Saturday, October 1, 2011

Author Interview: Ann H. Barlow

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I was born in Dumfries in Scotland to working class parents. My father worked at the Forestry at that time then we moved to Lanarkshire. I was still very young when we moved to Larkhall, a village around 20 miles from Glasgow that was far from idyllic.  My father was unable to get work for a time and went off to Corby. He was unable to find work there either and ended up in Bradford and the family moved there soon after. I found the move to Bradford very unsettling. I was 14 at the time and had to leave my friends but at the same time I was excited by the prospect of living in a city. As it turned out I did not much care for Bradford. I left school at 15 and started my working life in a mill and then worked in a couple of factories but I was bored and although the money was not as good I applied for a job with Empire Stores (a catalogue company) where I worked in administration. I later joined Grattan Warehouse (another catalogue company) where I did quite well but left when I moved to Clayton as it was too far to travel.
I went back to college at the age of 24 just as my son was starting first school. It was one of the best decisions I ever made and gave me a lot of confidence that prior to my education, I sadly lacked. I started working for a generating set manufacturer on leaving college and ended up doing to the books and returned to college to take Management Accountancy and my career went on from there.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I have always had a writing project in some guise. I started doing plays with my sisters when we were very young that we enacted in our back garden in a makeshift tent in front of the neighborhood. I went on to write short stories and poetry but writing was put on the back burner when I got married and had a child and subsequently started my career.  It wasn’t until my thirties that I started again. After the sudden death of my first husband I found that I had a lot of time to kill in the evenings. I started a couple of books then but my career really took off around the same time and I also started a business. So with working full time and running a business it was again put to one side. I picked it up once again after my son finished school and wrote the drafts of 2 books, one a thriller and the other a comedy but fate would have it that my computer got stolen and I was foolish enough not to have a copy. I did not make that mistake again.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I had a difficult time growing up and the first book I started to write was about my own life. I considered starting again but decided that it’s all been said before.
I may at some time feel differently but at the moment I do not have any plans in that direction.

How much research goes into writing your book(s)?

My books are mainly based on locations that I have visited or that I have firsthand knowledge of through my husband who has also traveled extensively, especially in Africa.
Having lived in Dubai for over a decade, I am very familiar with people from the Middle East and Asia and many of my characters were formed from my time there. I also have worked with a lot of people from Africa, in particular from South Africa and Nigeria.

What books have influenced your life most?

That’s a difficult question because I tended to have periods in my life where I would read completely different styles of books, for example I went through a spell where I read a lot of the classics and my favorite romance of all time is Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte). I also love Jane Austen and Somerset Maugham.  I adore P G Wodehouse and Stephen Fry and in a completely different vein Frederick Forsyth and John Grisham all of whom are extremely intelligent writers that reflect different aspects of human nature.  I read a lot of books in my early 30’s such as Armageddon, Exodus (Leon Uris), The Cancer Ward (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) and others in the same vein and these books influenced me greatly. In the end however I had to stop reading them as it was just too heartbreaking and was beginning to affect my mental health. I came to the conclusion that I would never know why and looked at other avenues to explore.  I was also greatly influenced by Dangerous Energy (John Whitbourn) which was one of my favorite books of all time and also Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes) although for some reason the latter breaks my heart just thinking about it.
I could go on.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

I wouldn’t. My reading has been so varied. There are lots of great writers out there and I wouldn’t want to liken myself to any of them. I would perhaps like to be as accomplished but like everything else that takes time.  I really tried to develop my own style but if anyone sees a likeness to another author that I have read then perhaps I wasn’t quite as successful at that as I strived to be.

What book are you reading now?

I have such a hunger for books that I tend to read more than one book at a time. Right now I am reading Dead Men by Derek Haines, The Blaize Chronicles by L K J Lee, and The Assassins Village – Faith Mortimer.  I also have my list of books that I want to read when I have finished reading these
I have already pre ordered Sins of the Angels – Linda Poitevin
Sapphique – Cather Fisher
Twenty Eight and a Half Wishes – Denise Grover
The Philanthropist’s Danse – Paul Wornham
In the Spotlight – Ann Mauren
Proto Star – Braxton A Cosby
My Blood Runs Blue – Stacy Eaton
Towards Yesterday – Paul Jones
And after a review that I read just the day before I must read Littluns by Mark Glamack. I have been speaking with Mark and he seems a very genuine and down to earth man and I love this concept.

What kind genre of book do you typically write?

Again I don’t tend to write any specific genre. As I say my first attempt was a biography then a thriller and a comedy. My current genre is fantasy/urban fiction. This is a series of 4 books under the series The Guardian’s Chronicles.  After this is finished I have a couple of thrillers that I want to write and another fantasy. I already have the plots for these 3 books.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I usually spend my leisure time walking or traveling so mostly on the move. You need to get out and about after sitting for hours staring into a computer screen. I spend more time in the UK now as our family has all settled there, at least for the time being and my mother’s health is not all it could be.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?

Mostly from what is happening around me and from current events. By design my books are very topical.

What new author has grasped your interest?

I don’t really know how new you mean but I really love Khalid Hussaini’s work. I found his books disturbing in places but extremely insightful.

If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?

When I was younger I wanted to be an actress. I did try and achieve this and went so far as to join the Bradford Playhouse for a very short time but after my first husband died in a car crash it wasn’t possible to continue. With a young son to look after and a busy career I just didn’t have the time.
If I could choose a career other than writing then it would be as an actor although I would like to do both. Other than that I would like to do some sort of design, either interior or fashion.

What is your favorite moment/memory since becoming a writer?

I think just the fact that I had managed to complete my first book was an amazing moment especially when I got such resounding reviews from the people who read it. I deliberately only gave it to the people I knew would give me an honest appraisal and whose judgment I relied on. Although even in the early stages I felt I had something to offer with the series it was still a surprise that they liked it as much as they said. Everyone has their doubts no matter what they choose to do. You have to be extremely blinkered if you can walk through life with 100% certainty.

What was your favorite chapter to write and why?
I had a few, but I particularly enjoyed Beyond the Nightmare and Redemption because after getting to know the characters these chapters were almost like being in the inner sanctum of their souls. As both these people had such purity of heart I really enjoyed bringing their desperation to thwart this evil to the fore.  It let me explore what it would be like to decide OK that’s it, I may lose my own life but if I don’t do this the consequences would be too great. In order to write successfully you have to feel it deep within you or at least I did. I cried many tears writing these books and I expect to shed a lot more before the series is through.

Why do you feel you had to tell this story?

There are several reasons why I chose to write this book first.
I have always had very vivid dreams and the dream that I kept having about a young girl who later turned out to be Sahara Driver persisted. It wasn’t even an outline of a story, I kept dreaming about her and the story unfolded over a matter of a few months. I told my husband Guy that I was going to write the story but I didn’t actually start for some time. I drafted an outline while I was living full time in Dubai.
It wasn’t until we moved to Bulgaria that I understood what I wanted to write. When I started I wrote A New Dawn in under 3 months. I knew right from the beginning that there would be at least 3 and maybe 4 books in the series.  The series appealed to me on several levels. Because I have traveled extensively due to the fact that my husband is in the oil industry I have seen many different cultures and the contrasting life styles that I have witnessed has always been a source of concern. In one part of the world i.e. the west in general we have everything we need and in other parts of the world people have to struggle just to get food. You can think you know how this must affect people but it’s not until you are amongst them and in some cases in the same position that you begin to understand what it’s like. For example in Georgia while my husband was working on a project in the Black Sea I spent time there. It was almost impossible to get hold of fresh meat and vegetables or for that matter most foods that we take for granted. In a so called grocery shop there were maybe 30 to 40 items in total on their shelves and most of them were far too expensive for the local people.
I then started to consider other factors such as civil liberty and freedom, the plight of women worldwide and the constraints put on populations by fanatics and decided that as well as being a fantasy fiction, The Guardian’s Chronicles would serve as a medium to examine some of these differences and hopefully give young people the chance to see things from a different point of view and to form their own judgment. Too often we see articles about the third world but few look at the problems these people are faced with and often the younger end of society does not get the chance to evaluate what they see in the popular press against the reality of living this alternative life style. I felt that this was a perfect way to introduce these societies in an interesting way. Things are seldom as they seem.
I hope that even if people don’t like my books that at least they make some impression and call for debate.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

I have started the 3rd volume of the series, although I have not done much due to other commitments.
If you have read the first two volumes you will understand that Barak has the world on its knees both economically and then in the 2nd book he strips the world of its faith leaving the population bewildered. Without giving too much away, there is another event that rocks Sahara to the core and Sahara is now desperate to rid the world of Barak and in the 3rd volume she conspires with Romero and Go’el to achieve that aim. Unknown to Sahara and Romero however there are dangers ahead that only manifest themselves when it’s too late and Barak’s influence still prevails although in an unorthodox way.

How do you market your book(s)?

I market them through my website and the social media. I have considered going the traditional route and to be honest unless I found an agent that really believed in my work I would rather carry on as I am. I have only been marketing the series for just over a month and have had a very good response.
I keep getting told that I should go the traditional route and that I will never be able to do it all but to be frank telling me I can’t do something is like waving a red flag at a bull. I have always believed that anything is possible if you go about it in the right way.  I still have the option. If the right offer came along or if I was pointed in the right direction I would be open to marketing through traditional publishing methods.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Don’t give up. If you genuinely believe you have something worth saying then have the courage to go for it.  If you create work that you don’t believe in then you are wasting your time and everyone else’s also. If you do not believe in your own work how can you expect anyone else to? You don’t have to be a literary genius, not everyone can be a prize winning author but we can be entertaining.
No matter how you choose to market your book, either through conventional channels or self publishing; don’t do it by half measures.

Do you have anything else you would like to say to your readers?
Firstly thank you for your support and thanks to my readers and other Author’s and people in the industry who have given me a lot of kind comments and good advice. You can never have enough of either.
I hope that you enjoy the journey as much as I have and that if nothing else what you read makes you consider what is going on in the world from a different prospective. You may not agree with my evaluation of each event and that’s good too. After all any work of fiction is just one person's take on things and their individual assumptions and is open for debate.
You may not be that interested in the background situations or in Barak and his wanton greed for power and adulation and be more into the love story or should I say stories there are a few of them throughout the series or you may just fall in love with Sahara and her inherent goodness and willingness to try and do the right thing no matter what.  Whatever it is that keeps you turning the pages doesn’t really matter as long as you enjoy it from your own perspective.  This is a multi tiered saga that I hope will keep you guessing till the end on all aspects and that’s the wonder of human nature we all take something different from every book we read. That is one of the reasons why each comment is valuable. How you see the book is unique to you and you may find facets of the characters that I have not uncovered myself.
I love hearing from you and I respond to ever query or email personally and will strive to keep on doing so. It may take a few days depending on my workload but it will get done.

Check Out her Website:

A New Dawn (The Guardian's Chronicles) (German Edition)

A World Without Faith (The Guardians Chronicles)