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Author Interview: Paddy Richardson

The Weekly chats with Paddy Richardson.

What was the inspiration for Cross Fingers?

A film-maker friend, Richard Thomas, was hoping to make a feature film about the 1981 Springbok Tour for the thirty year anniversary and asked if I would write some scenes. I was half-way through them when he phoned to say he hadn’t got the funding he’d applied for and so I may as well stop. By then I’d become so caught up in the drama of what I was writing about that I really didn’t want to stop. I decided it would make a great basis for my next novel.

What research did you need to do and how did you go about this?

I was very lucky that Geoff Walker, the former managing editor of Penguin who’d published my previous three novels was enthusiastic about the idea, and, having been involved in the anti-tour movement himself had a wealth of stories to tell and was also able to suggest reading material and documentaries. I also talked to people who had been involved, such as members of the police. I did a lot of reading and watching and talking and listening. I really enjoyed researching this novel. This event was such a milestone in our history and it everyone I spoke with had a story to tell.

Talk us through a typical day when you are in the middle of writing a novel.

I have a reasonably rigid routine; I find that’s the only way to get the words down. I have quite a slow start; coffee, read the paper, a bit of a think and then I’m usually at my computer by around 9:15. I write until about 1 o’clock then usually have a break. I live beside the sea and I like to go for a walk around that time and come back to the writing sometime in the early afternoon. But I also have to have time for reading and family and friends-and swimming in the summer – so sometimes I write in the evenings instead of the afternoons but I aim for 3-5 hours each day.

What do you do to celebrate finishing a book?

There are many stages in finishing a book and I think it’s important to celebrate each one. The first one is getting through that initial draft which is the hardest for me and so that calls for a special bottle of wine with Jim, my husband. Then there’s more drafts and finally the one that’s sent away to the publisher which definitely calls for a dinner out. I usually have my family around –more wine!-when I get the book from the printer and then there’s the celebratory public launch when it’s in the shops. I believe it’s important to celebrate the steps along the way because writing a novel is long and arduous and tricky – but also very exciting.

What comes first when planning a novel, the characters, the plot or the setting?

I usually start with a very vague idea- a kind of feeling of I would like to write about this –which could be a place or a character, even, maybe an issue and then the story builds from there and the characters and places start to become more concrete. I’m most interested in character and, to be totally truthful, my characters become extremely important and real to me which is sometimes a bit strange and eerie.

With ‘Cross Fingers’ I already had my character, Rebecca Thorne, a young television journalist, from my previous novel, ‘Traces of Red.’ I knew I wanted to use her again and the idea of her having to drop the story she wanted to work on and, very unwillingly, turn to making a documentary about the tour seemed a good one since I could combine contemporary elements with the historical events of the tour, that is having Rebecca looking back at the incidents from a present perspective and becoming caught up in them in spite of her previous reluctance. But then, of course, there were new characters who had to evolve such as the Lambs and the very nasty Denny Graham…..

What’s next on the agenda?

Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to the Leipzig Book Fair as part of New Zealand’s place as the official guest at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and I fell in love with Leipzig. So my next novel is set partially there and partially in Central Otago – another love!- and is about a family who escapes East Germany in the 1980’s before the Berlin Wall comes down, emigrates to New Zealand and settles in Alexandra.

Three top tips for aspiring writers?

Read as much and as widely as you can and when you come across something that really works, think about why you like it so much, how the writer has crafted it so effectively.

Write every day, even if it’s only a line, an idea, something you’ve observed or overheard or just a word that’s somehow important.

Take time to be alone to dream and think and wonder.

A fourth one but it’s so important. Believe in yourself and keep going.

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