Richard Starks: No. I thought writing was far too sedentary. But I enjoyed reading. I loved books because I liked to escape into the alternative worlds they represented. So looking back, I suppose it makes sense that one day I would try to create an alternative world and write a book of my own.
Question: So when did you actually start to write?
Richard Starks: At university in Scotland. I wrote articles for the college newspaper, mainly because I knew the editor and he was willing to publish anything I gave him – in fact, anything that anyone gave him. Then, after I became a journalist in Canada, it felt like a natural progression – moving up from articles and features to books.
Question: So what books did you write then?
Richard Starks: The first one I wrote was a political thriller called War of Nerves. I followed that with a financial thriller called The Broker. I then wrote a non-fiction book about economics, called Industry in Decline, which I wrote side-by-side – one in the morning and the other in the afternoon – with the novelization of a horror movie script called The Brood. It had been written by the director David Cronenberg. I also edited a couple of books – on personal finance and investment. Most recently I've written a crime thriller called Money Doesn't Talk, It Kills.
Question: So you’ve written fiction and non-fiction – which do you prefer?
Richard Starks: Both have their appeals – and their challenges. With fiction you need to make most things up, so you face the problem of too much choice - anything can happen. With non-fiction, it's the opposite problem – you can't make anything up, but instead have to go out and find the story, and then dig it up.
Question: You now write with a co-author, Miriam Murcutt.
Richard Starks: Much of the time, yes. I enjoy collaborating on a book – if it is with the right person. Fortunately, Miriam and I seem to have complementary skills.
Question: When the two of you complete a manuscript, do you just send it off to your agent or publisher?
Richard Starks: No. Experience has shown us that we need to leave a manuscript in a drawer for a couple of months, and then go back to take another look. When you're writing, you are so immersed in the subject that you can only see it from the inside – from the writer's point of view. But if you leave the manuscript in a drawer, you can then go back and see it from the outside – from the reader's point of view. It's amazing how different it looks – and how much work still needs to be done after you think the manuscript is finished.
Question: So what will your next book be?
Richard Starks: We’re working together on a novel. It has taken some time to bring it together, but we can now see its final shape.
Miriam Murcutt: I started in my teens, but all I produced then was bad adolescent verse. At the time I’d fallen in love with Keats and a couple of other Romantic poets. The combination of my crush on dead poets and live boys led to a stream of turgid poetry.
Question: What else did you read when you were growing up - in addition to the Romantics?
Miriam Murcutt: At that time, my favorite writer was Sylvia Plath. I think her book, The Bell Jar, is still one of my top ten reads. Her vocabulary and imagery are hard to beat - and always will be.
Question: And who do you read now?
Miriam Murcutt: I keep trying to expand the range of writers I read and not just go back to old favorites. I enjoyed reading Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle. It's an account of her upbringing, and although it's non-fiction - and is all the more remarkable for that - it reads like fiction. I've also recently completed Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex von Tunzelmann, and that has become another favorite. Von Tunzelmann tells the story of the personal relationships that evolved in the midst of a pivotal event in world history - the independence and partition of India. As far as fiction is concerned, I always look out for new books by Gillian Flynn, and by the English authors, Sarah Waters and Kate Atkinson. Along with millions of others, I'm also a fan of Ian McEwan.
Question: Turning to your own books, what do you like most about writing?
Miriam Murcutt: Most of all, I think I enjoy the actual words, which are, after all, the building blocks of every book and what - ultimately - makes one book different from another. That may sound facetious, but I really like playing with words - the hunt for precisely the right one to create the mood, define the characters, or set the scene. I also like the quietness that surrounds writing. I began work in magazine publishing, first as a writer and editor and then in sales and marketing. I was always working in chaotic circumstances, in noisy rooms with phones ringing, keyboards clicking, people yelling, and demands being made. Writing books could not be more different. It's more measured, less hectic, more concentrated and involving. It's a lot more peaceful, although that doesn't mean it's any easier.
Question: You often write in partnership with Richard Starks. How does that work?
Miriam Murcutt: Well, so far, so good. We each have parts of the writing process that we prefer, so as much as possible we divide the work accordingly. That means we work separately and then consult. Also, because we have both been journalists, we’re used to seeing our copy picked over, edited and sent back for a re-write. So neither of us feels that what we've written is precious and needs to be cast in stone. Whatever we've produced is always open to comment. That said, we know from experience that we need a solid outline and an agreed approach to a book before we begin to write. If we don't have that in place, it’s almost impossible for two writers to work together on one book - at least it is for us. We both need to know before we begin, not only who’s going to do what, but also the result we are aiming for and how we plan to get there.
Question: How do you go about getting your books published?
Miriam Murcutt: We haven’t yet got this process down to a fine art. The first two books we wrote together we were able to place directly with a publisher, without the help of an agent. That's not an uncommon approach with non-fiction manuscripts. However, with A Room with a Pew, we were represented by the Chris Fortunato Literary Agency. Ideally, we would like to develop on-going representation for any fiction as well as non-fiction manuscripts that we might write. In the past, we've done well on our own, placing manuscripts with publishers and also negotiating and selling some of the rights - like film and TV rights - that we've deliberately retained. But a good agent might be able to take us to another level. We'll have to see.
Question: Are the two of you working on another book together?
Miriam Murcutt: Yes, we are. It's come a long way, but I don't like to talk about it until the manuscript is finished. I'm also keeping my hand in by writing a Guest Post about a recent trip to Zimbabwe canoeing along the Zambezi. Also, TravelTalkMedia based an interview on this Post.