Interview with Richard Worth
- Published: 17 April 2010 17 April 2010
- Last Updated: 07 April 2012 07 April 2012
Richard Worth has been writing professionally for almost thirty years. His first book, the fantasy novel Return to Kalevala, appeared in 2000, and he has since published three titles on warships of the World Wars era: Fleets of World War II, Raising the Red Banner, and In the Shadow of the Battleship. He is currently working on a new edition of the Fleets book as well as numerous other projects.
The interview took place in February 2010.
AHF: How did you get contact to publishers when starting out?
Worth: I used a Writer's Market. That's the standard source.
AHF: Have you got any specific training (history degree, writing courses)?
Worth: I studied writing in school. I had planned to be a writer before it ever occurred to me to write naval history.
AHF: How did you first become interested in military history and what made you choose the topic of your first book?
Worth: My 8th grade English teacher told us that we'd be graded on the number of books we read during the year. I was horrified, as I had no interest in reading books, but I also wanted a decent grade. In desperation, I found a book on aircraft carriers that didn't seem intolerably dull. In fact, I found it thoroughly engaging, and I went on to read dozens of related titles that year. I read very little apart from World War II histories all the way through high school, but I noticed they said little about ship specifics. By necessity, I started collecting my own set of data. Many years later, I realized I had the makings for a useful book--that was FLEETS OF WORLD WAR II. However, it was not my first book. I had already published a fantasy novel based on the characters in Finnish folklore that I enjoyed so much. That was RETURN TO KALEVALA.
AHF: How did your interest in the Second World War begin?
Worth: It's all thanks to Mrs. Hildebrand, my 8th grade English teacher.
AHF: How do you select topics for books?
Worth: Generally, I am motivated when there is a book that I want, but it doesn't exist yet.
AHF: Which archives have you used and how do you find working in them?
Worth: I find it simple work, mostly because I let other people do the hard labor for me. I love networking with tireless researchers.
AHF: What in particular needs to be kept in mind in archival research?
Worth: I don't know. Invest in a good dust mask?
AHF: Have you tried to contact veterans and interview them - if so, how did this work out?
Worth: The only interviewing I've done has been research on specific details--what duties would these crewmen have, where would their quarters be, what slang terms did they use. I'm pleased with the information I've received.
AHF: Who decides on the contents of an index, and how do you decide what's listed and what's not?
Worth: I'm allergic to honest work, so indexing is something I try to avoid. I've been successful previously, but I'm stuck now--I'm revising FLEETS, and there's no way around it.
AHF: What are your plans for future books?
Worth: I have a second novel that's just about ready to go out. Perhaps in the summer, a new naval title is due for release--ON SEAS CONTESTED, an international handbook that I helped put together on the World War II navies. I'm also working toward another Soviet reference with fewer photos but much more text than in RAISING THE RED BANNER. Eventually I'd like to do similar books covering the Dutch, French, Italians...pretty much all the navies that aren't getting adequate treatment.
AHF: What has the greatest challenge for you as a historical researcher been?
Worth: I'm not too good on focusing on a single project, so for any given naval book, I progress at a tortoisesque pace.
AHF: In hindsight, are there any things in your books that you would have done differently?
Worth: When I started out collecting material for my own benefit, I didn't footnote. That has turned out as a serious pain.
AHF: How do you as an author view the Internet, both as a source and as a competitor to books?
Worth: I love it. The networking has been fantastic, and almost all the naval reference books I now own have been bought over the internet. I think there's more partnership than competition.
AHF: What is the key bit of advice you would give to those who want to write a book on military history, especially World War 2?
Worth: There's one paramount command for all who would like to write:
Lots of people think about it, talk about it, poke it with a stick. But until you establish that you're going to do what needs to be done--that is, a daily schedule of writing--it's not worth a handful of rusted washers.
And learning how to write well--wouldn't that be nice?
AHF: What is your opinion of the recent rise of interest in the second world war in popular culture? What effect might it have on the historical research community?
Worth: I can't identify any such rise, but I'm all for it. More interest = more cashflow = more research.
AHF: Can you live off the proceeds?
Worth: No way, not with regard to my naval books. Very few history writers make money. If you count my history income against what I've put out in research etc., I'm sure I've lost a good chunk of cash.
AHF: What is your favorite class of WW2 era ships?
Worth: I don't think I have one. The designs I like most are often the unglamorous ones--Barnegat class tenders, Tachibana class destroyers, Project 1124 gunboats, Gabbiano class escorts, and Fairmile B launches.
AHF: What makes a good navy?
Worth: A good navy is stronger than its enemy in the decisive sector. That means the nation's leadership has to establish goals and alliances suitable to the national interests. In addition, a good navy should not demand an overly large portion of available resources.
AHF: Strategically allied navy power and command of the seas ensured victory. Is this underrated?
Worth: Presumably some folks underrate it, but I don't recall any serious treatment of the subject that failed to give its due. There is some deviltry in the details, though, as we try to account for submarines and air power. Perhaps one of the most pervasive myths of World War II at sea is the idea that the battleship had ceased to be a key player in command of the sea.
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