Michael Richardson: painter and writer. Interview

When Michael Richardson gave up smoking after 50 years, he hoped he might walk better, breathe better and have more energy.

 What this author and artist did not count on was that giving up the weed would sap his creativity.

 Like Sampson losing his strength after having his long locks were shorn, the loss of the cigarette in his mouth weakened his creativity: the novel he knew was inside of him would not come out. Words, sentences and paragraphs eluded him.

 It was a surprise to him how inextricably linked the creative process was with smoking.

 “Giving up smoking put me back years,” he laughs. “It was a very difficult time for me and really slowed me down.

 “But I had been a heavy smoker for more than 50 years: at least 20 a day. I just knew I had to give it up. “

 He made the decision to quit smoking in 2000 because of his deteriorating health, but he wasn’t able to sit at a computer and work on his novel until 2002.

 Michael, a born and bred Brummie, eventually recaptured his imagination and slowly he began to formulate Careless Talk, the sequel to his first novel The Pig Bin. His tea consumption soared, as well.

 “Unlike a lot of writers, when I am sitting down with a paper in front of me the ideas do not come to me,” he says, brightly.

 “Some writers’ minds are bursting with ideas when they are sat down and they get them onto paper. My inspiration usually comes when I’m doing the washing up or something like that.”

 He must do a lot of household chores, it seems. Careless Talk is a scream: a riotous romp through 1940s Birmingham, featuring the “hero” Morley Charles, a fantasising teenager and habitual liar.

 In this second book, Morley is just about to enter Balsley School of Art, a somewhat posh school where the children of middle class parents go. Morley makes up tales about his DSO-winning officer father (who is actually a Lance Corporal who is fighting in the war) and affects accents to impress.

 Of course, as with all lies that catalogue out of control, the truth prevails, but young Morley’s quick mind ensures he wriggles out of any mess without too many stains on his character.

 For this former secondary teacher of art, the character of Morley must have been easy to create.

 “Morley is an amalgam of a lot of things. Sometimes I think it’s me in a parallel universe,” admits Michael, who attended Moseley Art College as a youngster.

 “He’s totally selfish, though so are many of his age group, and he is self-involved. He has bursts of generosity, so I hope that he is a likeable character. A character has to have enough endearing qualities or no one will accept him.”

 Michael, whose short stories, poems and articles were published when he was still teaching, is shrewd enough not to cite any of his former pupils as inspiration for the characters.

 He taught art for 30 years at four schools in the city, including Lordswood Girls’ School, where he was head of art, and Blessed Humphrey Middlemore School. He loved his work, but chose to retire in 1988 at the age of 55. It was then that he decided he could devote his time to painting.

 A talented artist, whose works have been exhibited in London and are often seen at the Driffold Gallery in Sutton Coldfield, Michael spent more years at the easel than at a desk writing.

 He admits only to “sporadic attempts” of published works, including a short story that was aired on radio, until 1994.

 It was then that his wife Anny, to whom he has been married for 45 years, suggested he write more.

 Michael’s eyesight was poor. Cataracts meant that he needed strong lights and magnifying glasses to paint. Doctors were reluctant to operate because before the cataract developed he only had good sight out of one eye.

 “It was a very difficult time, but Anny said, ‘why not write a novel?’ Visually it would be less demanding than painting,” he remembers. “I thought I’d give it a go.”

 His eyesight was eventually restored thanks to surgery, but he continued to plough through his book and sent it, tentatively, to a publishing house.

 The Pig Bin was published in 2000 by Birmingham’s renowned Tindal Street Press and Michael’s efforts were further rewarded when he won the Sagittarius Prize – given for a first published novel by an author over the age of 60 – in 2001.

 He received a prize for £2,000, presented to him by Ian Hislop and Deborah Moggach.

 “I felt very lucky and honoured to win the prize. It was only then that I realised that so many people started writing novels when they were getting on a bit. That was quite a nice thing to discover.”

  He experienced another epiphany in his 60s, too: technology.  It was only when he was writing his first book that he bought a computer: and took to it, he says, “like a duck to water”.

 A sudden love of technology meant that a spare bedroom was soon turned into a study, which now houses an array of printers, binders, scanners, box files, computer, research papers, books and a photocopier.

 “I love all those things,” he says. “I’ve hardly picked up a pen since.  It’s a habit to write on the computer now and it’s where I can do my soul searching – even when writing a note to the milkman I find myself composing it on a computer.”

 Despite the tecchie stuff upstairs, though, he still finds it easier to write at the kitchen table – unless Anny, also a former teacher and magistrate, is trying to talk to him.

 “I frequently find this that she is trying to talk to me and I have reached a tricky part of the story. I’m afraid I’m not very responsive as a result.”

 He claims she doesn’t mind too much at the blank wall treatment and praises her support in his work.

 “She is the one who encourages me to write. She is extremely helpful when I’m writing or reading a chapter to her when she’s driving,” says Michael.

 “I trust her judgment, so if she says something doesn’t really work, I accept it.”

 It is the humour of a piece that Michael finds the most tricky to judge. Not because he isn’t funny: quite the opposite.

 Our conversation is littered with witty one-liners, wry remarks and out and out jokes. He loves funny tales and is generous in his recounting of them. But he does worry that others might not find his comical lines as funny as he does.

 “I am always encouraged when people say they think the book is funny or they liked the funny parts,” admits the father of two and grandfather of three.

 “When you are telling a joke you’re never quite know if it will work. It’s a relief when it does.”

 In fact, humour played a crucial part in his discovering his writing talent. It was not until the age of 12 that he realised he could write.

 “I found when I was at school my level of written English was mediocre at best,” he admits.

 “I had a breakthrough when it was permissible to be funny. From that moment I developed a thirst for it. As a teacher, I used it as an antidote to the notices and procedures and so on that had to be given to the staff.  Perhaps I am a bit of a rebel.”

 A rebellious teacher with a wicked sense of humour? It sounds like the start of a good novel to me.

 

Careless Talk by Michael Richardson is printed by Tindal Street Press. £5.99.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Michael Richardson gave up smoking after 50 years, he hoped he might walk better, breathe better and have more energy.

 What this author and artist did not count on was that giving up the weed would sap his creativity.

 Like Sampson losing his strength after having his long locks were shorn, the loss of the cigarette in his mouth weakened his creativity: the novel he knew was inside of him would not come out. Words, sentences and paragraphs eluded him.

 It was a surprise to him how inextricably linked the creative process was with smoking.

 “Giving up smoking put me back years,” he laughs. “It was a very difficult time for me and really slowed me down.

 “But I had been a heavy smoker for more than 50 years: at least 20 a day. I just knew I had to give it up. “

 He made the decision to quit smoking in 2000 because of his deteriorating health, but he wasn’t able to sit at a computer and work on his novel until 2002.

 Michael, a born and bred Brummie, eventually recaptured his imagination and slowly he began to formulate Careless Talk, the sequel to his first novel The Pig Bin. His tea consumption soared, as well.

 “Unlike a lot of writers, when I am sitting down with a paper in front of me the ideas do not come to me,” he says, brightly.

 “Some writers’ minds are bursting with ideas when they are sat down and they get them onto paper. My inspiration usually comes when I’m doing the washing up or something like that.”

 He must do a lot of household chores, it seems. Careless Talk is a scream: a riotous romp through 1940s Birmingham, featuring the “hero” Morley Charles, a fantasising teenager and habitual liar.

 In this second book, Morley is just about to enter Balsley School of Art, a somewhat posh school where the children of middle class parents go. Morley makes up tales about his DSO-winning officer father (who is actually a Lance Corporal who is fighting in the war) and affects accents to impress.

 Of course, as with all lies that catalogue out of control, the truth prevails, but young Morley’s quick mind ensures he wriggles out of any mess without too many stains on his character.

 For this former secondary teacher of art, the character of Morley must have been easy to create.

 “Morley is an amalgam of a lot of things. Sometimes I think it’s me in a parallel universe,” admits Michael, who attended Moseley Art College as a youngster.

 “He’s totally selfish, though so are many of his age group, and he is self-involved. He has bursts of generosity, so I hope that he is a likeable character. A character has to have enough endearing qualities or no one will accept him.”

 Michael, whose short stories, poems and articles were published when he was still teaching, is shrewd enough not to cite any of his former pupils as inspiration for the characters.

 He taught art for 30 years at four schools in the city, including Lordswood Girls’ School, where he was head of art, and Blessed Humphrey Middlemore School. He loved his work, but chose to retire in 1988 at the age of 55. It was then that he decided he could devote his time to painting.

 A talented artist, whose works have been exhibited in London and are often seen at the Driffold Gallery in Sutton Coldfield, Michael spent more years at the easel than at a desk writing.

 He admits only to “sporadic attempts” of published works, including a short story that was aired on radio, until 1994.

 It was then that his wife Anny, to whom he has been married for 45 years, suggested he write more.

 Michael’s eyesight was poor. Cataracts meant that he needed strong lights and magnifying glasses to paint. Doctors were reluctant to operate because before the cataract developed he only had good sight out of one eye.

 “It was a very difficult time, but Anny said, ‘why not write a novel?’ Visually it would be less demanding than painting,” he remembers. “I thought I’d give it a go.”

 His eyesight was eventually restored thanks to surgery, but he continued to plough through his book and sent it, tentatively, to a publishing house.

 The Pig Bin was published in 2000 by Birmingham’s renowned Tindal Street Press and Michael’s efforts were further rewarded when he won the Sagittarius Prize – given for a first published novel by an author over the age of 60 – in 2001.

 He received a prize for £2,000, presented to him by Ian Hislop and Deborah Moggach.

 “I felt very lucky and honoured to win the prize. It was only then that I realised that so many people started writing novels when they were getting on a bit. That was quite a nice thing to discover.”

  He experienced another epiphany in his 60s, too: technology.  It was only when he was writing his first book that he bought a computer: and took to it, he says, “like a duck to water”.

 A sudden love of technology meant that a spare bedroom was soon turned into a study, which now houses an array of printers, binders, scanners, box files, computer, research papers, books and a photocopier.

 “I love all those things,” he says. “I’ve hardly picked up a pen since.  It’s a habit to write on the computer now and it’s where I can do my soul searching – even when writing a note to the milkman I find myself composing it on a computer.”

 Despite the tecchie stuff upstairs, though, he still finds it easier to write at the kitchen table – unless Anny, also a former teacher and magistrate, is trying to talk to him.

 “I frequently find this that she is trying to talk to me and I have reached a tricky part of the story. I’m afraid I’m not very responsive as a result.”

 He claims she doesn’t mind too much at the blank wall treatment and praises her support in his work.

 “She is the one who encourages me to write. She is extremely helpful when I’m writing or reading a chapter to her when she’s driving,” says Michael.

 “I trust her judgment, so if she says something doesn’t really work, I accept it.”

 It is the humour of a piece that Michael finds the most tricky to judge. Not because he isn’t funny: quite the opposite.

 Our conversation is littered with witty one-liners, wry remarks and out and out jokes. He loves funny tales and is generous in his recounting of them. But he does worry that others might not find his comical lines as funny as he does.

 “I am always encouraged when people say they think the book is funny or they liked the funny parts,” admits the father of two and grandfather of three.

 “When you are telling a joke you’re never quite know if it will work. It’s a relief when it does.”

 In fact, humour played a crucial part in his discovering his writing talent. It was not until the age of 12 that he realised he could write.

 “I found when I was at school my level of written English was mediocre at best,” he admits.

 “I had a breakthrough when it was permissible to be funny. From that moment I developed a thirst for it. As a teacher, I used it as an antidote to the notices and procedures and so on that had to be given to the staff.  Perhaps I am a bit of a rebel.”

 A rebellious teacher with a wicked sense of humour? It sounds like the start of a good novel to me.

 

Careless Talk by Michael Richardson is printed by Tindal Street Press. £5.99.