Book Savvy Spotlight on Harry Riley

Bringing you exclusive interviews with authors featured in the Book Savvy Newsletter.
Our Guest is Harry Riley*
Enjoy the interview.

Q1. Can you tell us about yourself and your book 'Captain Damnation & other strange tales'?
Growing up during World War II, I was an only child, mother worked full time and there was no father to keep me in line. (He was a soldier, missing; presumed dead.) I'd never met him until he returned after the war from a Japanese prison camp. Then I was six years old and having a wonderful time, with lots of friends and many good aunts to fuss over me. I didn't have many books but enjoyed the radio and this fed my imagination so much that I've never fully recovered. Now after a lifetime in commercial printing, happily married with two grown up children and a granddaughter, I'm still addicted to all things theatrical and possess a childish sense of fun. Writing 'Captain Damnation & other strange tales' enabled me to dig deeply into my imagination and release some of the creative juices that had been locked up. The book is full of quirky stories on a wide variety of subjects with an occasional twist in the tale. My mystery and ghost stories can be easily read and enjoyed by both the young and the young at heart.

Q2. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, many years ago an older workmate, while discussing writing made a comment that I never forgot, he said: "don't worry; if it's there it'll come out!" With me it didn't come out until I retired. I was too busy trying to earn a living and printing the work of others, to create my own books.

Q3. What are your favourite aspects of writing? And the most challenging?
Turning a loose idea into a story, then fleshing out the characters, just enough to add a bit of light and shade and then to come up with a title that fits the bill. The most challenging aspect of writing for me is editing. I have to do this over and over again and must confess I'm never one hundred per cent happy with the final result. There will always be words I want to leave out or extra ones I'd like to put in.

Q4. How do you plan a book? Do you plot the story or do you just get an idea and run with it?
I enjoy creating short stories! There are endless opportunities for drama and humour and I particularly like the freedom I get with writing them. My inspiration often comes from visits to stately homes and from paintings. In Captain Damnation: 'The Ghosts of Grimsdyke Hall' came to me following a visit to a Lincolnshire Manor. A portrait of the lady of the house had eyes that seemed to follow me around the drawing room and left a deep impression on me. 'The Riddle of the Red Telephone Box' came from a watercolour painting, bought after a visit to The Dales. So, no, I don't plot and plan too much. I use my instinct and often talk it over with my wife (an avid mystery reader). Being a member of a local writing group also helps enormously and means I can read a new story to ten or fifteen people and get an instant critique with no holds barred, and we certainly pull no punches!

Q5. Is there a story that is your favourite and why?
Yes, 'Toby Mullins and the Derelict Windmill.' The idea behind this story originates from a friend named Douglas. He is long dead now and was born with Down's Syndrome. Dougie was incredibly conscientious, always cheerful and used to love going to the cinema. He could relate to Norman Wisdom and saw his films over and over again. He was a pleasure to know and I remember him with great affection.

Q6. Why did you choose the pen-name Harry Riley?
My original idea was to use my own name for non-fiction articles and to have a pen name for fiction. I wanted a simple, short and snappy pseudonym. My mother's family was Irish Catholic and I have always admired the Irish as a nation of storytellers, so I settled on the name of Harry Riley.

Q7. Are there any authors or books that have had a strong influence on you?
Oh yes, I like the quirky tales of Roald Dahl and the moody mysteries of Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes etc. I never tire of reading the classic authors and am a fan of modern writers; Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson and Simon Beckett.

Q8. What are your interests when you are not writing?
I read a lot, am a keen gardener, I enjoy DIY and snapshot photography with my digital camera.

Q9. What steps have you taken to market your books?
My first task was for 'Harry Riley Nottingham' to be easily found on the Google browser. I believe I've now achieved that: by social networking, blogging and putting 'taster' stories onto many Internet websites such as Triond, Authspot, facebook, Authonomy and video stories and trailers onto YouTube with two sites: harryxxxxxriley and harryriley321: setting up my own website: I'm a member of Eastwood Writers Group and have contacts with several other writing groups. I also write for several magazines and broadcast 'Thought for the Day' regularly on Radio Nottingham. I've made my books available through the UK and Ireland Library Service.

Q10. Which book marketing tool you've used to promote your book would you say has been the most effective?
Without hesitation it has to be the PLR (Public Lending Rights Programme.) I gave Nottinghamshire Libraries free copies of both my books.

Q11. Do you do more promoting online or offline and which do you prefer?
With mobility problems I find it much more convenient to promote Harry Riley online. Nevertheless I find the face-to-face aspect of promoting books very rewarding.

Q12. What kind of reactions and reviews have you received about your book?
I've had excellent responses from members of New Writers UK and Eastwood Writers Group, friends and relatives. Heather Webster bought a copy of Captain Damnation and did a brilliant review. She recalled how she began reading it while journeying to France but her teenage son grabbed it and read it from cover to cover before handing it back.

Q13. You have a fascination for the paranormal as reflected in your two books, why is this?
My mother was very superstitious and although I laugh about it, some of it has undoubtedly rubbed off on me.

Q15. What would you like people to take away from reading 'Captain Damnation & other Strange Tales'?
A few pleasant memories! It would be nice if my stories help brighten a dull day or a short journey. If I can make my reader think, perhaps arouse a smile or two, or rekindle a forgotten memory, I would be delighted.

Q16. Are you concerned about the effect of e-books on traditional books?
Not a bit! Friends tell me they still like the look and feel of a real book, and though Ebooks and Ereaders are selling well, there is nothing quite like owning a quality book. I've been hooked on the smell of china clay and ink on paper ever since I got my first 'Rupert the Bear' book as a small child. The two technologies will surely complement one another.

Q17. You have written a thriller, now a book of short stories... what next?
I'm writing a follow-up to my novel 'Sins of the Father' it's called 'The Laird of Castle Ballantine'. I'm also working on another collection of short stories.

Q18. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The worst advice I've ever been given is that old adage: you should live a little before you take up writing and then only write about what you know. That is fine for academia but I never wanted to do that. So I would say, the younger you start, the better. Don't be afraid to let your imagination flow. Try and develop a thick skin and don't be put off by the negative-near-do-wells of this world. You'll have the satisfaction of surprising others and maybe yourself as well.

Thank you for your time. We wish you every success in your writing career.

*Harry Riley is based in Nottingham England, and writes novels, short stories, poetry and blogs. Retired from commercial printing, rose from apprentice to director. He is married with two grown children.
Harry is the author of two books: 'Sins of the Father' and 'Captain Damnation and other strange tales'
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* Book Savvy is an e-newsletter of Pneuma Springs Publishing, featuring news and information about all published books and new releases with highlights about the authors behind the books. Look out also for helpful resources e.g. blogs, book reviews and of course, discounts, special offers etc.


  1. Thanks, Harry, for this interesting insight into your life. Good luck with your books. I have certainly enjoyed them, especially the stories that portray your quirky sense of humour.
    Angela Rigley, author of 'Looking for Jamie'

  2. Having read Harry's book of short stories; 'Captain Damnation and other stories' I'm already a fan. His tales are an easy read, all with an unexpected twist at the end. It is fascinating to read of his motivation for writing which is not dissimilar to my own. My lifetime ambition was to be a published novelist. It only came to fruition after I retired and had the opportunity and time to concentrate on creating my first novel. With seven published adult novels so far I am now venturing into a new genre for me; a short story written especially for children. Just like Harry I have been an avid reader for most of my life but there is nothing like the euphoric feeling one gets to see one's own work in print. You want to be an author - Then just sit down and do it!!!
    Michael John Smedley.

  3. Thanks Angela, I know that you can entertain us with your stories, particularly at writers meetings.
    I'm sure your many friends and book fans would appreciate knowing a little more about how and why you took up creative writing. I should think would be very interested in doing an interview with you.


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