Working with Words: Tim Richards
Tim Richards' writing has appeared in newspapers, magazines and websites around the world. While he writes on a range of subjects, from lifestyle and the arts to science, he specialises in travel writing and is an author for Lonely Planet Publications' travel books. Tim is currently a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow, while he finishes his book on Poland, Stalin’s Cow.
We spoke to Tim about freelance travel writing, his passion for e-books and P.G. Wodehouse, and why you shouldn’t become a writer for the money.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
As a full-time freelance travel writer, it was an article about Wellington walking trails, published of all places in the Christchurch newspaper The Press. I’d been in New Zealand on holiday in late 2003, at which point my last office position was clearly about to become redundant, so I stocked up on travel material with the idea of trying out freelancing.
What’s the worst part of your job?
Admin. A freelance writer is running a small business and there’s endless admin. I always say 90% of my job is admin, and occasionally I write something.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
Every published article represents a significant moment. But I was particularly pleased with publishing two e-books: Mind the Gap, a fantasy thriller with a dash of Egyptology, and We Have Here the Homicide, a collection of my published articles about Poland. I’ve also been delighted at the willingness of editors to pay me to research travel articles in London on pop culture I love, including Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
‘You can edit something, but you can’t edit nothing.’
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work? Having people complain about positive reviews of live comedy acts I’ve written for the Age. I can understand complaints about negative reviews, but positive ones?
If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
That question does not compute. This is it. (Though I did enjoy a spot of acting some years ago.)
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
You can always benefit from improving your technique, plotting, structure etc, and that can be taught. But no-one can conjure up that essential spark of talent if you haven’t got it.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
Don’t do it for the money.
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
I’m a complete convert to e-books, read via multiple iPad apps from Book.ish to Kindle. I just gave away a bunch of old paperbacks as a result, and reclaimed a lot of shelf space.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Reginald Jeeves, from P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster novels; a man of high intelligence and infinite tact, who can put you right on everything from appropriate neckties to which racehorse to back. Also Gary the daggy vampire from my wife Narrelle M. Harris' novels The Opposite of Life and Walking Shadows; he’s a kinda likeable undead guy. I would have many questions for him about the vampire milieu of Melbourne, a city perfectly suited to hosting creatures of the night.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
Oddly, I recently realised that Herge’s Tintin book King Ottokar’s Sceptre might have been where I gained my fascination with European streetscapes; I now visit Poland regularly for Lonely Planet and sense some echoes of my childhood reading. And John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids was the first ‘grown-up’ book I read as a kid, which started me on my love affair with science fiction. P.G. Wodehouse’s work I can re-read any time of night or day, as many times as you like. As Evelyn Waugh once wrote, ‘Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own.’ Too right.