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The story behind Michael Ruston and Our Lad Ricky

Just two days ago, the New York Times carried an extensive article about the success of the self publishing sector even though the rest of the publishing world is disappearing into a pile of pink slips. The article mainly concerns the firms behind self publishing rather than the authors, so let me introduce Michael Ruston.

Michael is the author of Our Lad Ricky and has written two other books called Ricky The Early Years and Ricky Green Beret. Our Lad Ricky is a self-published memoir about his experiences attempting to enlist in the British military and his early days in the Royal Engineers regiment. It’s a light-hearted look at the military and what makes it tick. Michael lives in Newport, Shropshire, where he is a full-time carer for his wife who is suffering from acute bi-polar disorder.

Abe – Why did you want to write books about your experiences?
Michael Ruston – “For many years my family friends and colleagues have tried to persuade me to put pen to paper to record some of the many ‘stories’ I would tell at social and family occasions. Eyes would roll but the stories were always funny and I would usually have them rolling in the aisle. I did not want to write about the hardships and tragedies of service life. The bookshelves are full of these. I wanted to write about the lighter side of soldiering. My objective was to make people at least smile if not have a good chuckle.”

Abe – How long did your military career last? Where did it take you?
Michael Ruston – “Most people really believed that my military career would be short and sweet. My family told me I would not ‘last five minutes’. The recruiting officer, having turned a blind eye at my feeble attempt to deceive him by arranging for a school friend to take my enlistment medical for me, informed me in no uncertain terms that he would give me three weeks at most! I served for 24 years and was luckily enough to travel around the globe – Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, Fort Riley Kansas, Singapore, Malaya, Sardinia, Norway as well as of course Germany, Northern Ireland and the UK.”

Abe – Were the books from memory or was research necessary?
Michael Ruston – “When my daughter provided me with a second hand laptop in April 2008 and ordered me to ‘get on with it’ it was surprising. At 60, my memory isn’t so good, I can hardly remember what I did last week, never mind what happened 40 years ago. However, as I began to type, it all came flooding back as if it were yesterday! I am sure this must be the case for many of us. I cannot always remember the name of so-and-so. But I can picture his or her face! Of course none of the names in the book are the individual’s real name, but I am sure that if they read the book they just might recognise themselves in it.”

Abe – Who has been buying the book? Ex-servicemen?
Michael Ruston – “This really surprised me! Less than 50% of those who bought my book are actual servicemen or ex-servicemen. Many readers, of course, have had some connection with the services, a family member, grandparent, or close friend. But many people who have no apparent connection have also bought the book and have really enjoyed it. What also surprised me was that my readers have been world wide, Canada and the US, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Malta, Italy, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands. I have sent about twenty complimentary copies to serving soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, who have all expressed their appreciation of some humorous light reading. I have auctioned those popular military forums etc in aid of Help for Hero’s and Combat Stress and although not raising huge amounts of money I believe every penny counts!”

Abe – How have you been selling your books?
Abe – Most of my sales have been through my own website. My book is also listed on a variety of online bookstores across the world, but, until I receive some news about exactly how many I have actually sold I am a bit in the dark. I will know at the end of February or early March. I am keeping my fingers crossed that ‘Our Lad Ricky’ has done reasonably well because as a full time carer trying to live on a small carer’s allowance I am unable to finance the publication of Ricky – The Early Years or Ricky – Green Beret! Trying to find a literary agent is a nightmare. One day!”

Abe – Why did you decide to self publish?
Michael Ruston – “This was mainly due to my financial situation. I knew I would only be able to ‘self-publish’ one book. I hoped and still hope, that the income from Our Lad Ricky will enable me to publish the other two books. Also, as a newbie to the writing game, I had no idea of how or who might be interested in taking my books on. Had I an instantly recognisable face, I am sure it would have been much easier to find a literary agent. This interview has spurred me on and I am going to spend a week or two giving it another go! So, keep your fingers crossed for me.”

Abe – Had you written anything before writing the books?
Michael Ruston – “No, I never seemed to have the time! I often ‘started’ but would find myself distracted by another posting across the world or daughters or grandchildren. Really, if I had not been forced to give up work to care for my good lady, perhaps, the books might not have been written! Despite the constant, what I call ‘nagging’ and what my daughters call ‘gentle persuasion’ to put my experiences down on paper.”

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