Today I am delighted to welcome Richard Newman to acrimereadersblog. He is a ‘ghost’ writer and among others he has written Veronica’s Bird, the true life story of Veronica Bird who became the Governor of Armley Prison.
Veronica’s Bird is a fascinating tale of a woman’s rise from a tiny house in Barnsley. Abused by her brother in law, she ran away and joined the prison service. Showing her determination she turned around her first posting within a year, she then went on to be honoured by the Queen and even got asked to help improve conditions in Russian Prisons. This is a remarkable story that is told with a warmth and humour that belies the struggles that Veronica had to go through.
So Richard when did you know you were going to be a writer?
The first smidgen of an idea that I thought writing might be for me, other than filling in a tax form, was when I was living in the Middle East, some forty years ago. No television worthy of being labelled a programme, the radio in fast Arabic, no bars or theatre…. you get the picture, so I began to explore the idea of writing a faction based upon the love letters found in Ludwig van Beethoven’s desk after he died, a story which fascinated me. It took me twelve and a half years of research (there were 28,000 books and two million articles to consider) so, quite popular then, and, at the end of it all, ‘Crown of Martyrdom’ was born. Born also was a love of writing which caused ‘The Potato Eaters’ and ‘The Horse that screamed’ to follow. I jumped from novels to writing about fascinating, living, people which brought forth ‘A Nun’s Story’ which became a Sunday Times best-seller, and now Veronica’s Bird is to be launched 23rd January 2018. In January I will revert to novels again to finish off ‘Stepping down’ a story of retirement and the traumas which can flow from the decision to retire. After that, well on the stocks, is the story of my life in the Middle East. Life was very funny out there in the Seventies, yet fascinating. This is to be titled ‘Cockroach on my shoulder’.
My typical day always lies within a well-formed groove, though not groovy if you get what I mean. We (Julia my wife, and I) are usually up by seven a.m.: well, the dog, Crumble, is already letting us know the day has been approved by her. I make breakfast, a serious affair for a serious meal. By 9 a.m. my eyes are straying towards my computer (though I hand-write my novels first) and by two minutes past the hour I’m on the keyboard in my library, surrounded by books and the smell of frying bacon still attached to my hair. At 10.10 I stop to go to a local gym and am back in harness again, if glowing slightly, in an hour. I work until 12.30 when lunch beckons (a light affair) preceded by an Amontillado followed by my turn at the dog walk along the banks of the River Wharfe.
By 2 p.m. I usually take, paragraph by paragraph, that which I have typed up previously and begin to re-write, again by hand, numbering each so they slot in easily later. I may do this 3-4 times, each time refining the words, still marvelling at the English language. By 6p.m. the sun has sneaked behind a rogue sycamore tree; time for a Campari with lots of ice and soda before supper. Television alternates with reading and so to bed at 10 p.m. There’s not the scrap of a night owl about me – I leave such things to my three sons, who are, I believe, experts.
Are you an avid reader yourself? If so, which authors do you find yourself returning to time and again?
For all my reading, I alternate each time between fiction and biography. Morris West has been read to death with such masters as The Devil’s Disciple. Running my eyes down the shelving in front of me I see a good old-timer – I have 17 books by him – Nevil Shute (being of that age I am still disturbed by ‘On the beach’), Kazuo Ishiguro, of course and then a whole series of stories of Carol Drinkwater’s Olive Farm. Alan Bennet: anything he writes is a natural if you live in Yorkshire and Boris Johnson to raise a smile. Michael Connelly’s plots are extraordinary and to contrast this, I will top up from time to time with any of the Russian classics. I had such a good translation of War and Peace in a two-volume paperback, I had it bound in leather!
Veronica Bird does not write at all; she issues the stories to me, I take them down and she approves. A typical day for her is to give a talk somewhere in the north of England. So much in demand is she, for her stories of life in Russian prisons, that she is already fully booked for June next year. She talks for an hour, exactly, without notes and has the ability to change the subject of her talks if required on a re-booking. No, one day though can be called typical for she is so busy with so many differing diary commitments, retaining her life-long interest in the prison service. She has a love of gardening and a large garden to maintain, friends to entertain and a commitment to see that as many people as possible read her story.
Thanks so much for joining me Richard. Veronica’s Bird is available now: