1) What was your journey to becoming a writer?
I’ve been writing since I was young. Three full novels in my twenties, all unpublished! Then, when I was in my early thirties, I had a novella published in the Paris Review, and that led to a two-book deal with HarperCollins in the US (fiction) followed by a book with Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Meanwhile, I quit my job as a university teacher and went full-time. Apart from my own writing, I make ends meet by working as a ghost-writer, and I occasionally do features for a food magazine and other bits of journalism.
2) Do you specialize in any particular genre(s)?
No. I’ve published ‘imaginative’ literary fiction, a travelogue, and now a crime-mystery. As a reader I like anything well written and absorbing, so that’s what I try to do as a writer.
3) Who are your favorite authors? How do they inspire your work?
John Updike, because he can write about everyday life with such surprising eloquence. James Ellroy, because you just cannot stop reading one of his books once you’ve started. Ray Carver, because I simply don’t believe how consistently amazing he is, every line, every phrase.
4) List your accolades. To whom or what do you credit your accomplishments?
I won the Paris Review’s Discovery Prize with my first published work. I’m quite proud of that, and it certainly opened some doors for me. I also have a PhD in Applied Linguistics, and I think that made me more sensitive to language and how it works. I am also grateful that for the last eight years I’ve managed to earn a living from writing, one way or another. For that I have my wife to thank, who not only puts up with an (*ahem*) irregular income stream, but is constantly and unwaveringly supportive. Thanks, Susana! You’re great!
5) Tell us about your most current project, Hope Road.
It’s about a man who grew up in a criminal family, but who has tried to escape the life of crime. However, he finds himself involved in a murder investigation, and things start to unravel. It’s a character-based mystery. You might call it a ‘psychological mystery’ or ‘literary crime’. It’s set in the English city of Leeds, like Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog. There’s a traditional crime to solve, but it’s also about how people deceive those who love them most. You can read it even if you don’t much like whodunits.
6) Have your real-life experiences influenced the plot of Hope Road?
Yes! I found out last year that an uncle of mine was an arms dealer and thief. He was found dead on a flight from Amsterdam in ’84, his throat cut. I’d never been told this. It got me thinking about crimes and families, how the two things interact.
7) How do you promote your work? What strategies have been the most successful?
Indie publishing is an experiment for me. I’m just a few weeks into the publicity for Hope Road, but I’ve found the best approach seems to be to write guest posts or do interviews for book bloggers. It’s more difficult to get people to do a review, simply because most bloggers are absolutely swamped with books to review. I will also do giveaways of the ebook, in the hope that recipients might post a review on Goodreads or somewhere similar. Does any of this translate into an increase in readers? I dunno yet. But if you really believe in the book, it’s not a bad thing to have to stand up and shout about it.
8) What do you plan to accomplish in 2012?
The second book in the series. Hope Road is the first in a proposed series of nine books, all loosely based on a criminal dynasty.
9) What advice would you give to budding writers?
Just write. Don’t get too caught up in the excitement of e-publishing. The indie revolution is a tremendous development for writers, of course, but in the end writing is just about you and the page. And turn Twitter off!
10) What is your definition of success as a writer?
Anyone who can carry readers right to the last page of a book has done something special. Reading is not a passive activity, you have to want to do it, and readers can easily find other things to do if a book is not holding their attention. So if you can take readers with you and keep their interest, that’s an achievement.
John Barlow was born in Leeds, England in 1967. He studied English Literature at Cambridge University and worked as a university teacher before becoming a full-time writer in 2004. In the US his fiction has been published by HarperCollins and his non-fiction by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. His work has been translated into six languages.
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