On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interview
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these fiction writers you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
Andrew David Barker
was born in Derby, England in 1975. He is a writer and filmmaker. He is the author of The Electric and the novella Dead Leaves. As a filmmaker, he wrote and directed the cult, post-apocalyptic indie feature, A Reckoning,in 2011, and has recently made the short films, Two Old Boys and Shining Tor. He lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughter, trying to be a grown up.
1. What inspired you to write fiction?
I’ve just always loved stories, and I’ve always had ideas for stories. I had a pretty poor education though and I was still pretty much learning to read and write when I left school. I spent my 20s educating myself and novels for very much part of that education. I didn’t read a novel voluntarily until the summer I left school. That was Clifford D. Simak’s Out of their Minds, a fantasy novel from 1970. This led me to outline my own fantasy, adventure novel and me and my friend Ben Waldram spent the next five years or so trying to write it. It was set in the afterlife and the project grew large and unwieldy and was certainly beyond my capabilities to finish it. I learned a lot working on that project though.
Plus, I was always distracted by other creative pursuits. Filmmaking was, and sometimes probably still is, just as interesting to me as writing novels, so I was always trying to make films as well when I was younger. Me and my mates made our big hit when we were in college in 1993 – an anthology horror called Tales from Hell, which is about as good as you can imagine.
Stephen King was a big influence early on. But I also read David Gemmell, and Clive Barker, and Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole, which also had a big effect on me. I was interested in genre, but also interested in stories that existed in worlds similar to the one I grew up in. Certainly judging by my first book, The Electric, the balance between the two has never left me. That book deals with movies and the supernatural, but also exists in the world that I grew up in.
2. Who introduced you to fiction?
Early on it was my mum. She liked horror fiction and tales of the supernatural. My love of a good ghost story comes from her. She read James Herbert and had books by Aleister Crowley on the shelf. She still loves a good ghost story.
My friend Ben, who I mentioned earlier, also introduced me to fiction, and without his influence and excitement for reading and writing stories, I probably wouldn’t have become a writer.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older writers?
I’m not really. I suppose I was when I was younger. I never really thought I’d ever be published. I was conscious of my lack of education and was always frightened someone cleverer than me would pull my writing apart. I used to think that because I was from a working class background I had no right becoming a novelist. I thought of writing novels as an elitist thing – something only the privileged get to do – and it most cases it very much is, but I forged on anyway.
I am intimidated by the brilliance of say, Cormac McCarthy or Dickens, but I’ve learned to live with all that now. You can never be that good, so why worry about it? I no longer care about any of that stuff anymore because I’m just doing my own thing. My background and experiences and the way I see the world make me who I am as a writer – they give me my identity, my voice, for want of a better word, and I wouldn’t change any of that now.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
Like many writers I still have a day job. I’ve always had to have another income. I feel that if you are able, in this day in age, to get up every morning and afford to write all day, every day and still pay all the bills, then you are in a very privileged position indeed. No art form really pays anymore, unless you are really flying. So I work and I have to carve out time every day to write. I have a family and a job and mostly I don’t get started until gone eight o’clock at night. After a day of work and being a parent and a husband there’s not much juice left in the tank by eight, but I have to discipline myself to do it. Some nights it works, some nights it doesn’t.
I’m working on a novel at the moment so my routine is to work Sunday to Thursday in the evenings and also very early on Saturday mornings. I give myself Friday and Saturday nights off. That’s it. If I wasn’t working I would write in the mornings all week as that’s my preferred time to write, but I have to just do what I can in the time I’ve got.
5. What motivates you to write?
The excitement of a good story idea and being with the characters I create. It’s that simple. I don’t write for money because as I’ve said making money out of this stuff is impossible, certainly on my level. So I do it because I love it. I feel good once I’ve written, feel great in fact. I think writing makes me a better person, certainly a saner person. I can handle life better when I’m writing.
I’ve attempted a lot of other creative pursuits. I’ve directed films and played in a rock band, and although I did love those things, they did not give me the same sense of satisfaction as writing a good page does.
I remember when I finished writing The Electric, my first novel; I could hardly believe that I’d done it. At long last I’d written a novel. That feeling was like nothing else.
6. What is your work ethic?
To try and finish everything I start. After Dead Leaves came out in 2015 I attempted and abandoned two novels in the space of a year and a half. This ground me to a halt. It knocked my confidence and sent into a kind of limbo for a while. 2018 has been the year I was determined to turn things around.
I wrote and directed two short films, Two Old Boys and Shining Tor, and wrote the screenplays for two other shorts directed by other people, One, Nine, Three and Endling, and I wrote a small collection of ghost stories, which I hope to get published in 2019.
Making these shorts, actually completing the work and having them screened in front of an audience was thrilling and energising. More than that though, I’ve been successful in getting an Arts Council grant to write a novel, which is just incredible because I’ve never had any help or backing before. So I’m back at work on a novel, writing as fast as I can, which isn’t very fast truth be told, but I am doing it and I am going to finish it.
Finishing a project is the key to everything.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Stephen King is still an influence. He’s a master storyteller. He has an identity that just draws you in and his characters are great. I always remember the characters more than the monsters.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Magnus Mills is my favourite British novelist; Paul Auster is my favourite American novelist. Although that could all change next week. They both write about characters and worlds I understand. I also greatly admire Haruki Murakami for his balance of the fantasque and surreal and the deeply personal.
I’m always looking for someone new to inspire me. Books are very personal things, much like music. It has to connect. I don’t see one thing as being high art and other being low art. The Great Gatsby speaks to me as much as The Shining. They’re both great books that speak of the dread, honesty and darkness of the human heart. Magnus Mills speaks to me because I know blokes like the ones he writes about; I’ve grown up with them, worked with them, and he’s one of the very few working class writers out there that is genuinely from the world he writes about. So there is a real honesty about his work. Honesty and heart are the things I look for, I suppose.
9. Why do you write?
To make sense of the world and to make sense of myself.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Just write. Take to the time to develop yourself and only submit or put something out there when you are a hundred percent sure of it. That said, I’m still learning. I’ve only ever been published through small presses. I’ve never had an agent or even had an agent interested in me. I hope to change that, but I’m not pushing it. The work itself is what I’m interested in. If you’re in it for fame and money and power, then forget it. It has to be a pure love, otherwise, what’s the point? You might get fame and money – there are a few lucky ones that fall through the net – but more than likely you won’t, and you’ve got to be fine with that.
Keep writing, keep submitting, keep getting better.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment
Well I feel like a novelist again. It’s taken a while. I’ve been making short films for the most of this year and writing short stories, but now I’ve cleared the decks of all that stuff and am only working on the novel until it’s done, which will be in the spring, all being well.
My novella, Dead Leaves, has just been reissued in a new paperback through Black Shuck Books and I’m hoping to work with them again at some point. Moves are also being made on the production of an audiobook for The Electric, something I’ve been wanting to get done for years, so I’m very excited about that. Hopefully that’ll be out early 2019.
As for the novel, it’s a departure in that the first two books are in first person and were told in the timeframe of only a couple of days, whereas this one is in third person and covers a decade in the lives of the protagonists. There are movies, of course – they seem to be my thing – and working class characters struggling to stay afloat, but there is also love, and a lot of heart. I’m trying to dig deep on this one. We’ll see.