I want, although I am vain enough to write to a market that will sell, and in most cases have been critically well received. I am also lucky enough not to have to meet daily deadlines as I do in my full-time employment, although I do still tend to retain that discipline in my work.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Deciding to become one and then having the self-belief to get your thoughts down on the page – and for me the discipline to work at it every single day.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I am lucky in that I haven’t had a past life that did not involve me studying literature or writing for a living as a journalist. Even when I was in Greece I was teaching English, so in that way I am blessed. I do love doing other things, reading, watching films, cooking, sailing, and playing the guitar very badly.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
My next book, whatever that might be because we must believe we get better.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I have just finished writing a book about the island of Rhodes. It is with my editor at the moment and should be out this summer.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Nowadays I am quite self-motivated, but good reviews always help to spur me on. Other people’s good writing also gives me something to aspire to but I did recently read a novel called Gold by Chris Cleave about the unlikely subject of Olympic cycling that was so achingly beautifully written that for a moment I almost gave up! But then when I put things into perspective I realised writing is not a competitive sport and you must only strive to be the best you can be.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
My books aspire to be travel literature. They are not travel guides as such, but what I like to see as travel companions, giving my personal view on place, culture and history of a place in what I hope is an accessible manner. I hope they stand the test of being readable whether the reader has visited the place in question or not.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
I think everyone is different in what motivates them but for me there are several key things. Write every day, even if only for a short period of time, that way you always make progress. Only write about something you know about. Try not to edit as you go along, do that later. Always use a good editor and don’t be too proud to take on board any criticism.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
I’m not too bad, but I suppose being a journalist you always have to produce every day to deadline so being blocked has probably been trained out of me over the years. I can find diversions not to write and can procrastinate with the best but usually if I can just get a word or two down to steady my thoughts I am up and running.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
Because I work full time I have to snatch time where I can. I write anywhere and everywhere, on the train, during my lunch break, early in the morning and late at night. I find the iPad has been liberating as it is so portable and I carry it with me everywhere. I have written the whole of my last two books on one.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
I would like to have a favourite writing place, which would be sitting somewhere on a Greek island overlooking the sea, but currently it is on my sofa at home early in the morning.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
I am still thrilled to see my name in print after all these years, whether on the covers of my books or as a by-line in a newspaper or magazine. I also love the feeling when I have sent my book off with all its final corrections for printing and the anticipation of planning my next work.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
This is a difficult question because the answer continually changes as I grow older. I am quite fickle with my literary affections but I do have a fondness for classical literature, Dickens, Blake, Forster and Conrad are particular favourites. I also admire Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet greatly and enjoy Nikos Kazantzakis, in translation of course. Then sometimes along comes a book I just chance upon and really love, like the aforementioned Gold. I’m also quite into Scandinavian crime fiction now like Henning Mankell’s Wallander and Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
A writer who I greatly admire, E.J. Russell wrote of my Greek Islands book ‘Reading this book is an education in itself and I found myself so much the richer in having read it,’ which was lovely. Another writer and academic Aurelia Smelz said this which I found difficult to take on board as it is so flattering: ‘I will place it next to my collection of books by the late and great Patrick Leigh Fermor, because I think Richard Clark’s writing is as close to Fermor as we will ever come again.'
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Quoting verbatim from a comment left on Amazon is this about The Greek Islands – A Notebook: ‘Poor! Not what I expected!! Too much of a history lesson, not enough about today's Greek islands culture, but it all depends what you like, perhaps I didn't read the synopsis properly.’
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Yes, I decided to go and live and work in Greece all those years ago. That has influenced me in that it is still the place I love to travel in most and it is also the subject matter for most of my writing.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
My wife and two grown up children, my dogs and cats and other family and friends of course. I also love travel and cooking.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Most certainly, I think this is really important. I am lucky in that I work with a number of professional editors who take on this work for me.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
It would probably entail sailing around the Greek islands, possibly the Ionian, on a small yacht with my family. Maybe stopping off in Vassiliki for a dinner by the harbour before sailing out to a secluded bay to anchor for the night then sitting talking and drinking wine in the cockpit under the stars.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
My wife Denise, we’ve been married for nearly thirty years so she’s the only person I know would put up with me.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Remember you are there to look after all of us, not just yourselves.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I am quite content really. I am working on a new book about Corfu after which I am going to put out a compilation of all four of my books before embarking on a Greek travel/cookery project, which is in the early stages of planning.
WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
Complete Works of Shakespeare
French Provincial Cooking Elizabeth David
The Alexandria Quartet Lawrence Durrell
Songs of Innocence and Experience William Blake
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I write a lot in the first person and it is non-fiction, so I guess I do.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Yes, all the time. The industry is run by fewer and fewer people trying to chase trends to maximise profit, but they are killing themselves by not understanding the digital market.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
My latest one, as I hope I am always learning and that the last thing I wrote was always the best.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
Selling a reasonable number of books and having readers say good things about them. If you are lucky enough to make a living from writing that is a bonus.
WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I would like it if they felt they were transported to Greece, wherever in the world they were. Failing that, that the reader had been inspired to visit there.
HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
A tremendous amount, it is what sells the book. My cover designer is a brilliant artist with years of experience. The importance of the cover must never be underestimated.
WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
This is the bit I find hard. Marketing is a very special skill and quite time consuming. I find it tough as I would rather be writing and, like a lot of authors am quite shy, so pushing myself forward does not come naturally. But it is worth remembering that as soon as you have finished writing a book you become a business. If you want people to read it so you need to put yourself out there.
ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
Yes. The market is switching to the bulk of books being delivered electronically. Until traditional book publishers catch up with understanding the market and offer writers similar margins that they can achieve by self-publishing it is more viable to go it alone via Amazon and other online retailers.
The Greek Islands – A Notebook:
Crete – A Notebook:
Clancy's comment: Wow. Thanks for sparing the time, Richard. I envy your connection with the islands of Greece. Have a Retsina for me next time you're there.