Author interview with Richard Farren Barber

author of One of the Dead

Lee Pletzers

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image provided by the publisher

1. Tell us about you and your writing, be it novels, screenplays, or non-fiction. Do you have a book coming out or already released?

I tend to write in the genre of speculative fiction — predominately horror fiction but I’ve also written science fiction and fantasy. I write whatever length I can get away with — from the shortest of short stories through novellas and into novels. Over the years I’ve found it harder to keep my word count down and so my short stories have become longer and harder to come by. I love a ghost story — both writing and reading, but also I find I often write something and I’m not really sure which genre it fits into, if it fits anywhere at all. What particularly attracts me to the horror genre is that it has the scope to deal with some big emotional questions — if there is life after death then what would motivate someone to cross that divide, in either direction? My most recent novella, One of the Dead, which is just about to be published by the amazing people at Crystal Lake Publishing, is one which takes the scenario of individuals rising from the dead and needing to feed on the living — but I wouldn’t want a reader to pick this up and think they’re diving into a zombie story, because the dead in this novella don’t lurch around the streets chewing people’s brains out through their skulls. They’re a much more discreet bunch, so that most of the people around them don’t even know they exist.

2. What is the first book that hit you emotionally?

Can I pick two, for very different reasons? The first is a horror anthology called SpectresSpooks and Shuddery Shades. I would have been about 12 or 13 and it was a library book which probably belonged to one of my older sisters and was left lying around the house. There were a couple of stories in there which really haunted me long after I’d finished reading the book, particularly Don’t Look Behind You by Frederic Brown which scared me half to death and still gives me chills now. I’m not going to say exactly why it was so effective as I think that would ruin the story, but I encourage you to seek it out (if you dare).

The other book is Down to a Sunless Sea, by David Graham. This is an odd choice, because I have never read it, but it still had the power to scare me silly. My eldest sister read it and advised me, in all seriousness, not to read it because it was just too scary. So here’s the thing. Maybe it is scary. Maybe it is the scariest book ever written. But I guarantee that it cannot be as scary as 12 year old Richard imagined it to be. And for that reason I have never read it. For years it was on the bookshelf at home and at some point I realized it was more impactful as a warning then it could ever be as a novel.

3. What is your writing Kryptonite?

First drafts…

I’m a sucker for the rush I get from a first draft. The fun of watching a story unfold under my fingers, seeing the characters come to life. It’s such a buzz that I have a very bad habit of favouring a new first draft over editing a piece I’ve already written. As a result I have a backlog of novels and novellas I can’t even consider submitting anywhere because they’re just too raw. And, not to beat about the bush, rubbish. Truly awful. To give you an idea of how in thrall I am to the first draft: I am about 10K from finishing the first draft of a novella, while I have two other finished novellas which need editing, and 5–6 novels which are in various stages of editing. So how have I used my writing time this week? I started a new short story!

4. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

Yes, quite often. There have been times when something has been on my mind and I’ve really struggled to concentrate. Occasionally I’ve worried that I’ve ruined a book which I would probably have really enjoyed reading, just because I read it when I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I could go back and re-read it another time, I know, and I am someone who will re-read a book, but there is something special about the first time you read a story. But, I have… well, if not a cure, then at least medication. My go-to when I’m struggling to read is Stephen King’s It. I’ll pick it up and just read a few pages, and a few more. I don’t need to read the whole thing (although I have re-read that one a few times as it is my favourite of his novels) — just a few pages helps to settle me and take my mind away from whatever is occupying my thoughts.

5. Do you write under your real name or a pseudonym? What do you think are the benefits and disadvantages of using a pseudonym?

I write under a mutated version of my name — purely for practical reasons. When I began submitting my work I started getting editors asking whether I was the Richard Barber, you know, the one who wrote all those books about King Arthur? Well I checked and quickly found out that it wasn’t me. To avoid confusion, and as it was still very early on in my writing career, I decided it would be worth adapting my name to avoid confusion. I played about with a few options and settled on adding my wife’s surname into the mix so that Richard Barber became Richard Farren Barber.

6. What would it be if you could tell your younger writing self, anything?

I think the question would be “What would you tell your younger writing self if you thought there was any chance they would pay attention!” I’m not great at taking advice. I think I would tell myself not to write six novels before thinking about editing any of them. Maybe one or two, and then start editing them; because you learn a lot from editing your own work. Then again, having just told you that I still have a very bad habit of writing first draft after first draft without looking over my shoulder, I think I’ve just evidenced how bad I am at taking my own advice.

7. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Probably the entry fee to my first FantasyCon; Brighton in either 2011 or 2012. I tend to write horror, not fantasy, so obviously FantasyCon was not my thing, right? Also, I didn’t know anyone in the SpecFic community so the idea of going to an event where everyone was a stranger, was like… well, a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs springs to mind. And it was scary, and stressful, and I did too many circuits of the dealer rooms just to keep moving. But I also found my tribe; people who loved writing and horror fiction (because I learned before I booked that FantasyCon was not just about fantasy fiction!) and people who were happy to talk about it. It was the moment when I realized that if I was a bit weird because I wrote, and weirder still because I wrote horror fiction, then at least I wasn’t the only weirdo in the room!

8. How do you maximize your writing time?

Because I grab writing time whenever I get it, I have found that I’m pretty flexible when it comes to the definition of a writing space. Most of my writing is done at home on the kitchen table, or at the office wherever I can find a quiet space. But I also writing on the train on the way into work, and sometimes I’ll pick away at a story or an outline on my phone as I’m walking around.

9. What are three things you must have in your writing space to stay focused?

My ideal writing set-up is a laptop and a flash drive (I write to the flash drive and then back up after each session as I find that helps me be more flexible with where I’m writing). After that, the next requirement is a mug of tea.

The only other thing I would say is that I find I can’t write with “structured” noise — so writing to music or while the television is on is out for me. But… it also means that if there is anyone having one of those over-loud conversations on the train where they think everyone in the carriage needs to hear about the business meeting they just had, or what they’ve got planned for the weekend, I can’t concentrate. For that reason I’ve got a white noise track on my phone which I can use to drown out the voices.

10. Do you normally think of the plot first or the characters first? Can you describe the process?

For me, the starting point of a story is usually a scene, often something I’ve observed which starts me off thinking, or a clash of a couple of ideas. For One of the Dead it was the idea of a man standing in the middle of Nottingham city centre and knowing the Dead were about to arrive because he could sense smell them and hear them before he could see them. Once I have a scene and the start of a plot, the characters tend to coalesce around that structure. It’s often the case that the plot tends to drive the characters and their behavior: What sort of a person would find themselves in this situation? What sort of responses would someone have if they found themselves in this situation?

That’s not always the case, there have been occasions when I’ve started off with a character or group of characters and then followed through to see where they would end up. But for me it is more often plot-first.

11. How many hours a day do you write?

I try to write about 1 ½ to 2 hours a day. I get up at six each morning and get straight into writing. Some of that time is reasonably protected, but occasionally the day job gets in the way and I find myself having to sacrifice writing time until things at work are under control once again. I basically grab writing time whenever I can get it — whether that’s on the commute to work or at lunch time. I think because I know I’m always trying to squeeze out more writing time I’m willing to grab minutes and put them to good use.

12. What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

I think there is one thing I have given up to become a better writer, and I think it’s true for all writers: time. You have to put the work in. I know this is going to sound trite, but I think it’s true: It’s not about finding the hours to write, it’s about making the hours. It’s about being ruthless and more than a little selfish. Nobody is going to send you away to a desert island to write your novel. You have to fight for it. You have to make sacrifices.

I need to stop now, as I feel like any minute now I’m going to burst into “You want fame? Well fame costs, and right here’s where you start paying… in sweat!” I don’t write for the fame, but I can feel the snug fit of the day-glo legwarmers around my ankle as I type.

13. Do you believe in writer’s block? How do you deal with it?

I don’t merely believe in it, I have lived it. I think there are many different experiences of writer’s block. I suspect I avoid the worst-version in which it feels impossible to write anything, by having a reasonably strong routine. I’ve got so into the habit of writing that when I break that routine I start to feel twitchy. For me, the form of writer’s block I have experienced is either struggling to continue a scene, or feeling what I have written is utter rubbish. I think it can have many different origins but for me it can often be because I’ve written myself into a corner, this is a particular danger as I only have a reasonably loose handle on the plot as I’m writing. So my anti-block technique is to skip ahead of the section I’m writing and then carry on with the story and return to the problem area later. Usually by that point I’ve progressed the story to a point where I can work out how to write myself away from the problem, or at least I know where the plot needs to go to fix it.

Bonus Q 1: Do you think writers should write books according to what readers want, or according to what they are passionate about?

For me, I don’t make minimum wage with my writing, so I’m not in this for the money. Given the amount of time I spend writing it therefore seems to me that if I focus on writing what I think readers want then really I’m treating it as a job. And if I was just after the money I’d be much better off getting a job down at the local pub or café. I’d probably earn a lot more for the hours I put in (Although I’m not sure how well the manager of The Red Lion would feel if I turned up for work at six in the morning in my pajamas and carrying a cup of tea!). So I don’t really see writing as a job, but I also tend to treat it as something more than a hobby. Somewhere in between the two. Given all of this, I feel that if I’m going to get paid a pittance for this gig I might as well enjoy myself along the way. Which is a long way around saying that I write what I’m passionate about, rather than what I think readers want.

More generally, I think there is a danger in writing what you think people want to read, without having any emotional connection to your work. I believe I’ve read some of those books! Personally, I think if the author isn’t passionate about what they’re saying, how can they hope to evoke emotion from their readers?

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.

Thanks very much for the questions.

To find out more follow these links:

My website: https://www.richardfarrenbarber.co.uk/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/stores/author/B008XINMGU

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/richardfarrenbarber

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/richardfarrenbarber

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Lee Pletzers

Award winning New Zealand horror and thriller author. 7 novels (2 with a publisher), 76 shorts in mags. Support me - get free book: https://ko-fi.com/thrillernz