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 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 is your most recent work(s)
My last project was a new area for me.- its a short story and a contemporary romance called The Lost Traveller. It's a sort of spin off from a character who gets himself killed in my latest Inspector Winwood mystery 'Murder at the Fleetwood'. It's 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, the truth or his work. I like happy endings. Murder at the Fleetwood is a sort of homage to the Agatha Christie style of murder mysteries. Guests at The Fleetwood Arms Hotel Murder Mystery Weekend find themselves as suspects when a real murder happens. There is a locked room, plenty of suspects and motives and no one leaves the hotel. Winwood soon discovers that under a veneer of respectability the members of the local amateur dramatic society engage in their own nocturnal activities involving swapping partners and other sexual games. Winwood's new Constable Emma Porter has to go undercover as a member of the chorus for the upcoming production of South Pacific to discover more about the club and its members. It goes quite well until a member of the cast is also killed at a Treasure island theme weekend. Up until the last classic scene where all the suspects are gathered back at the hotel Winwood is still not sure who the real target was for the first killing - the guest of the actor - and the connection they might have with the second victim. But with everyone present the solution is expertly explained by Winwood.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Sometime in late July 2005 my wife and I were on a bus between Hertford and Harlow. It was just after the London bombs of that year and I looked to one side of the bus window and saw lanes leading off from the main road into small villages lost in the rolling countryside. On the other side the green fields stretched out and there were small groups of cows, a train line and a river. It was all so peaceful and so English. I was reminded of the film version of Dad's Army. It was the end of a a beautiful day, the sun was setting and the man were walking on the crest of a hill. Mainwaring says: 'They shan't get it you know Wilson. We won't let them have it'. He was referring to the possible invasion by Nazi Germany. Neither they nor the terrorists were going to destroy what is so English about England. But the attack comes from within. It is our own Government who wishes to destroy the countryside. They are planning to build 10,000 homes on that stretch of countryside and call it Gilston Garden Town. Green fields, village pubs and quiet spots will be obliterated by concrete; but there will be no doctors, dentists, schools or hospitals. That is the way these days.

I did not intend to write about this rape of the land. The Naked Cellist started life as a novel in the Inspector Winwood series as a satire on the Arts and Arts Festivals. But as ever real life gets in the way. So it is about saving our heritage and countryside and way of living. However, humour is never far away and as Winwood complains: 'this is no more than The Hundred Worst Theatrical Disasters'. The Naked Cellist should be released by the end of January or sooner if the editing goes well.
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 2017-01-18.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Mysterious Death of Sarah Stout
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 38,080. Language: British English. Published: November 1, 2018. Categories: Nonfiction » True Crime » Murder, Nonfiction » History » Modern / 17th Century
At 10.45pm on Monday 13th March 1699 Sarah Stout the daughter of a prominent Quaker left the White Lion coffee house in Hertford in the company of Spencer Cowper, the son of the local MP. At six o’clock the next morning her lifeless body was found floating in the River Lea. As the last person to be seen alive with Sarah, Spencer Cowper along with three of his friends were accused of her murder.
The Naked Cellist
Series: Inspector Winwood Mysteries. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 55,580. Language: British English. Published: January 21, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Satire
What could possibly go wrong at an Arts Festival? It is not long before the first body is found sitting at a table beneath a painting of a naked cellist. Two more strange deaths occur against a festival backdrop of strange, bizarre, unusual and totally experimental acts. Winwood’s nose for suspecting that dark forces are at work has never let him down before and this case is no different.
The Mystery Professor
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 6,110. Language: American English. Published: May 24, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » True Crime » White-collar crime, Nonfiction » Biography » Criminals & outlaws
Peter H Pearse, Professor of Economics at Millersville University Pennsylvania was arrested on 21 March 1983 and charged with false identity. The subsequent investigation discovered that this was not his real name and he taught different subjects in at least five other Universities and had over 34 identities. This is a true story of how his deception was uncovered and his true identity revealed.
When the Dead rise up
Series: Inspector Winwood Mysteries, Book 7. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 40,150. Language: British English. Published: April 21, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy
A black plastic bag found in a gas company trench and containing the skeleton of a Cavalier from the English Civil War is no more than a distraction from the daily grind for Chief Inspector Steve Winwood. But another skeleton discovered amongst the water pipes servicing the town square fountain means that a case of a villain’s disappearance from thirty years previous has to be re-opened.
The Book of L:ife
Series: Inspector Winwood Mysteries, Book 6. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 45,170. Language: British English. Published: October 23, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British
Chief Inspector Steve Winwood is called out to the Football Club when one of the directors is found in the supporters bar with his head almost severed from his body. The other directors at the Board meeting saw or heard nothing of an intruder. To solve the case Winwood has to dig deep into the history of its founder and the very strange rules by which the Club is run.
Murder at the Fleetwood
Series: Inspector Winwood Mysteries, Book 5. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 55,760. Language: British English. Published: June 3, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Traditional British, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy
The Murder Mystery Weekend at the Fleetwood Arms Hotel is thrown into chaos when one of the guests is murdered. The guests are members of an amateur dramatic society and they all have solid alibis. Two guests had switched rooms and maybe the dead person was not the intended victim. The investigation switches from one to the other and uncovers the sexual relationships between members of the club.
The Lost Traveller
Price: Free! Words: 7,560. Language: British English. Published: February 18, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Short stories, Fiction » Romance » Contemporary
When J’s car breaks down outside the village pub Ruth the landlady has no reason to disbelieve his explanation that he was just passing through. They have an instant attraction to the other. Whilst he waits for his car to be repaired J tells Ruth of his career and background. Then the details of his job begin to change and Ruth starts to wonder if J has another reason for staying in the village.
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 » General reference » Curiosities & wonders
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 » Humor & comedy » Black comedy
“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 » Police Procedural, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Black comedy
After Cllr Bob Ball’s Russian family turn up at his funeral strange things start to happen. Detective Inspector Steve Winwood is faced with three seemingly unconnected murders. At the core appears to be a planning application by a supermarket chain but everyone in town is hiding a secret like a Russian doll with never ending secret dolls inside. Then a fourth body appears.
The Wicked Lady
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 6,370. Language: British English. Published: February 27, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Criminals & outlaws, Nonfiction » Social Science » Mythology, folklore, & legend
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 » Police Procedural, Fiction » Romance » Contemporary
The local MP is forced to resign when found in a sexually compromising situation. When the resulting by-election is called Detective Inspector Steve Winwood is confined to desk duties as Liaison Officer whilst his Sergeant is sent undercover with a member of the Intelligence Services. The murder of a reclusive pop star draws them all together to open up another thirty year old murder case.
Fifty Business Ideas
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 11,000. Language: British English. Published: October 29, 2013. Categories: Nonfiction » Business & Economics » Starting up, Nonfiction » Business & Economics » Home-based businesses
All the business ideas featured are real stories pulled from real news items during the 1980’s. Some started with little or no capital; only a few needed some large investment. What they have in common is that they are all proper businesses operated by real people. Most are considered small businesses and many can be run from home.
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 » Police Procedural, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Black comedy
Detective Inspector Steve Winwood does not believe in vampires or werewolves. The first victim had a stake through his heart and the second swallowed a silver bullet. The third victim is poisoned with garlic. Winwood’s colleagues see a serial killer with links to the cricket club and the letter ‘c’ but the fourth victim just does not fit into the pattern and Winwood has run out of suspects.
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 » Police Procedural, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Black comedy
When a known recluse is found dead on waste land miles from his home Detective Inspector Steve Winwood finds himself being dragged down into a web of corruption, blackmail and political intrigue. The Green Man public house becomes the battleground between unscrupulous developers and concerned residents of the underground. Winwood first has to establish who the good guys are.
How to approach writing a Risk Assessment for Event Managers
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 6,330. 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 » Travel » By region
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: 30,090. Language: English. Published: July 5, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir, Nonfiction » Entertainment » Entertainment industry
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 » Allergies
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: 8,750. Language: English. Published: May 17, 2012. Categories: Nonfiction » Literary criticism » Drama, Nonfiction » Biography » Historical biography
In October 2016 a story was reported in most popular newspapers that using old-fashioned scholarship and 21st-century computerised tools to analyse texts a team of international scholars have established that Shakespeare’s collaboration with other playwrights was far more extensive and that one of the major contributors was Christopher Marlowe, presumed killed in a bar brawl in 1593.
The Last Resort
Series: The Fordhamton Trilogy, Book 3. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 43,720. Language: English. Published: December 17, 2011. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » Black comedy, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy
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: 26,030. 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: 15,280. Language: English. Published: September 16, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Entertainment » Games, puzzles, & brain twisters, Nonfiction » Entertainment » Games, puzzles, & brain twisters
This is not your normal quiz book. It contains over 340 questions in 20 different categories based on news items from the 1980’s. However not the headline news but ordinary events experienced by ordinary people. . It is equally absorbing for anyone with a taste for the ‘You wouldn’t believe it’ type of story that finds its way into the pages of popular magazines.
Quote Sport Unquote
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 13,850. Language: English. Published: July 15, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Reference, Nonfiction » General reference » Trivia
This is a collection of sporting gems; some to make you laugh, some to ponder on the player’s expertise and other quotes best kept private and not spoken in public. The latter has given rise to what the American’s know as bloopers and what the British affectionately call ‘Colemanballs’ after that doyen of the BBC microphone David Coleman; and there are plenty of them in this book
The Tunnels Of Hertford
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 15,200. Language: English. Published: June 28, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Social Science » Freemasonry & Secret Societies, Nonfiction » Travel » By region
Knights Templar of Hertford still meet in underground chambers connected by a secret network of tunnels. Two brothers described their existence in an exclusive interview for the local newspaper: ‘a largely unknown, indeed mostly secret, ancient underground network that stretches beneath the town’s main streets’. This second edition uncovers the real secret of Hertford’s tunnels.
Insults - Old, New, Borrowed, Blue
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 12,990. Language: English. Published: June 27, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Entertainment » Humor & satire, Nonfiction » Reference » Quotations
Don’t you wish you could always find the right words at just the right time to answer anyone who has upset you? You will find that reply in this book. It has over 750 insults from some of the wittiest, cleverest and smartest writers that have proved that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
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 » Humor & comedy » Black comedy
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 » Humor & comedy » Black comedy
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.