Thursday, May 2, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Cross-genre Author Tony Riches

Tony Riches, Author

British Author Tony Riches has written an eclectic group of fiction and non-fiction books—each unique in its story-telling. His first book QUEEN SACRIFICE is an historical novel about the queens, knights and pawns in 10th century Wales. His most recent novel THE SHELL describes the kidnapping of a couple in Kenya. Early interest in space exploration led him to write ATLANTIS—THE FINAL SPACE SHUTTLE MISSION. He drew on his experience as Head of Cardiff Harbour Authority to write TERRA NOVA: ANTARCTIC VOYAGER about Captain Scott's exploits in the early 20th century. Riches also shared the benefit of his management experience in PERSONAL PRODUCTIVITY FOR BUSY MANAGERS.

His personal life is as eclectic as his writing. He plays both the flute and the saxophone, and likes to listen to music from Pink Floyd to Corelli. He enjoys sea kayaking and riding his Kawasaki Vulcan motorcycle. He currently lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Q: You are a cross-genre writer – and beyond. You have written an eclectic group of books.  What inspired you to write your first book? How did you go from your first book to the next?

Tony Riches: Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll memorably brought chess pieces to life in his sequel Through the Looking-Glass.  I was fascinated by the idea as a child but when I started researching the early history of my native Wales I was inspired to write my first novel, QUEEN SACRIFICE. I was learning about the 10th Century kings and queens, supported by knights and bishops, with the ordinary people becoming pawns in their civil wars, so it was fun to make the whole country a chess board – with a castle at each corner!  Authors will understand how much I missed writing it once it was finished, so I went straight on to writing my second novel, THE SHELL.  

Q: You write both fiction and non-fiction.  How different are they to write? Do you still need to “tell a story” in your non-fiction books? What inspired you to write Personal Productivity for Busy Managers and Agile: Project Management for Busy Managers?

Tony Riches: The ‘for Busy Managers’ series resulted from my long career in project management and change management consultancy.  I saw many good managers overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work and the alarming pace of change, so decided to keep each book in the series as short as possible. Personal Productivity is simply a collection of 100 useful tips, gathered from friends and colleagues – and yes I do tell ‘stories’ from my own experience.  The main point of my Agile Project Management book is that we should really welcome changing requirements and ‘coach’ flexible, self-directing teams. I’ve used all these ideas very successfully and was really pleased when the Agile book became a US Amazon best seller.   (I am currently working on the third in the series, Transformational Change for Busy Managers, which is proving very topical!)   

Q: How important is the setting for your recently-published book THE SHELL? Could you have created a similar story in a different setting?

Tony Riches: That’s an interesting question - the real story is about what happens when the protective ‘shell’ of the modern world is suddenly stripped away.  I could have set it in almost any time and place but lived in Nairobi as a child and went on holiday in Mombasa, so it is a very real place for me with powerful memories.  The idea for the book was inspired by warnings given to my wife and me when we returned recently to Mombasa for a holiday.  I was about a third of the way through writing it when it actually came true and a couple were attacked on a beach just north of Mombasa.

Q: Even your fiction books are rooted in real events. How important to telling your fictional stories are back story and facts?

Tony Riches: I enjoy finding out the secret histories we were never taught at school – which are often more amazing than any fiction.  My third novel The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham is about a distant relative of my wife who was charged with using witchcraft against the king.  I’ve been lucky to find a wealth of information about her and what it must have been like to live in the England of 1450 – but almost nothing is known about Eleanor after she was imprisoned for life in Beaumaris Castle on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.  I am therefore writing it as her recently discovered ‘secret diary,’ with the self-imposed rule that any events outside the castle must be as accurately researched as possible.

Q: In QUEEN SACRIFICE you tie the events to a famous chess game (Bobby Fischer 1956). What led to this ploy? How did it enhance your story? Do you play chess?

Tony Riches:  Yes QUEEN SACRIFICE is based on what is arguably the most famous chess game of all time - and I set myself the challenge of making the narrative follow every move. It wasn’t easy when, for example, a bishop takes a pawn and I had to find a compelling reason within the story. Thirty-two characters are quite a crowd for the reader to cope with but the two queens were the only female roles, so I created a handmaiden for the white queen and a sister for the black queen, as well as a ‘housekeeper’ for one of the bishops.  I also realised that readers would possibly know how it all ends, so I had some fun ‘breaking the rules’ of normal fiction writing by having some of my best characters suddenly killed off – as they could well have been in 10th century Wales. 

Q: Of all the books you’ve written, which one did you enjoy writing the most? Why?

Tony Riches: I really enjoyed writing THE SHELL as I had learned a lot about the technique of writing a novel by then and could just immerse myself in what is happening in present day Kenya.  Each chapter switches between Lucy’s kidnapping and her husband Steve’s desperate attempts to rescue her, which really kept up the pace – at one point I was writing nearly a chapter a day. There are some amazing contrasts and tensions between the old and new Kenya - enough for a whole series of novels, so I may well return for a sequel. It also helped to know I had an excellent editor (UK Author Judith Barrow) to keep me on the right track.

Q: How do you create engaging characters for your readers?

Tony Riches: It helps if you really care about your characters and try to make them likeable and flawed at the same time.  I carefully work out their back stories and enjoy putting in a few surprises, even for minor characters such as the pawns in QUEEN SACRIFICE.  (I read some useful advice once, which was to work out how your character would react in a given situation - then occasionally make them do the exact opposite and eventually explain to the reader why they acted so ‘out of character.’) The names are also really important. I spent ages choosing authentic Welsh names for every character in QUEEN SACRIFICE and checking the meanings to make sure they were a good ‘fit’.

Q: How do you conduct research? Do you start to form your story as you’re researching? Or do you research to support your story?

Tony Riches: I like to do my research as I am writing, so the smallest details are fresh and clear in my mind. Sometimes this can lead to lucky discoveries. I live close to Pembroke Castle, birthplace of King Henry VIII and visited the castle with I was writing QUEEN SACRIFICE. I was amazed to find a detailed scale model of how the castle would have looked in the 10th century, so I took photos and was able to look at them as I was describing it!  Research for The Shell was easy as all I had to do was keep an eye on Kenyan Television news, which you can watch online. 

Q: Tell us something about you.  What kind of music do you like?  What’s your favorite place to visit? What’s your favorite movie?  What do you like doing when you’re not writing?

Tony Riches: I have two grown up children and a grandson who loves to come and stay with us in Wales. I play the saxophone and flute and would have liked to become a full-time musician but am really just a busker, as I play by ear rather than read the music.  My musical tastes are very varied, ranging from Pink Floyd to Corelli and my latest discovery, the new singer songwriter Beck Goldsmith.  My favorite places to visit have to be Hampton Court and the Lake District, where I am trying to kayak on as many of the lakes as I can (there are 14 and I’ve done 6 so far). My all-time favorite movie is Groundhog Day – for its life-affirming message and when not writing I enjoy sea kayaking and riding my Kawasaki Vulcan motorcycle.

About Tony Riches

Tony Riches lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, one of the most unspoilt areas of the UK.  Like many authors, he began writing short stories and contributing to a range of magazines. His first novel, QUEEN SACRIFICE was written after looking into the early history of Wales, and an interest in space exploration going back to witnessing the Apollo landings as a child led to the writing of ATLANTIS--THE FINAL SPACE SHUTTLE MISSION. 

Before becoming a writer he was Head of Cardiff Harbour Authority and supported the Captain Scott Society with exhibitions on the departure of Scott's ship the Terra Nova from Cardiff Docks in 1910. He has since researched and written TERRA NOVA: ANTARCTIC VOYAGER with support from the Glamorgan Archives and Captain Scott's granddaughter, Dafila Scott.   

10th Century Wales is a country divided, with the kingdom of the south becoming Saxon and the north violently defending the old ways. The inevitable civil war is brutal and savage in this tale of divided loyalty and revenge, treachery and love.

Kings and queens battle for control of the country, with wealth and glory for the victor and death and ruin for the loser. The bishops of Wales struggle to keep the faith while knights and war lords turn events to advantage and the lives of ordinary people are changed forever by the conflict.

Queen Sacrifice is also a legendary tactic in the ancient game of chess. Russian chess grand master Lakov Neishtadt describes the sacrifice of the queen for higher interests as “a source of continuing fascination for the chess novice and master alike.”

The narrative faithfully follows EVERY move in the queen sacrifice game, known as "The Game of the Century" between Donald Byrne and 13-year-old Bobby Fischer in New York City on October 17th, 1956.


Mombasa beach: The dream holiday of a lifetime turns into a nightmare for a young couple. Brutally attacked and kidnapped, she has to battle for survival in one of the remotest and most dangerous areas of north east Kenya. He has to find and rescue her - before it is too late.

Palm trees line an idyllic beach of white coral sand. An Arabian dhow sails on the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Two lovers are ruthlessly torn apart, perhaps forever. Lucy is bound and helpless, taken far from the safety of the world she knows. Unconscious and bleeding, nothing has prepared Steve for what he needs to do.

The inability of the authorities to help means Steve has to find the strength and courage to risk his own life in the desperate search for Lucy and fight back against the kidnappers. His journey takes him deep into the African wilderness, where death and danger wait for the unwary.

Lucy’s journey is mental as well as physical as she discovers how easily the protective shell of her old world has been stripped away. Everything she took for granted is gone and she has to fight to survive, one day at a time. Whatever happens, she knows her life will never be the same again.

Based on actual events and current news reports, this fast-paced action and adventure novel explores the reality of the tensions between the old tribal ways and life in the new, rapidly developing country of Kenya. 

Personal productivity is under scrutiny as never before. In every sector global recession means continued pressure to reduce costs and increase productivity. All organizations are now driven to shine a spotlight closely at the contribution from every manager. A brilliant track record is no longer any guarantee of future job security. What matters is how much value you are adding now.

So how do we really do more with less? There are plenty of books with tips on how to manage your time - but although time management is likely to be part of the solution, it will not be enough on its own. The answer is to take control of your own productivity and lead by example, drawing on practical experience and develop innovative approaches that will really make a difference.

Keynote speaker and productivity specialist Neen James says, “In today’s hectic workplace, it’s not just time management that you have to master, it’s super-productivity that gets the results. The secrets of super-productivity are not about working more; they’re about focusing your time, effort and energy on the things that will deliver the best results for you. It doesn’t mean ‘work longer’, ‘invest more money’, ‘create more lists or put your lists in a certain order’. It means: do less of the things that have no significance and more of the things that create an impact.”

You may be a top executive in an international corporation or responsible only for yourself. There are one hundred tips here, based on the experience of many managers in every type of organization - so the challenge is to pick just ten that seem to fit with how YOU would like to work and see what you can do to increase your personal productivity.


Find Tony on twitter @tonyriches and visit his blog The Writing Desk

For more information about Tony’s books please see Amazon and Goodreads

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