Author Spotlight: RJ Barker
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is RJ Barker!
RJ Barker is the author of the epic fantasy trilogy The Wounded Kingdom, beginning with Age of Assassins.
He lives in Leeds with his wife, son and a collection of questionable taxidermy, odd art, scary music and more books than they have room for.
Today’s Spotlight takes place aboard a leaky pirate ship on a storm-tossed sea. Our beleaguered author clings to the rail, hoping not to be tossed overboard; the salty seawater won’t do his fabulously flowing locks any favours AT ALL. Also, there are sharks down there. Only by answering our questions will RJ get access to the magical Hiveguffin Scenario Randomiser™, and possible escape.
Will he survive? Keep reading to find out!
RJ! Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
The Bastard Wonderland by Lee Harrison. It’s fantasy with a real flavour of Northern England, it’s inventive and funny and whimsical and I think everyone should read it.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I’m sorry, there must have been some mistake. I don’t think I should be here. You’re looking for someone a little more useful than me. If you could just point me at the exit that would be wonderful, don’t worry, I have a torch, no, you just go fight those lovely monsters and make sure you create a lot of noise to bring any others running. What? This cloak? Oh no, not of invisibility, nothing like that, just a normal cloaky cloak. I have to go now, bye.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I’m not sure why I prefer to type but I do.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand shrimps?
I usually have music or the television on, some sort of background noise. I find silence more distracting than anything else. But it has to be noise I’ve chosen, that’s the important thing. If I’d chosen the dead shrimp atonally wailing their eternal torment than that’s cool, you know. But if they’ve moved in next door and I have to listen to it through the wall it would drive me spare. I’d be polite to start off with, ‘Oh hi, I live next door and I appreciate how unpleasant unlife is for you right now but I am trying to work, maybe if you could just keep it down a little?’ But it would end in letters to my local councillor, I am sure. Oh don’t care how tracked with misery you are, prawns, show some consideration for others. This sort of selfishness is probably why you’re in eternal torment in the first place.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
I make it all up as I go along, no plans, no plots, none of that. Then I read it through again trying to make the words and the plot suitably curved and not square. It’s like there’s a template in my mind and writing is the act of fitting the story into it, it never quite fits, though. Ever. One day, Maybe.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
Oh, video games, undoubtedly. I’ve been playing games since the first home computers became available. I still twitch a little at the thought of Manic Miner.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
The Good Place because it’s hysterically funny. Whoever thought that a sitcom about philosophy could work? Well it does, and amazingly, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
At the moment playing Elite:Dangerous where I am a glorified space postman but it is so very good. I loved the original Elite on the Commodore 64 and it’s the nearest I will ever get to flying an actual spaceship. Which is fortunate as I get blown up a lot.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Oh, this is hard actually as they all serve a purpose and are needed despite what anyone may say, BUT, I would require people to get a licence and permission when they want to use an exclamation mark. I HATE exclamation marks, they are the punctuation mark of last resort.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
Ships! I can’t say much more, totally new world, new characters, different kind of story.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
I wouldn’t, I’m a lone wolf. Padding through the edges of fiction, staring at the lights of civilisation from the dark forest, and I really like to get my own way.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most helpful is ‘Whatever works for you is what works.’ The least helpful I’ll have forgotten, no point storing up useless information, but be very wary of anyone who is sure their way is the only way or the best way.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
History is AWFUL. Really, it’s a terrible place. It may not seem it sometimes but there is no better time for most of us to live than now. I LOVE age of sail history but I also know how utterly miserable I would be there in the cold and damp and no central heating and terrible food, it makes me shudder. I’ll stick to books about history, thank you.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I don’t really think like that, if I have writing that needs to be done then I just feel kind of irritated by myself until I have done it. Quite often I would like to just play video games, but I can’t settle until I’ve done something once I’ve committed to it.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I will return to The Bastard Wonderland by my friend Lee Harrison. Yes, there is a bit of nepotism there but it’s a wonderful book full of imagination and great writing.
Finally, would you be would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
It’s full of heart, Girton will feel like a friend. And it’s also full of action and intrigue.
Come at me, Shark.
Speaking of sharks . . . they’re still circling, RJ. Probably drawn by the blood of the last bloke to be keelhauled. Uh-oh – it looks like you’re next! Thankfully, having now answered our questions, you may activate the magical Hiveguffin Scenario Randomiser™ . . .
. . . The sky is purple. The grass is blue. There’s a giant castle filling your view. Oops, you seem to have left the Hive via the wrong door. But hey – no more sharks, or pirates. And that castle looks pretty vacant. Imagine all the taxidermy you could fill THAT space with! Lucky you!
RJ Barker is the author of AGE OF ASSASSINS and BLOOD OF ASSASSINS, both out NOW from Orbit.