Author interview with David Barnett

Author interview with David Barnett 

Author bio:
David Barnett is an award-winning journalist, currently multimedia content manager of the Telegraph & Argus, cultural reviewer for The Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, and he has done features for The Independent and Wired.  He is the author of Angelglass (described by The Guardian as “stunning”), Hinterland, and popCULT!

Hi David, welcome over at The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.

BP: First off, could you give us a short introduction as to who David Barnett is? What are your hobbies, likes and dislikes?
DB: David Barnett is a mild-mannered journalist who spends his nights fighting crime wherever he finds it. Hang on, that’s not right. I am a journalist by day, but I generally spend my nights writing fiction – latterly this has mainly been the Gideon Smith series of steampunk/alternate-history SF/Fantasy adventures. I’m married with two children, live in West Yorkshire in the UK, but am originally from Lancashire. I once ran the bulls at Pamplona, which I say only for want of trying to sound interesting.

BP: You have been writing for a few years now, do you still know when and where you decided that you wanted to become an author?
DB: I used to write fiction all the time when I was a kid, but it never really occurred to me that a person like me could be a “proper writer” – I thought that was a job you were born to, or had to go and study hard for. It was only relatively late in life – in my late 20s, probably, that I realised all you needed was a pen, a piece of paper, your imagination and a LOT of perseverance.

BP: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl kicked off your brand new series Gideon Smith last year, what gave you the idea behind the series?
DB: I think it was watching my son relentlessly watching the Indiana Jones movies on a loop, as kids often do when they’re young – their capacity for repetition of things they love is amazing. I remembered how much I loved the movies when they came out, and thought I’d love to be able to write something with that derring-do and pulp-ish adventure, but perhaps with some modern-ish sensibilities. So I gave it a go.

BP: From all the different fantasy genres out there you chose to write a steampunk story – what draws you the most to steampunk?
DB: I didn’t really sit down to write a novel that could be filed under “steampunk” – it was more that the alternate history aspects grew with the story, and I wanted to have some alternate technology (mainly airships to facilitate speedy changes of scene from one country to another without weeks or months on a steamship!). The Gideon Smith books are a hotchpotch of thriller, mystery, SF and fantasy... but I’m happy enough if people want to use “steampunk” as short-hand. As to what draws me to writing steampunk, I think it’s because the Victorian era is only just out of human memory, so close enough for us to recognise the society and how things work, but far enough away that we can add a fantastical layer and there are still places to discover.

BP: Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon is out later this year by Tor books. If you would have to sell the book with a single sentence how would it go?
DB: Gideon & Co head to America, which is divided up by the British, the Spaniards, the Japanese and a host of independent states... there they find ninjas, dinosaurs, gigantic robots and a steam-powered cyborg who runs the most awful Old West town you’d never want to set foot in. Fun for all the family!

BP: It is always mentioned that writing a sequel is just as hard as writing a first book, what is your vision on this?
DB: It’s the first time I’ve written a sequel. The hard part I found was giving just enough information about what went on in the first book – you don’t want to bore readers who read book one with endless recaps, but I also wanted the book to be accessible to someone picking it up who hadn’t read Mechanical Girl. Hopefully I managed it...

BP: Did you encounter any specific problems when you were writing the Gideon Smith series?
DB: The biggest problem is when you go down the rabbit hole of alternate history you don’t know where to stop. You start off by researching one bit of history you want to change, then you realise that if you change this, then you have to change that, and before you know it you’re finding it difficult to justify why the Eiffel Tower was built or why people speak Afrikaans. Sometimes you have to draw a line under it and hope people don’t get too hung up on the history.

BP: What has been the hardest part in writing the Gideon Smith series so far?
DB: Finding time, really. I work full-time so have to write in the evenings, which generally means late at night because obviously I want some family life as well. The toughest thing is that I think my optimum writing time is mid-morning, as that’s when I get sudden drive to write, but of course I’m at my desk at my day job.

BP:  Besides the hardest of writing, which chapter or scene did you enjoy writing about the most?
DB: With Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon it’s generally the Aloysius Bent scenes. Bent is a foul-mouthed journalist who accompanies Gideon on his adventures. He started off as a bit of comic relief but he’s grown into actually, for my money, the most likeable character of the bunch. He doesn’t half smell, though, and he’s got a real potty mouth.

BP: If you would be possible to retract Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon from publishing to make one final adjustment, would you do so? If yes, which part and why?
DB: What a dreadful question! It’s all perfect! Actually, whenever you go through a manuscript you always find bits you think you could do better, or would like to tinker with, but at some point you have to draw a line under it and say enough’s enough. Certainly when the first book came out there were quite a few scenes I’d like to re-do... I think with hindsight Maria (the mechanical girl of the title) was a bit too much of a damsel in distress... in Brass Dragon she gets to punch and shoot a few people, though. So hopefully that balances that out.

BP: Two books have been featured so far in the Gideon Smith series, have you already planned out how many more books you will add to it?
DB: I’ve already written and delivered book three, which is Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper, and which brings Gideon back to London and has some major revelations and consequences for many characters, especially the airship pilot Rowena Fanshawe. After that... well, I’d certainly like to do another three Gideon Smith books to complete the overall story arc I started in the first book, but that kind of depends on sales and reception (go and buy them! Now! And demand more!)

BP: Do you have any other projects besides Gideon Smith that you would like to pursue in the near future?
DB: Loads. I’ve got a USB drive full of ideas and half-started projects. It kind of depends on whether there’s more Gideon in the immediate future. I’d like to progress a couple of urban fantasy ideas I’ve been working on, stuff set in the modern era rather than the Victorian time.

BP: Everyone enjoys fantasy and science fiction in their own way, what do you like most about it?
DB: I love reading fantastical work because whether it’s set in the future, the past or the present it should, if it’s done well, say something about the world we live in today. I also like the fact that I’m reading books in which the only constraint on the writer is the breadth of their imagination.

BP: If you would have to give your top five favourite books, which would they be?
DB: Of all time? They’d be, off the top of my head, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, The World According to Garp by John Irving, Fourth Mansions by RA Lafferty, pretty much anything by Neil Gaiman – let’s say American Gods, today. Ask me tomorrow, though, and that list will have changed.

BP: And just lastly can you give a short introduction to you Gideon Smith series for those who are not familiar with it and what might be in store for them?
DB: Gideon Smith is set in an alternate-history 1890 in which Britain still controls much of America, and most of the known world, and technology is slightly advanced from what it actually was, with airships, steam-technology etc. It’s fun, pulp-ish adventure with a heart.

BP: Thank you very much for your time David and good luck with your future writing!
DB: Thank you for having me!


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