Richard George Adams is an English novelist who is known as the author of Watership Down. He studied modern history at university before serving in the British Army during World War II. Afterward he completed his studies and then joined the British Civil Service. In 1974, two years after Watership Down was published, Adams became a full-time author. He is now semi-retired.
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Richard Adams here! Finally got round to putting some more of my books out as eBooks (Maia) and thought what better way to celebrate than a second AMA. As before my grandson is here to type up responses. I'll be starting in 45 minutes if all goes to plan, and answer as many questions as possible. Ask away!
If you're in the UK and want a signed copy of OneWorld's beautiful new editions of Watership Down and Shardik do come to my book signing session at Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford this Saturday at 3:00pm.
EDIT: Thank you all! I have to head off now as I am quite tired, but hope to see you all again. Please check out my new eBook list if you feel so inclined. I'll see if I can pop back over the next couple of days and answer a couple more questions. Thank you again.
How did you come up with the words or the Lapine language and why did you feel it was important to include languages like Lapine and hedgerow in Watership Down?
The lapine glossary was all of my own invention. In fact it was one of the things I first decided would be introduced in the book. However, what sparked me to create it? I don't really know. I just made up words when I needed a word in the rabbit language. Some of them are onomatopoeic like hrududu (which is a car), but overall they simply came from my subconscious.
This had such an immersive effect on the reader, but wasn't overdone - Watership Down is one of my all-time favorite books. Just wanted to say thanks!
Hi Mr. Adams, I read your book Watership Down and watched the film adaptation when I was a kid. Do you feel that the film was a fair portrayal of the book?
I feel the film was good in its own right, but departed a lot from the original material which I felt was a great shame. I felt critical about the fact that it didn't stick to the story that I'd written.
Hello Mr Adams! Watership Down was my first exposure to the concept of leadership. In my professional life I have intentionally adapted Hazel's leadership style, where he never seems to order anybody to do anything, but rather guides and advises a team of individuals.
my question is, was this style inspired by somebody that you knew in real life?
Yes! I had the good luck to get accepted for service in airborne forces during world war 2. Not everybody who put their name forward was accepted for it. I felt tremendously proud. I went as an officer to 250 light company RASC airborne. The commanding officer was a Major called John Gifford. I admired him tremendously. He was very quiet - in fact one of the quietest I've ever known. Regardless all of his commanding officers respected him and obeyed him without question. All his officers were parachutists whether they were commanders or not. My point is that everyone in 250 light company respected and admired him, and he certainly influenced Hazel. He was so sensible. Not all commanders are sensible! I would even say his officers loved him.
Hi, Mr. Adams, I cried so hard when I read Watership Down as a kid. I'll never forget that experience. Thank you.
My question: How do you write scenarios that are heartbreaking without falling into a depression?
Truth be told, sometimes these things do affect me. I had depression for a good while. I wouldn't necessarily say it was my stories that made me depressed, but more the animal suffering in them. Cruelty to animals is a terrible thing.
First, did you write Watership Down thinking to make an allegory for the state of human affairs now, or was that an accident?
Second, how do you feel about Stephen King using the name Shardik in his Dark Tower series?
Third, do you think Watership Down being your most well-known work is justified?
EDIT: I wrote 'the book' instead of Watership Down.
EDIT 2: Thought of another question.
3) Yes I do, it's very readable - its well written and includes several memorable characters, and there's plenty of action! I do wish more people would read Shardik though, as I took a lot of trouble with it to make it a proper novel put together in a proper way. The trouble is people love Watership Down but when looking for further novels they see the dissimilarity, as Shardik is rather hard going, but it's a proper novel that says what I wanted it to say. I feel similarly about Traveller.
Did you have any input at all on the final cut?
Watership Down is one of my wife and my all time favorites. Thank you for writing such a masterpiece. I can't wait to pass it on to my son.
I can't say I did. Do you mean the film or the book?
I suppose I'm the exception that proves the rule. I hope.
Mr. Adams, I loved Watership Down and I love Graphic Design, what is your favorite edition of the cover of Watership Down?
I really really like the new OneWorld edition. I'm not just saying this - the gold and quality of it really makes it a very nice cover indeed. I also like the lettering, though I wish my name had been gold!
How did it feel to leave a day job behind and write full time? Ever touch and go after that, or was it no looking back?
It was a very welcome and enjoyable change. I hadn't disliked my work in the civil service - I actually quite liked it and did it alright. However, compared to doing what I liked and working as a creative author it didn't really compare. It was far more enjoyable.
hej there! first: thank you sir for doing this AMA!
second: if you could go for a beer with any two authors that ever lived - who would those two be and why?
It's hard to come up with an immediate reply to this! I'd like to have met Keats. He was a very good companion and a very nice chap. It's awful that his life was so tragic, but Keats I'd certainly have liked. His poetry may not be best suited to the location but if it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Shakespeare would be magic - he was good company too by all accounts, and there's so many things I'd like to ask him about his plays and work. I'd like to ask what he thought was his best play in particular. If he said Hamlet I'd ask why and take careful note of what he replied.
Keats and Shakespeare, though I can think of plenty more. Shelley would be most amusing, Jane Austen too. Walter de la Mare. A more recent poet - W.H Auden. He'd be a splendid chap to talk to because he was so clever! Louis MacNeice too...
My ancient hardcover copy of Watership Down is one of fewer than 10 books I kept when I moved to a minimalist lifestyle and got rid of most of my possessions. It's not the only one of yours I read and loved, but it's the only one I couldn't get rid of.
I just wanted you to know that.
You've probably heard a thousand questions about that particular book, so forgive me if you've answered this, but do you have a method for coming up with words like fu-inle' or Thlayli? Lapine terms are really beautiful, and as a writer it would be nice to have some insight into how they were created.
Also, are you aware that a musician named Skrillex named his record label Owsla?
inlé just meant light in my mind, and as a result it came quite naturally. Thlay - fur, li - head. Bigwig, whose nickname was Thlayli, had a curious growth between his ears hence the name. I just constructed Lapine as I went - when the rabbits needed a word for something so did I.
As for the musician, I think that's splendid. My grandson informs me it might not be my kind of music, but I am very happy. Owsla were senior rabbits in a warren - the ruling class. I hope that's pertinent.
Mr. Adams! First, thank you for writing so many wonderful, thought provoking, mind changing works.
Now, my question. What really makes you happy nowadays?
Haha! Well of course I'd be silly if I didn't say I wasn't happy about being a successful author. I've had a good life and achieved quite a lot which is comforting. Secondly, I like being comfortable living here in the country with my family around me - a happy marriage. I still get excited about all the day to day goings on of being an author. I like it when people come for signings as I get to talk one on one with my public! I get that time, and it's so nice to meet and interact with them. I love it when I get asked about my books. I like a good english pub too of course.
Though Irish pubs are easy to make friends in! They are so friendly and talkative.
That goes for Denmark too. I love Denmark.
Mr. Adams in your opinion what are the top three things people should be doing right now?
Well I think finding someone you're happy with is very important. A happy marriage is a great thing. A love of nature is something I think everyone should develop. Finally, being creative! Find something you love to do and do it. Water is a great love of mine. Swimming, sailing etc. It's lovely to be near water and deriving pleasure and enjoyment from it.
Mr. Adams. I've had many heated discussions with other fans of Watership Down about the political allegory of each warren. It seems that many readers have disregarded the notion that each of the warrens might represent different ideologies such as the communistic warren of Cowslip and the Fascist warren of Efrafa.
Can you speak to your intent? Were the warrens supposed to represent human ideologies and the quest for a Utopian society, or was it just a nice story about rabbits?
I never particularly thought of it like that. I didn't like writing about Cowslips warren - it was against everything I cared about. I think that was the point. It was snared by a human being of course. In a way I see that could become allegorical, but allegory and I are bad neighbours.
Hi Richard, Are you aware of the post punk band 'Fall of Efrafa?' They are fully inspired by the themes within Watership Down and their interpretation of the source material is extremely thought provoking.
Would you be able to elaborate? I can't say I know them.
I'm a huge fan of your fantasy novels. Did you ever meet J. R. R. Tolkien? What did you think of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies?
I never met Tolkien, and I can't say I've seen the films. I hear they're good. I think the Lord of the Rings is first class. Wonderful. There aren't enough novelists today writing stories. Not many novels nowadays are really stories - they concentrate on character and the relationships between characters. Sad love and happy love. But a story. "Once upon a time...". It's not sophisticated enough you see, but I think there' a real place for it.
Oh wow! an AMA im genuinely excited about! I am a HUGE fan Mr. Adams. Watership Down was a childhood defining story for me and many others. When you were writing Watership Down, did you envision it as a children's story, or did you feel it was more of a dramatic adult composition? I have enjoyed it from both points of view, even more-so as i grow older.
Thank you so much!
I don't believe there should be such a thing as a children's book. There are books children enjoy reading. I don't believe in writing down to children and that comes across well in Watership Down. An antagonist would mention Beatrix Potter, but even she was writing for everybody, not just for children.
What's your favorite cheese?
I wish we had some here now.
When you write, what is the ratio of time spent staring at a page thinking to actually writing words? What percentage of what you write do you keep, how many revisions do you typically do?
Thinking about what to write far exceeds the actual writing! I've had ideas in my stories that I've mulled over for days, sometimes weeks. You feel it's relevant to what you're writing about but how do you present it? How does it fit in with the rest of the book?
wow, thanks for the great answer! only reading it sound like it would really be enjoyable, let alone being there...
It's just such an opportunity!
Do you have a favourite book that you could recommend to everyone?
Jane Austen's Emma. Fantastic book.
When I was 10 or 11 I found a book in my school library by Walter de la Mare called "The Three Royal Monkeys". It should be "The Three Mullamulgars", which was the original title, but I must've read that many times over. That is a truly incredible fantasy novel.
Have you ever owned rabbits? Ever dress them in funny hats?
When I was a little boy I had rabbit, but it wasn't very successful. You don't get very much feedback with them compared to a dog, or even a cat! I can't say that my ownership of my rabbits was therefore a great joy to me. Much better for them to be wild.
Any thoughts on the narrative potential in video games? How about versions of your own works, any plans for that?
My grandson has explained this to me, but I can't say I know much about video games in general. I suppose if they are done well they could be a very strong narrative medium.
Both of my grandfathers have passed, so I'm in need of an honorary grandpa. Since you're one of my favorite people on earth, would you mind filling the role? No further obligations necessary. What kind of socks do you want for Christmas?
Hahaha! I don't think I'd be much of a stand-in, but I'm flattered.
Originally when you wrote the book Watership Down, who was your initial target audience?
I was 6 when I started watching the animated Watership Down almost on a monthly basis, it was the 80s and I guess my parents never really questioned it's brutal imagery or more adult themes. Only that it was a cartoon. It taught me about life and death.
The book was not a part of out literary program in schools here, so I hadn't read it til I was in my 20s. That's when I truly understood the story.
Thankyou so much for writing it.
Bonus, My Big Wig tattoo.
So glad you DID get to the book. It's what I intended.
I am a civil servant, approaching middle age, and would prefer to be writing/creating full time. What was the transition like for you? What was your writing regiment while working full time?
Broadly speaking, the more senior a civil servant becomes the more he spends his time talking, conferring as opposed to writing. Senior civil servants hardly write at all - concerned with talking and with their colleagues in the wide world. I used to write after work but the transition from the civil service to being a self employed creative novelist - there is no comparison. The latter is wonderfully happy. To feel you're doing, and doing successfully, what you always wanted to. I couldn't start off as it just because I had no money. It's very interesting though, civil service work. You're coming up against different subjects all the time. As far as I'm concerned nothing beats the enjoyment of being a successful novelist though. I spent 25 years there, but after went on for even longer than 25 years as an author!
How do you feel about Shardik the bear in The Dark Tower series?
I heard this mentioned last time I was here. I haven't read the books but I take it as a compliment.
>If you're in the UK and want a signed copy of OneWorld's beautiful new editions of Watership Down
What if I am not in the UK but still want one?
Try writing to OneWorld publishing in London! I'll always sign a copy that's sent to me too!
Do you think that if you lived in an urban environment when these stories came to you you might have written about rats or pigeons?
At the time I was living in London, so I suppose that's your answer! However, I lived in the country when I was young, with my father and mother until I joined the army. If I had lived in the city all along maybe it would have been different.
What were the circumstances around getting to go on an Antarctic trip? How long were you there?
I was there a good 6 weeks. I got to know Ronald Lockley when I sent him Watership Down. I sent him a copy and asked for comments. He wrote back and was very helpful and it soon become a friendship. We used to go for walks in the country. He'd say "You do the flowers and I'll do the birds." He was a fine ornithologist. He was one of the best friends I've ever had.
As for the Antarctic Ronald said "I'm a well travelled man and I've been all over the world, but I've never been to the Antarctic. I would very much like to go there. It's one of my regrets that I never did." One of my inspirations to go therefore was hearing this from Ronald.
Hello Mr. Adams.
I am a big fan of your work.
Plague Dogs and Watership Down are two of my favorite books. I read Watership Down at least twice a year.
My question is:
Can you tell me about the process of taking the story from its humble beginnings into its own universe? I get lost in the world of the Sandleford rabbits. (I write stories, but I have such a hard time making the story captivating.)
Thanks - lovely to hear. I like plague dogs because it's about the lake district and nature which I love very much. I also think the dogs relationship is what makes the book.
I answered your question a little above - an idea will have to be mulled over for a long time to make sure it works. A story is bound to broaden and go forward as it is written. Not only the story, but the chaps in the story, and the climate, and the world in the story. I've always believed in including atmosphere, and I think this helps push the story forward.
I have several friends who are booksellers all of whom are displeased with the rise in usage of ebooks. As an author, what are your feelings on the subject?
I believe they're good as they promote reading, though I still feel nothing can replace the feeling of a good book in your hands!
I loved WD as a child and a rereading as an adult was just as wonderful, as I discovered many things I had missed when I was young. My question is, what's happening in the photos on the wall behind you? Particularly the top one.
The bottom picture is my 65th wedding anniversary, and the top a photo from a while back!
My son is an early reader and LOVES rabbits. We just finished reading Watership Down together. (he for the first time at 7 years old, me for the Uumpteenth).
Did you have an age or audience in mind when you wrote the book? I know it came from stories you told your children - how old we're they?
Do you think think you were any more honest about death or mans inhumanity to animals than the average UK parent?
ALSO, why doesn't someone make the book into a miniseries or multi - part movie. The original movie was fine for what it was, but left so much out. It was a great vision of the book, but it shouldn't be the final or definitive vision.
I didn't have an age in mind - my children were 9 and 7 when I wrote it though. It seems equally enjoyable by children as by adults though. I think I was more honest about death, yes.
I have good news on your final point! All being well, the BBC is making a four part series to be screened the year after next.
Watership Down (which is my all-time favorite, most-read book) was the first book I ever read that had an invented language. I've seen plenty since, but they often come across as trying too hard to sound exotic without actually feeling real. Lapine reminds me more of Tolkien's approach, especially with the addition of rabbit folklore. With Lapine and the languages in Maia and Shardik,how much of the work you did are we not seeing in the books?
I don't know that I did a huge amount of work outside. I took a lot of trouble over Lapine, but I think the majority of the words I developed were in the glossary.
Reading your books with my father when I was younger is something that I will always remember. Onto the questions!
Which character can you relate most to from your books??
Any chance of further adventures for our friendly rabbits?
Kelderek is a very strong character who I see some of myself in. It's hard to say really. In The Girl in the Swing I was Alan Desland up to a point. It's a very sad story though.
Hello Mr. Adams!
I was just talking about 'Watership Down' in another thread yesterday in regards to a book you always recommend to others. :)
How auspicious that you are now doing an AMA. I had no idea.
The first time I read the book it blew my mind when Bigwig basically stared down the other warren and made them back off by saying that he was taking orders from his leader (which they assumed to be stronger rather than more intelligent). Had you planned that out from the beginning or did that grow organically from how the story was written?
I intended that. I hope I made Hazel what I thought of him as. A quiet, almost modest, fountain of wisdom. He was wise and he was brave, but he didn't show it. He remains the real hero of Watership Down even though people are always attracted to Bigwig. To me Hazel is a more important and interesting character. Hazel was based on a wartime commander I had (see above). The real intellectual though is Blackberry, who is really overlooked. If you re-read it you'll notice what a part Blackberry plays!
What are your least favorite qualities in literature? Any genres you can't embrace?
I don't really think my mind works like that. A creative story is a story, though literature is a large umbrella...
I am the biggest Watership Down fan! I always give it to my friends for Christmas so they can read and enjoy it! What piece of writing work are you the most proud of?
Thank you - such a pleasure to hear. I think I have to say Watership Down, but my satisfaction in Shardik is a strange thing. I privately think the world of it, but I don't expect the full public to because it's such a difficult book. Shardik is the one I admire most as a professional achievement though.
I firstly wanted to say thank you. I've loved Watership Down since I was 9 years old. Wore through 3 paperback copies before getting a hardback version as a Christmas Gift. At the time that was the most expensive book I had ever owned!
I enjoyed the Tales from Watership Down, and would love to see a few more of El-ahriarah, preferably as told by Dandelion. Are there any plans for another set of short stories?
I've often thought Tales from Watership Down was overlooked. There is a very good ghost story there for instance. I'd like to write more about the rabbits, but it's hard now as I have to wait for the right ideas, and I'm getting older.
Did you have any formal writing classes prior to writing Watership Down, or did you just wing it? I've just started reading it and the writing is so fluid. I feel as though I'm in the scenes watching it all unfold first-hand.
Also, you look like everybody's favorite grandpa.
I had none at all, but I had told stories since I was young. I wrote poetry at Oxford and I had to write a lot as a civil servant. At school I was considered a fine writer, both preparatory and secondary. I think it was a gift I was lucky to be given - but it is stimulated by good reading.
Mr. Adams, firstly I would like to thank you for writing one of my favorite books growing up. My favorite parts in the book are the stories of El-ahrairah that the rabbits tell each other.
So my question is what made you choose rabbits to act as your characters in Watership Down?
To tell you the truth it's rather interesting. The pickwick papers were very popular when they came out. Dickens thought they were frightfully funny. He thought to relieve the continual pressure of laughter it would be a good idea to have parentheses with more serious stories. If you look at the papers you'll see what I mean. Stories to remove from the main flow of humour. I borrowed this idea and worked it the other way around. In order to have some relief from the dramatic power of the main story, the parenthetical stories are funny.
As for rabbits, no idea.
Can you comment on the Watership Down film? Did you get to contribute beyond your novel? What did you think of the finished film? Have you been approached to have people do warm and fuzzy adaptions?
I mentioned my thinking elsewhere regarding the film. I had little influence on the film's direction.
Hi Mr. Adams, first let me say thank you for writing Watership Down. It is probably my all-time favorite book. Second, for my question, are there any other books that you feel are "spiritual kin", for lack of a better phrase, to Watership Down?
Oh Lord. I admire Tarka the Otter, and Salar the Salmon by Henry Williamson. I wish I had known him.
Maybe not akin, but I admire the Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
What are you working on now in terms of new writing (if anything?)
A small project called The Adventures of Eggbox Dragon.
My surname is conabeare which Aparently comes from the Norman words for rabbit farmer and I'm a huge fan of your novel. I was recently thinking of getting a tattoo based on one of your book covers. Maybe you can help me decide? Yes or no?
I find people nearly always regret tattoos to be honest, simply because it's such a commitment. I'm flattered that you'd consider it though - if you do, take a look at the new illustrated edition. Some wonderful pictures in there.
Have you heard the album Watership Down by Bo Hansson? It's a beautiful instrumental record from the 70's. I think it really captures the feel of your work.
I will have my grandchildren track it down for me.
Good afternoon! Watership Down is one of my most treasured childhood books. Do you think that your experiences in the British Army shaped your writing at all?
They certainly did! I mentioned a couple above, but many of the stories and characters were inspired by various events and people in real life.
Richard, I just want to say Watership is my all time favorite. Any plans for a modern movie adaptation? Anyway, thanks so much. That book is magic
Good, hooray! See above regarding plans for a BBC series.
Would you allow another movie to be made of Watership Down?
Certainly, though I no longer own the rights. I'd welcome it.