There’s a photograph that sits on a wall in Blackbird Downtown Diner; a black and white of an abandoned farm house—the structure decaying and the clouds ambiguous in their presence: are they coming or going? Are they foreshadowing an impending doom, or dispersing providing an interlude for the weary? We have sat next to this photograph a countless number of times and never once did we think it could be the source of an entire novel, let alone a novel written by the owner of Blackbird himself.
Rich moved to Switzerland in 2004 to work at the Global Fund where he spent most of his time writing executive summaries on health reports. Having worked for 4 years previously in kitchens in Sydney (1995-1999) he saw the gaping void for high quality fast food in Switzerland . He and his wife Jess made a huge leap of faith and opened up the first gourmet burger joint in Switzerland in February of 2009….they named it Holy Cow! (you may have heard of it 😉 ).
And of course, being the entrepreneurial type who can’t help but fill a void when he sees one, Rich (and Jess) sold Holy Cow! in March 2014 and was responsible for kicking off the breakfast and brunch scene in Lausanne with the start of Blackbird Breakfast Club in October 2014. Though it came as a big surprise when we caught wind that he didn’t spend all of his time flipping pancakes (yes, he’s the boss that prefers to be behind the scenes in the kitchen), and that he was writing a novel, it kind of also made sense. Here was the man who brought us the Elvis Blue Cheese, The Funky Chicken, and all-day breakfast; it takes much more than optimism and drive to be an entrepreneur–there’s a huge level of creativity and vision required as well. And when you combine those characteristics with a man who can put pen to paper: voilà, a novel is born.
We read Mostyn Thomas and The Big Rave in three and a half days. It was poignant and dark, humorous and witty. There were moments where we felt swept away by the imagery–we lapped it up, as if we had forgotten the power that words can carry if used right and used well. The characters felt like friends by the time we had finished–we had suffered in their hardships alongside them, and rejoiced in their victories. After flying through the book, we met Rich after hours at Blackbird Downtown Diner and asked him a few questions about his (not-so) secret life as a novelist. Here’s what he had to say:
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
After about two weeks of flipping pancakes in Blackbird and after 5 years of flipping burgers at Holy Cow! I thought, I have to find something else to do, at least partially, and writing was the skill I was most experienced in.
Why do you write?
I like the solitude and the fact there are no boundaries with fiction. It’s cathartic, especially after a day in the kitchen. They are complimentary vocations.
Can you briefly describe the major influence(s) for MT&The Big Rave?
Being a farm boy, Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was always a big influence. The way he details man’s brutal relationship with his land blew my mind. Cannery Row also. I think the boys in the Fat Badger are not too far removed in spirit from Mack and the boys throwing the party for Doc.
What was the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
Trying to express grief and desperation in the characters.
What was the hardest scene to write in the book?
Without giving away any spoilers – The clifftop scene for sure. That was tough. Not a situation I’ve ever been familiar with.
What was your favorite scene to write?
Boutros’s flashback to the girl in Calcutta. A lot of that was based on first hand experience and I wrote it pretty much in one sitting and didn’t really need to go back to it.
What would you consider are common traps for aspiring writers?
I’m still way too much of a novice to know the answer to that. Don’t get carried away with over-writing things, I suppose, is one thing I’ve learned quickly. Keep it simple with an easy flow. You can beef things up later as things start to fall into place.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
It’s good to remember that no one is born able to write – it’s a skill like any other that is perfected through practice and dedication. It’s demoralizing deleting whole scenes, over and over, hours and hours of work in the bin, as I did for Mostyn, but like anything – you put the hours in and you steadily improve – you spot the chaff, cut it, and by the end (12-18 months later) you’re doing alright. You could say the same for kicking a ball or making sandwiches.
Other than that – just write. If you’re just starting out don’t worry too much about getting the entire plot worked out, chapter plans, character arcs, all that stuff. If you just get going with an idea, a few times every week, maybe every day, you will come to a crossroads and who knows which way you’ll turn? And how amazing is that? You get lost in a world of possibilities. The world is your lobster, no-one else’s. Things fall into place. It’s very liberating.
How do you find time to run several businesses AND write?
You have to master the art of delegation! No, I’m fortunate to be working with a team of people in Blackbird that are the best of the best. Many of us have worked together for 8-9 years and everyone is evolving in their own way. The team pulls together to make sure everyone has the chance to pursue other projects whether they’re inside the business or not.
MT&The Big Rave is your first book, do you have any plans for book #2?
Yes. It’s hopefully going to be a bit of a thriller, set in Geneva and Lausanne, involving a plot by psychopaths to steal the world’s most explosive material to blow up some significant part of the Western World. It will hopefully satirize the world of international organisations and ex-pat life, just a little bit.