It’s been just over a year since I sat down with Tarn Richardson over a coffee (or three) to discuss his writing and his ambitions for his acclaimed fantasy horror trilogy, THE DARKEST HAND. His love of the coffee bean is still as apparent as it was back then, as is the grey that’s since slowly expanded through his beard. He looks older than the single year which has passed, a little more weight too, but there’s a spark and spirit within his eyes which suggests he has more of his old energy back than when we last met.
“Last time we spoke,” he begins, between slurps of flat white, “I was at a pretty low ebb, if honest, creatively and commercially. THE DARKEST HAND was bumping along the bottom at Duckworth’s and there seemed to be too many loose strands of new projects and too little time to tie anything up. This time around it feels like things might finally be happening.”
It’s been a year of big change for Tarn. Over the summer, his old publisher Duckworth Overlook folded and was acquired by Prelude books, a publishing house who publish almost exclusively non-fiction. Tarn, along with many other of Duckworth’s fiction authors, was given back the rights to his books and shown the door. I asked him if this was particularly difficult to take.
“Quite the opposite,” he cheers, flashing that smile I recognise from the last time we spoke. “I will always appreciate my time with Duckworth, what they did for me, giving me the three book deal and everything. But it felt that my books were a bit ‘stuck’ under their ownership, that they weren’t really being pushed any more, that the energy and spirit had somehow run out of pushing them. To get back the rights meant that I could breathe new life into the books. Give them a fresh start. Get them to a new audience. All I needed was a new home.”
And this new home for the trilogy was already waiting with its door open. RedDoor Books. Earlier in the year they had been sent a copy of RIPPED, Tarn’s fourth novel, by Tarn himself, after his agent passed, and they liked it enough to sign it to their 2020 publishing schedule.
“It was particularly pleasing because my agent had turned down representing the book because he felt he couldn’t sell it. So to sell it myself to a publishing house was doubly pleased.”
More on RIPPED in a bit. Serendipity had played its hand in Tarn’s career as an author before.
“I remember my editor at Duckworth at the time telling me they signed THE DAMNED, Book 1 of the Darkest Hand trilogy, because that very morning they were discussing what might be the next big monster in fiction after zombies and World War Z which they published. The very next minute, they picked up my manuscript from the pile of books waiting for them to read.”
Now good timing was on Tarn’s side once again. He told Clare Christian, his editor for RIPPED at RedDoor, that he had just got the rights back to his trilogy and if she wanted to talk a look. Apparently they had only recently been thinking about looking for a trilogy for their publishing schedule!
“I always tell budding writers that story because it shows how much of our industry is built on luck and timing. Never give up believing!”
Considering the commercial disappointment Tarn felt first time around with the trilogy, was he anxious about trying again with the books?
“No. The first thing I felt was very lucky that I’d been given this second chance. It’s rare for books to be published, handed back to an author and that author get a second chance to publish them all over again. So I was really excited. I also knew it was a chance to reformat and package the books.”
Tarn had already shown me the new covers. I really liked them, stylistically different from the Duckworth covers but still retaining the same colour scheme of the original trilogy. There’s also elaborate maps gracing the inside sleeves, detailing key locations in the books. But Tarn said the changes with the books go further.
“Werewolves don’t work,” he announces with absolute certainty, draining his third coffee. “They are … divisive. So many people have fixed opinions on them. They either loathe them, being made to think of bad horror films, full of wolf men and terrible special effects. Or they love them, and sadly these people are in a minority!
“What I kept hearing, time and time again from readers was, ‘The idea of werewolves really put me off reading your books. I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading them, but I did when I finally got around to it!’
“I realised I’d shot myself in the foot first time around by focusing too much on publicising werewolves, which in truth are just a very small part of the books and which, when they are in the frame, are handled in a very dignified and measured way.
“What was coming back from readers was that this book read much more like a ‘darkly-woven Dan Brown with muscles and brains’ novel. Now that we’ve got the opportunity to republish them we’ve now got the chance to set the record straight and reassure people that they are going to enjoy them, whatever sorts of books they usually enjoy.”
Tarn seems to relish the opportunity.
“Hey, I’m realistic. I know this is a very difficult crowded market within which to be found and when you put your book out there you’re in the luck of the gods as much as anything at being spotted. But people who do find my books seem to really like them. And RedDoor seem a very buzzy and tuned in publishing house. Maybe fortunes will have changed by this time next year?”
It’s good to hear him talk so enthusiastically because I know not all has gone well with his writing over the last twelve months, resulting in a parting of ways not just with his old publisher.
“Oh, we’ve had a good clear out,” he laughs jokingly, sitting back and capping his hands on his head.
He means his literary agent, Ben Clark of literary agency LAW.
“Literary agents are there to sell books and make money for their agency. And quite simply I’ve not made enough money for my agent. My books have to date, if truth be told, sold well under what we had hoped they would. Critically they’ve been applauded but commercially they’ve not. And so the next book from me for him to represent me needed to be a shrewdly commercial one that would recoup the balance and sell like hot cakes.
“This time last year I’d given him RIPPED, my modern day Jack the Ripper novel, and he’d turned that down on commercial grounds. It wasn’t mainstream enough. So we all knew the next would be the make or break one.”
What little I know of Tarn, I know he’s not one to follow the direction or advice of others. Stubborn, some might call him. He seems to have a very precise view of what he wants to write, where he’s going with his career and how it all fits together. Knowing that the book after RIPPED had to be commercial and ‘safe’ in order to appeal to the masses, you’d have thought he’d have played it with a straight bat. Unfortunately not and this new book failed to appeal to his agent again.
“It troubled him,” he chuckles. “Hey, I kept anything that was paranormal out of it. There’s no monsters in it, at least none with claws. It just happens that it’s about old people having sex, mouldering bodies being brought up from the ground in a storm, everyone in it is dislikable and the main character even more so!”
The novel Tarn is talking about is his fifth full novel, THE VILLAGE IN THE WOODS, which is set in an unnamed village with secrets buried within the houses and bodies buried in the woods which surround the place. Tarn describes it as an episode of Midsomer Murders directed by David Lynch.
“It was absolutely the book I wanted to write. It was quirky, discomforting, taboo in some of its topics, very dark and filled with these awful characters in these awfully mundane lives. But it was also very real. I was absolutely delighted with it.”
I knew there was a ‘but’ coming.
“And my agent hated it!” He laughs and dives into another freshly brewed coffee. “Actually that’s not true,” he corrects himself. “He thought it was the best written of all my novels to date. But he felt he couldn’t sell it. That, in his opinion, it was too masculine.”
I ask Tarn if he feels his agent’s right in his estimation of the book. He’s quick to disagree.
“Half my beta readers are female and they all loved it. I think it’s a complicated and difficult book to absorb. Tackles tough but real life subjects. My brother in law, who reads everything I write before it goes out the door from my writing desk, said it stayed with him for weeks after reading it. Which is great. That’s what I wanted to write, something that unsettled and stayed with the reader.
“I entirely accept that THE VILLAGE IN THE WOODS is never going to be an easy sell for an agent. But those are the sorts of books I want to write, books that challenge the reader but, once the reader gets to the end, the book stays with them for a long time after.”
Tarn reveals his agent and he are still on excellent terms and that his agent’s door is always open for him.
“I really like Ben, and appreciate everything he’s done for me. He’s a great agent and we get on really well. But he’s not the agent for me and I’m not the writer for him. And if things go well with RedDoor, and they continue to like my writing, I might not need an agent ever again!”
Tarn reveals that RedDoor are currently reading THE VILLAGE IN THE WOODS, which brings me back to THE DARKEST HAND and his hopes for the books once they are republished, in eBook (July) and paperback (September). He takes a moment to think about what he wants.
“I want them to find a wider audience, dare I say a ‘mainstream’ audience. Because I realise now they are mainstream books, thrillers, with history, fantasy, love and horror thrown into the mix. Having written THE VILLAGE IN THE WOODS, I realise what dark horror really is, and that not all monsters have claws.”
THE DARKEST HAND trilogy will published by RedDoor in July (ebook) and September (paperback), with the free prequel novella, THE HUNTED, available NOW
In the bustling streets of Sarajevo in June 1914, the dead body of a priest lies, head shattered by the impact of a fall from a building high above. As the city prepares for the arrival Archduke Franz Ferdinand, grim-faced inquisitor Poldek Tacit is confronted by many menaces: the demon rumoured to be at large in the city and the conspirators of the Black Hand organisation who plan to assassinate the Archduke.
The free prequel novella to The Darkest Hand trilogy.
You can download The Hunted for FREE by following this link
When a Father is brutally murdered in the French city of Arras, Poldek Tacit―a determined and unhinged Inquisitor―arrives on the scene to investigate the crime. His mission: to protect the Church from those who would seek to destroy it, no matter what the cost.
As the Inquisitor strives in vain to establish the truth behind the murder and to uncover the motives of other Vatican servants seeking to undermine him, a beautiful and spirited woman, Sandrine, warns British solider Henry Frost of a mutual foe even more terrible lurking beneath the killing fields–an enemy that answers to no human force and wreaks its havoc by the light of the moon.
Faced with impossible odds and struggling with his own demons, Tacit must battle the forces of evil–and a church determined at all costs to achieve its aims–to reach the heart of dark conspiracy that seeks to engulf the world, plunging it even deeper into conflict.
You can buy The Damned from Amazon UK
1915. As the second battle of the Isonzo Front rages on the Italian Austro-Hungarian border, war threatens to engulf the Inquisition as dark forces muster amongst the most fanatical servants of the Catholic Church. Shortly before he is murdered, a desperate priest sends a secret letter to his brother serving in the Italian Army. Now this young soldier, destined for the horrors of a frontline high above the clouds, carries with him a letter which reveals why terrible satanic rituals are being committed, and by whom.
Drawn into this conspiracy and hunted by agents of The Darkest Hand, old rivals must put aside their differences to discover the contents of the letter before it’s too late. But unity comes at a price for this unholy alliance. While the war rages, old enemies return from the dead and conspiracies weave tighter and deeper still into the heart of the Vatican.
Only Poldek Tacit, the most determined and unhinged inquisitor of them all, can hope to push back the forces of evil and unite those for good. But what happens when Tacit finds that the path he walks has already been prophesied and that where it leads threatens the very future of a world already on the edge of the abyss?
You can buy The Fallen from Amazon UK
1917. As war and revolution consume the world, the End Times have arrived. With the apocalypse imminent, the world needs a hero to push back this tide of darkness and save all from the return of the Antichrist. But where is Poldek Tacit, the only Inquisitor able to compete against such daunting odds?
Old allies unite in a desperate race to unmask and stop the Antichrist before he can assume dominion over all lands and nations, while the Darkest Hand squeezes any remaining hope from those who wish to find an end to the war which has already claimed countless lives.
The final chapter in The Darkest Hand trilogy serves up a fitting, fast-paced and action-packed finale to this epic work of dark fiction, where long-buried secrets within the vaults of the Vatican are unveiled and mankind’s hopes of redemption from the forces of evil hang by a single, precarious thread.
You can buy The Risen from Amazon UK
You can find out more about Tarn via his official website www.tarnrichardson.co.uk
Follow Tarn on Twitter @TarnRichardson
Tarn’s Amazon author page can be found here