Welcome to the two hundred and seventy sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with crime / mystery novelist, travel / features writer, journalist and ghostwriter John Barlow. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, John. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
John: I’m originally from a village called Gomersal, near Leeds. However, I’m now based in Spain. I’ve always written things, and eventually I got a book contract with HarperCollins when I was in my 30s. At that point I decided to move to Spain and write full-time, and I’ve managed to keep on doing that since then.
Morgen: No small feat. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
John: My latest novel, Hope Road, is a crime mystery. Before that I’ve done literary fiction and a book of travel writing. I also work as a ghost writer (financial thriller at the moment) and do some journalism, mainly features for a food magazine. But I’ll consider anything: last year I had a piece in Penthouse magazine about hunting wild pigs in Australia!
Morgen: 🙂 Penthouse is actually supposed to be a good source for short story authors (she says making a mental note to check it out). Ah no, it’s Playboy. Oh well, sort of close. Anyway, moving on… 🙂 Have you had any rejections?
John: Yes, lots. For my first book (which was initially represented in the US) it was torture; the waiting drove me to distraction. These days I don’t care about that stuff.
Morgen: They do get easier. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
John: I won the Discovery / Plimpton Prize in the American literary magazine the Paris Review. That in turn got me an agent and my first book contract. My last book, a food-based travelogue, was shortlisted for Best Book at the Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards.
Morgen: Wow, well done. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
John: Yes. They most definitely are.
Morgen: 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
John: I do read ebooks. My previous books are available as ebooks, although they are not available in all territories. Hope Road certainly is.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
John: I’ve been doing a lot more recently, mainly because I have a new crime-mystery series on the go, and I see this as a long-term commitment. In the past I didn’t see myself as a brand, but if I can build a readership for these mysteries, that’ll be an advantage over the course of the whole series.
Morgen: More authors are doing their own marketing these days. I think it’s a combination of less staff at the publishers and more social networking – for me I love being an author now. What are you working on at the moment / next?
John: There are eight more mystery novels in the series to write. I am also working on bringing a couple of Spanish language versions of my books out, and also on a YA novel about environmental issues.
Morgen: Wow. I can see why you write full-time; there’s certainly enough to keep you busy. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
John: I have no other job, so yes I write every day. I don’t get writer’s block, because there’s always a mountain of revision and / or research to do, so I can always get on with that if I don’t feel like writing.
Morgen: That’s the key, isn’t it, variety. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
John: Plot. I plot pretty hard, but even then I find all sorts of stuff cropping up as I write. This is also one of the challenges of writing mysteries: when you change something at one point in the book, you often have to change a whole host of things elsewhere.
Morgen: Which is why I write short stories more than novels; less ploughing. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
John: I do an awful lot. Probably too much. It’s what I really love about writing. I go through endless revisions in endless ways. If I thought editing a text under water might help, I’d do it.
Morgen: I have some waterproof (or they might just be water resistant) books so you never know. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
John: Working in your pyjamas is great. Being able to take time off whenever you want is also good. What has surprised me about being a freelance writer is that the best and most enjoyable offers come out of the blue. I was sent on an expense-paid trip to a five-star hotel in the Bahamas a few years ago. Then, as I said, I was recently hunting wild pigs in the Australian bush…
Morgen: That does sound like a hardship. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
John: It’s not looking good. I can see a time when a handful of writers make a decent living, and the rest do it as a hobby. Who can make money selling novels for 99cents?
Morgen: You just need to sell enough of them, I guess. But yes, I agree. There are SO many authors out there all wanting to do the same thing – doing these interviews has made me aware just how many. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
John: Then door is always open at: www.johnbarlow.net.
Morgen: 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
John: My new book, Hope Road, is a bit like Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog, and it’s set in the same city, Leeds. To begin with I tended not to mention this in interviews, but I’ve changed my mind!
Morgen: You had me at Kate Atkinson (one of my favourite authors). 🙂 Thank you so much, John.
Praise for John’s previous books and articles:
New York Times – Barlow’s imagination appears unlimited, almost attuned to a parallel world.
Washington Post – John Barlow is back with another story that’s surprising, funny and satisfying… Intoxicated delivers the goods. It’s the real thing.
The Economist – A fascinating journal of his Galician wanderings. What comes through is a deep affection for Galicia’s people and culture.
Booklist – Wonderfully innovative. Magic realism meets Yorkshire pragmatism.
Time Magazine – With good humor and shameless enthusiasm, he has written a delicious meat mash note. Verdict: Read.
LA Times – A mouthwatering adventure.
New York Times – Like Mr. Bryson, Mr. Barlow has canny comic timing… What both writers get by on is cerebral charm that can verge on slapstick.
Yorkshire Post – A cracking read that’s impossible to put down.
Palm Beach Post – John Barlow demonstrates a vast love of language and, above all, the ability to tell a riveting yarn.
Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club‘ – John Barlow is the rare writer who can be playfully inventive, while deeply in touch with literary traditions.
Hollywood Reporter – A most compelling and delicious book.
Kirkus – Like T.C. Boyle, to whom he has been appropriately compared, Barlow paints personalities in broad strokes… Barlow’s lively imagination will carry along those who appreciate risk-taking fiction.
Charleston Post – …masterfully written and paced, rich in back story and subplots. At times enthralling and at others heartbreaking… a rewarding novel by a gifted stylist.
Edmonton Journal – Barlow is a very fine writer, and exhibits genius in figuring out new ways to describe food.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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