Interview with John Barber

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Camden Town North London. It was then a typically working class area where doors could be left open, you knew all your neighbours and shopkeepers by their first names. My father was a true cockney and my mothers family came from Chiswick, West London and were involved in the care of horses. I was born at the beginning of the post WW2 baby boom and for many of us it was the first time any member of the family had gone to university and with the passing of the 1944 Education Act, stayed on to study into the sixth form. I still consider myself a working class boy despite my education and exposure to all kinds of literature and other academic disciplines. As a consequence at least one character in my novels is based upon this working class but educated background and it manifests itself in speech patterns and attitudes towards the social welfare professions. It is a kind of inverted snobbery. I find that some readers find this confusing and hard to understand and have mentioned that there are sometimes too many English colloquialisms - possibly true but this is how working class educated people often speak. Its a kind of hybrid language of local slang, cockney rhyming slang and more than a passing use of quotations from famous books. My detectives would rather give a local villain a clip round the ear than refer him to a probation officer. They resent the new ways, preferring the old fashioned way of settling disputes with a punch up round the back of the bicycle shed along with the secret cigarette smokers.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I have had a lot of articles published in mainstream magazines and newspapers. I thought that this experience would help me through the process of attracting the interest of publishers and then agents. I was wrong. It is a long and can be a demoralising process, the rejection slips just kept coming. However back in 2001 maybe earlier the concept of ebooks was to excuse the pun, quite novel. I had written a dark comedy based on my life in a small town called A Little Local Affair. I sent it to a ebook publishing company called Bookbooters.com. I was the only UK author on their books and one of the partners had lived in the same part of North London as myself. The book was published and sold quite well. Then tragically the other partner died in a canoeing accident and the surviving one found the work load too much so the company folded. However I realised the potential of ebooks and the painstaking and often fruitless pursuit of an agent or publisher. My full time job as Town Centre Manager took over my life and my writing took a back seat. However I stabbed away at the keyboard and started to write again in my free time as a way of releasing the stress of the job. Based on my knowledge of the industry it was an easy decision to make to prefer the indie route. Although you may get published you still have to work at your craft and at marketing so it is not as easy as it might seem if you wish to sell plenty of copies.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest Inspector Winwood novel is called 'The Russian Doll'. Once again it has as its background the decline of the traditional English town. People commit murders for all kinds of reasons and the series of murders are based upon an old proverb. Winwood recruits a young and raw female police constable to his team to work with his trusted Sergeant Tibble. Winwood sets off on his own lines of investigation which have their genesis in the proposed move of the ancient street market. The opposing forces of conservatism and progress offer more and more likely suspects but he finds his path eased by a new friendship with the recently installed lady vicar and her somewhat unconventional approach to the church and the town.
What are you working on next?
My next project is a new area for me.- its a short story and a contemporary romance at that. It came about from a situation in my current work in progress about a location manager who finds himself stranded in a small English village and falls for the pub landlady. He didn't want to stay but his car broke down; and he wasn't looking for romance but it happens. However he has an ulterior motive for all his actions and its a case of priorities - his business or the woman. Or both. Haven't decided yet.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I can honestly say that without Smashwords I may not have bothered to continue to write at all. It gives the indie a chance to open doors that were not there say even ten years ago. I have to admit that I do not sell a lot of copies on the site but the extensive distribution network and the support Smashwords gives to both authors and its distributors meant that I would never have been able to reach such a wide audience.
Who are your favorite authors?
Rather than describe the names from my groaning bookshelves it is easier to mention two authors that have had a big impact on me. The first was Jack London with tales of the Gold Rush and those with animals such as The Call of The Wild and White Fang. He knew how to tell a story. Very important as an author. The second is Arnold Bennett who wrote about the Potteries or Black Country in the MIdlands of UK. He wrote in a very simple and descriptive style and brought the area to life. He wrote a book called The Old Wives Tale for which the inspiration was an old bag lady at the end of her days. He wondered what she would have been like as a child and young woman; was she loved and so on. It's a valuable lesson for any author - be a people watcher. I used to sit with a local artist and watch the town go by. You learn a lot about people just by watching; or imagining what their lives were like.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome - a classic of mild and often understated English humour but often showing a insight into the human mind.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne - not a shaggy dog story as some critics have called it but a view of how we interact with each other, make mistakes because of the way we interpret what others say and how time makes us all prisoners.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tresell - a portrait of what it was like to be a working man in 1900 England, especially when work was in short supply and artisans had to take what was on offer. So many people, famous and ordinary have stated this this one book committed them to the cause of the working man.
Call of the Wild by Jack London - the love of a man for his dog and the loyalty and love of his dog to him.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning - working class life in mid 1960's England. How ordinary men lived and loved and fought against being machines even though working for the Raleigh bike factory where men were more accurate than machines.
What is your writing process?
I have a collection of eleven scrapbooks filled with news paper clippings. They have been the starting point for many articles and features that I have had published. They also provide a starting point for many of my plots. Such as Colours of the Underground - how does a dead man appear almost out of nowhere on top of a pile of coal. Once I have the idea I usually do nothing. I let the plot lines and characters build up in my mind such as when watching TV, or in the middle of the night when I can't sleep. I recently discovered that this is not a sleeping disorder but something known to a lot of people as Second Sleep Syndrome. You get an hour or two in between two good sleeps when you are awake and can think about all sorts of things. I use these times to write up notes. Eventually I have enough of the story to start writing and then I just write from line one, chapter one and onwards. I do not know how anyone ever wrote without a word processor! I now go back and forth adding characters, small sub plots, descriptions and so on. What starts as a linear trail becomes a sort of meandering river.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Creating my own universe. It's like an artist with a blank canvas. Once you start characters spring to life, towns and villages get populated and things happen. It's a place I can wander in to and mould whilst watching or not watching TV, or in the small hours when I can't get to sleep. My best plot lines usually come then.
Have you written any non-fiction work
I posted most of my published articles on my web site. Some were concerned with local tourism and variety artists. I was contacted by email by a man who asked me that as I knew so much about Camden Town, what did I know about the Camden Town Murder. I replied that I knew nothing. His great uncle was the victim's common law husband and he was preparing a family history. I soon read up the case - a famous murder in 1907 of a part time prostitute in what was then called St Pauls Road. It later transpired that when my parents married in 1940 they moved in to No.10 Agar Grove (which is the current name of St Pauls Road) and almost directly opposite the house where the murder took place.
My account started life as a short article for the local county magazine as the victim was born in Hertfordshire. It grew to a small self published booklet which I sold in the local Museum , Tourist Office, Library and independent book shop. It was on my web site and people sent me information. The research grew until there was more than enough for a book. I approached a publisher and it was accepted. It was published in hardback, a revised edition with more material as a paperback and last year released as a ebook. It is not available through Smashwords as it was published by a mainstream old fashioned bricks and mortar publisher. They are not that big but they obviously had some faith in me.
You can find success outside of the indie world and I consider myself fortunate to find a supportive editor and publisher. I became good friends with the person that contacted me, I have given presentations on the case to the Metropolitan Police History Society and the Whitechapel Society. The latter are the Jack the Ripper club devoted to all research surrounding the whitechapel murders. At the time I was first contacted Patricia Cornwell had published her book on the Ripper and named Walter Sickert as Jack and as the obvious suspect in the Camden Town Murder as well. I also appeared in a BBC TV documentary. I named one man as the killer and subsequent research has done nothing to change my view, more in confirmation.
So the book has been good to me. The idea of self publishing was given to me by a past Mayor of the town and I suspect that if I could not have found a publisher and Smashwords were around at the time, here is where it would have found a home.
Published 2015-01-27.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Lost Traveller
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 7,290. Language: British English. Published: February 18, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Short stories
A stranger came into Ruth’s pub and said that his car had broken down. He said he was lost. Ruth believed him. Why wouldn't she? He told her all about his job and his plans. He seemed genuine and they grew closer. As the days passed his story changed; and Ruth wondered if he was as honest as he claimed. Then he left and the truth came out. A decision had to be made.
Death, Dying and Disappearing During the 1980's
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 11,890. Language: British English. Published: September 23, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Social Science » Death & Dying, Nonfiction » Social Science » Death & Dying
This is a collection of news stories about death and dying. They were assembled by the author from scrapbooks maintained during he 1980’s. They are all true stories however bizarre they may appear. There are tales of death by design, by unfortunate accident, death in the animal world, wills, ghosts and the loss of once common or everyday items. A book to dip into, rather than a long read.
The Fordhamton Trilogy
Series: The Fordhamton Trilogy, Book 4. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 203,990. Language: British English. Published: September 11, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British
“Did you hear that, the third most boring town in Britain. This from a place that was covered in green paint, private investigators found dead, sex perverts serving on the council, a plague of vampire bats, sex parlours, mad women going around stabbing cross dressers with hatpins and a man on the loose who became England’s most wanted criminal. I would hate to serve in the town that came first.”
The Russian Doll
Series: Inspector Winwood Mysteries, Book 4. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 53,580. Language: British English. Published: September 8, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British
The murders of the Council Archivist, the Financial Director at the brewery and the Town Clerk do not at first to appear to be connected. DI Winwood is met with a less than helpful town as it seems every one is not telling the whole truth. The more he digs the more confusing the case becomes and his new female constable puts her own career at risk in their search for the truth.
The Wicked Lady
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 6,370. Language: British English. Published: February 27, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Criminals & outlaws, Nonfiction » Biography » Criminals & outlaws
The Wicked Lady is a 350 year old legend of a lady highwayman. Her name was Katherine Ferrers who lived at Markyate Cell, Hertfordshire. One night she was shot and mortally wounded, rode back to Markyate where she died and was buried in Ware, Herts. Her ghost is said to haunt the area still. The legend is retold along with the life of the Katherine Ferrers and the truth revealed.
Seven Days in May
Series: Inspector Winwood Mysteries, Book 3. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 55,660. Language: British English. Published: January 28, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British
Sergeant Archie Tibble is partnered with the attractive Inspector Ruth Coleman when a death threat is made against the Prime Minister during the Rutherford by-election. Their professionalism is put to the test as romance flourishes. Winwood has to solve the murder of a reclusive ex pop star without his regular Sergeant but his and Tibble’s paths soon cross as older mysteries unfold.
Fifty Business Ideas
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 11,000. Language: British English. Published: October 29, 2013. Categories: Nonfiction » Business & Economics » Starting up
Fifty Business Ideas is intended for anyone looking for inspiration or to kick start a business opportunity. This is not a ‘how to’ manual or ‘step by step’ guide but stories of real businesses in the 1980’s that were featured in newspaper articles. There are a few failures which may also help to inspire a better version and some very risky ventures that could succeed with some fine tuning.
The Cricket Club Murders
Series: Inspector Winwood Mysteries, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 51,460. Language: British English. Published: March 6, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British
There’s a serial killer loose in the English town of Rutherford. The only problem is that it’s the good guys that are being killed. Detective Inspector Winwood has few motives for the killings and even fewer suspects. The only things that link the victims are the killer’s obsession with cricket and the letter ‘C’ and the strange connection each one has with the legends of vampires.
Colours of the Underground
Series: Inspector Winwood Mysteries, Book 1. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 56,690. Language: British English. Published: January 9, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy
The body of an artist is found on waste land in the small English town of Rutherford. A second body is discovered bound and gagged in his own luxury taxi. D.I Winwood’s investigations uncover a dirty tricks campaign from a property development company and corruption at the local Council. Parts of the town’s heritage are under threat. Only the Underground can help; but who are they?
How to approach writing a Risk Assessment for Event Managers
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 6,340. Language: English. Published: November 29, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Business & Economics » Project management
The preparation of a Risk Assessment is now an essential requirement for anyone planning a community event. This book is intended as a guide for those unfamiliar with organising fairs, village fêtes and town centre celebrations. It is based on the author’s 8 years experience as Project Manager on a wide variety of community events including markets and late night shopping evenings.
So! You want to be British
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 27,570. Language: English. Published: July 11, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Social Science » Customs & Traditions, Nonfiction » Social Science » Customs & Traditions
This book is a collection of more than fifty blogs posted by the author over a two year period. Cultural events, national treasures, famous and ordinary people who made the news illustrate what it means to live in Great Britain and to call oneself British. Most articles are quite short with more than a touch of irreverent humour and read together explain what being British really means.
Notes from the Stage Manager's Box
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 30,100. Language: English. Published: July 5, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir, Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir
This is an account of the author’s time with the National Westminster Bank Theatre Club. There are tales of production disasters, memorable performances and the funny side of staging a show from the auditions to first night nerves and mishaps. The book concentrates mainly on the eccentrics and the things that can and usually do go wrong on stage seen from the viewpoint of a Stage Manager.
Childhood Eczema
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 5,130. Language: English. Published: June 29, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Health, wellbeing, & medicine » Children’s health, Nonfiction » Health, wellbeing, & medicine » Children’s health
Childhood eczema is a distressing complaint for both child and parent. It normally begins as nappy rash and gradually extends to other parts of the body. This is how one father treated the condition by examining which diet, environment and medicines triggered a reaction. By eliminating and then slowly monitoring their re-introduction he found a way of balancing these elements to effect a cure.
Christopher Marlowe - the man who wrote Shakespeare
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 8,640. Language: English. Published: May 17, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Literary biography
Imagine that the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe did not meet his death in a tavern brawl on 30 May 1593 but with the aid of Elizabeth’s secret service escaped to Italy and an innocent stranger killed in his place. This essay assumes that to the truth and examines the works of Shakespeare as being influenced by Marlowe forwarding part or completed scripts from his place of exile.
The Last Resort
Series: The Fordhamton Trilogy, Book 3. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 41,920. Language: English. Published: December 17, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British
The first Fordhamton Arts Festival gets off to a bad start when the stand-in for the school’s production of The Real Inspector Hound is murdered during the dress rehearsal. Suspicion immediately falls on the drama teacher Jeremy Hawkins owing to his past as a student activist. The lives of the cast come under the spotlight and the list of suspects keeps on growing
An Echo from the Green Fields
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 26,040. Language: English. Published: October 4, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Travel » By region
This collection of articles describes walks around Camden, Hampstead, Highgate and street markets in London. Hertfordshire is featured with a history of Hertford, a ghost story and eccentric clergymen. English innovations such as Bradshaws Railway Guides, Old Moores Almanac, the waterproof mac and entertainers such as Sir Alec Guinness are included; and politicians to explain our eccentricity
The 1980's Quiz Book
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 15,290. Language: English. Published: September 16, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Entertainment » Games, puzzles and brain twisters
This quiz book focuses on news from the 1980’s with 20 different categories and over 340 questions in multi-answer format. It is unusual in that it contains news stories that did not make the headlines. These are weird, wonderful and odd stories and all true; useful for quiz masters needing new and unique material and those who enjoy reading about the slightly bizarre side of real life.
Quote Sport Unquote
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 14,030. Language: English. Published: July 15, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Reference » Quotations
This is a collection of quotes from all sectors of the sporting world; players, officials, press and spectators. It covers all major sports and some minor ones such as conkers and lawn mower racing. It is predominantly about sport in Great Britain and gives an outsider a unique perspective of how we view ourselves and how much we differ from the Americans in our approach to the game.
The tunnels of Hertford
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 15,280. Language: English. Published: June 28, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Social Science » Freemasonry & Secret Societies, Nonfiction » Social Science » Freemasonry & Secret Societies
A local newspaper reported that a secret labyrinth of tunnels existed under the streets of the small, English town of Hertford; and that modern day descendants of the Knights Templar still meet in underground chambers. This second edition has further research, more illustrations and two extra chapters. It traces the history and location of the tunnel system and arrives at a final solution
Insults - Old, new, borrowed, blue
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 13,010. Language: English. Published: June 27, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Entertainment » Humor and satire
Over 750 insults from the witty to the sarcastic, humorous to the rude. From the well known and famous to the dead and anonymous; from TV and newspapers to magazines long since folded. Many of these insults have not appeared in an anthology before.
Return to Fordhamton
Series: The Fordhamton Trilogy, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 76,940. Language: English. Published: June 21, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British
The reading of Arthur Brown’s will threatens to disclose secrets that some residents thought well hidden. Tim Rose goes missing from a Training Centre and despite being arrested and released keeps ending up back in Fordhamton. DI Miles Davis is sent back to Fordhamton to unscramble the many events threatening the reputation of an International Banking Group and of more than one town resident.
A Little Local Affair
Series: The Fordhamton Trilogy, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 86,040. Language: English. Published: June 1, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British
The strange events in Fordhamton started with the sudden death of Alan Price. Was it suicide or did the suspicious circumstances indicate murder? No one liked Price but most people in town needed him alive. DI Harley is just a spectator as political and sexual relationships emerge and the investigation made more complex with petty vandalism, arson and another dead body to muddy the waters.