Friday, February 25, 2011

The interrogation of Ian Barker

And today we welcome Ian Barker the author of Fallen star to the dungeon.
Good afternoon, Ian –  I hope you’re comfortable. Don’t mind the flickering lights, we’re not the only ones using this dungeon.

No problem, the sound proofing is really effective isn’t it? You can barely hear the screams. (No expense was spared on our sound proofing, glad you appreciate it!)

What’s your favorite type of takeaway?
Probably KFC – damn I’ve succumbed to American culture!

Describe your current mental status.
Fairly calm. The book has been out for around three months and has had good reviews so far. Drumming up interest in a novel is harder than writing it but that kind of goes with the territory these days. I’d probably be more worried if I achieved some sort of overnight success.

Do you have a favorite coffee? Or being a Brit do you only drink tea and warm beer? (Stereotypes abound!)
I prefer my coffee decaf and instant, my beer cold and my tea without milk. My stereo is a Sony type... Oh, that’s not what you meant!

Where did the concept for Fallen Star, come from?
Oddly enough it came from watching TV. This would have been about 2002 when digital first started to arrive here and for the first time you had the chance to press the Red Button and peek in on reality shows at pretty much any time of day. I was watching a bunch of people trying to become pop stars and started wondering what would happen if you stood the situation on its head.

Walk us through a typical day. (Do you make sure you’re wearing your lucky underpants before you sit down to write, or perhaps you prefer commando?)
I work as a magazine editor so a typical day involves strapping myself into my highly-trained Korean hatchback and driving to the office.  Once there I write, edit, plan and deal with PRs and other animals. The days are quite varied. I then come home and mostly don’t write fiction. Probably because I have to write for the day job my other writing is ill-disciplined and infrequent. My novels are written in short, frenetic bursts then abandoned for a few weeks until the next one.
Underpants yes, lucky ones no. Boxers since you didn’t ask – trust  me this is important for later – though I was a teenage budgie smuggler (I fear I may have given you a headline there). There was a moment in the 1980s when boxers went from being comedy underpants beloved of Brian Rix farces to actually being cool. That was probably down to the Levi’s ad with Nick Kamen in the laundrette.

Do you ever see yourself writing a vampire story? (Let me just say the only thing that should ever sparkle is a diamond…)
No. I don’t really get the whole vampire thing. Having said that I enjoy True Blood on the TV because it takes an interesting angle with lots of parallels for real world social issues.

Who would you turn gay for?
Nick Kamen in the launderette – see above.

Who are your favorite writers?
Too many to list but near the top of the queue would be John leCarre, Len Deighton, Ian Rankin, Nick Hornby and Leslie Thomas.

Who inspires you to do better?
The curse of being a writer is that you’re constantly aware of structure and technique. If an author can make me forget about that – even for a chapter – then they’re doing something right.  Having said that I also like writers who can make me stop for a second to admire the quality of the workmanship.

Do you ever put pants on your dog?
I don’t have a dog but if I did I wouldn’t. Hats on the other hand...

Describe your ultimate day?
That’s the one where my book is top of the Sunday Times best seller list, Danny Boyle rings begging for the movie rights and the man from the Premium Bonds turns up with a £1 million cheque.

Who is your favorite fictitious villain? Or are you all about the hero? Who do you love to hate?
I prefer my villains with redeeming features and my heroes flawed. I think Charles Dickens, master of character, created a near perfect villain in Fagin. Yes, he’s crooked and calculating and greedy but he’s incredibly human.

Tell us your publishing story… how have you found the industry?
I went down the usual route of querying agents and collecting a file full of rejections – twice. It was thanks to a certain New Zealand-based writer that I discovered Rebel e Publishers who liked Fallen Star enough to reject it with suggestions for improvement, then accept it on the second try.
How did I find the industry? I just opened the door one day and there it was. But seriously, for a new and unpublished writer the publishing business can seem like a vast machine geared to preventing you from ever getting into print. It’s only with experience that you realise the key is to make your writing as good as you can and work on cultivating a bloody-minded persistence. 

Do you have any quirks?
I’m a compulsive list maker. I haven’t properly done anything unless it’s been written down and crossed off. Fill in interrogation for Cat – tick.

All time favorite movie and why?
I honestly don’t have one. I don’t watch many movies – I can’t remember when I last went to the cinema – and there seems to be a dearth of originality at the moment. Why does the movie industry constantly feel the need to remake things that were done perfectly well the first time round? Especially when there are good books out there begging to be made into films. Rant about movies – tick.

What’s your preferred medium when it comes to writing – pen and paper, computer, typewriter.
I used to write with pen and paper – I did the whole of my first novel that way – but now do everything straight to the PC.

How did you enjoy the editing process?
It was really the best part of getting published. Jayne helped bring out areas of the story I hadn’t previously considered and made me revise my attitude to dishwashers. Fallen Star is a much better book as a result.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?  
I’m a fan of islands, I’d quite like to have a private one and become a recluse. Failing that somewhere like Jersey in the Channel Islands where you can just about take a whole hour to drive right round the coastline.

What is one thing you know about New Zealand?  (Do not mention LOTR. I’m serious – don’t go to the Hobbit place either!)
Don’t worry, I’m a fully paid-up, card carrying Tolkien hater! New Zealand is, or at least used to be, full of old British cars because it didn’t use salt on the roads so they failed to rot away as they did at home.

How many novels have you written, both published and unpublished? 
Two and a bit. Though I’ve abandoned a lot. My first completed novel is in the ‘bottom drawer’, I’m still fond of the premise so I’ll probably revisit it someday as I know I’d write it better now.

What were you before you became a writer?
I don’t think I’ve ever not been a writer but I spent a lot of time in denial and working with computers. My current job combines both which is the best (or possibly worst) of both worlds.

What can we expect from you next?
I’m writing a book called Star Turn which picks up Fallen Star’s characters a few years further on. I don’t see this turning into a long series though so it should, I hope, bring the story to some sort of satisfactory conclusion.

Do you carry a notebook or keep one by the bed for those sudden brilliant ideas?
I always keep a notebook by the bed but I seldom use it. It’s there as a sort of security blanket. If an idea is good enough it’ll stick in my head anyway. I often have ideas whilst driving when it isn’t possible to write them down straight away so if they survive to the end of the journey they’re usually worth keeping.

What is the most random thing you have ever written with and on?
I’d love to say I’ve written on a squirrel with nail varnish but I’m really quite boring and conventional. I have been known to tear strips off the margins of newspapers to make notes.

If you’re not writing, what are you most likely to be doing?
Watching a motor race or reading a car magazine. My blood is around 50% petrol!

Whiskey or Bourbon?
Thanks, I don’t mind if I do. Whisky – preferably single malt and at least 10 years old.


 What a pleasure it was having Ian over! You can find out more about Ian and his work at the following places:


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