Robin Chambers’ official website bio reads like the first line of an epic novel: ” I was born a long time ago, in the middle of the Second World War, a few hundred yards from Gladstone Dock – then the biggest dry dock in the world, and a prime target for the German bombers. The Liverpool Overhead Railway started from there, and ran all the way to the Pier Head.”
Chambers grew up in Liverpool, furthered his education for six years at The University of London and had early publishing success with Penguin while Head of English in a Boys’ High School in Hackney. Then he became Head of a large coeducational high school, where he served for fifteen years.
After a brief retirement to Belize, where he barely escaped death at the hands of local thugs, Chambers and his wife Amy returned to the UK, where he began writing his epic fantasy Myrrdin’s Heir, based on the legend of Merlin the sorcerer.
Now, 5 books into the series, Chambers fantastical story is enjoyed by readers of all ages across the globe.
Robin Chambers Interview
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Books by Robin Chambers
Robin Chambers Transcript
Tim Knox: The wonderful British author Robin Chambers is my guest today. Robin had some early success as an author, but set aside his ambitions to work as an English teacher and administrator for 35 years.
Eventually Robin and his wife Amy retired to Belize, but a run in there with local thugs almost cost him his life and convinced him to come home to the UK, where he set to work on Myrddin’s Heir, an epic story of sorcery and magic that’s now in its fourth book.
I so enjoyed this interview with Robin. He not only writes wonderfully magical characters, he sounds like one himself. With the classic deep British delivery at times I thought I was talking to Merlin himself.
As you’d expect, Robin has wonderful stories and advice for you, so let’s tarry no more. Here then is my interview with the wonderful author Robin Chambers on today’s Interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: Robin, welcome to the program.
Robin Chambers: Thank you, Tim. Great to be here.
Tim Knox: So great that you are finally here. You and I have been conversing through email for some time and you sound exactly like I thought you would sound.
Robin Chambers: Well that’s good.
Tim Knox: We do have an awful lot to talk about today but before we begin if you will, give a little background to the audience.
Robin Chambers: Okay well I was teaching English in a school for quite tough boys in a socially stressful area in Hackney and I heard myself say one day, “Some of you can write better stories than I ever could.” I don’t know how many of your listeners have shared that experience. When you hear yourself say something and you think, “Well how do you know that’s true?” Since I was at school I hadn’t even tried to write a story and here I was trying to teach these boys. Some of them were very good at it. Between us we were learning how to write good stories.
I said this to them and so that weekend I thought I shouldn’t be asking them to write stories when I don’t even know if I can do it myself. So I started to try and write a story. I was quite pleased with it. I didn’t know if it was any good. Over the next year I wrote half a dozen stories, didn’t know what to do with them and in those days the world was simpler. I sent them to Penguin and two weeks later I got a letter saying, “We like them and we’re going to publish them.” I don’t know how usual that was at the time but that’s what happened.
But I didn’t know what I was doing as a writer. I didn’t think of myself as a writer. I was quite a good teacher. I was going through the profession I wanted my own school to play with. So I didn’t write anymore but I told myself when I retired and when I had my time back and my life back then I would try and write something really good. I would attend to it seriously.
So the next 35 years passed. I went through the profession and I did become I think what you call a principal of a high school. Then I retired and then I was looking after my parents. Life intervened. It wasn’t until… I was in Belize at the time with my wife, Amy, and I’d been there three years. I got sidetracked yet again with helping a Taiwanese couple, a charming Taiwanese couple, run their hotel because their English wasn’t very good.
We had retired to Belize and everything was going well until the burglaries started. When these three guys turned up in November of 2010 and said, “We’ve come to kill you,” and they tried really quite hard. I had 17 stitches in the head wounds and a crushed skull in two places and my hand had saved my life.
We identified them and the police put them in jail but it was when they said to me, “We’ll rush a gun license for you because you now have to carry a 9mm at all time. The friends and family will certainly try to kill you both to stop you from testifying at the trial.” We came home back to the relative safety of the United Kingdom.
What that taught me was I nearly died and I hadn’t fulfilled that cherished ambition and I think partly to get over the trauma I started writing like nine hours a day. For the next year and a half I was writing this story. The idea for it came to me while I was walking our two dogs in some jungle in Belize. Four books of this story poured out of me and is it went on it got longer and assumed a life of its own.
Tim Knox: What was the name of that story?
Robin Chambers: Well the story is called Myrddin’s Heir. The genre I’ve always been interested in is the fantasy one. I loved the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and C.S. Lewis Narnia books. That’s always been my genre. I read and admired J.K. Rowling’s books.
I knew I wanted to write in that same genre. What I didn’t want my book to have, I didn’t want it to have a villain as hideous as Voldemort because Voldemort just ruined Harry Potter’s adolescence.
Tim Knox: He did, didn’t he?
Robin Chambers: Yeah and so I had all sorts of ideas about what I actually wanted to do with this story but first and foremost was that I wanted to see if I could write a really good book, a book that I would be satisfied with. It’s turned into a series of books. Over the year and a half because I wasn’t sure of the quality I went on writing and rewriting them until I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to let them go. I put them in the Kindle store, those four at once then thought what do I do now?
So I ordered John Locke’s book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, to see how he did it. That was really very interesting. He asked a question along the way and this bears repeating really. He said, “Which would you rather be?” He’s disarmingly frank. He said, “I’m not a great author. I’m barely a good one but I have an original style and my books are for some people and I know how to find them.” So that was the trick. So he told us how to find them by the website, using Twitter and so on.
But his question was, “Which would you rather be? A great author or a famous author that sells millions of books?” He was quite confident that the answer for most people would be I’d rather be a popular author that sells millions of books.
Maybe it’s because I’ve reached the time of life I have but honestly for me my primary task was to write a really good book and if nobody wanted to read it or very few people wanted to read it at least I would know that I would believe it behind. That was something that I thought would be enough if it worked out that way.
Indeed I’d been listening to your authors on your program and they’re always very interesting and one of them said, “Your readers won’t find you. You have to find them.” So I’ve been trying to learn about marketing and promoting. My first go, friends and family dutifully buy the books a bit and say nice things about it but that doesn’t prove anything. I got a bit discouraged after three months and thought, well I want to write book five actually. That’s what I really want to do.
So I stopped trying to promote at all and I didn’t sell a single book for the next seven months while I wrote book five. Then I put book five into the Kindle store. That was in May this year and I thought I’ll give it three to four months now and I’ll try and enjoy it and I’ll try to find a way of doing it that I can do and I’ll try and promote these books.
So I started doing that and one of the ways was to see how I could find other authors whose books I liked, tell them I liked them, read and review them and see if they were suitably grateful and maybe we could come to some quid pro quo arrangement, as Hannibal Lector said. You were one such. I looked at the Angel of Mercy and thought this was a terrific opening and I told you that you had a very smooth style and you said that nobody had ever told you that before but it is actually true.
Tim Knox: The moral to the story is if you give me a good review on Goodreads and you’ve got tons of talents and books, you may end up on this program.
Robin Chambers: Well yeah.
Tim Knox: Let’s go back because this is such a great story and I’ve been listening here. I always like to start at the beginning. In the beginning you were teaching in a school and this is back in ’93 or so.
Robin Chambers: No, no, no, ’73 my friend.
Tim Knox: So you are a fine looking 45 year old man.
Robin Chambers: I am 72 in three days.
Tim Knox: Well happy birthday in advance. You were teaching at this school and one of the assignments you were giving the boys was to write a story. You just said to yourself, “how can I ask them to write a story when I’ve never done it?” Had you never written anything up to this point? Had you been interested in writing at all?
Robin Chambers: I’d been interested in writing but I hadn’t always been a writer, not in the sense you would define it as writing all the time or thinking about publishing. I’ve always been interested in other people’s writing. I’ve always been interested in good writing and of course in order to take an English language and literature degree you have to develop a sort of critical acumen about what is good writing and what isn’t and why.
Now I was doing a PhD on Chaucer’s Poetic Uses of his Native Vocabulary and I had no idea that I was going to end up as a high school teacher but after three years it was such a big picture. The grant ran out and I needed some money in order to be able to live to do a fourth year and finish it.
I went into teaching. They let you do that in those days. I wasn’t a trained teacher. I turned up at this school who wanted somebody who could teach A level English and I had the qualifications. It had been a secondary that turned into what we called a comprehensive school in those days. They were fairly new because before that it was grammar school and secondary school.
But I turned up and all these children were in the playground and the enormity of what I was about to do, to walk in there and be given classes of them when I didn’t have a clue how to do it. I’d only ever been a pupil. I’d never been a teacher and from somewhere the tears came and I had to go around the block to recover myself. That’s why I kind of describe it as a Road to Damascus moment. Fortunately when I got back to the school they’d all gone in. It had been break.
They appointed me and when the term came around, and I’m not really answering your question. I’m telling you a story but it’s sort of relevant. The head of English gave me a pile of comprehension books and he said, “Well what you do is go in and hand out these books and set them one of the comprehensions.” Then you can get your breath and you can see what it feels like to stand in front of a class.
It’s terrifying. I walked in with this great stack of books and these kids who are highly experienced pupils looked at me, looked at the books and they said to me, “Can we do drama?” Now that was my first decision and that was like 10 seconds into my teaching career. So I looked at them and I looked at the books. I put them down and I said, “Show me what you can do.” It kind of went from there.
Over the next five years the children taught me how to teach them in a coming and going thing, finding out what worked and what didn’t work. For some reason I was good at it. I was better at it than I was at Chaucer’s Poetic Uses of his Native Vocabulary. In those two years I was there, less than two years they made me Deputy Head of English after one term. It was ludacris. We put two school plays on in four terms and that school hadn’t had a play in 19 years.
So I was interested in writing. I was highly trained in what made good writing. I tried to write some poetry but I hadn’t written a story since an English teacher had asked me to write one when I was back in school. But of course it’s an important part of the English curriculum to get children to use language creatively.
If you come across a child at the age of 11 who’s still writing ‘and, then, but, so’ stories – there were four children who were walking along the country road and they saw a spaceship come down so they hid behind a hedge and they saw the lid pop up and a little green monster came out so they ran… and, but, so, and, then, but, so and you get to the end of the story. You think how do I take this child from where he or she is and move them forward? So then you realize they’re using those conjunctions as punctuation and so you get them to cross out every second one and you put a full stop there.
It was that kind of process so over the years I developed a pretty sound system of getting any child from where I found it to the next rung on the ladder towards excellence. I started teaching in ’67 so by 1974 I was Head of English at this other school and I heard myself say that to those children. So I had a go at writing myself.
You can edit some of this stuff out but there’s another key story, which is very important in turning me into a writer. I had to find a way, I wanted to find a way of breaking them out of the box that they normally thought in. If you’re in a particular genre you think these are the sort of characters I need, these are the sort of things they do, these are the sort of things they say. Often you get a more interesting story if you can break out of the box.
Now I worked out all stories have characters and places and situations and often interesting objects like silver daggers and Maltese falcons and things. So I got this circle of children together. They were about 14 years old and said we’re going to try something.
We’re going to make a story circle and I want each of you to think of something that you’d like to find in a story. It could be an interesting character or a place or a situation or an interesting object. Think of it. They did that. Then I said whisper what you thought of into the ear of the person on your left so they did that. Now I’m going to point to somebody in the circle at random and I want you to start telling us all a story and work in what was whispered to you and then stop. Then the person on your right will take up the story and try to work in what was whispered to them and we’ll see where this goes.
Well you might be surprised to know they couldn’t do it. They thought it was too hard and that was another significant moment for me because I thought well I just asked them to do it so if it’s possible I should be able to do it. I said write what you thought of on a piece of paper, fold it over and give it to me.
So they all did that and I had this stack of folded pieces of paper. I opened the first one and it said ‘Zaire for the World Cup’. Now this was a boy’s school and they’re all interested in futbol, soccer and the World Cup was about to happen. Zaire was in the news because it was the first time they’d ever entered. I said, “In 1994 Zaire were favorites for the World Cup. They’d first entered in 1974 and of course they hadn’t gotten very far because they weren’t an experienced futbol nation but since then futbol in Zaire had gone from strength to and strength and now it seemed like nobody could beat them.”
I opened the next piece of paper and it said ‘Iceland’. I said, “The World Cup that year was going to be played in Iceland and everybody was interested in how the cold weather would affect the players from a hot country because players from Zaire always played in bare feet. Iceland got ready for the World Cup. They built several stadiums in Reykjavik because as you all know Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. The World Cup was about to happen and the second favorites were Iceland. They were a tough team not very clever in attack but solid in defense.
So what was about to happen? I open the next piece of paper and it said ‘the Prime Minister’. So anyway you get the idea.
Tim Knox: So you collected these pieces of papers from the students and you were actually teaching them how to craft a story.
Robin Chambers: I was making up a story, yeah. Now 40 minutes later with the sweat pouring off my brow I got to the last piece of paper and the children had listened for 40 minutes in total silence and then one of them said to me, “Was that true, sir?” Now the answer that came to me was, “Yes it was in a way,” because if it felt true, you suspended your disbelief and it was a good story.
So I wrote that story down – and it was a result of a totally random collection of characters, places, situations and so on – honed it a little bit and what Penguin said was they liked the other five stories but it was that one that made them publish the book.
Tim Knox: So this story that came from those notes is the one that Penguin published first.
Robin Chambers: Yes.
Tim Knox: Let me just stop you and go back. A couple of things you said in there really touched me is when you initially got this assignment to go teach these kids and you’re standing outside the school and really kind of losing it. It’s almost like great responsibility had been thrust upon you and you were having a moment of doubt as to what the hell am I going to do?
Robin Chambers: Yeah.
Tim Knox: Then you went in and really over the next few years you created this curriculum or this form of teaching that not only taught those kids how to write but it sounds like it also taught you how to craft a great story.
Robin Chambers: Very definitely. I would not be a writer now had I not had to learn how to be a teacher and the children taught me how to do that.
Tim Knox: Such a wonderful story.
Robin Chambers: It’s true.
Tim Knox: When you decided though that you had a story or stories that you could sell, I know you sold them to Penguin kind of quickly. What was the process there? Did you just submit the stories to Penguin and they accepted them?
Robin Chambers: Yeah, I was very active in the London Association for the Teaching of English and there’s a guy also active in that who I knew was connected with Penguin. His name was Martin Lightfoot and I said to him, “Martin, I’ve written some stories. What should I do with them?” He said, “Send them to Tony Lacey. See if he thinks they’re any good.” Tony Lacey was the children’s author at Penguin at the time. I sent them to Tony Lacey and I’d say two weeks later I got a letter saying, “We’d like to publish them.”
Let me follow that up with what happened in 2013.
Tim Knox: It’s a different world now.
Robin Chambers: Yeah, 2013 when I had written the first two I think in the Myrddin’s Heir series and I was pretty confident they were good and much better than what I wrote 35, 40 years ago. So I sent a letter to Penguin and I said, “You published me in the mid 1970’s. I’m writing much better stuff now. Do you think the opening of my book one in my Myrddin’s Heir series might be worth 15 minutes of a junior editor’s time?” I got no reply.
So I thought alright they’ve just thrown it into the bin. I know the world’s changed. Six months later I got a letter saying, “Dear Robin, thank you for thinking of us but we don’t work like that anymore. We never accept unsolicited manuscripts now.” I’m a bit of a snob and I thought, “Don’t you know the difference between a manuscript and a typed script? There probably haven’t been manuscripts in 100 years,” but anyway. I was in no position to split hairs so that was that. “We advise you to find an agent.”
Well I don’t know how many agent stories your listeners need to hear but my experience…
Tim Knox: It’s pretty much the same story over and over.
Robin Chambers: It’s because I think, and this is not a criticism of agents or publishers, but you have to recognize that their primary task is not the same as mine as a writer. My primary task is to write a brilliant book. Now I would hope that if I have written a book that is worth reading, that people will actually want to read but those two factors don’t necessarily go together.
Agents and publishers are there to make money and they’re there to find what it is commercially viable. If I had ghostwritten Wayne Rooney’s autobiography they’d have bitten my hand off. If I had written I suppose the equivalent of 50 Shades of Grey, which I haven’t read but I’ve talked to some people who have tried to read it and I’ve read some criticisms from people whose views I place some credence in. They don’t use the word quality but it’s sold millions and millions of books as John Locke has.
He says if his books aren’t for you, then fair enough, just do him a favor and don’t rubbish them so I won’t. They’re not for me and maybe my books aren’t for him and that’s fair enough. We were on different paths and because my books… I’ve not come across a children’s book that’s been written in quite the same way. I wanted to write for bright children so they’re not dumbed down. I use words that children may not have come across before and there are notes in the back about those words because I want them to learn language and I want them to know how long words are made up in English and which languages they come from.
I want a lot of things from my books and I wish I had them when I was in the classroom. I’ve written the sort of books that if I was still a teacher I would just love to use. They’re crammed with teaching points and yet they’re really good story. It’s a really good story. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry. It’s well written. I think it’s well written. Let me say that at the moment.
I’m in my third month of trying to promote and there are now quite a few five star reviews on Amazon.com, UK and Goodreads and I feel vindicated as a writer. I feel there is some acclaim for the books out there. I’m only selling a few as yet but I’m prepared to be patient or I’m prepared not to… the trick is not minding, isn’t it? I really don’t mind if I don’t sell as many books as J.K. Rowling even though I profoundly believe they are as well written because somebody last week who is a very good writer herself said, “Not since I read the C.S. Lewis Narnia books have I enjoyed a children’s book so much.”
I wrote to her and I said, “If nobody else ever reads the book or says anything about it, I feel fulfilled by that.” It’s very affirming, you know. How do you know? What is a good book? My idea of a good book and your idea of a good book I would expect to be pretty similar but who knows? For those people who love John Locke, his books are brilliant books. Millions of people loved 50 Shades of Gray.
Tim Knox: I hear this a lot. I’ve interviewed a lot of authors now. It seems to be the same in every case. You have to write for the satisfaction of yourself first. Everyone wants to sell a ton of books and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you. I did know your history and you had about a 40 year gap from the Penguin books to what you’re doing now and I just found that so fascinating that you were coming back around and you’re writing these wonderful books. You clearly are writing for the love of the craft and the love of the reader than the love of the money. Now that’s not to say the money wouldn’t be nice.
Robin Chambers: Of course.
Tim Knox: I saw that review that you’re talking about and when I saw that I was like, “Wow, that just made his year.” It validated what you’re doing. Let’s talk about how you did come back around 40 years later to write this book. Had you always had the idea for this series in your mind or was it something that just came to you recently?
Robin Chambers: I knew I wanted to write for children but I needed the ghost of an idea. I was walking my two dogs in this bit of jungle in Belize and this idea came to me. It was a nine year old child who was talking to somebody that I couldn’t see but he was obviously there. He was an imaginary friend and he just asked this imaginary friend, “Where did I come from?” The friend said to him, “Come on, you know the drill. You’re a mammal, mommy’s tummy.” “Oh I know that but where was I before that?” The friend said, “You weren’t, just like you won’t be. You are passing through nature to eternity.”
So this conversation went on and I thought there’s something about that that is really interesting. The next time I saw him he was a baby and he was just learning to speak at a very, very early age and I got another scene.
So I started writing these things down and gradually these characters… he was obviously a very special boy and he had certain powers. It went together with a notion. I thought I would like to write a book that maybe engaged children in the process of thinking, “How can I help to make the world a better place?” All good people should want to do that in some way. Do your best.
I mentioned before when we were in Belize working with this Taiwanese couple and the man was a philosopher. I was helping him translate his philosophy into English because his English wasn’t good enough. That required talking to him about it and his way of making the world a better place came down to three commitments, to look after three symbiotic relationships – the relationships between body and mind, the relationships between people and the relationships between human beings and the planet. It went from micro to macro.
What you needed to look after the relationship between mind and body was to develop in all children from as early an age as possible a love of learning that became lifelong. I wanted to try and do that in my books.
To take care of the relationships between peoples you need respect. You need respect, to respect difference. Maybe you can’t love your neighbor. You don’t have to be able to but respect difference so that when you hear somebody on FOX News say, “Well the way I would have handled Iran I would have said, ‘Look here Mr. Akmen. If you don’t do what America tells you we will bomb Iran back to the Stone Age.” That is not respecting difference and you’re going to get nowhere. I could go with that. Respecting difference would make a huge difference in the world.
Then of course looking after the planet. Those three themes go through my book. I got these characters, this interesting character with his imaginary friend. Where did this imaginary friend come from? It developed along those lines and it turned out that he’s actually been born with these powers and where did they come from?
In order to be Myrddin’s Heir because Myrddin is now 1500 years old and the body he was given has lasted a long time but he’s wearing out and he needs an heir and he wants to see the world a better place before he dies. He is calling time on tyrants. That’s the story and it starts with my character, Gordon Bennett, because I don’t know whether that’s true in America but in England people use that as an expletive instead of saying something that’s attached to a religion. “Oh, Gordon Bennett.”
So there are kind of religious and fantasy overtones there and it’s all connected with wizardry and magic. That’s what happened. The story is sort of an amalgamation I suppose of lots and lots and lots of things that have happened to me over my seven decades. That must be so for all writers. Their own experiences informs what they write.
Tim Knox: So you are now five books in and I love the quote. You said that, “It’s longer than the Lord of the Rings. To finish it I need to live another 15 years.”
Robin Chambers: That’s right. I think that’s right.
Tim Knox: I hope you live much longer than that.
Robin Chambers: In 15 years I’ll be 87 but the reason I say that number of books is that I thought at first… you see J.K., who incidentally said she wrote Harry Potter for her, which backs up what you were saying about authors having to write for yourself.
Tim Knox: I think she probably wrote book one for her.
Robin Chambers: Wouldn’t that be interesting? They got darker and so on and so forth but Harry aged by a year in each book, whereas my character I got him to be 11 quite quickly. So much happens to him and it seems to have to happen to him that after five books he’s still only just 12. So I know the story ends when he’s 20 so it’s the number of books that I need to write between now when he’s 12 which has taken me five books and when he’s 20. I think it might as many as another 15 to finish the story because I do know how it ends but I don’t know everything that happens between.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about your process because you are a busy guy. You’re always off doing things. Every time I get an email you’ve been off doing something or traveling but when do you find the time to write? Do you write on a particular schedule or just whenever the chance occurs?
Robin Chambers: Up to now, and it’s going to have to change but up to now I get up, I have breakfast, I start writing and I don’t stop until 7:00 at night except to have lunch or what have you. I just spend a lot of time doing it. What I aim to do because of course I’m just learning about promoting now and I’m being told I might have to spend half my day every day promoting and the other half writing. If that turns out to be so we’ll have to see how it works out.
I took Anthony Burgess’s advice on that point. Anthony Burgess said, “If you can produce 1,000 new words a day, 1,000 might not seem like very many but it’s 365,000 words a year and that’s quite a lot.” So that’s my kind of benchmark.
Each day when I get up when I’m writing I read what I wrote the day before and I probably spend two or three hours revising it again before I get to my new words. I think I’m fairly disciplined about writing. I mean I’m just so lucky. I don’t have to do anything else. My wife is wonderful and she just does everything else. She feeds me and does all that shopping and manages the money. I sit in front of the keyboard and just do this.
Tim Knox: Has it ever occurred to you that that might be her way of keeping you out of the way? My youngest daughter has the running joke that when I get really old she’s just going to wheel me out to a pier and leave me and say, “Daddy, watch the water.”
There’s one thing that you said there that struck a chord with me and that’s the fact that you may find that you spend half your time writing and half your time marketing because that seems to be a running theme with the authors that I interview that are successful sales-wise. They’re always on the social media, they’re always building the relationships.
They tell me down to a man and woman that you have to look at this like a business and you have to realize your books are your product, your readers are your customer and you have to spend a good chunk of your time getting your product into the customer’s hand, which is counterintuitive to what you and I want to do as writers. I just want to write.
Robin Chambers: Yeah but it’s not just that. I heard what Tom Waite said. He was the one before me. He knows about marketing and he said… what was his phrase? He said, “Getting my book to key individuals. It’s not just finding your readers, is it? It’s getting your book to people, the movers and shakers, who will do something. Getting your book to a position where Amazon thinks, ‘Oh hello, we better pay attention to this’ because Amazon has the power to put your book to number one with the might of its marketing machine. How do you persuade them to do that? They’re not just going to do it because somebody reads your book and think that’s good; we’ll do it with this one.”
That’s what I suppose I’m trying to find out but somehow it’s not, as you said, it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing for me if it came to a choice, I would write book six without question. I’m not going to give a whole year to building up my Twitter. Two weeks ago it was 210 views. Last week it was 1,333 views. This week it’s 6,853 views. Does that translate into sales? I sold 30 books this month but I was selling none so it’s progress of a sort.
Another thing, because you haven’t asked me about why ePublishing and not actually printing. I think the digital publishing revolution, I suppose I tend to see things in fairly extreme ways and I think it’s an even bigger revolution than the invention of the printing press. I don’t think printed books will survive more than another half century because they don’t make sense anymore.
Tim Knox: And that’s one thing I was about to ask you is your opinion on this because you have been on both sides of the fence. The internet, the digital book revolution as well call it seems to have leveled the playing ground for writers. Now it’s up to us to do something with it.
Robin Chambers: Yes it’s a bit like Wikipedia compared to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Anybody can do it but it can be self-regulating. It’s enormously enabling and so people fulfill their life dream and put a book in the Kindle store and you read it and it makes every elementary writing mistake in your book. I mean you read the opening. You know pretty much after a couple of pages whether something’s going to be worth reading or not.
I would never take away somebody’s right to do that and try and live their dream. Maybe that will lead to them learning how to write. Not everybody’s had my opportunity of spending 40 years learning how to write with children and running writer’s workshops and magazines and finding out what works and what doesn’t, and also the opportunity to study great writers. Not everybody has had that as well. I’ve had a very privileged existence but it’s taken me seven decades to take my own writing seriously.
The other thing too is I don’t want the price of my book ever to be a barrier in the way of a child reading it. That’s why they’re 0.99£. I’ve tried to get Amazon to make them $0.99 but they won’t for some reason. I’ve ticked the right boxes and put the right amounts in but they’re still demanding $1.63. I’d so much sooner they were half the price of a cup of coffee.
So people are thinking, “Well I’m not risking much by reading this,” and then, “My goodness, this is actually a pleasure to read.” That I think is my way in. The other thing I enjoy doing enormously is reading other writer’s books and reviewing them. I have 10 in my line at the moment where I’ve agreed to do that for writers. That’s going to take me at least another month, maybe six weeks to do that as well as all this tweeting and Facebooking.
I’m editing a book for a local writer who is really, really grateful. She said she’s learning so much from that editing process with me and that’s very fulfilling. Once a teacher always a teacher.
I could sum up by saying I’m having tremendous fun. It really feels as though I am living that particular dream. It’s the last one and I will write until I drop or like poor old Terry Pratchett. If my head gets hit by something that stops me from being able to do it then it does. At the moment it’s working and at the moment let me tell you, and this may sound funny. I read book one not having read it for six months and I think, “Did you really write this?” It still makes me cry and it still makes me laugh. It’s just wonderful and I couldn’t be happier.
Tim Knox: Robin, I’m so happy that you are happy. It’s been a joy to talk to you. You and I will have many conversations in the years to come. If the audience would like to learn more about your books where would they go?
Robin Chambers: My website is MyrddinsHeir.com and I try to make it educational. Incidentally, if any other writers because sometimes people say, “I’m short of an idea,” I turned that idea about breaking out of the mold by having a page of characters and a page of places and a page of situations and a page of interesting objects and I put them on a grid. If ever a child said, “I don’t know what to write,” I would give him or her this booklet and say, “Think of four numbers between 1 and 99.” “28, 36, 72, 85.” That would give them a character, a place, a situation and an interesting object just at random.
So I’ve actually formulized that booklet and it’s called Ideas for at Least a Billion Stories and it’s downloadable free on my website. If anybody out there is stuck for an idea… I mean it works like a piano. How many notes are there on a piano and how many tunes can you play on it? There are at least a billion ideas.
You can certainly find me there and you can find me everywhere else because I’m trying to be visible. I’m on Twitter and Facebook and here and there and everywhere.
Tim Knox: I just like to listen to you talk. Is that crazy? Robin Chambers, it’s been a pleasure. We will put up links to Myrddin’s Heir and we wish you all the success. Have you ever thought about going back and republishing those Penguin books as eBooks?
Robin Chambers: I haven’t because I’m just so busy and so full of this story. Incidentally, one of the ways getting yourself noticed by people of course is if you win a competition. If you’ve written a good book you should be able to put it into a competition shouldn’t you? So many competitions are restricted to people who’ve never been published so that little book 40 years ago is stopping me from entering most competitions now with the ones that I’m doing but it doesn’t matter; I’ll find a way.
Tim Knox: Very good. Robin, it’s been a pleasure. By the way I want folks to go to your website and just see you in that cloak that you’re wearing. Do you wear that when you write?
Robin Chambers: Certainly not when I write but when I read to children, when I go into schools because I do that sometimes, I go as a wizard. I grew the beard and I’ve got a staff with a snake on the end of it. When I’m in that costume I do look like a genuine wizard.
Tim Knox: I think you’ve got it down. Robin, it’s been a pleasure. We will talk to you again very soon.
Robin Chambers: Thank you, Tim. Bye bye.