Today we welcome Richard Jones.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Richard Jones: I live in the Cotswolds, a rural, very picturesque part of England. I’m married with three daughters 14, 12 and 10, so life as you can imagine is rather hectic. Weekends are generally spent taking my kids to various activities – athletics, horse riding and stage school (acting and singing). I have a passion for painting and when I do get some “down” time I like to lose myself in art.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Richard Jones: I have written 3 books so far – A Squirrel’s Tale is set in the forests of SW Scotland and follows the trials and tribulations of a red squirrel battling to save his colony from a band of fierce marauding grey squirrels. My books are now sold around the world.
The Prairie Drifter is a two part story and is set initially on the Plains of Wyoming. Set in the 1860’s, the central character is a Wild Mustang called Star.
I’m a fiction writer with a difference. My subject matter are animals – think Richard Adams – Watership Down, William Horwood – Duncton Wood etc. Animal fiction. This type of genre has always fascinated me. You are essentially writing about human stories but through the eyes of whatever animal you choose as your subject matter. The dangers they experience and the adventures that they have are in the context of the world they live in. The readership has been very broad. Although pitched at the 12 plus market, as many adults have read my books as children.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Richard Jones: I’m currently involved in a collaborative project with a Hollywood Studio writing a film script, which is exciting and very different. A Celtic mythology story – think Game of Thrones meets King Arthur.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Richard Jones: For me, story writing is not the difficult part. And most stories follow a well-trodden path. The key to good stories are in my opinion the characters, so the most difficult piece for me is developing all the character traits and building their story arc within the framework of the overall adventure.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Richard Jones: To get an insight into what my subject matter see, feel etc. I like to carry out a lot of research on their habits, where they live, etc. so for Squirrel’s Tale and Prairie Drifter I spent time studying horses and squirrels through books and in their habitats to get a feel for their behavior and the landscape they live in.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Richard Jones: From an inspirational perspective Tolkien would have to be up there in terms of the depth of research he put into his novels. I think that to make these type of fantasies, including mine, believable, you have immersing yourself in that “world,” and cover every detail in order for the reader to be able to fully imagine themselves there with your creations.
Strangely enough, since I’ve started writing professionally, I do very little reading for pleasure. Most of my reading now is research based, on the latest subject matter that I’m thinking of writing about.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Richard Jones: I’ve always enjoyed creating stories from an early age. My Mother was always encouraging me to write. I had a great English teacher in school who also inspired me and my working life in senior Advertising and creative marketing roles enabled me to continue my passion for writing until I was in a position to take it up full time.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Richard Jones: I learnt the importance of planning my stories. I spend a lot of time plotting out events so that I was clear how this would unfold, long before I started putting pen to paper. This was a discipline I had to force myself into as some of my early attempts at writing didn’t hit the mark mainly because I would just “dive” into the writing and end up with a confused mess!
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Richard Jones: I try to write something every day. I find the most productive time for me is morning. I shut the study door, drink lots of coffee and get to it!
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Richard Jones: I hope I can continue to build on the successes of my first 3 books and that I keep creating interesting stories that people will want to read.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Richard Jones: Never give up. Enjoy what you do.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Richard Jones: That they’ve enjoyed the journey that I’ve taken them on.
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Richard Jones: The Prairie Drifter – Book 1, Chapter 1 – Journey of Discovery
A lone Mustang picked his way slowly along a rocky outcrop that overlooked the Great Plains of northern Wyoming, his home since birth. Gentle rolling lands and vast flat Prairies interrupted by hills and wide river valleys, that stretched out as far as the eye could see.
The horse grazed and pulled at the rough tufts of grass that sprouted through the aged and weathered cracks, set against the backdrop of the distant mountains that had stood defiant and proud since the beginning of time, blanketed now with cottonwood, fir, spruce and pine trees along its grey, craggy slopes.
His chestnut coat and mane glinted russet and gold in the dying sunlight, the air still hot and dry, but beginning to cool at the end of day. He raised his head to the far-off hills, which were starting to soften and turn blue with the hazy atmosphere, a look of strength in his wise face. Fully sixteen hands in height, a proud, calm authority marked him out as a horse of power and distinction.
Suddenly, the stallion flinched and swung his head towards the rocky slope behind him. His ears pressed forward, then back and forth as he listened for a sound. His muscles tensed, and his nostrils began to flare, sending out wreaths of vapour that hung in the air. His huge brown eyes pierced the thickening twilight, scanning restlessly along the rocky ledges. But the scent he had caught on the breeze was lost, and the stallion’s head returned to his grassy clump, nosing through the stones and rocks rooting out any stems he could.
As he went, his legs carried him gently back and forth over the uneven surface. Now and then, a hoof would slip into a crevice hidden below the deepening covering of vegetation, but the Mustang never once lost his footing. His great body would compensate instinctively, like some huge graceful cat, so that he, seemed to be part of the landscape around him, inseparable from the contours, which made up his home.
All around, the silence was deepening with the evening. The stillness was occasionally broken by the cry of a hawk or the lonely howl of a distant coyote. But sounds like these did not frighten such an experienced animal. The stallion’s body might brace or deflect the sudden violence of the noise, but he went on feeding. A young colt or filly might have been unnerved, but not a horse that had spent so many years on these Prairies, not a stallion whose courage had taken him to the head of his small Band of Prairie horses. As the Alpha Male, it was his duty to protect them from the many dangers that lurked in the wilderness. Wildcat, mountain lion, wolves and coyote were always on the lookout for an unsuspecting foal straying too far from the main herd.
Abrazo had moved back to the rocky outcrop where he had a good vantage point, when he suddenly threw up his head. Now his eyes shone with recognition of the scent he had just caught again. This time, Abrazo scraped at the ground with his hoof. He looked sternly in the direction of a cluster of large boulders.
He snorted furiously. “So, now we spy on each other?”
But no response came. From far away the cry of an eagle haunted the breeze, but nothing else stirred.
“Come, I am no foal to be stalked like some prairie dog,” continued Abrazo. “Show yourself. I sensed your presence some time ago.”
At this, a wisp of dust stirred from behind the rocks, and the head of young bay stallion appeared, moving slowly out into the open. His coat was a bright auburn colour with a black mane, tail and dashes of black on the lower portion of his legs. Abrazo’s eyes softened as he recognised the youngster from one of the neighbouring Bands.
“Well Breyer, son of Gabilan,” he said coldly, “I never expected you to be creeping around like some new born ‘whinny’. Your father certainly didn’t raise you like that.”
“I am no ‘whinny’,” replied the newcomer slowly. “I’ll challenge anyone who thinks so,” he squealed shaking his head.
“Spoken just as your father would have, Breyer.” Abrazo smiled. “Then perhaps you’ll tell me why you’ve been tracking me since before I moved across the rocky bluff?”
Breyer’s eyes flickered but still held Abrazo’s gaze.
“I bring a message from Zell.”
Abrazo nodded calmly.
“So he has you spying for him now?” he said sadly. “Don’t those two have enough spies already?”
“I was observing you, not spying. Breyer spies for no one. Not even the Leader of the Prairie Bands.”
“Leader of the Prairie Bands,” snorted Abrazo contemptuously. “What is this obsession he has? Is Zell wanting to rule all the Prairie Bands now, or I suspect that there is another that drives his thoughts, eh?”
“You and my father never liked Zell, but after father’s accident…”
“It was no accident,” Abrazo said abruptly.
“So you kept telling me but you had no evidence to prove otherwise did you?” responded Breyer.
“Why was he up there with the Zellats in the first place?” queried Abrazo, “he was the most sure-footed horse that I knew.”
Breyer didn’t answer, and Abrazo could see that in the absence of his father, Zell’s influence on the young stallion was growing.
“Very well then,” said Abrazo, “deliver your message.”
“Zell has summoned all the Prairie Bands to attend,” said Breyer.
“Summon meetings. Can that light-foot think of nothing else? Well then, you may inform Zell that I am busy.”
“But you can’t…”
“Enough!” snorted Abrazo, “Zell knows that one of my mares is near her time, I must see to her.”
Breyer moved back and forth nervously. Abrazo was well known for his shows of disrespect towards Zell, along with Breyer’s father and many admired them for it, but such open disregard could have serious repercussions, something Abrazo suspected in Gabilan’s case.
“Please Abrazo,” he continued more courteously, “when may I say you will come?”
Abrazo looked down across the vast grasslands. The light was fading quickly now, and in the creeping haze, clouds of gnats were billowing into the air. Swallows and prairie grouse darted and fluttered from their grassy cover trying to take advantage of this momentary feast, cautious too that they weren’t to fall prey to bigger predatory birds. A profound stillness was settling in over the landscape, and as the Mustang looked up, he saw an evening star specking through the darkening blue. It warmed his soul.
This star was always the first in the sky; the Great Spirit Star Arion was the brightest and held a special place with all the wild horses of the Plains. He was their protector, and the other stars were the Spirits of previous generations who now looked down on the lands they once roamed freely over.
The time of the Wild Berry Moon was near he thought, a time when challenges are made, and new mates and bonds are formed, a time of change, hopefully for good. There was a need for goodness once more. Power, fear and greed had taken hold; the old ways were slowly being forgotten.
Abrazo turned to the young stallion.
“We have lost our way, and somehow, someone must have the strength to reclaim the true path in the name of the Great Spirit.”
Abrazo’s gaze betrayed the sadness that he felt for his kind. “Do you believe in the Prophecy, Breyer?”
“My father kept telling me the stories, but that’s all they were, stories. Zell doesn’t like to speak of them,” replied the stallion.
“Never forget who you are, son of Gabilan. I was proud to call your father my friend,” replied Abrazo.
A moments silence was held between the two.
“When shall I tell Zell you can come, Abrazo?”
“When I can, Breyer,” snorted Abrazo in reply and with the toss of his head he turned and galloped along the edge of the bluff, but before he had gone too far, the proud Mustang stopped and looked back.
“And Breyer,” he called, his voice strong once more, echoing across the Prairie. “If you must, you can give Zell my apologies. May the Spirit of our forefathers be with you.”
With that, Abrazo was gone.
The young bay stood motionless. He was shaking, but was deeply relieved that Abrazo had tempered his reply to Zell.
Zell had grown increasingly unpredictable. As the sun finally vanished beyond the horizon, Breyer nodded his head with a new resolution.
“And may Arion be with you too, Abrazo,” and he disappeared into the gloom of the valley below.
A Squirrel’s Tale – Chapter 1
At the highest branch of a young pine tree, a lone red squirrel scurried nervously about in the pale spring sunshine. He was out discovering any dramatic events that might have taken place following the big thaw and on his way to visit one of the small outlying Clans that inhabited the far part of the forest. Wandering away from the safety of his tree home and the main Clan was not without its dangers, for many a keen-eyed predator would be on the lookout for a tasty meal: eagle, weasel, mink, wild cat or worst of all pine marten – so caution was the key.
However, Rusty was glad to be travelling in the increasing warmth of daytime, springing from tree to tree, scampering across branches and scurrying up tree trunks, keeping away from the open ground where many of the dangers lurked, stopping at places that particularly seemed to interest him. To be wandering free and self-reliant was something the little squirrel found exhilarating and exciting, away from the scrutiny and gossip of his own Clan. At least here if he came across another colony of Reds, they would not prejudge him like others at home would have. He investigated the corners and crevices of various trees with urgent intensity as if his task was a momentous one, oblivious to the delicate glories of the erupting season which were manifesting themselves in a quivering display of green all around. He was part of that transformation; his energy was part of the universal energy; it was the natural way of things.
Rusty was not a particularly distinctive squirrel, rather a small, diminutive character and somewhat undernourished. His slender body was evidently built for speed and although having lost both his parents, at the start of his second season he was still full of youthful exuberance. The one distinguishing feature was his unusually long magnificent russet red coloured bushy tail, hence his name. The main characteristics of Rusty’s whole personality were awareness, an eager, slightly uncertain reserve in his make-up, a caution, almost an aloofness which kept him apart from the majority of the other youngsters; togetherness and belonging were something he longed for but found difficult to achieve. He was a background figure, a watcher, spending much of his time alone. On the whole other squirrels mistrusted him, or at least were wary of him. Another idiosyncrasy which only manifested itself when he was asleep was his whisperings, shivers and tiny spasms that were an outward indication of the workings of his subconscious mind. He was a strange one, they all thought.
The Red was now more than a day’s journey from his home, heading across the trees near a river bank following a faint odour which wafted its way through the leaves and foliage of the forest, a familiar scent that told him he was close to his destination. He had left shortly before dawn of the previous day, in the midst of the earliest burst of waking activity and had only managed to eat a few seeds and stems before leaving.
He was now feeling compulsive pangs of hunger and his scent organs and eyes were alert for any evidence of a source which he knew would not take him long to find. The forest was carpeted with colourful flowers, the ground resounded with the scurrying of the feet of other forest creatures, the air hummed with the beat of diaphanous wings and small birds. For the most part, such individuals paid little attention to each other, beyond keeping a distance apart – more concerned with avoiding hunters of a larger kind. Now and then the frantic rustling of the undergrowth would see a mink skitter by or the flutter of a larger winged bird that might take a fancy to a solitary squirrel caught out in open ground.
Suddenly, Rusty stopped. ‘A strange scent’ he thought, screwing up his furry face, his whiskers quivered quizzically, and his tufted ears pricked up. Rusty was unable to identify it. He crept cautiously off to one side of the tree, his heart beginning to pump nervously. Then emerging from behind a cleft he threaded his way around the trunk, and there in front of him was a small bird busily covering her new laid batch of eggs. She was so engrossed in her task that she was completely unaware of his approach. Unexpectedly, another bird swooped close, chattering frantically, warning him away from the nest. But this was not what he had heard or sensed, even though one of those eggs might have provided a tasty morsel at that moment. So to avoid confrontation he scuttled further up and over the next branch to pass the nesting pair.
Rusty crossed two interlocking branches moving towards the trunk of another large pine tree before finally arriving at the home of the small Red Clan. The little squirrel was about to make his descent and announce himself when he suddenly halted and stood stiffly upright on his hind legs. His nose anxiously searched for clues. Yes – there it was again! His senses had received the faintest waft of a strange, disturbing scent, borne on the frivolous breeze. Rusty’s head jerked from side to side trying to locate the source…Nothing. He stayed motionless, only his whiskers flickered briefly. Another little jerk of his head to the right, as his other senses picked up more signals which helped him concentrate his focus once more. A delicate vibration transmitted through the undergrowth, a subtle alteration in the sounds of the surrounding forest. He peered fretfully across the clearing towards the small Clan of Reds going about their daily business. All seemed calm. He looked on, an uncertain fear gripped him, but as far as he could tell nothing appeared to be amiss. Rusty waited. His instincts told him that danger was in the air, and he knew with a sense of painful expectation that it would reveal itself in a moment.
When it came, it came with a terrifying menace. The signals suddenly increased tenfold – as whatever was causing them had, at a sign, thrown caution to the wind and was no longer trying to conceal its identity. The ground and branches trembled with the impact of scurrying feet; the strange scent pervaded the air in cloying wafts, the leaves and grass rustled with the pounding of powerful bodies. The little squirrel peered across and beneath as wave after wave of large grey squirrels swept with ferocious speed over and around in a merciless tide, killing with callous ease the few red squirrels caught out in open ground. The small Clan stood no chance. In the time that it took the sun to pass across one of the pine fronds above the watching squirrel’s head it was all over.
The grey squirrels disappeared as fast as they had come, leaving nothing behind save their strange sickening scent and a few stricken corpses, broken on the ground.
Rusty remained motionless, frozen into a state of shocked paralysis until the Lord of the Sky covered the face of day with his cloak of darkness.
He had heard stories of the evil grey squirrels but had thought these to be just tales and myth.
The young squirrel stared blankly out into the blackness unable to rationalise the massacre as visions of death played across his mind over and over with distressing clarity. He had never experienced such carnage at first hand in all his relatively short life. He was used of course to witnessing conflict and death. His parents had both died at the hands of predators. But he had been educated and trained in the violent and ruthless ways of Nature. Such processes were accepted as an inevitable and necessary part of a squirrel’s life, but this…this example of wanton, indiscriminate slaughter, such a vivid incidence of ruthless aggression.
Inside, Rusty was a mass of unfamiliar emotions. It was as if he had had a revelation; as if the disclosure that there was naked, apparently purposeless evil in the universe had come as a new realisation to his innocent, hitherto trusting self. The world had seemed a benign place – fierce, yes; competitive, hazardous – but only out of necessity, only as an essential condition of existence. Now, suddenly, he was aware that there were elements at work other than mere natural forces; that somewhere within the Lord of the Sky’s domain differing codes were in operation, a moral debate existed. It was a momentous discovery.
Slowly, dazedly the small Red came to his senses. A forlorn look towards what had once been a small, happy Clan of red squirrels. All dead now. He must warn the others! A sudden surge of adrenaline kick started Rusty’s urge for survival. He turned one last time, a deep sadness in his eyes, before setting off with haste on his journey to alert the main colony of the impending danger. The young squirrel sensed that the fight to save his species’ very survival was about to begin.
A Squirrel’s Tale
The Prairie Drifter – Journey of Discovery
The Prairie Drifter – The Long Road Home