In conversation with... Michael J Ritchie

Hi Michael! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Third Wheel, which I have recently enjoyed via its serialisation on The Pigeonhole! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Hello! Thank you, I’m glad you liked it!

The Third Wheel is about Dexter, a twenty-something who is coming to terms with the fact that all of his friends are coupled up and moving on with their lives, but he’s single, lonely and feeling left behind. He doesn’t subscribe to society’s notion that you need to find “The One” and would rather have his friends back to spend time with. However, when aliens invade the planet, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective as he and his friends are left to survive in this new world, and suddenly Dexter’s singleness might just be his greatest asset…

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: Very little of the story was figured out at the beginning – I was four chapters in before I even thought about adding aliens! It was originally going to be a very straight, non-fantastic exploration of growing up and coping with loneliness, but I’ve always liked to push my characters to their limits, so it quickly grew into something else. It also naturally developed a rhythm wherein the first half of the book is quite light and jokey, whereas the second half is considerably darker. There are still jokes, but they’re much blacker and the stakes are higher.

I’ll freely admit too that most of the characters share an element or two with some of my friends, but they very quickly developed into their own people and there’s not much left of the real people.

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the role of Dexter?

A: I’m no good at this! It would have to be someone in their mid-twenties and I really don’t have enough knowledge of current film to know who would be any good, sorry!

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: There is one scene quite late into the book that was very difficult to write, but it’s probably not the one you were expecting. My favourite passage is probably the backstory to how Annie-and-Matt met. I wrote it so that the story was inconsistent and ever-changing, with no one else quite sure on how they did meet.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: Not much else, to be honest. There was another friend pairing who would have been part of the gang, but they got excised early on as I didn’t really know what to do with them, although their names still exist briefly in passing. At the back of the book are some “bonus chapters” that show things that happened when Dexter wasn’t around to narrate, and there was one more of those originally, too – although I can’t tell you what it’s about without revealing spoilers!

Speaking of spoilers, I do know what happens to all the surviving characters after the story ends, but none of that was ever going to feature in the book. I’ll reveal it all at some point, I’m sure.

Can you please describe your journey to publication?

A: My journey is probably quite unusual as I didn’t go via traditional methods. The first draft of the book was finished in 2015 and then I sort of sat on it for a while. In 2017, I sent it to Unbound, a publishing house that uses a crowdfunding model to get their books launched. They obviously saw potential in it and took it on, and through them I raised the funds required. Unbound then found me an editor and a cover artist, both of whom were brilliant, and now here we are out the other end!

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I’m always working on a few things at a time, but currently two projects are taking up most of my time. I never like to give too much away, but I’ll say that the main novel-in-progress takes us back to London and sees modern bartenders clash with ancient mythological figures. As with my other two books, I like the formula of “ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances”.

The other project is non-fiction and centred around my love of trivia, but it’s in the very early stages.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: I’m currently reading “Mythos” by Stephen Fry, which is an updated retelling of the Greek myths.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I think that social media can be a force for good, allowing you to spread your work further, but it can easily become addictive and I think people can get far too wrapped up in monitoring exactly how many likes, hits, retweets, whatever, they’re getting. It’s often a mindless distraction too, and always changing, so some people get FOMO around it and have to keep checking back. It also means it’s easier for you to find negative comments about your work, which isn’t helpful particularly. As a new writer, I’ve not really felt the demands of social media yet, and I hope it never does dominate. The writing must always come first.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: You can’t edit a blank page.

Thank you for your time!

A: No problem, lovely to chat!

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