Hi, Bob. Welcome to Celtic Connexions. I’ve had a nosey around your website and blog to get a better insight into the man who is Bob Rich. You have your fingers in many pies, as they say. Author, psychologist, environmentalist.
Thank you, Melanie, for the honor of having me here. I promise to behave as well as I can, which is usually not very good.
There is something funny about “psychologist.” In Australia, this is a registered term. I would be breaking the law if I referred to myself as a psychologist, even as in “retired psychologist.” Go to jail, go directly to jail, do not collect $200. 🙂 So, I have to be careful and say something like, “Bob Rich has a Ph.D. in psychology and 22 years’ experience in psychological counseling.”
While as Bob Rich I have no Celtic connections at all, I have actually been an Irishman who was transported to New South Wales (what later became Australia) for the term of his natural life. If that sounds odd, you have to read the story of my life, Ascending Spiral.
I met Bob recently, after he left a comment on my blog interview of our mutual (but virtual) friend, Joan Y. Edwards.
What compelled you to start writing? I use that phrase because as writers, we’re driven to do it.
I’ve always been buzzing with ideas, but never knew I was a writer until 1980. I enjoyed distance running, and as the miles passed, I sort of meditated, without thought, but at the same time all sorts of things cooked in the background. In school and university, that’s how I dealt with essays and assignments: read the question, go for a run, have the answer all ready and hardly needing any revision. Often, though, what cooked was some story or monologue or a new way of looking at something. I didn’t share these with anyone — who could possibly be interested in MY ravings — but many years later, these ancient thoughts were the kernels of some of my best stories.
I did scientific research in exactly the same way. I still didn’t know I was a writer, but my reports were actually readable. Then I retired for the first time at 35 years of age, and started building an adobe house, with my own hands, not by hiring Experts. I even invented a new way of making the bricks. One day, the local kids were playing a boys vs. girls soccer game, and needed one more male. They kidnapped me, and who was I to argue? I went, muddy boots and all, slipped, and tore a cartilage in my knee. Let me tell you, this is not a good idea. So, there I was in hospital, with nothing to do. I borrowed the office typewriter (you know, one of those ancient things with wire levers, worked entirely with biological power), and wrote an article about my new way of making adobe bricks for Earth Garden magazine.
I’m still writing for them, 39 years later. My articles resulted in my first book, The Earth Garden Building Book. This came out in 1986. The 4th edition finally went out of print in February 2018. During that time it sold hundreds of thousands of copies. This was because although it was well-researched nonfiction, it was also fun to read.
Then I decided to train as a nurse. This meant staying in a nurses’ home. Being surrounded by gorgeous 18-year-olds, I had the choice of making a fool of myself or of doing something useful with my time. So, I tried my hand at short stories. The first one won second prize in a contest, and I’ve been writing fiction since.
Your books have a spiritual side to them, as in goodness prevails in the end. Can you tell us more about this underlying thread that brings the books and characters to life?
Melanie, that’s an astute observation. It is certainly true of the stories I’ve written this century, but it wasn’t always so. Look, until about 15 years ago, if an insect annoyed me, I killed it. I simply can’t do that anymore. I’ll either put up with them, or catch them and take them outside.
My novel, Ascending Spiral is actually my life story, fictionalized to protect the guilty. The hero, Pip, faces all the life experiences I did, but handles them the way I wish I had at the time. This is a valuable form of therapy, as I describe in my latest book, From Depression to Contentment. Because I had significant past life recalls, Ascending Spiral is the story of several lives as experienced by the same spirit (me/Pip). And I learned a lot of things about myself, including that, as Dermot, an Irishman born in 1780, I became a bully. I have no doubt that being on the receiving end for the first 20-odd years of my life was paying fair restitution. So, from my childhood on, I have always hated bullying victimization, exploitation. As a youngster, my response was to belt up the bully. As I grew, this changed to leading the bully to a better way of being.
So, my early novels, and short stories, and my award-winning biography, Anikó: The stranger who loved me celebrate the ability of the downtrodden in overcoming those with power. I have a collection of 26 short stories with the title Striking Back from Down Under. But my first novel to win a first prize, Sleeper, Awake has no villains. There is plenty of tension and conflict, but no nastiness. And, as you note, the books since have the theme of leading people to spiritual growth. This is true of my two recent novels, Guardian Angel and Hit and Run and also of my self-help book, From Depression to Contentment.
Where do your ideas come from?
To some extent, I’ve already answered this question, but if you have time for a few laughs, you might want to read one of my monthly essays on writing at Bobbing Around. There I introduce you to Little Bob, who lives inside my head, and does the actual work.
I mentioned in my introduction you’re an environmentalist. I’m not talking tree-hugging extreme, but you care about climate change and the effects it’s having on the earth. What have you done to create a ‘carbon-neutral’ or as near to as possible in your home and community?
Melanie, there are only two kinds of humans on this planet: Greenies and Suicides. I am a Professional Grandfather. Every person under about 25 qualifies as my grandchild; they only need to apply. I want a survivable future for them, and a future worth surviving in.
In the 1970s, I joined a recently established rural cooperative. Working for a sustainable future was an explicit part of what we were about. This cooperative is still vigorous. I’m still a member, although too many injuries have forced me and my wife to move closer to shops and doctors and things.
One of my mottoes is “Live simply, so you may simply live.” In 2001, I described how I do that, and why, in a speech, Saving Money — and Saving the Future. It even has a handout on what to do to reduce your personal footprint, and the first item is: get rid of your TV.
My electricity bill shows that my daily consumption is about one-tenth of that of my neighborhood. And of course we have solar on the roof. I am a member of a local group with the aim of making our little town 100% carbon neutral, and also a member of a political party with environmental sustainability as its major aim, the Australian Greens.
The trick is to have philosophy come before a list of recipes for action. This philosophy is, “Only two things matter in life: what you take with you when you die, and what you leave behind in the hearts of others. Everything else is Monopoly money.” Let go of stuff, and you won’t be stuffing up our lovely planet.
As a writer, there is always something percolating in the grey matter, whether it’s for the work-in-progress or ideas for future projects. How do you keep track of them?
Sometimes, I carry an idea around for years before doing something with it. Often, something around me leads to a concept, and I record it in a file, which goes into a folder in my computer. I occasionally inspect these, and one might take off.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write? I’m talking bum in chair and fingers on the keyboard (or pen to paper even).
Paper? PAPER? Not while paper is minced trees. In a sane world, paper would be recycled rags, agricultural waste like straw, or harvestable plants like bamboo.
I think on the keyboard, and my favourite time is whenever the world lets me. Before I retired the last (5th) time, this may have been ten-minute spans between clients, or between getting home and “Dinner is on the table, darling!” Now, life is far freer, and I have more time.
Today, I helped to run a solar energy workshop in the morning, then instead of writing worked on my answers to you, then a nice lady from a newspaper came to interview me about that community I mentioned, and if I wasn’t still answering your questions, I’d be writing.
But then, answering questions from lovely people is just as creative. The current children of my mind can wait.
Of your 18 books to date, do you have a favourite?
I don’t like playing favourites among my children. It is always the last project I’ve finished.
What’s next for Bob Rich?
Since early 2015, I’ve had an on and off and on again project, the Doom Healer series. Four books are complete, and I’ve submitted the first to a publisher. I am working on the 5th and probably final volume. This one is fun. Twelve humans have invaded a planet in another Universe, in order to help this Universe to grow up and become enlightened. Only, this planet, Magog, has 26 billion people of the dominant species, who are genetically cannibals, and where punishment for any crime is to have the victim torture you to death as slowly as possible (then eat you).
My twelve “special children” are doing well. You can read the start of this volume here: The Doom Healer part 5.
And what’s next after writing this is to once more thank you. I welcome comments, and am happy to offer an electronic version of one of my books to one randomly chosen person who comments before [2 weeks after the interview goes online]. You can inspect the list of books at Bob’s Booklist.
Here is one of my standard wishes, to you and our visitors:
May you live in contentment.
May you be healthy.
May you rise to your challenges.
And above all, may you grow spiritually.
Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. It’s been a pleasure hosting you here, today. Don’t forget the giveaway for your chance to win an electronic copy of one of Bob’s books!