Meet the Author: Bob Rich

BOB’S TOP WRITING TIP: I plant a potato in a clearing in a forest. A plant grows, and a beautiful little flower blooms on it. Have a look at potato flowers. They are lovely. This flower doesn’t yield new life: potatoes reproduce from the tuber. It is there, just being, but it is not seen by anyone, not even a bird. Then, eventually, it wilts. That flower was still beautiful. It was still an essential part of the complex beauty of this planet. Write like that flower. If someone sees your work, great. But write to create beauty for its own sake, for the joy it gives you.


Dr Bob Rich is an Australian storyteller whose main passion is creating a sustainable society. This is because of his love for children. You can look up his writing showcase his psychology site and his Mudsmith site What’s a mudsmith you may ask? Have a look and find out.

{Visit the Author Bookshelf page for a look at Bob’s 15th book, Ascending Spiral: Humanity’s Last Chance.}


Why do you write? Why do I breathe? I was a writer long before I knew I was a writer. I did long distance running, and filled the hours and the miles with inner monologues. I never thought to share them with anyone, or even to record them — who would be interested in my raves? I was terribly depressed as a youngster. Running and studying/reading were my antidepressants, and so actually I had a very wide range of knowledge, and could tell a story or two. Many years later, a friend called me an encyclopaedia, and I’d be a Trivial Pursuit champion except that I have not the slightest interest in gladiatorial sports, horse racing, or the doings of the rich and famous.

Once I started writing, it also became an antidepressant. That happened in 1980. I was playing a game of soccer with the kids, when I slipped and tore cartilage in a knee; not a good idea. There I was in hospital, deprived of my usual physically active lifestyle, so I borrowed the office typewriter (remember those?) and wrote a couple of articles on building with mudbricks. This resulted in a byline column in a marvellous magazine, Earth Garden, and my first book, The Earth Garden Building Book: Design and build your own house. I still have a regular column with the magazine.

Fiction writing started in 1986. I decided to train as a nurse, and because of the distance of my home from the city, that meant living in a nurses’ home. So, I had a choice: make a fool of myself running after gorgeous 18-year-old girls, or finding something productive to do with my time. I started writing short stories, by far the better choice. This resulted in a long self-instructed apprenticeship that has led to currently 15 published books, four of them award-winners.

 What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Maybe watching TV like normal people? I don’t even have one of those things. But writing is only one of my occupations. I have so far retired from five different ways of earning money, with several still to go, and I do many useful activities that earn me a lot of joy, satisfaction and meaning, but no money.

My most important occupation is as Professional Grandfather. I have four genetically related grandchildren, ranging from 21 to two years of age, and hundreds of others I’ve adopted. Many I’ll never meet. They contact me via the internet with a cry for help, and I have the magic skill of leading people out of hopelessness and despair to hope and inner strength. I’ve exchanged occasional emails with some of them for years.

I’ve just retired as a counselling psychologist after 22 years, but I’ll never retire from the joy of relieving distress.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? The first time? Nothing! I believe in the judo approach, as contrasted to Sumo wrestling. As I’ve said, I’d been sending building-related articles to Earth Garden magazine for years. One day, I thought there would be enough for a book, so wrote a letter to the magazine’s publisher, Keith Smith, suggesting we cooperate on one. He already had eight published books.

Synchronicity: after I posted my letter, I checked my post office box. There was a letter from Keith, with the same idea. He lined up the publisher. So, this was the judo approach: use the energy of a situation to get what you want.

The second time took a few years. I wrote a book that was a collection of short stories, many autobiographical, with each story ending in a woodworking lesson. Penguin, who had bought out the publisher of my building book, couldn’t cope with something that was both literary and instructional, so I moved on to other things like learning to write fiction. Then a small publisher contacted Earth Garden, asking if they knew anyone who would write a woodworking book. So, Woodworking for Idiots Like Me was published, and sold some 60,000 copies. Later, I reissued it as an electronic book, and it’s still available to amuse and instruct.

With my fiction, I was a pioneer of electronic publication, and got accepted by a publisher called Bookmice in 1999. I have all my fiction and psychology titles with several small publishers.

The main problem has not been getting published, but getting noticed. I am the world’s worst businessman, and proud of it, and I am expected to market my books! I actually know how to do it. Marketing is closely related to psychology. But I hate blowing my own trumpet, however sweet the sound may be judged by others. I am much better at giving than at demanding or grasping, and so, selling is definitely not one my joys.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? There is no one best aspect; there are many. I love doing research. This is why writing historical fiction is so much fun. I enjoy grappling with difficult concepts. At the moment I am in the middle of a bit of writing of so far unknown length (essay? pamphlet? book?) about my concept of spiritual development: the ages of the soul. It’s wonderful when I am gripped by inspiration, and the words flow, and time stops. I’ve been working at getting rid of my ego for years, but it’s still sweet when someone expresses admiration for one of my publications.

—the worst? Finding time for it. Even though I have retired (again), I still have many interests, many activities I want to be a part of. Writing is best done when you can devote sustained attention and regular time for it. That’s a luxury I rarely have.

This leads to the second one: getting cold on a story. Writing fiction is a matter of becoming a character, then doing and saying what comes naturally to that person, not to me. My characters continually amaze me with the stuff they get up to, the wisdom they teach me. Well, that means that returning to a story after a break needs a period of re-reading, immersing myself in the created reality once more, bringing the characters back to life again.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? If I could go back in a time machine and be that young fellow again? I don’t know that I’d do anything differently.

If I were a starting writer in today’s world? Self-publishing is now very easy, but it has traps. With you as both author and publisher, the temptation is to skip quality control. I think training (not necessarily a formal course) in the mechanics of language, and of writing, is essential. Hiring an editor like me is a very good way of learning. I got a different freelance editor for each of my first three fiction books, and learned an immense amount from each.

I think my judo strategy of getting a readership and reputation in some field first, then expanding this to books is still a good trick. For me, it was owner-building. Now, I might use my psychological knowledge to get a following.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Don’t give away your day job. (Well, I didn’t.) The best writing has passion, because it is driven by an intention far beyond just making a buck from it. The more you give, the more you get, and I am not talking about free giveaways. Write because you intend your words to make this planet a better place.

 What’s the best advice you were ever given? As a young fellow, I wasn’t much good at listening to advice. It wasn’t arrogance, but a false face to hide my lack of self-respect, but the result was the same. Nowadays, people come to me for advice rather than the other way.

13 thoughts on “Meet the Author: Bob Rich

  1. Excellent interview, folks. I’ve known Bob for years and still learned a few things about him today. And Bob… planting potatoes in the forest? Feral spuds? Tut!
    Seriously, I did enjoy this… and thanks, Teena, for letting me know it was up!


  2. Sally, no, I am not going to plant potatoes in an Australian forest. Not that the wombats would mind!
    I once planted a small field of potatoes. This wombat went through the fence like it wasn’t there, then proceeded on an experimental tour. It dug up each plant, took one bite out of each spud it found, then moved on to see if the next one tasted better.
    Potatoes of the soul are a lot safer.


    1. Hi Shirley,
      My wife and I liberated ourselves from TV in 1975. It is a time waster, a conversation killer, and the most powerful tool for brainwashing yet invented. The problem is not so much the commercials, but the underlying, unstated messages that fuel dissatisfaction.


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