How did you come up with the idea of your Christmas themed book?
I wanted it to be about the simpler aspects of Christmas, so when I started to jot down ideas for a storyline I was drawn to the idea of spending quality time together and of remembering friends. When I started to explore these ideas, it occurred to me that because Henry’s friends are largely garden insects and creepy crawlies they might have disappeared for the winter. Once I realized that Henry would be alone I wanted to give him a happy day, and that is when the idea of him meeting Father Hedgemas evolved.
Could you give me a short synopsis of the story for my readers?
When Henry the Hedgegnome goes for a walk on Christmas morning, it soon dawns on him that he is alone. He bumps into a stranger in the garden, but it's no ordinary stranger, it's Father Hedgemas, taking a break after a busy night of delivering gifts. They spend the day together skating on the frozen pond and building a snowhog. After their day of fun together, Father Hedegmas must go. Before leaving, Father Hedgemas gives Henry a Christmas card from all his friends who had gone away for the winter. This token from his friends is the highlight of Henry's best Christmas Day ever.
What made you decide to do a Christmas themed book?
I’m not really sure exactly how it came about. It was just one of those things that happened without knowing why. I was brainstorming ideas for possible future stories, and the idea of a Christmas story got put on the list, but at that time it was just the word Christmas rather than any creative ideas.
Once the decision had been made, it seemed a natural thing to include within a set of children’s books. Business-wise, it's one of those things that are good and bad. You know that sales will instantly stop as soon as Christmas arrives, but it gives you material that can be revived every year.
What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?
I always enjoy the sound of Christmas music playing while we put up the tree, but books are one of the longest Christmas traditions for me. As a child, I always got an annual of whatever comic I had been reading throughout the year, and as an adult (some might question me being called an adult) I still look forward to getting a book at Christmas.
The one stipulation is that it has to be a physical book because the smell of a new book is one of the enduring memories of Christmas past. The smell of an eBook just doesn’t work. I can still recall the smell of a new Beano Annual on Christmas morning, and it’s a memory that takes me straight back to childhood.
What’s next? (future books, novellas, special appearances you want to mention)
My most recent publication was the first in a series of learning books, and I am currently planning to develop the educational possibilities of Henry the Hedgegnome. It was soon after the publication of the first storybook that I realized children were forming such a strong bond with Henry that he would make an ideal learning tool. With the book getting such good feedback, I am working on an alphabet book as well as new stories. I have also recently produced a video of me reading the first Henry the Hedgegnome
book. That was such fun I want to do more video, so I plan to record the other stories.
Any special awards or achievements you’d like to mention?
As a writer, I’ve never really been one to actively seek awards. Many years ago, in the early years of my career as a photographer, I went through a spell of winning photographic awards. At first, it was a great boost for the confidence, but it got to a point where people began treating me differently, and that puts up barriers between you and the people who appreciate your work.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not dissing awards in any way, and I am happy to accept any accolades that come my way, but for now, the prize is seeing happy children’s faces when they hear a Henry the Hedgegnome story, or being told about how excited a fan was when they got a new book.
What’s the best writing tip you’ve learned or been given that you’d like to share?
It’s said that everyone has a book inside them, and many people say to me "I’d love to write a book." The thing I always say to them is to sit down and do it.
The only way to write a book is to put words down on paper (or virtual paper as it is these days). When they say that they won’t be very good, I use the Zig Ziglar quote, "You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great."
What do you know now about writing and publishing you wish you had learnedsooner?
I have always been a tinkerer, and in the past, I have wasted too much time trying to perfect every sentence as I wrote it. That’s largely why my first novel has taken me so long to get to where it is.
I got a great tip from a book by Neil Peart, the drummer of the Canadian rock band Rush. His editor told him, 'Don’t get it right, get it down’. That's brilliant advice because it allows you to keep flowing and stay within the moment. You can correct all the mistakes later (and there will always be plenty of them) but at least you will record the essence of what you have in your head, and that will make for better storytelling.
Any last words or tips?
Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas.
Love the quotes! That’s all for today’s interview. If you would like to learn more about Richard’s writing, here are some options for you.