Richard’s latest book, out this autumn, is a true crime mystery about the French World War One serial killer Henri Désiré Landru. As an author and journalist, Richard has roamed far and wide, from writing an acclaimed biography of the cricketer W.G. Grace (2015) to spending five years as a foreign correspondent in China in the 1990s. The common thread connecting all his work is an interest in people and the stories they have to tell. He would love to hear from you.
As a Story Terrace writer, Richard interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know him better: you can read an autobiographical story of his own below. Get in touch today to work with him!
Lost and Found in Beijing
It’s the fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown and I’m staring at the evaporation of my 36th birthday party the following day. An hour ago, I had parked my beaten-up little red Chinese hatchback with its tell-tale ‘foreigner’ number plate outside a hotel where I used the gym. Now the car has gone, and with it, my only means to get to a remote spot on the Great Wall, 50 miles north of Beijing, where I’ll be taking some friends for my birthday picnic.
A middle-aged man approaches me, wearing just a grubby vest, shorts and flip-flops in the fierce summer heat.
“The police took your car,” he says, spitting a gob of phlegm on the pavement. “I can help you find it. See, my taxi.”
“Okay, right,” I say to myself, looking at the man’s red taxi and then at his unshaven, grinning face; an obvious conman. I’d been an idiot even bringing my car to the hotel, having heard from friends how the police were confiscating ‘illegally’ parked foreign-registered vehicles as part of their annual security sweep before the Tiananmen anniversary.
“I can help you find your car,” the taxi driver goes on, speaking slow, clear Mandarin Chinese so I can understand him. “I know the police stations where the police take cars.”
Oh yeah, I think, now he’s going to ask me for money. But he doesn’t, and reluctantly I clamber into the back of his taxi; for I haven’t a better idea about how to reclaim my hatchback.
We spend the next four hours driving back and forth round Beijing’s second ring road, a traffic-clogged highway made even more hellish by the searing heat. Gradually I realise my taxi-driver is doing exactly what he said he would do. At each police station, he gives the desk sergeant my car’s registration number; meanwhile, on the driver’s advice, I hang back, pretending I don’t understand a word of Chinese.
We draw a blank three times and then at the fourth station, the officer identifies the number on his list of confiscated vehicles in the car pound at the back.
An exchange takes place between my driver and the officer – something about “foreigner”, “silly mistake” and “he is sorry” – and to my amazement, the policeman lets me take the car without demanding a fine.
I have one final piece of business. It has taken all afternoon for the taxi driver’s meter to tick up to about £5 in Chinese currency, in line with the miserly rate set by the municipal government. I try to double the amount with a tip, but he explains with an embarrassed smile that he only wants what it says on the meter.
At last I see him as he really is and not through a prejudiced foreigner’s eyes – a scrupulously honest Beijing cabbie who hates the police as much as I do.