Meet a Member: Richard Axtell

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

This month, it’s time to peek behind the curtain and hear from our very own 26 tech guru, and all-round fixer extraordinaire, Richard.

Tell us a bit about yourself – where you are from and what do you do?

I’m originally from Hereford, near the border of Wales, but I currently hang my hat in Cardiff.

As for what I do work-wise, I’m a website manager for a fine organisation called 26 (you may have heard of it), and I’m also a coordinator for Lapidus International, which is a writing for wellbeing organisation.

My writerly journey began as a ghostwriter of children’s books (I wrote so many books about Minecraft, you would not believe). After that, I moved into educational writing for a beginner reader app called ‘The Atlas Project’ (writing for three- to five-year-olds is a unique challenge all in itself). More recently, I dabbled again in ghostwriting for Memoir (interviewing people and writing their memoirs) and now I’m developing my digital art skills to move into illustrator/writer territory. I guess I don’t like to sit still for too long.

Where do you get your love of words from?

My love of words came out of frustration, boredom, and an urge to find something more. It began at university when I was studying a degree which I wasn’t happy with. I started writing short stories in between lectures. The amount I wrote grew over the next few years as I bounced around, trying to find myself. I left a teacher training course, I moved to London, I moved home again. All the time, I was writing, writing, writing. Pouring out my frustrations and heartache onto the page. After every furious writing session, life didn’t seem so confusing.

Of course, then I had the usual dream: write a bestselling novel, have it adapted into a film, make a couple of million and retire at 32. I’m 31 now and I haven’t written that novel yet, but hey, fingers are still tightly crossed. Maybe I can retire at 35.

What made you join 26 and how long have you been a member?

A job! A member told me about the website manager position a few years ago and I leapt at the chance as soon as I learnt about the organisation. One of the cool things about ‘the website guy’ is that I get to see it all. Everything that 26 is up to, every project, every decision. It’s a fantastic company, bursting at the seams with creativity. A perfect place for someone like me.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

Apart from the Bloomsbury projects, I have been involved in every project since I joined in 2019 in some way or another. This year, I’ve told myself I am getting involved with Bloomsbury too!

Whether it is as a writer and editor (26 Wild, for example), or just a website and admin guy (26 Trees, 26 Weeks, 26 Habitats), I’m always there, lurking at the edges.

That made me sound a bit creepy, but I am techie at the end of the day. We are all very good lurkers – it comes with the territory.

What is your ideal scenario for writing? A coffee shop? A quiet retreat?  With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?

I have recently started getting into digital art and for that the perfect scenario is: at my desk, headphones on, music or podcast playing. I’ll be lost for hours (ultimately emerging with a headache because I was so involved, I forgot to move much or drink).

Writing, however, I have yet to find ‘the spot’. When I was deep into my ghostwriting, I could sit down at a computer and power write 3,000 words without much of a break. No music, maybe with headphones on to block out the sounds around me. I would get deep into a writing trance.

These days, though, I am trying to write more from my heart and less from a brief. My inner artist is fickle and complains a lot. I like to blame the pandemic for locking me inside for too long and crushing my creativity, but I have a sneaky suspicion that I am trying to stop myself from writing in case I ‘get it wrong’. I have written with the structure of a brief and deadline so many times that I feel a bit lost without it. I can go anywhere, and that is daunting. 

What are you working on at the moment?

I think a better question would be what am I not working on at the moment. I recently created a document to list out all my projects and I had to stop when I hit 20 (pause to sigh loudly).

But, if I had to limit it to one, I would say that I am currently working on a children’s book which is written in the form of letters from a little boy to his big sister. He has got a job on an airship as a cabin boy and is going off on a wild adventure. In my mind it is a funny, exciting story, which touches on themes like toxic masculinity and trusting yourself, but it hasn’t quite got there yet!

Tell me about a piece of writing you are particularly proud of

My first published short story, Sugar Rush. It is a parody of the old hardboiled detective novels from the 1950s, even using the same kind of language, but it is set on a primary school playground. The main character, ‘Mick Matthews’, is a kid in a trench coat, solving crimes and fighting bad guys, all during playtime.

I submitted the piece on a whim to a competition with the London Magazine back in 2015, and it was one of the winning stories. Still can’t believe it. It really helped to set me upon the writing path. Something inside me realised ‘hey, I can do this!’

Where do you get your inspiration?

I don’t want to admit it, but I think I get my inspiration from being uncomfortable (and as an introvert with many anxieties, this isn’t a particularly difficult situation to put myself in). Getting myself out of my comfort zone (located somewhere between my sofa and my bed), talking to people, travelling to new places, having unfortunate things happen to me – just writing it makes me squirm, and something inside me twists uncomfortably – but it makes me want to write. It gets the juices flowing. I really wish I was inspired just by taking long naps. I would be so inspired all the time, but I guess not.

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Don’t be shy.

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