Happy 2013 and welcome to the five hundred and ninety-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with horror-turned-crime writer Andrew Barrett. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be foundhere. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Andrew. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Andrew: Hello, Morgen, I’m Andrew Barrett, and based in West Yorkshire, England. I began writing in the 80s, inspired by my favourite authors Stephen King and James Herbert.
Morgen: I was hooked on Stephen King in my teens (and blame him for me wearing glasses – book / torch / under duvet) but I hadn’t twigged that you could make a living at it… although I think most of us are still working on that one. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Andrew: Naturally, I suppose, I began by writing horror. Charlotte’s Lodge was my first proper attempt at constructing and writing a book. I’m pleased to say that it’s still alive though will be undergoing a tune up in the near future, so will be on Amazon early 2013. The evil granny herself (Charlotte) would spin in her grave!
In ’96, I was offered the job as a Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO, or CSI if you prefer), and so it seemed logical to steer away from horror, and into the crime / thriller genre, where there are an almost endless array of story ideas, and where my crime scene examination expertise might work to my advantage. I find that I can inject genuine authority into the crimes I write about, can even include the proper technical issues we deal with. And after being a SOCO for sixteen years, I’m still writing.
Morgen: And hopefully always will be if you love it (and you’ve been very useful in answering a couple of queries I had when writing my NaNoWriMo 2012 novel (thank you). What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Andrew: Nothing on paper, but all books are available as ebooks. I don’t write under a pseudonym because I couldn’t think of one catchy enough! That aside, I’d never live it down at work if my colleagues found out was writing as Dirk Rochester.
Morgen: Maybe if you switch to romance. Sounds like they’re very supportive though, which is great. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Andrew: I have had enough rejections to fill a bathtub. All from long ago when I was desperate to be on the bookshelves before the Kindle came along. The good news is the rejections got better and more personal as I got better and reworked the books. It’s important to learn from them where you can, and if one theme runs through several rejections, you’d be unwise to ignore it.
Morgen: You would. It’s great when someone takes the time to add a comment, and you’d practiced your craft clearly warranting that feedback. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Andrew: I had an agent, and he introduced me to a reader of his. My experience of agents isn’t too good; our relationship lasted a year, I did countless re-writes and heard very little from him. He eventually left the agency and that was the end of that. Except, I kept in touch with the reader, and we are still good friends.
I think agents have been vital to some authors’ success, but others seem to do very well working directly with a publisher, and still others prefer the indie route. Whatever works.
Morgen: Readers are worth their weight in Kindles. So your books available as eBooks, how involved in that process were you? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Andrew: All my books, except the very early ones that are locked away, never to see the light of day, are eBooks. An old friend of mine first suggested going the Kindle route. Luckily for me, he is a computer whizz and so he kindly takes care of that side of things for me, from the cover design to the formatting.
I still have a considerable amount of paper books in my to read pile, and of course I have a Kindle too. I enjoy both, and buy in both formats sometimes on a whim and sometimes for convenience.
Morgen: I do every aspect of my eBooks, and that’s part of the fun. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Andrew: I do all of my own marketing. It started out as a chore where I would blitz many forums simultaneously; but this was incredibly tedious, and it was wrong too. I hate getting advertising emails, so I felt very guilty about doing it myself. Eventually, the time needed to keep abreast of it all wore me down. So I settled on one or two of my favourite forums, made some wonderful friends there, and have almost entirely stopped active marketing.
Morgen: I’ve not really started. I have a forum (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/other-stuff/forum) and hadn’t been there in a while (too long) but that’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions. And I should go on others because marketing is mainly word of mouth. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters?
Andrew: So far, my favourite book is Stealing Elgar. It is an intricate and deep story of a bank robbery where much more than money is at stake for those attempting the robbery and for those trying to prevent it.
As far as characters are concerned, I have two, both from Stealing Elgar. The first is the bad guy, Hades. He is very meticulous in his planning; he’s a cold hard businessman, but when his estranged daughter gets into big trouble, he goes all out to help.
The other is protagonist, Roger Conniston (called Jon Benedict in the early versions). He’s moody with a cruel sense of humour; a man who values his family over his own life.
Morgen: Sounds like a great book (I love crime and have become – having been told by a top agent that I am one! – a crime writer). Please tell us about your latest novel…
Andrew: My latest and very exciting project called The Third Rule. It’s just reached #24 in the Amazon charts. I never write short books, and this one is no exception, weighing in at about 270k words. The Third Rule is about an ‘alternative’ England where the new government promises wide-ranging reform to the criminal justice system. One of their mottos is, ‘If you want to kill serious crime, you have to kill serious criminals.’
This story has so many threads running through it; one of note features a main character called Eddie Collins, a SOCO who has just lived the worst six months of his life, and isn’t coping well with his return to work. He is a thoroughly decent man who can be a twisted cynic and a violent one at times. His circumstances take a hold of him and before long he is neck deep in trouble with the law to such an extent that he’s on a Rule Three – wanted by the government for execution. He and his friend, Mick Lyndon, find things out about the government and the only way to secure his life is to expose them and the flaws in the new justice system. But time is running out.
Morgen: 270K… wow. My record’s 117,540 and that was a first draft of The Serial Dater’s Shopping List (the final version is 101K). Congratulations on #24, that’s some achievement (being less than 5 figures is!). Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Andrew: I wish I could write every day, and maybe one day I will. I work full-time so don’t always have the chance, but I do think about my writing every day, usually plot lines or how to build my characters.
I only suffer from writer’s block when I’m unsure where a particular scene is heading, or I’m stuck on how to get to where I need the story to be. Sometimes I can battle it out by just writing like crazy and the answer to either problem often comes naturally. Other times I have to really think hard, get things straight in my head and trickle words gently onto the page, and then the flow will return.
Morgen: I’m the same. Between 1st May and 30th November I wrote something (5pm fiction then NaNoWriMo) every day but I’ve taken a break to do some editing (part-way through novel 2) but the 5pm fiction returns on 1st February so had better get a move on. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Andrew: A bit of both. I generally have a rough outline of the story, and as I begin writing it, sub-plots will often materialise, or halfway through a scene a new idea will occur to me that may change the way I get to the ending I have in mind. I often don’t know what shape the ending will take until I’ve written it; I think it’s fun, and beneficial to the story, to leave it vague until you’re ready to write it. Often this can produce something more surprising.
Morgen: Me too, and if it surprises you, it should surprise the reader. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Andrew: Names are a peculiar thing. Gladys is an old-fashioned name, whereas Stella is more modern. Ophelia might be considered an ‘upper class’ name whereas Gaz may not. Sticking to this kind of rule has helped me select names or avoid them, but often it is good, refreshing, to shun common sense and give someone a handle that belies their upbringing. It can really influence their personality.
Morgen: Absolutely. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Andrew: I used to edit like mad. A Long Time Dead was a mediocre story until I finished writing the third book, No More Tears. By then I had ‘found my voice’; I had developed a style of writing that I enjoyed (and that others seemed to enjoy too), and I’ve since gone back and made A Long Time Dead much better. I’m pleased to say that the latest book, The Third Rule, required a simple polish to get it to a standard I was happy with.
Of course, when I write in a frenzy (and I often do), then there are a lot of corrections to make, and a little tidying up, but overall the scene will stand as is comes out.
Morgen: A simple polish on a 270K book is some doing. Do you have to do much research?
Andrew: I’m the first to admit that am useless at research. Fortunately I don’t need to do much of it because I write crime fiction and I am a crime scene examiner. I do like to get things correct though, and if a character or a scene needs a particular prop, such as a weapon that holds twenty rounds, I look it up and study it.
Morgen: We have to get things right because there’ll always be someone who knows more about something that we do (and be glad to tell us – but then it’s now we can correct it and with eBooks we can do a simple tweak and re-upload it… the main reason why I went that route, plus it’s much quicker). You mentioned earlier that you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day…
Andrew: Oh my goodness me, yes! Lord and Master was my first attempt at a novel, and it will never see daylight. Similarly, Knavesmire, although reasonably good, is huge but mixes medieval England with the present day, so the format killed it stone dead.
Morgen: That sounds like fun. I think as long as the writing is strong and a writer is proud of what they’ve produced everything has an audience. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Andrew: I get a massive buzz from creating situations that are difficult for my characters to deal with. These are imaginary people who populate my mind and my thoughts, and it’s fun to see them living through a nightmare of my own invention. I can be quite cruel to them sometimes.
The least favourite part is when I reach the end. I feel quite deflated and melancholy because it’s over and I have to look around for new characters and situations when I was very happy playing with those I’d nurtured over the past year or so.
Morgen: I love being cruel to my characters, or rather I say I have dead bodies in most of my stories (I even manage to have a widow in a romance story I wrote (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/story-a-day-may-2012-may-16th-1966-and-all-that)). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Andrew: Don’t stop.
Morgen: Absolutely. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Andrew: I have a 1984 Ford Capri. I can be obsessive about it too. Over the six or seven years I’ve owned it, I have built, polished and painted no less than five different engines and gearboxes. And pretty soon, now that I’m bored of its current motor, I will take it out and build another.
I also like pencil drawing. I tend to draw dark things, usually skulls, or creatures with claws. I’m fascinated by eyes too, and will spend weeks on a project. I drew a very scary creature with long teeth, wearing a hood when I’d finished writing Charlotte’s Lodge. What can I say? I’m just odd.
Morgen: I love drawing cartoons and one of my resolutions is to dig out my art equipment and draw at least one cartoon a week. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Andrew: I frequent Goodreads mostly. It’s a very friendly place where people will offer their advice, and give their reading time. I go there to visit my pals and thoroughly enjoy the banter, though, as usual, I’m not there as often as I would like. I also visit the Kindle Users Forum (KUF), but sadly, time is always against me. One day, I would like to begin contributing regularly.
Morgen: Time and I used to be good friends, but we’re going to get reacquainted this year – I’m determined. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Andrew: I’m lucky enough to have my own website: http://andrew-barrett.co.uk and I’m on Twitter @AndrewbarrettUK, and you’ll find me lurking on Goodreads or KUF. Naturally, you’ll also find my Author Page and all five ebooks on Amazon: Andrew Barrett
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Andrew: Yes. I love writing. I’m not the best in the world, but I love it. And it is a great feeling to see book sales gradually increasing, but nothing gives me a greater sense of achievement than knowing that a complete stranger has enjoyed something I’ve written. A good review, or a kind word or two in an email is a superb reward, and heartily welcomed.
Morgen: Absolutely. Firstly it means we’re being read but also it validates our hard work (although constructive reviews make us develop, so they’re useful too).
Andrew: I would also like very much, Morgen, to thank you for this opportunity to let me rant on about my passion for so long; it is greatly appreciated, thank you.
Morgen: You’re so welcome, Andrew, thank you for joining me as my first interviewee of 2013.
Many thanks to Morgen for allowing me to reproduce the interview here. Please visit Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog