In conversation with Karunesh Kumar Agarwal, Managing Editor, Richard Rose tells us about his success as a writer.

Good writers define reality; bad ones merely restate it. A good writer turns fact into truth; a bad writer will, more often than not, accomplish the opposite.   ~Edward Albee


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Tell us about yourself and your background.

Richard Rose: I was brought up in the city of Gloucester in the south west of England where most of my family has lived for several generations. However, since my student days in Bristol I have lived with my wife and family in several parts of England. I have spent most of my adult life working in the area of education and development, initially as a teacher in schools in the UK, then in a number of university posts. This has included a period as visiting Professor in Hong Kong. For the past twenty-five years my work has been largely focused on the development of education provision for marginalized children, including those with disabilities in several parts of the world.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal:  What inspires you to write poetry?

Richard Rose: I have had a passion for literature since I was at school where I was fortunate in having some excellent English teachers who encouraged me to read widely and to write. One in particular, a man named John Passey who is sadly no longer with us, told me I could write and suggested that I should try to express myself through a range of different formats and outlets. His advice in this and other matters was always sound. I suppose like many teenagers I experimented with writing poetry and was inspired by a diverse range of poets – Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath and Robert Frost to name but a few. Today I still read a lot of poetry and in recent years some of the Irish poets, Derek Mahon, Michael Longley, Brendan Kennelly and of course Seamus Heaney have been a great inspiration.

Much of my poetry has its origins in my travel experiences and my work. I think this is clearly reflected in my collection “A Sense of Place” published in 2020. I am fortunate also to live in the heart of the English countryside where the natural world is inevitably a source of inspiration. I suppose for every dozen poems I write I end up rejecting ten because they don’t work in the way I had intended.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal:  Fiction or non-fiction? Which is easier?

Richard Rose: Because of the nature of my profession I have spent a lot of time writing for academic journals and books. To some extent this is easier than writing fiction as the writing usually follows an intensive period of research that dictates the content of the written work. It’s also true to say that most academic journals have a specified format that acts as a template for the writing. I quite enjoy engagement with academic ideas and arguments and having worked so long in my discipline have become quite confident in this area.

Writing fiction is in many ways more difficult. Though I enjoy the freedom that comes from not having to conform to an academic formula. I still favour the idea that the short story should communicate through the development of both plot and character, and I am aware of the influence that great story tellers have had on my way of thinking in this respect. Writers such as Saadat Hasan Manto, William Trevor, Alice Munro, R.K. Narayan and Isaac Bashevis Singer have written stories that will be read well into the future. They have set a very high standard and one that it is challenging to emulate.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Richard Rose: When I was younger I often found that I wanted to write like someone else. It took me a long time to have the confidence to write what I wanted to write in the way that I wanted to write it. I regularly meet individuals who tell me that they want to write, when what they really mean is that they like the idea of being a writer. The only way to be a writer is to sit down for many hours and get on with it. Prevarication is the greatest enemy of writing.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Your experience of collaborating with Michael Shevlin and James Vollmar.

Richard Rose: Michael and James are good friends as well as being fine writers. I have collaborated with Michael who is a professor at Trinity College Dublin over many years. In academic writing such collaborations are common, and I have been fortunate to find in Michael a colleague whose commitment to equity and inclusion of marginalized children is as great as mine. We write easily together and accept each other’s critical scrutiny without difficulty.

James is an excellent playwright whose work for the stage has been produced by professional theatre companies in many parts of England. He is also an accomplished poet and has written memoire and fiction. I collaborated with James on the writing of “Letters to Lucia” a play about the daughter of James Joyce that was produced by Triskellion Theatre Company in 2018. I learned a great deal from James about what works in performance and the difference between writing for theatre and other forms. 2022 is the centenary of the publication of Joyce’s great novel Ulysses, and we are looking forward to a further production of “Letters to Lucia” on Bloomsday this year.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: It seems you are impressed with India. What impressed you?

Richard Rose: I first visited India in 2000, though to be honest I have had an interest in modern Indian history since I was at school. In particular the influence of great Indian leaders such as Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, but more especially Mahatma Gandhi and Vinobe Bhave and their non-violent struggle for freedom and justice has always been an inspiration. To some extent I suppose the influence of these great leaders is reflected in some of the pieces in my collection of stories and essays in “Breaching the Barriers.” I have been fortunate to work for more than twenty years with colleagues in India who are in many ways continuing the work of these great pioneers to achieve increased opportunities for communities that have been marginalized. What impresses me most is the commitment of individuals in India who work in this way.

On perhaps a different level, I enjoy the literature of India and especially the work of Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand, Mahasweta Devi and Rabindranath Tagore. I have been privileged to travel and work extensively in many parts of India and have seen how cultures and traditions are carried on in many of the villages, so important in terms of preserving the artistic movements that have shaped the nation. Oh and of course, I mustn’t omit the excellent cuisine that varies so much across the different states.                       

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

Richard Rose: I think it is important not to rush into print. When you receive a contract to write a first book it feels like you have reached some kind of summit. It feels good that a publisher has the faith to turn your manuscript into a book. However, it is important to remember that once the book is published you cannot change its contents. Proof reading is important to ensure that when the book is released you are satisfied that it is a fair representation of your ideas and the intentions that you intended to convey. All writing is potentially contentious. I am aware for example, that some of the pieces I have written in “Breaching the Barriers” will not find favour with everyone. The opinions I have expressed are mine and I am content to stand by them, were this not the case I would not have sought publication. Good editors are important, but ultimately the responsibility for the contents of a book must rest with the author.

When it comes to short stories and poetry I would suggest that all writers need to test their work by seeking publication in respected literary magazines before compiling work for a book. Don’t fear criticism and accepted that rejection is all part of the learning process. There can be very few writers who haven’t had their work turned down by an editor at some point in their writing career. The important thing is to believe in what you are doing, persist with the work and try to improve all the time.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Richard Rose: Not really secrets. I’m sure that most writers draw upon what they know and the experiences they have had. I know that some friends and colleagues, if they read “Breaching the Barriers” will recognize the places and in some instances the events that I have written about. The short stories are wholly fictitious, but I have drawn for these upon places I have come to know over many years of visiting Tamil Nadu, Kerala and other parts of the country and from staying with families in small village communities in these states. I like to think that where I have inserted facts into my stories such as the statistics related to Indian cricketers in “The Missing Hero,” or details related to aspects of partition in 1947 referred to in “The Elephant Brooch”, these are accurate and verifiable. In my poetry it is obvious that individuals will recognize themselves in some of the poems. Some of the poems in “A Sense of Place” quite clearly describe events involving my family, others such as “Rangoli Morning” will be recognized by Indian friends as depicting a time we spent together in Telangana State.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: How do you use social media as an author? 

Richard Rose: Not very well to be quite honest. It is something I need to improve and develop. Any advice would be greatly welcomed! I feel that the marketing of a book is a joint responsibility between publisher and author. During a time of global pandemic when it has been difficult to attend events or do readings the marketing process has become more challenging and I suspect that the use of social media may become increasingly important if this situation persists. I do make some use of a personal website

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?

Richard Rose: This is a difficult question, there are so many writers whose work I admire. Writers from the past might include Robert Louis Stevenson. He has always intrigued me since I read him as a child, but also having revisited some of his work in more recent years. I admire his ability to tell a story in a straight forward manner and to engage his reader through the creation of character. R.K. Narayan for similar reasons and for immersing me in the community of Malgudi. Of present day writers, the Turkish author Elif Shafak whose commitment to social justice is not only portrayed in her writing but also in her life, and the playwright and diarist Alan Bennett whose humour is often acerbic but never unkind.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Your experience of writing the poem " The Uninvited Guest". Please express your feelings.

Richard Rose: This poem depicts a true event. The red kite, a bird closely related to the black kites that are so common in the skies above Indian cities, was for many years extinct in the UK. They were reintroduced in the 1980s and are now well established with a healthy population in the area where I live. One evening while walking locally across fields near my home, I came to the top of a small hill and surprised a red kite that was feasting on a dead rabbit in the grass. Had I seen the bird earlier I would have stopped at a distance and simply observed its behaviour. Having startled the kite and in effect driven it from the rabbit I had an immediate feeling of guilt and returned home wondering if the bird had been deprived of a meal. As with several other poems in “A Sense of Place” and some of my current writing, I have been greatly inspired by the local environment and its wildlife.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Thank you very much Richard Rose.

Richard Rose: Thank you Karunesh. It is a pleasure to speak to you and to have had an opportunity to publish some of my work through Cyberwit.

Richard Rose is an award winning British writer, university professor and children’s rights advocate. He is the author of more than a hundred academic papers, and twelve books addressing issues related to the education of children from marginalised groups, and his work in this area has been translated into several languages. His poetry, fiction and essays have been published in literary magazines in the UK, USA, Canada, India and Singapore. For more than twenty years he has worked regularly in India as well as other Asian and European countries. “A Sense of Place”(Cyberwit 2020) is a representative sample of his poetry that reflects many of his travels both in the UK and in other parts of the world. This is further developed in “Breaching the Barriers” (Cyberwit 2022) that presents a series of short stories and essays based upon his experiences of working and travelling in India. His other most recent books include Establishing Pathways to Inclusion, co-authored with Michael Shevlin (Routledge 2021), Letters to Lucia, with co-playwright James Vollmar (Triskellion 2020) and Confronting Obstacles to Inclusion (Routledge 2010). Richard lives in the Northamptonshire countryside in England and much of his poetry reflects the landscape that surrounds his home.