Interview with Charles Barrow

Published 2019-12-13.
What is your writing process?
It's a lonely, uphill struggle. But perversely I enjoy most of it. I sit on a wooden chair at a wooden desk. Words come more easily first thing in the morning before I leave the house, before the clutter of the day fills my head. I write in pencil in a lined notebook (usually a Moleskine, if anyone's buying). I find I have more connection to my writing this way, I find working on a computer somehow 'distancing'. This is handy though when I edit on my laptop as I feel slightly removed from the work. When I'm struggling to write I just 'turn up at the page.' Someone else came up with this phrase and to my shame I can't remember who said it or where I read it. When I do remember I shall return here and write their name in block capitals. It's the one piece of advice I'd pass on to any writer who is stuck or doesn't feel inspired. Just turn up at the page, in my case with a sharpened pencil, and write something, anything. If it's rubbish it can be deleted or edited, rewritten tomorrow. I've written whole chunks of stuff I know will never appear in my story, what a character had for dinner, what the sea smelled like, just to keep moving forward, just to stop from stopping.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My friend Jess and I decided we'd email pieces of our writing to each other for comment, in a wholly positive and supportive environment, so that we could perhaps experiment with new styles or genres. I had considered sending her something I'd already written, I was feeling lazy, but then decided to try writing a new short story. I had made no plans, I usually fill a notebook with ideas for a story before I start to write it, this time I just began writing with no thought to genre, characters or plot. It just evolved as I wrote. I hesitate to say it wrote itself but, well, in retrospect it seems that way.
How do you approach cover design?
I had a very clear idea of what I wanted. An image of a lightning tree. But not a photograph. I commissioned an artist friend Jess Davies to paint one, from my description, she did a great job (Google her work, it's beautiful). The idea of a lightning tree came from the story, a direct reference in the story. It worked perfectly for both the tone and content of the story, and indirectly referenced my main character, John Mann, the product of a random chance incident. In preparation for the cover design, I enjoyed researching book covers both online and in bookshops. It is never a hardship to spend hours in a bookshop.
Update: as of September 2014 the book has a new cover, John Mann walking a lonely road. Jess asked me if she could re-design the original cover (mentioned above) as she wanted to find a look and feel for all three covers in the book series. She came up with a great image which again illustrates the tone and content of the story.
Further update: as of November 2018 and the publication of the final book in the John Mann trilogy, all three covers have a similar (though distinct) new design. All three books now look as though are part of the same series.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I'm just starting out as an ebook author so I can't say. I'll return to this question when I know what has worked, or not.
What are you working on next?
I'm currently jotting down ideas for a fourth book, set in the world of John Mann. But I'm also working on a recipe book, so I'm trying non-fiction next.
When did you first start writing?
I've always written. I remember I was 8 or 9 years old and my class teacher commented really positively about something I'd written. I've always loved the English language, I've always enjoyed using it in both speech and writing. It's a thing of wonder and beauty.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the South of England, in Surrey, just south of London. But in a very green and leafy suburb. I then lived in a city on the South coast for 25 years before moving into a much more rural landscape, where I've been for the past two years. Green, leafy and rural landscapes influence me hugely, in a way that a city never could. Words like blackbird, barn owl, oak tree, elm, wildwood, forest, hedgerow (and a hundred other words from the British countryside) resonate deeply with me. They are fixed DNA deep. I must have been a serf in a former life.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Frustration. Frustration with the Gate Keepers. The people we have to send film scripts, sitcom scripts, manuscripts to. I've seen how people, in different fields but in similar positions behave, rejecting work just because they can, because they have that power and want to exercise it, sometimes without really even considering the submitted work. I'm not suggesting all Gate Keepers are Victorian villains, twisting the ends of their moustache, really I'm not. I just, for once, wanted to keep gate for myself, have some control over my own work. I'm my own harshest critic but I think The Stolen Days of John Mann deserves to have a life out in the world.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Using the language, finding the exact right word with the exact right weight. Writing dialogue especially, finding the right rhythm.
Describe your desk
Cluttered. It's covered in stacks of books, piles of notebooks, jars of pencils, and random pieces of paper with scribbled lines of description and dialogue on. The wall behind it is also plastered with post-it notes, covered in my spidery scrawl.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I would spend it pottering about in the garden, but sadly I don't have a garden at the moment. So, I read a lot. And I love watching films. And I've discovered Netflix, a glorious way to avoid all the household chores.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read a mixture of books across different genres. I enjoy classic British science fiction: H.G. Wełls, John Wyndham, John Christopher. And I try to keep up with current authors too: Hugh Howey, Justin Cronin. I also like Scandinavian crime fiction: Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson. If I finish a book and have nothing new to hand I will reach for Agatha Christie, she is my default comfort zone.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have a Kindle. I like it and use it often, especially if I'm travelling, but I still prefer the feel, look and smell of a print book though, if it's not sacrilegious to say so here.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I browse different sites, reading reviews and recommendations. A cover might catch my eye, or the authors book description but I tend to buy based on reviews.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords has enabled me to publish my first book. You can't hear me but I'm singing their praises right now.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author or publisher.