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20 Writerly Questions Series: Richard Harvell

abstract:The "Writerly Questions Series" is brought to you courtesy of Random House Canada who partners with BookBuffet. Look for this feature each Monday. The idea is we ask different authors the same set of questions designed to give readers a glimpse into the lives and writing mechanics of authors. It is fascinating to compare and contrast when you check the list to date at bottom. Today's author is Richard Harvell. This is Richard's first novel titled, The Bells, and it's certain to become a Random House blockbuster this fall. Consider the elements: rich lush prose, intriguing characters like bell ringers and castratas, aluring settings like 17th century European opera houses, and an elegant theme - the redemptive power of music and love. Ladies will like this part - it was inspired by his wife while he was sitting in their kitchen listening to her sing, with her fine clear voice, an aria by Gluck that is based on a story about Orpheus and Eurydice. He asked her about the story and was immediately struck that this plot would form the basis of his novel. Since they live in Basel Switzerland he was already immersed in the region. "Bells" takes readers on a passionate musical journey through Europe ending in Vienna in 1762. Along with the publisher's introduction came a link to his You Tube video - a luscious tempting clip. Richard Harvell was born in New Hampshire, USA, and studied English literature at Dartmouth College. As BookBuffet had the very good fortune to hear Richard give a reading in Vancouver - we will follow-up shortly with a few audio excerpts in a separate feature. Stay tuned! In the meantime listen to Andreas Scholl sing Che Faro Senza Euridice

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
Boy with preternatural hearing has his life ruined by a priest, an abbot, a choirmaster, and a doctor, and then redeemed by two gay monks, a dwarf, music, and true love.
2. How long did it take you to write this book?
Nine months until I said, ďItís finished.Ē Three years until others agreed with me.
3. Where is your favorite place to write?
Wherever my kids donít bother me. These days in the attic.
4. How do you choose your charactersí names?
For the most part I look for names in historical records, for authenticity. However, I had some fun with the last names in The Bells, but you have to speak German to get that.
5. How many drafts do you go through?
With The Bells, sixteen plus lots and lots of fiddling.


September 20, 2010
6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
Moby Dick, but I also wish I could play basketball like Michael Jordan. Neither will ever happen and so Iíll settle for what I can get.
7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
I think Moses is out there, tall and elegant, yet somehow effeminate, and as yet undiscovered. And if anyone knows John Goodman, please give him a copy of The Bellsóheíd be a great Nicolai.
8. Whatís your favourite city in the world?
Either Cairo, 1798, or Paris, 1794. Or at least thatís where Iíve been spending most of my time these last few months.†
9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?
Dear Vladimir Nabokov, O where is the hidden font of creativity?
10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
I wrote a book about music and I never, ever listened to music while I wrote (though often I did listen before and after writing). No, thatís not true, sometimes I put on a Mahler symphony to drown out the sound of my kids.
11. Who is the first person who gets to read your manuscript?
My wife.
I have two great readers, Alex and Bridget (American and British, respectively), who have read everything Iíve written for ten years and disliked most everything until The Bells. They were so encouraging and yet so direct when displeased.
12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
Reading should be fun, why feel guilty? I love PG Wodehouse and maybe I feel a little silly for laughing at the same gags the sixth time through.
13. Whatís on your nightstand right now?
'Cormac McCarthyís Outer Dark and Flannery OíConnerís Mystery & Manners. Why do I enjoy Faulknerís heirs more than the master himself?
14. What is the first book you remember reading?
Richard Scarry, What Do People Do All Day? I've recently rediscovered it with my son. Genius.
15. Did you always want to be a writer?
No, until I was 20 I wanted to be a theoretical physicist. Many thanks to the Yale University mathematics department for excising that dream with the dull scalpel that is multivariable calculus.
16. What do you drink or eat while you write?
I consume so much tea (green or black, loose, special ordered from India, Taiwan, or Japan) I have to take frequent walks downstairs to the toilet. I look forward to a distant, geriatric future of a caffeine drip and a catheter.
17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
I saw a typewriter in a museum once. And tell me if Iím wrong, but I thought pen and paper were just for making shopping lists.
18. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
I went to bed. Because of the time change to Switzerland, and some late negotiations, I only had about 4 hours until I had to be at work the next day.
19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
If anyone else has a good answer to that question, please forward it to me.
20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
Can you babysit? How's tomorrow morning at 5:45?

Author links

  • Random House's "Author Feature Page" for Richard Harvell
  • Author's Webpage
  • Publisher links:

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  • Previous Authors Asked 20 Writerly Questions

  • David Mitchell
  • Camilla Gibb
  • Alissa York
  • Justin Cronin
  • Holly LeCraw
  • Joan Thomas
  • Anosh Irani
  • Yann Martel
  • Joy Fielding
  • Andrew Kaufman
  • Beth Powning


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