Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Author Interview: John Barlow, Author of Hope Road

Jersey Girl Book Reviews welcomes John Barlow, author of Hope Road!

Hi John! Before we get to the interview, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

I was born in West Yorkshire, UK, and studied English Literature and Linguistics. I taught in various universities before moving to live in Spain. I have published three books with traditional publishers, and two on my own as ebooks. I also work as a ghost writer.

How long have you been a writer?

Does horrible poetry in my teens count? If so, since then. I tried writing various things in my twenties, but it wasn't until I was in my thirties that I really hit my stride. I finally gave up teaching in 2004 and now write full-time.

Do you have a "day job," or is being an author your career?

I work as a ghost writer, and occasional journalist (I write features for a food magazine). I also do a bit of academic editing and some translation work. So, writing is my career, although I have to combine it with several other activities.

What inspired you to become a writer? Describe your journey of becoming a writer.

I never really found anything else that I felt comfortable doing. I was lucky in that I won the Paris Review's Discovery Prize in 2002 for my first published work (a novella) and that gave me some motivation to get an agent and take writing more seriously as a potential career.

Please give a brief description / storyline about Hope Road.

It's about the son of a career criminal who has spent his life trying to avoid the criminal world. He finds himself involved in a murder, and things begin to unravel. It's an amateur sleuth mystery with a police procedural running alongside; although it is about solving the mystery, the book also deals with issues of family, deception, and why we lie to those who love us most.

What was the inspiration for this story?

The book is about families, and in particular the question of having criminals in the family. I discovered a while back that an uncle of mine was an arms dealer (he was found dead on a flight from Amsterdam in 1984, his throat cut; I wrote about the case here and here). That was partly the motivation. Hope Road is also about counterfeit money and the operation of 'passing on' fake currency, which is something I've been interested in for a long time.

Are your books written for a particular genre?

Hope Road is aimed at anyone who reads contemporary fiction. It is a crime mystery, but it's also about the characters and their relationships. You don't need to enjoy crime writing to read it, I think.

How did it feel to have your first book published?

Smug as hell. Like I'd laid a golden egg. We had launch parties in London and Hull (where I was living at the time). It was tremendous.

What genres are your favorite(s)? What are some of your favorite books that you have read and why?

I don't have any firm preferences, although I read more crime these days. Over the years I have probably read more American fiction than anything else, from Carver to Elroy. At the moment I'm reading Elly Griffiths and the Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indridason. 

Do you have a special "spot/area" where you like to do your writing?

No. I live at the heart of a busy (and noisy) city, so I have got used to writing with background noise. I like a routine, but I'm not fussy as to where it is.

How do you come up with the ideas that become the storyline for your books?

Start with something simple. Let it sit there, see if it grows. The book I'm writing now (the follow-up to Hope Road) is developing as I write. I try to plan as carefully as I can, but sometimes you just have to let a character or a theme take over and see the best pewhere it leads.

When you write, do you adhere to a strict work schedule, or do you work whenever the inspiration strikes?

I work every day in an office. Arrive at 9:15 am. If it really feels impossible to write anything, do some editing, or research. But keep working. No internet.

What aspects of storytelling do you like the best, and what aspects do you struggle with the most?

I feel I am strongest at editing a text down to its essentials and dealing with the style and tone of the prose. With Hope Road I wanted to get close to a clipped, American tone of voice, but retaining something English. I find plot more challenging, in the sense that I really don't want to write things that conform absolutely to a genre (such as mystery), but of course you do need to hang a story on a recognizable structure if you're going to call it a mystery.

What are your favorite things to do when you are not writing?

I enjoy American TV drama, from the Sopranos to The Walking Dead. That said, had I known how Lost was going to end, I wouldn't have bothered (that was over 100 hours of my life!). I am a keen food fan, and I have also written a book about Spanish food.

What is/was the best piece of writing advice that you have received?

I think it was Ray Carver who said when a piece is done go back and delete the first paragraph. First paragraphs tend to be bad, for me at least.

What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer?

My food book, about north-western Spain, was great fun to write and research, and I continue to get lots of mail from people across the world who've read it. Some of them actually come to Spain to see the places I describe. It's marvelous to meet them. There's a couple of Australian food journalists coming over next week; I'm sorting out some places for us to eat!

How do you usually communicate with your readers/fans?

I tweet, and have a somewhat less active Facebook presence. Other than that, I try and do interviews like this one, and guest blogs. I have a mailing list set up on my website. Not very interactive, I admit, but being an Indie writer leads to a lot of pressures on your time, and at the moment that's about as much as I can do. 

Are anything in your books based on real life experiences, or are they purely all from your imagination?

All the places in Hope Road (including the road itself) are real. I spent time at each site as I was writing the book, which is absolutely the best excuse for sitting around in pubs. I know a couple of police detectives, and I talk to them about police procedure. Incidentally, I'm currently ghost writing a sort of intellectual thriller in which I am myself a character. It's based partly on real events, some of them involving me. Extreme novel writing!

What authors have been your inspiration or influenced you to become a writer?

I don't think any specific writer has inspired me. Perhaps the sheer effortless brilliance of Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, and the food writing of Calvin Trillin. Orwell when I was younger.

What is your definition of success as a writer?

If you enjoy doing it and you can't really imagine not doing it.

Are you currently writing a new book? If yes, would you care to share a bit with us?

The follow-up to Hope Road (working title Father and Son) is about how the past can drag you down in unexpected ways. It's another murder mystery, and it explores not just on the weight of guilt that a crime leaves behind, but also the limits of evil and the nature of revenge. 

Thanks for inviting me here, Jersey Girl! 

Thank you John for stopping by and sharing a little bit about yourself and your writing career with us. I look forward to reading and reviewing many more of your books in the future!

About The Author:

John Barlow's prize-winning fiction and non-fiction has been published by HarperCollins/William Morrow, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 4th Estate and various others in the UK, US, Australia, Russia, Italy, Germany, Spain and Poland.

His current project is the LS9 crime series. Set in the north of England, it follows the life of John Ray, the half-Spanish son of crime boss Antonio 'Tony' Ray. The series will eventually comprise nine novels.

John was born in West Yorkshire, England, in 1967. He worked as a musician before studying English Literature at Cambridge University and language acquisition at Hull University. After teaching English for several years, he moved to Spain to write full-time, and has been there ever since. He is married to Susana, with whom he has two sons. They currently live in the Galician city of A Coruna.

Apart from writing fiction, he also works as a ghost writer and journalist. He has written for the Washington Post,, Penthouse, Departures Magazine and The Big Issue, and he is currently a feature writer for the award-winning food magazine Spain Gourmetour.

John's first published work, a novella, won the Paris Review's prestigious Discovery (Plimpton) Prize in 2002. He went on to publish a collection of novellas, Eating Mammals, the novel Intoxicated, set in the late nineteenth century, and Everything But The Squeal, a food-travelogue about Spain. He then published the off-beat noir novel What Ever Happened To Jerry Picco? under the pseudonym Joe Flores, before embarking on the LS9 series, which is scheduled to take him a decade to complete.

John has also worked with the conceptual artists goldin+enneby on their ACEPHALE project, which has so far taken him to Nassau, Bergamo, Oslo and London, and into the company of Bahamian off-shore bankers, defamation lawyers, prize-winning artists, and Martina Navratilova. His writing for the project has been published variously in English, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Portuguese, and has featured at numerous art shows/galleries in the UK, the US, Canada, Brazil, Spain, Sweden, Norway and Italy. The novel Headless, based on the project, is scheduled for release in 2012.



Book Description: Hope Road

Hope Road: a psychological mystery - you can't change your past. But what about your future?

John Ray, some of crime boss Antonio 'Tony' Ray, is the straight one of the family. With a successful business and a lifestyle to match, he wants nothing to do with his father's criminal world. But what does that world want with him?

A young prostitute is found dead in John's car, and Freddy Metcalfe, his best friend and employee, is framed for her death. Freddy denies everything but it's an open and shut case: he's going down for murder. John sets out to find the real killer.

But things get complicated. A stash of counterfeit money was also found in John's car, and the police seem more interested in that than in the dead girl. Then Lanny Bride turns up; one of the north's most ruthless criminals (and an old friend of the Ray family), Lanny is desperate to know who killed the girl. But why? Meanwhile, Freddy is too scared to talk to anyone, even his lawyer.

John's police detective girlfriend, Denise Danson, has been warned off the case by her boss. But she doesn't believe Freddy is guilty, and secretly helps John look for the murderer. The problem, though, is that uncovering the shocking truth about the girl's death will force John to confront his own criminal past and risk destroying his future, as well as losing the only woman he's ever loved.

A novel set in Leeds, this is the first crime-mystery in the LS9 series.

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