Interview: Colin F. Barnes

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a full on interview, but when Colin F. Barnes put out a call for Blog Tour spots, couldn’t help but ask if he wanted to make a stop by here, especially when I found out he was a fan of the Grumbleweeds(for those unlucky not to know who they are please read on you will be in for a treat.)

Colin, is doing this blog tour as a way to promote his new book, Artificial Evil:  Book 1 of The Techxorcist, a cyberpunk novel in the tradition of the past masters of the genre.  Colin F. Barnes is a writer of dark and daring fiction. He takes his influence from everyday life, and the weird happenings that go on in the shadowy locales of Essex in the UK. 

Growing up, Colin was always obsessed with story and often wrote short stories based on various dubious 80s and 90s TV shows. Despite taking a detour in school into the arts and graphic design, he always maintained his love of fiction and general geekery. Now, as a slightly weathered adult, Colin draws on his experiences to blend genres and create edgy, but entertaining stories.

He is currently working on a Cyberpunk/Techno thriller serial ‘The Techxorcist.’ which combines elements of Sci-Fi, Thriller, and Horror.

Like many writers, he has an insatiable appetite for reading, with his favourite authors being: Stephen King, William Gibson, Ray Bradbury, James Herbert, Albert Camus,  H.P Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith,  and a vast array of unknown authors who he has had the privilege of beta reading for. 

Hi Colin, how are things with you?

Hey, Jim. Things are going well thanks.
Can you please give the readers a little bit of background information on yourself?
Sure. I’m a thirty something from Essex in the UK. (One of the few to survive the Hunger Games-like up bringing within this county.) I write things, and publish things, and consume a cornucopia of media to feed my imagination, where I live for the vast majority of the time. Before I got into writing I trained as a graphic designer and ran a web development company for a while, then I worked for the man as a Lab Tech, and recently jacked it all in to live my dream: one of poverty and daily struggle—that of the humble writer.

Why do you sound rather apologetic about owning a Ford Escort?

Well, it was a Mk.1 that I bought for £14 English pounds. It had five different coloured panels on it and I couldn’t even break the speed limit as it’s top speed was just 60mph (going downhill with a back wind). I also painted it bright orange. I was young and my brain was swilling in excessive amounts of alcohol (not while I was driving I’ll hasten to add).
And please explain the sheer brilliance of The Grumbleweeds to those not in the know.
Ah yes. I fear they are being lost to history. The Grumbleweeds were exceptional comedians and impressionists. They used to have a Saturday evening slot in the 80s and never failed to make me laugh. There’s plenty of them on YouTube for those who’d like to see them. I used to record their show on an old tape machine and then write stories about them. It was a good introduction to my later love of writing.

How would you describe the genre that you write in?
That’s tricky, as I don’t write in just one genre. The two main areas I focus on are horror and science fiction / technothrillers. I often combine them (Plug alert: like my current novel, Artificial Evil), as I have a love of SF-Horror such as The Thing, Alien, Event Horizon etc… the two just go so well together and the SF elements really opens up opportunities for a lot of horrific fun.  I guess most of it comes back to my love of H.P.Lovecraft’s works and those who carried on his tradition of cosmic horror. Most notably Brian Lumley who’s work I just find brilliant; both his Cthulhu Mythos stuff, and his vampire based Necroscope series.
And what is it about the genre that you dislike?
For horror it’s the seeming inability to evolve very much. There are a lot of familiar tropes that get used over and over (Like the current Zombie fixation). Horror I think can sometimes suffer from reliance on monsters rather than psychology; which I think makes the best kind of horror book. That’s of course not to say that there isn’t evolution or great horror; there’s plenty, but I’m not sure it gets the exposure or appreciation that it deserves at the moment. With regards to science fiction and technothrillers, I think what lets it down is the idea of trying to predict technology. Some of the stories I read tend to be a little too focused on that rather than telling an engaging story via the characters. Tech is a good backdrop, but for me personally, it’s not the ‘be all and end all’ of a good SF story. Although I feature advanced tech in some of my stories, I always try and do it in a way that supports the story rather than actually becomes the story.
Who would you say has been the biggest influence on you and your writing?
This is a tough question as there have been various people throughout my development that have helped me move on to the next stage. Saying all that, and this might sound a bit big headed or conceited, but the biggest influence is myself. I read what other authors are writing, and see other people have great success and I use that to push myself to keep writing, keep improving. I think for any artistic pursuit, it has to come from within first.
Can you remember what first motivated you to start writing, and has your motivation changed over the years?
Well, that came from the Grumblweed thing. I had a love of story from a toddler and wanted to create my own. I was lucky in that I was encouraged to read very early, so by the time I was about 9 or 10 I was reading adult books and absorbing narrative. I always wanted to be able to achieve that sense of wonder that a good book could achieve, and that’s what initially got me into writing. Now the motivation is to tell a great story, but with a truth. As we get older our perception of life changes and we see things very differently, and it’s those observations that I try and translate in my stories. Aside from that heavy stuff, I just want to tell great, entertaining stories. And like any ego-driven meat bag, positive feedback from peers and readers is always a nice motivating factor.
And how would you describe your writing style?
I can’t define it specifically because I like to think that I’m always evolving. Each story, each book brings me closer to ‘my’ style. I let my ‘voice’ do its thing and I try and write how I speak. I aim for economy where possible, and a quick pace. I’m not a fan of slow, heavy prose. I like to use metaphor and imagery in places; this stems from my love of Ray Bradbury. I’ll never get within 10% of his genius, but his poetic descriptions are definitely something I try and use where possible in my work. I also like logic and truth in my stories; even for fantastical elements, I like for it to be grounded in something real.
And what aspects of your writing do you think are the strongest and what do you think are the weakest aspects of your writing?
Going on the feedback I’ve had on my work, I’d say a strength is my action writing, and characters. I also like to think my plotting is good as I put a lot of effort into that aspect. As for a weakness, I suppose it would be emotional depth. I think I can still work on strengthening my ability to stir emotions in the reader. And like I was talking about earlier, I think there’s still room for me to improve the revealing of a deeper truth. Maybe that’ll come with age as I experience more of the world and humanity.
Let’s talk a bit about the mechanics of your writing.  How do you go about the writing process?  Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow?
I’m a plotter. I like fairly detailed outlines. I see the plot effectively as my first draft. I go through scene-by-scene working out what happens and when. Where the transitions happen; at what point the story moves through the various Acts, and the motivations of each character for each scene. I like to write and workout the ending before I start and basically work backwards. Character’s receive initial backstory and I figure out what they want before I start the first actual draft. In theory, it should make things easy, but occasionally once I’ve started writing the book I’ll notice flaws in the outline, or see how things can be improved and I’ll make changes. I do all this in Scrivener, which makes outlining and drafting super easy to organise.
How much research do you do?  And have you ever had any feedback pointing out your mistakes?
I do quite a lot if I’m referencing technical things. I try not to put too much of it in the story. It’s fiction after all, and although I like to weigh things to reality, going too far can leave a story dry. I’ve so far not had any feedback about things that I’ve got wrong, but then I’m not writing historical fiction or hard SF where details are more important. My work tends to be more speculative where you have a little more freedom.
Do you have any rituals that you go through when you write?
Pizza and alcohol feature quite heavily throughout any writing project. Other than I just write when I can and for as long as I can until it’s done.
How do you edit, do you edit as you write, or do you edit after each draft is finished?
I’m refining this approach as I go. I try not to edit at all when I’m drafting, but occasionally the temptation is too high and I do it—and then regret it. Going forwards I’ll be more disciplined with this and keep drafting/editing separate. I also use editors and proofreaders before I release anything. Having a skilled, separate person look at the work is vital. 
How difficult was it to get your first piece of writing published?  And what lessons did you learn from the process?
Pretty tough, like most writers I think. I’d had loads of rejections on previous stories leading up to my first sale, and that was ‘Killing My Boss.’ Co-authored with Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff. He opened submissions for an anthology project and I sent him a short story that he loved; he asked me for more and I provided him with a couple more stories, which he also really liked, and that was that; three stories sold in a week or so.
Has the process become any easier for you?
It’s hard to say because I’ve not submitted a huge amount of stories. I’m traversing the traditional/self-pub/indie divide, so some stories are subbed out, and others I put out directly, but it’s never straightforward. Some days you get a ton of rejections; other days you get a couple of acceptances. It’s the keeping up of putting out work that matters. Matching a home for a story is key. It might not be a bad story, but just the wrong fit for that particular editor/publication. So it’s a timing issue really.

Let’s talk about Killing My Boss, I take this was a cathartic experience for you? 

Hah, quite! I think that project chimes in with what I was saying about writing a truth. I had plenty of material for those stories and it was like bursting a balloon of blood; the stories just exploded out of my head.
Was there a particular boss that prompted this collection?
Yes. Well, three very specific ones; each of the bosses in my three stories are ones that I’ve had the misfortune to work for. Killing them via fiction was a lot of fun.
Which was your favourite Killing?
I’d have to say the one set in Hong Kong. (I don’t want to give it away) I like the deliberate and disciplined approach. Sneaky too.
Can you tell us about Dark Metaphor?
Sure. Dark Metaphor is my stab at writing a Stephen King-esque inspired story of a writer. By some authors, it’s considered too cliché to write about writers, but I disagree. The profession is something we know about and can relate to, so why not? It’s a story of one man’s obsession and what he’s prepared to do to achieve his dreams regardless of the consequences.

You have decided to sell it for less than a £1.  How did you come to this decision?  Setting the price of an Ebook is a subject to a lot of “heated” discussion.

It’s just over £1 at the moment (£1.30) but it’s a short story coming in at around 7,000 words and I don’t feel a short story should cost very much. I don’t really have a problem with people pricing full-length novels under a pound, but I have come around to the thinking that it does devalue it slightly. I used to argue against that, but watching the landscape of publishing evolve, and listening to the views of readers, it does seem that ‘99c’ ebooks aren’t valued as highly as regular priced books. Pricing is a tricky subject as it depends on many factors, but personally I think £1 per 10,000 words for an ebook is a fair price for both author and reader. And I always maintain that they should be cheaper than physical books (which is another argument altogether).  
The City of Hell Chronicles is a book I am extremely intrigued by, could you tell the readers what it is about?
City of Hell Chronicles is a concept, and there are currently two books out under that umbrella (Volume 1, and ‘Trifecta’). Volume 1 kicks off with a series of short stories showing how Earth is taken over by the Old One ‘Maurr’ and his minions as they eat and enslave humanity. The stories are from different points-of-view but show various sides to the devastation.

What was the inspiration for the book?  Are you fan of the “when the bugs attack” films of the 1960’s and 1970’s?

I can’t say I am. I’ve nothing against them, but the insects in City of Hell were a way for me to bring something hideous and supernatural into the world, but retain that level of realism. They are regular bugs (kind of), just scaled up and more intelligent/malevolent. The nice thing about using bugs/insects is the science and research. That can lead to some great story details.
So this is a world that you created, and are allowing other authors to write the follow on segments to create a linked anthology? 
Yes, exactly. At its core, it’s my attempt at creating a ‘Mythos.’ As I mentioned earlier with regards to Lovecraft and Lumley et al, I’m very much drawn to the idea of a shared world. A universe that other writers can visit and expand upon. And that’s what the aim of Volume 1 was. I wanted to get some of my writer friends together and let them play in my creation while adding their own spin on things.
Have you selected who the other authors are going to be?
I have for the next release. It will be a collaborative novel this time, and I’m planning on opening submissions for a ‘Volume 2’ of short stories.
Have you set guidelines as to how the story is to progress?
Kind of. I have a world document that lays out various touchstones and certain elements that must remain to keep the world consistent, but there’s no one specific arc that I’m looking to achieve. I do, however, have an idea of tone. My plan is to have three core volumes as part of the ‘Chronicles’ with supporting novels and novellas. It’s a long-term project, and one that I plan to add to consistently over the years.
When will the next segment be published?
Probably late 2013 for the collaborative novel, and I’m hoping to get the 2nd chronicle’s anthology out during the summer.

Artificial Evil:  Book 1 of The Techxorcist, is your first novel to see the light of being published.  Prior to this you had written four or five other novels that were shelved.  What was it about this novel in particular that made you push on through and get it to a publishable state?

I just felt it was a story that I wanted to get out there. The other novels were my apprenticeship as I learned the craft, and this one was much closer to my truth and closer to what I really wanted to do with story. Also a part of it is a case of ‘crap or get off the pot.’ At some point you just got to finish and polish and put it out there.
This choice seems to be at odd with the current climate of write, publish and hope for the best.  What are your feelings on the flood of uncontrollable self publishers? You wrote eight drafts of this book and went through the whole round of proper editing, beta readings and reviews from reputable review sites?
I’m not overly worried about the flood of self-published books. The good ones will stick around; while the bad ones never get read so they aren’t a problem. Everyone approaches writing in a different manner, and I’m not one to cast judgement. All I can do is hone my work to the best of my abilities and hope that it resonates with the public. It’s no different for traditionally published books. Just because it comes from a big press doesn’t guarantee success. Books sit on bookshelves never getting bought all the time. Midlist authors are dropped after their first book on a regular basis. It’s all a hope, and regardless of the origins of the book; you still need readers.

As for the creation of the book, yes, there were about 8 drafts. There were about three drafts before it went to my editor (Sharon Ring), a couple more run-throughs based on her corrections and suggestions, and I had some trusty beta readers give me some feedback. And finally, there were numerous proofreading and tweaking drafts after that to make it as good as I could.

You went through some very trying times while finishing this book, was the writing process something that helped you get through those times?  Or did your writing process suffer from the turmoil?
Having all the personal problems made it difficult to impossible to finish at times, but it also gave me new perspectives and new hardships to relate to that I could then put into the book. Overall, I think the book is stronger for it. I wouldn’t say the writing itself helped, but having something to focus on instead of brooding or drinking was a good distraction.
Can you remember what the inspiration behind the story was?
Funny thing is I can’t. It wasn’t any one thing. It was a case of many influences finally smashing together to create a vague idea that I then explored further. It started life as a short story with a very open ending, which begged the age-old question: what if?
So what is the book about?

The book is about a number of things such as: what makes us human, the importance of free will, and how far we would go to get it.
The setup of the book is that it’s 2153 and post-cataclysmic. The last 1 million humans on Earth live beneath a domed city controlled by a group called ‘The Family.’ Within the dome, and because of the limited resources, there’s a death lottery that maintains the population. Gerry Cardle, our protagonist, is the head algorithm designer of the lottery, but one morning his numbers come up, despite him being exempt. It turns out that the city-wide network, that every person is connected to, has been hacked by a malicious Artificial Intelligence, and Gerry has just 7 days to save himself, find the source of the AI, and save the city.
I like to describe it as Blade Runner meets Mad Max meets The Exorcist.
Is there a unique selling point to the story?
There are three. The characters: Gerry, Petal, and Gabriel. They’re the cornerstones of this narrative, and though they have their different stories to tell, theyare inexplicably linked in ways even they don’t understand.
And there are lasers.
And sexbots.
Have you decided on how many sequels there will be?
There will be two more after Artificial Evil (Assembly Code: Book 2, and Alpha Omega: Book3).
Thanks for stopping by Colin, do you have any final words for the readers?
It’s been an honour to be interviewed by you, Jim. Thanks for having me on your site to ramble about wordy things. My final words (of this interview at least) are:
Drink beer, listen to metal, give a cat or a dog a home, and read a good book (or you know, one of mine perhaps.)
If you enjoyed reading this interview, and are thinking about reading some of Colin’s work, then please consider purchasing Colin’s books via the link below 

One thought on “Interview: Colin F. Barnes

  1. I love Colin's take on the writing process. Eat pizza, drink and write 'til it's done. Nothing romantic about writing there. It seems to work because Colin has a great list of works and many more successes to come, I'm sure. Great interview with many good insights.

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