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Interview: Alan Titchall talks about Guardians

Alan Titchall is a working professional writer with a background in film script treatment, journalism, and magazine publishing. He studied New Zealand history and, as a fifth-generation Kiwi, has a passion for our mixed social history. Through his travel and aviation writings, Alan has also travel extensively. His first novel, While the Fantail Lives, was a finalist in both the Ngaio Marsh Awards and the NZ Booklovers Awards. Alan talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Guardians.

Guardians is the complete story of Robert Smith’s journey through life after encountering a spiritual world through an injured white fantail when he was a young boy.

His journey is a torturous one, through deception and hostilities, as he is drawn back to his childhood setting, while watched over by his mortal and spiritual guardians until he reaches his final destiny and self-enlightenment.

Sounds a bit ‘transcendent’ and complicated, but I have written this book as a mystery thriller-adventure story. I included an abridged and revised first book so it all flows as one story.

What inspired you to write this book?

I spent a lot of my childhood years in a small NZ dam-village surrounded by pine forest, which I found very spiritual, particularly the way fantails followed you through the forest.

I always knew I had to write a novel and, although I have spent most of my life as professional writer, I had tuned 70 before I finished While the Fantail Lives.

It was well-received, which was a great relief and inspiration to continue Robert Smith’s journey into the adult world through Guardians. As the principal character is my own age – I used settings that were familiar with me. The taxi driving chapter in Sydney is loosely based on my own experiences in the late 1970s, albeit very exaggerated and fictionalised in the book.

The most interesting subject I studied at university was Phenomenology of Religion and I enjoyed weaving religion and mythology into both books. It’s there if you look for it, but doesn’t get in the way of the ‘yarn’, as I like to call my creative writing.

What research was involved?

Masses amount of research! As Mark Twain said, get your ‘facts right then distort them’.

For every page of finished novel there were pages of research notes. At times I had to research details about drug taking, guns and violent situations that had me worried I would trigger some alert with the internet police - LOL.

A problem with online information is accuracy – which means using multiple sources which makes research very laborious, and I was still surprised how much the proofing picked up where I had been mislead with online information anomalies. Everything had to be triple checked.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I write in the early morning hours but take notes any old time if I stimulated with a ‘good idea’. Like a painting, a novel is written in ‘layers’ – broad themes, settings and storylines to begin with before adding the finer details. I get stuck a lot – when it is best to let it lay, as something inspiring will pop up in my head while talking, reading, or watching just watching TV.

I don’t think many writers can just type out a well-crafted story in a lineal order from start to finish. I might be inspired to write and complete a chapter before deciding where it will best fit in to the plot.

If a soundtrack were made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

I wrote the words of a song in the book called ‘I’m coming Home’ for Sam, one of the main characters. I am musically talentless, but it would be great to see this song picked up and turned into music.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

I will leave that to the folks that make the movie. I am sitting by the phone right now!

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

I find writing recreational and cathartic. There’s a lot of myself in those characters. The main character in Guardians/Fantail is the same age as myself and, for some reason, while writing his childhood chapters I got quite tearful at times.

I have enjoyed a long career subbing and editing other peoples writing, so fiction is my ‘after work’ relaxing drink.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I shared a bottle of champagne with my partner out of vintage Waterford flutes, just like Nan would have in my books. The trouble is, I have spent a career sending material off to a printer for publishing, or putting publishing projects ‘to bed’ as we say. Like novel publishing, this also involves a lot of other people. So, I didn’t celebrate so much as felt a combination of relief and anxiety as to how Guardians will be received.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

That would be Don’t Dream It’s Over: The remarkable life of Neil Finn by Jeff Apter. I had some contact with Kiwi musicians in the 1970s and it was a great decade for musical talent.

Neil Finn is a genius who has carried that talent into the 21st century and is still going strong. Wakaute!

This book contains a lot of detail and I read it while accessing the internet so I could  listen to the numerous and brilliant songs it mentions.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

In my first book I wrote a postscript that was set in the future  - which is now one of the final chapters in Guardians. It was like a goal – to fill up the gap between the end of that first book and its postscript with a sequel novel.

In Guardians, I have used the same technique – the postscript chapter is set on Vancouver Island and is narrated by the son – who will now become the subject of the third book – Spirit Bear.

A torturous mortal journey to the spiritual world continues with another generation

Devon Media



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