When Andrew Hartley considers his literary success overseas, he freely admits his lack of recognition on these shores is slightly ‘bizarre’.
“The first novel I published was out in 28 languages. It was an international bestseller but was never available in the UK.
“It’s kind of frustrating - when I come home I have to convince people that I actually do this for a living.
“They say ‘it’s not in Waterstones!’”
Andrew ‘AJ’ Hartley is the author of mystery and thriller, fantasy, historical fiction, and young adult novels.
He is also the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of North Carolina, in Charlotte, America, where he specialises in the performance history, theory and criticism of Renaissance English drama, and works as a director and dramaturg.
He has certainly come a long way since his days as a pupil at The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School and the now defunct St John Southworth RC Secondary School in Ribbleton, Preston.
He says: “My mum is from Longridge and my parents have lived in Preston all their lives.
“After my undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature in Manchester I went to Japan for a couple of years, where I taught English.
“I spent the best part of a year travelling back from Japan, all through South East Asia, Nepal, then I came back to the UK.
“I was there for a few months, and actually worked at Waterstones while living with my parents, and then I went to graduate school in Boston.
“I come back to the UK probably once a year, but because of my job I’m usually in London or Stratford, and I don’t get back to Preston as much as I would like.
“My father used to be very involved in the Preston Guild, the previous two particularly. In 1972 there was a big pageant in Avenham Park and he directed that.”
Andrew completed a Masters and a PHD in English Literature in Boston and founded a small theatre company, focused on Shakespearian and Renaissance English drama.
His first job in the US was as an English teacher at The University of West Georgia near Atlanta, before taking up his new role, which encompasses both literature and theatre.
He says: “I teach one course a year in English and two in theatre. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to spend as much time in the classroom as most.
“This year my only course is 10 days going to London and Stratford!
“It would be a difficult gig to walk away from. The flipside is that they expect me to do a lot of writing.
“As an academic and a scholar I’m a prolific critic and historian I guess, so for the last 10 years I’ve been the editor of a performance journal called Shakespeare Bulletin.
“I publish academic books on Shakespeare and dramaturgy and have three books coming out this year.”
While writing so many acclaimed texts for the university, Andrew realised he had a thirst for fiction which was not being satisfied, and it was agreed he could pursue a new creative direction.
He has since produced two ‘Darwen Series’ novels, aimed at middle grade pupils and young adults that follow the adventures of Darwen Arkwright, an English boy living in Atlanta, who finds that on the other side of his mirror lies a world full of beauty, strangeness and monsters, four thrillers, and two books in a Will Hawthorne series, Act of Will and Will Power, based on the adventures of a medieval actor and playwright.
He also produced an award-winning reworking of Macbeth, titled Macbeth, a Novel, with David Hewson, which was released first as an audiobook and narrated by Alan Cumming, the Scottish actor and star of GoldenEye, Emma and X-Men United.
Andrew says: “The fantasy stuff I write is set in a kind of fantasy version of Renaissance England and the main character is an actor so there is kind of a Shakespearian connection but it’s still fiction.
“Alan Cumming narrated Macbeth and he said afterwards it was one of the things that made him want to do a one-man Macbeth production, which he started in Edinburgh and took around the world.
“In all honesty I didn’t have much dealing with him, I wrote the book and sent it in then he showed up at the studio and read it.
“Usually when you write an audiobook you expect to get questions about pronounciations and things like that, but he is a Scot, so he did it in his natural brogue.”
Andrew met his wife, from Chicago, while teaching in Japan.
Twenty years later the couple have a 10-year-old son, who is his dad’s perfect writing critic.
He says: “The middle-grade books I write, the Darwen Series, are similar to the Harry Potter books, they are aimed at that sort of age of reader.
“I love doing those. The second one just came out at the end of last year and the third one comes out in August.
“It’s good to do all the school visits and talk with children about the books.
“I write at home and at work. The middle-grade stuff I write, my son is one of my first readers.
“He’s how I judge whether it’s working or not.”