Interview with Mike Harrington

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The joy of creating something unique when my initial idea generates more ideas. That takes me into a world of pure imagination.
What are you working on next?
The sequel's already in draft and I'm editing it. I'm also playing with the idea of publishing some of my travel experiences as ebooks. As printed volumes they would be quite slim but publishing online would give me more freedom to make something of them.
Who are your favorite authors?
First among modern authors, Terry Pratchett. The breadth and depth of his imagination are amazing. Close second comes Bernard Cornwell, not just for his 'Sharpe' series, which made great TV. He has dived into ancient and medieval history and even the American Civil War and done his research impeccably. J.K. Rowling, of course; she deserves all the fame that Harry Potter has brought her.

Going back a bit, I enjoyed Graham Sutton's novels based in my home country, the English Lake District. In that connection how could I not mention Arthur Ransome? I grew up with his 'Swallows and Amazons' series. The other great author who wrote 'children's books' enjoyable by readers of all ages was Rosemary Sutcliffe.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Duh! The radio alarm and the 'Today' programme on BBC Radio 4.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I live in the only coastal village in the Lake District National Park. Five minutes' walk away is the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, 15-inch gauge with real steam engines, which runs to the foot of Scafell. I used to work on it regularly as a volunteer. Then there are the mountains and the sea. I used to be an energetic hill-walker but age is now slowing me down a bit. I can kayak and sail, just, but my friends with yachts warn me that boats are holes in the water into which you pour money. I don't want to own a boat that can't be put into or onto a car. The winter storms in our estuary are not funny and I wouldn't want a grand or two of my capital bobbing about there on a mooring that might not hold.

There's also a surprising amount of social life in our little village. I am secretary of the Ravenglass Village Forum and a First Responder. First Responders are called out by the ambulance service to keep people with heart or breathing problems alive until the paramedics arrive. I am qualified to give oxygen and, if necessary, do cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and use a defibrillator. Here in the backwoods it can take an ambulance up to 45 minutes to arrive on scene. On the lighter side, I'm a folkie. I sing. I play melodeon and harmonica reasonably and 12-string guitar passably. I have been a Morris Man and I can help out any Morris side that's short of a musician. I enjoy most other kinds of music as well, including classics and traditional jazz.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Sometimes by personal recommendation and sometimes by knowing the authors. I use Amazon quite often and my Android tablet sometimes throws up interesting recommendations.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, but I was very young at the time. I pinched the two main characters from comics that I'd read, wrote it out in an exercise book and gave it to a friend. It was far from being a masterpiece but it was great fun at the time.
What is your writing process?
If I think I have a good idea, I ponder it for a while, then I start playing about on the screen to see if I can make it work. If I have a plan, it has to be flexible. New ideas may come while I'm writing. If they are good, I'll use them. If not ...

Once I have a draft that looks good, I'll sleep on it before coming back to edit it. I do proofread. I have done it professionally, publishing prospectuses for Liverpool University. I also know why writers are called wordsmiths. Sometimes you have to hammer words into shape to get them right and it can be a brutal process.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
'Swallows and Amazons.' Firstly I was excited because it was set right in my home country. I really believed then that I might actually meet Captain John and his crew and the Amazon Pirates on Windermere when I crossed the lake on the ferry to Bowness. They were children of my own age but, unfortunately, about twenty years before my time. I was hooked by the stories and the fascinating detail that Arthur Ransome gave about sailing, camping and even prospecting for gold. What a pity that my family weren't sailors and wouldn't let me mess about in boats. Ransome's books were all at the top of my list for birthdays and Christmas until I had the whole series. Then I read more of his works about his own experiences of sailing and fishing and learned about the extraordinary time when he covered the Russian Revolution as a journalist and came home with Trotsky's secretary, who became his second wife. I wish I had met him.

I spent a day once on a sailing ship in the Mersey. While I was doing a small job on deck, coiling up the loose ends of halyards, the skipper noticed my thoroughness and asked me, 'Mike, have you been to sea before?' 'No,' I replied, 'but I was brought up on "Swallows and Amazons".'
Describe your desk
It's a mess. As Terry Pratchett might put it, it's an Abomination Unto Nuggan. Nuggan is the Discworld god of desk tidies, paperclips, bureaucracy and other things for Keeping Things In Order. He also disapproves of anything that may be fun, including chocolate. Read all about him in 'Monstrous Regiment'. To quote my favourite German proverb, people who keep things in order are just too lazy to look for them.
Published 2014-08-13.
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