This week I had the honor of sitting down (via email) and chatting with Chris Barnham, author of the latest novel from Filles Vertes Publishing, FIFTY-ONE.
FIFTY-ONE is a spectacular adult time-travel romance that jumps between the future of 2040 and war-torn London during the air raids of World War II.
Q: What did you do (or do you do) aside from being an author?
A: I spent a lot of my adult life working for the UK government, mostly advising on education policies. I always wrote when I could, but never had as much time as I wanted. A few years ago, I got the chance to strike out in a different direction, and I now run a small consultancy business, and have much more time to make up stories!
Q: What made you decide that FIFTY-ONE was going to be your debut novel?
A: To be honest, it’s just chance. I’ve written several novels, including a couple before Fifty-One. This was the one that happened to connect, when Myra Fiacco at Filles Vertes took a shine to it.
Q: Did you ever have writer's block while writing FIFTY-ONE, and if so, what did you do to get over it?
A: Not seriously, thank goodness. When I find I’m getting bogged down, what works for me is to set out on a long walk. Sometimes that unblocks the mental piping for the work in progress, sometimes it gives me an idea for something else. But it always moves my thinking on.
Another thing that worked on this story was to get out and visit some of the places I was setting the action. Obviously, it helped that I was writing a story set in my own neighborhood (albeit 70 years in the past and 30 years in the future!).
Q; Querying an agent or small press is a huge decision. What made you decide on going with a small press as opposed to pushing for a literary agent?
A: I wasted a lot of time working with an agent on a previous book, only to feel badly let down at the end of it all. For this story, Myra was enthusiastic when others weren’t and I confess I wanted to follow that enthusiasm. There was also something exciting about being in on the start of a new enterprise.
Q: What was the hardest part of the editorial process?
A: The first editor who got hold of it told me the book was way too long, nothing happened in most chapters, the characters were annoying, and – by the way – the time travel science on which the plot hinged was fundamentally flawed! I confess, that feedback prompted some self-doubt. But I was lucky enough to be able to carve out three weeks to work on the rewrite without interruption, and I think I ended up with a much better story, so the pain was worth it.
Q: What is the biggest fear you have becoming a published author?
A: That nobody will notice! Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to me, and I’m having to train myself to step out of my comfort zone.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in being a published author?
A: Quite simply, I’m keen to know what readers make of the story. I wouldn’t have said this until recently, but I’ve had an idea for a sequel (Fifty-Two!). It would be nice to write a new book and feel that people already wanted to read it.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring authors?
A: I’ve spent most of my life thinking the great SF writer Robert Heinlein had three rules of writing, and I’ve tried to follow them. I remembered them as:
Q: If a young child (between 7-10 years old) said they wanted to be a writer, what advice would you give them?
A: Read everything you can. Write what you want to read. Writing is hard and writing well is even harder, but if you love it, do it. Just don’t do it expecting money and praise to come easily!
Q: Your book is a time-travel romance. What made you decide to write that genre book? Where did you get your initial idea for FIFTY-ONE?
A: I didn’t set out to write a time travel romance. I always knew Fifty-One was a time travel book. But the romance element crept up on me in the writing, and even quite late on the romance element was not so well-developed as in the final book. In the end, Amy and Jake’s story begged to be told the way they wanted it. As for the initial idea for the book, I’ve written about this on my blog. The flying bomb that falls on the market street in July 1944 really did happen, in a street near my home. And it really did kill fifty-one people. When I read about the incident, it stuck in my mind and I knew I had to write about it.
Q: If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would you want to meet and why?
A: Raymond Chandler. His prose style is often imitated but, while it seems simple, it’s deceptively hard to do well. Although he lived in California, he went to school in south London, so we’d have things to talk about other than Philip Marlowe!
Q: For fun, if you could choose any actors to play your main characters, who would you choose?
A: Well, Ryan Gosling’s in everything else, so he could play Jake. Tom Hardy could play his older sidekick, Lew, since he’ll know the area of London. The character of Ed Robinson was actually named after Edward G Robinson. I had in mind the character he played in ‘Double Indemnity’, right down the to the cigar. I loved Amy Adams in ‘Arrival,’ and she’s got the right name, so she could play Amy.
Q: Now that your debut novel is about to hit the stores, what are you working on?
A: I’ve finished a novel in which a guy is killed and then reincarnated in his murderer’s body. He’s forced to go on the run after being arrested for his own murder, and try to solve the mystery of what turns out to be a series of past lives.
And I’m now working on a new book, a ghost story in which the ghost turns out not to be who my hero thinks it is.
Q: Is there anything you'd wished you'd done differently throughout your journey to publication?
A: I had a long period when work, family and career got in the way of writing as seriously as I should have. So I’m making up for lost time these days.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from FIFTY-ONE?
A: A burning desire to buy it for a friend! And read a sequel. And mention it to any movie producers they know.