Having recently met R.V Biggs, author of Song of the Robin at a blogger and author event, I just had to invite him onto Linda’s Book Bag to tell me more about himself and his writing.
The first book in Robert’s Sarah Macintyre series, Song of the Robin is available for purchase here.
Song of the Robin
It wasn’t the whispered voices, or the unsettling dreams that had begun to trouble Sarah Richards so much as the visions… visions of a man more ghostly than real.
In the space of a single day, her visitor appears several times, but is the spectre harmless or are his intentions malevolent.
Seeking the support of a friend, Sarah endeavours to identify her unknown stalker. But with each visitation she becomes ever more bewildered… and as her orderly life begins to unravel, she questions the reality of all that she knows, and with mounting horror, even her own sanity.
An Interview with R.V Biggs
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Robert. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Song of the Robin in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Thanks Linda for inviting me, and it was a pleasure to meet you in Birmingham during September.
A little about me? Well I was born on a Monday in a leap year and my star sign is Leo… birthstone Peridot. Apparently in dog years I’m 427 years old!
I was very shy in my younger years, which probably explains why I was 32 before I met my soul mate (we were meant to be together and were heading along our own paths until the point where destiny played its part.)
I have a passion for mystery, or the fight between good and not so good. Among my favourite stories are The Lord of the Rings (the original books, read when I was in my early twenties), and also Afterwards and Sister, both by the wonderful Rosamund Lupton. One of my favourite films is ‘Signs’ by M Night Shyalaman. A spooky but destiny ridden film starring Mel Gibson that tests the hero’s faith until the touching end.
As for family, I have four step children and soon to be six grandchildren. Life has been busy, though I still work for a living. My wife now has most grand parenting duties!
Ten years ago, and fascinated by alternate therapies, I took a Reiki level 1 course. I think the experience may have guided my writing.
I love the outside world and sunshine (Leo remember), but though I love the Med, I’m happiest under sunny Scottish skies with the wind blowing fresh salt air into my soul.
Why do you write?
For me, and I think because it’s my time. It’s utterly absorbing. When I write, or edit… I’m focussed on the screen in front of me. I’m not thinking about the DIY that’s not finished (or started) or what I need to do at work. A friend once asked me if I thought I was being selfish and I admit I’d never thought of it that way. As couples most of what we do together is shared, but writing is different unless of course you are part of a writing couple. Writing lets me focus on my inner thoughts and imagination.
When did you realise you were going to be a writer?
I’m not sure there was a conscious realisation of this. The half awake dream I had and the song lyrics that triggered the dream, kick started Song of the Robin and that took place in the autumn of 2007 so I guess that would have been the start. The first time I said anything aloud about writing a novel was to my wife a few weeks later while on holiday in the Dominican Republic. Telling someone else made it suddenly very real. After that, it almost became an obsession. Difficult to get off a zip wire once you’re on it. At the beginning I simply had a story to tell, as a challenge and for my own pleasure. But then the idea of publishing crossed my mind which of course brought a whole new set of challenges.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
From what I’ve read I think most authors would say the actual writing is the easy part, not in the literal sense of course, and that’s my experience too. It’s hard work creating a consistent and flowing story line though. Many people have also said that editing is the hardest task but I’m not finding that at the moment. Its laborious for certain because whole sections sometimes have to be rewritten or recreated… moved around. To edit I use software to help spot proofing mistakes, check on writing style and diction along with overused words etc. It also suggests other improvements that you can choose to ignore. It’s an invaluable aid and I think has helped improve my writing. I may find it hard again when I restart the third novel. I have a timeline for it and key events but not much that stitches it all together…. yet.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
By far the majority of Song of the Robin and its sequel Re-Union were written while holidaying in remote Scottish cottages. Time, space, a clear head and a wife who loves walking the dog for a few hours then sitting by the fire knitting with a pot of tea and a wee dram helps enormously. Much of the storyline for Song of the Robin developed in my head while I was walking the dog. The dog never talked to me much… just roamed ahead sniffing under bushes.
Of course writing on holiday is a situation that occurs irregularly so is hardly a routine. I have however developed the habit of spending an hour after work editing. I’ve yet to find out if that habit will extend into the third novel when I pick it up again because I usually have to be in a quiet place… what I call the zone in order to create.
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Song of the Robin?
Song of the Robin describes a young woman’s week long struggle with what she sees as encroaching madness as she tries to maintain control of her sanity. The main plot carries an air of mystery about it, until that mystery is revealed, but even afterwards the struggle continues with elements of spirituality threaded throughout.
It started as a simple fight for survival but became a romantic mystery as it focuses on themes of destiny and the deepest love between two people and their beliefs in the strength of family.
Song of the Robin doesn’t fit neatly into one particular genre. Why did you decide to write it this way?
As a first time author, I perhaps have the luxury of ignorance when it comes to all things ‘authory’ so I confess I didn’t really plan for anything… no time line, no subplots, little in the way of arc and no genre. I had a concept but with no storyline at all, and hence no specific genre in mind. I think Song of the Robin, which was the last of several titles, started out as romantic drama but quickly became a psychological tale, though as you say it doesn’t quite fit into perhaps a standard genre and I’m happy with that. It’s certainly not a thriller though perhaps the reader is better placed to decide what thrills them. I’ve always liked stories that bring elements of mystery into them and these elements ‘appeared’ as the tale unfolded. I think that answers why I decided to write it that way… my own arc… it grew along with the story, or as Indiana Jones may have put it, I made it up as I went along.
Song of the Robin is partly set in Scotland which I know is a very important place to you. How did it feel to capture this setting in your writing?
Yes you are sooo right in that Scotland has a place in my heart. Living there for a year was ‘our great experiment’ but wrong time, wrong place and we took the decision to return home. It was hard to leave it behind… the dream of living in an old Crofters Cottage surrounded by fields instead of concrete and tarmac, but an easy decision to make in the end. Reality makes one adapt.
It was five years after leaving Scotland that the idea for Song of the Robin came into being and I soon learnt while developing the story that I was using my writing as an emotional download. I wanted my protagonist to fall in love with the country as I had done. I needed romantic events to take place there because Scotland is full of romance. I like to think I captured the mood well, and an early review on Amazon did comment with praise on my descriptive turn of phrase (something I learnt from Tolkien of all people… how to build a scene). I’ve copied below an extract. The scene is from a real beach in Ayrshire and one that I’ve visited many times though not often enough. This is looking back on an event ten years prior to the story:
On the last day of their stay, the weather had been stunning, bringing a lie to the popular belief amongst many of the English that Scotland was always cold and wet. Sarah wanted one last picnic, so John had gone into town on his own to pick up provisions, leaving Sarah to chat with his grandparents. It had been almost four o’clock when he returned and they headed off to the beach to find a quiet spot with sand dunes at their backs and a clear view of Arran, Ailsa Craig and Kintyre to the front. With only a few people wandering along the shore, walking dogs or taking children out after school, the afternoon was tranquil.
Laying out a blanket and making a fire in the sand, they made the most of their last meal. John had brought simple food that cooked easily and a sparkling wine that was cool and fruity. The evening held a calm and relaxing stillness.
When dusk had begun to settle and the shadows deepened, John grabbed an extra blanket and threw it around their shoulders, tugging it close. With only tee shirts to cover them, the waning of the sun had brought a cool bite to the air, and Sarah shuddered as she folded into his arms.
The light from the sun had weakened, and the sky turned from blue into shades of orange and red with high fluffy clouds blushing pink.
Apart from the occasional piping of small birds pecking the sand and wading in amongst the weed along the shoreline, not a sound disturbed the evening. As they’d sat huddled warm within their blanket, watching the rippling of tiny waves caressing the shore, occasional spouts of water left the calm surface of the sea as marauding Gannets dived like spears into the depths searching for their supper. The sharp, craggy peaks of the Mountains on Arran silhouetted against the fading light looked dramatic, wild and formidable.
The colour of the sea had turned to a bright orange, dazzling and glittering as it rippled on its silken surface. A myriad of tiny diamonds floated on the brighter golden path that travelled from their feet to the horizon where the huge and glowing ball of the setting sun melted into the water. The languid slap of tiny waves broke upon the shore but Sarah took no notice as John rose to his feet —-
I’ve left out the end for fear of spoiling the scene.
(That’s beautifully evocative Robert.)
Song of the Robin has a cover that I know you spent some time deciding upon. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
Deciding on a theme for a book cover I think is the hardest task of them all. We’re always told not to create our own book covers and to use professional services but you’re spot on in saying I spent a while choosing the imagery on the existing cover. It was taken from a scene in which Sarah is blundering about in a fog with only the Robin for company. In choosing the images, I wanted to convey an air of mystery and confusion hoping a potential buyer would think, ‘what is that Robin doing there and why the sidelong glance from the eyes’.
I browsed the shelves of Waterstones to see what others use in Psychological Drama novels. Eyes figure often as do landscape scenes with a character walking away into the distance. I’m still not sure I’m happy with what I have, and have other ideas from other scenes that may fit a more standard approach for Psychological Drama.
If you could choose to be a character from Song of the Robin, who would you be and why?
Other than the Robin, it would have to be John. He’s so much a part of Sarah that it is hard for him to be away from her. His life is nothing without her. Destiny played its part in bringing them together, which has parallels with how my wife and I met.
If Song of the Robin became a film, who would you like to play Sarah and why would you choose them?
Has to be an English actress. My first thought was Michele Dockery of Downton Abbey Fame. I first saw her on TV in an episode of Waking the Dead and thought her portrayal of a 30 year old rape and trauma victim was exceptional, very moving. However, and being picky, her appearance doesn’t fit how I imagined Sarah. The actress who I’ve seen many times recently and seems perfect is Sophie Rundle of Dickensian, Happy Valley, Peaky Blinders, Brief Encounters fame.
When can we expect to see Re-Union, the sequel to Song of the Robin?
Re-Union is currently undergoing a penultimate edit. I say penultimate because the final stage for me is to turn on ‘text to speech’ in MsWord and have the whole thing read back to me. Surprising how many ‘invisible’ errors crop up when you use your ears instead of your eyes. After that, it’ll need a Beta Reader to provide feedback but I’m aiming for early in the new year for a release.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I guess mostly psychological or crime drama though I’ve mixed it up a bit. I recently finished the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson. That’s basically 12 novels of fantasy. It took me a long time since I usually only read at bedtime. When I finally finished I was stuck in his world and it took me a while to figure out what to read next. I’m currently reading Anne Cleaver’s The Crow Trap, one of the Vera series.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Song of the Robin should be their next read, what would you say?
If you think you’re alone in this world then think again? Listen for the Robins!
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions.
About R.V. Biggs
R. V. Biggs lives in a small ex-mining village near Wolverhampton, England, with his wife Julie, a cat and a dog. He has four grown up children and five grandchildren. Robert worked for a global communications company for thirty five years in a variety of roles before making a career change into health care. He now works for Birmingham Children’s Hospital where he helps to provide Mental Health Services for children and young people.
Along with his wife, Robert has a passion for Scotland and they both lived there for a year in a remote but modernised Crofters Cottage.
Walking with the dog is a favourite pastime and much of the story line for his first novel was developed during these lengthy outings.
Robert took a Level 1 Reiki introduction course several years ago and has been interested in spiritual health ever since.