I feel very proud to count a leading player in England’s Indie author scene as one of my friends. And yesterday, the 7th, he popped in for a coffee and a natter. Among the subjects we discussed, were me and the words I proffer; more specifically The Third Rule and The Lift, both of which are currently free on Amazon.
Jonathan very kindly kept a note of this discussion, and gave me the permission to reproduce it here. Many thanks, J, I look forward to the next time.
Andrew Barrett has been away from the indie scene for a while and it’s a delight to welcome him back with his latest book, The Lift, a short story featuring his well-known character Eddie Collins. I was wowed by the author’s Third Rule trilogy and, subsequently, Black By Rose and I am hugely excited about more Eddie Collins. Mr Barrett, who works as a Scenes Of Crime Officer (and so knows the material for his books well) was kind enough to answer some questions here. Enjoy!
Firstly, Andrew or Andy?
Everyone who knows me calls me Andy; it’s informal – just the way I like it. ‘Andrew’ is reserved for paperwork, book covers, and being told off.
So, Andy, Eddie Collins is back! What can you tell us about his (and your!) new short story The Lift?
I wanted to do an interview with Eddie Collins so people could get to know him better, but somehow knew it wouldn’t work because he can be a bit evasive at times. So I decided to put him in a position he couldn’t smart talk his way out of, and then give him some company. Maybe then we’d find out a little more. But to make it more intense and more uncomfortable for Eddie, I decided on less than desirable company. And still, I thought, that wouldn’t really expose him enough, so I decided to write the story in first person.
And there’s another reason I wrote this short story. I was a third of the way through my next Eddie Collins novel, Sword of Damocles, when life took over and got in the way, stopped me writing for the best part of a year. It’s going to be much later this year before it’s finished and in the meantime I didn’t want people to forget all about him (Eddie told me to say that!). And writing an illuminating short story was probably the best thing to do.
I understand. It is a worry, with such a crowded market, that readers will ‘forget’ who you are. So, Sword of Damocles is the next full-length Eddie! Can you tell us more about the book?
Indeed! Sword of Damocles sees Eddie pit his wits against his boss – as usual, but it also sees him under threat of losing not only his job, but potentially undermining public confidence in the police service, and losing the conviction against one of Britain’s most notorious killers. It’s safe to say that Eddie is bricking it but he still comes back fighting harder than ever in typical Eddie fashion.
And without wishing to sound too vague, Sword of Damocles loses one well-liked and established character in favour of what I hope will be another, even stronger supporting character.
I should also point out that some aspects of Sword of Damocles are ripped from a script of the same title that a good friend and I wrote 7 years ago. That script, and its brethren, featured a CSI called Roger Conniston – remember him? It’s not an easy process to graft the parts of the original story into Eddie Collins’s life, but so far it’s going very well, and I’m extremely pleased with it.
Ah, Roger Conniston of your Dead trilogy, yes. The Third Rule books and Black By Rose are full of realistic and gritty scenes. How much does your own line of work influence your writing?
Hmm, interesting question. I’ve had to seek permission from the Professional Standards Unit within my force in order to write crime fiction, and in order to tell people that I’m a real life CSI. I’ve also had to declare that none of my characters come from real-life incidents or suspects. And they don’t. Honest. I certainly use a generic knowledge of crime scenes to aid my writing and try to emulate some of the seedier parts of my professional life on paper, but all the characters and all the story-lines in The Third Rule and Black by Rose are totally fictitious.
If it wasn’t for my job, I’d never be able to inject this amount of realism into the books. I think you could research all you liked to get things fairly close to real, but in order to fully appreciate life in the police, and all the forensic flavours that pour through each story, there’s really no substitute for living it.
That’s interesting. I work in the world of pharmacy and am completely the opposite in that I deliberately don’t write about my workplace. I see my books as a form of escape from work, I suppose. So, how much of you is in Eddie?
I’d like to say he’s a figment of my imagination. And he is – but not totally. I’m fairly quiet in real life, keep myself to myself as much as I can, but there are times when I wish I could say it how it is and not get fired for it. I would be Eddie Collins if I had the courage to be. I wouldn’t be as rude as he often is, but I wouldn’t shy away from idiots quite as much I have to in reality either. I think that’s probably true for a lot of people, and I wonder if that’s why he is liked as much as he is; he’s acting in a way we all wish we could.
Eddie is a fairly complex and fully-realised character and he and his world must take over your writing life somewhat. Do you have any plans to write anything else?
It’s taken me the best part of twenty years to grow Eddie Collins. Before him was Roger Conniston, and before Roger there was Jon Benedict. Both good men, but both a little… well, a little less Eddie, I suppose. I thoroughly enjoy writing about him and the scrapes he gets into, and I hope I write about him for a long time to come. But I’m a writer who enjoys stories, and not all those stories are crime based, not all of them suitable for Eddie. So yes, he does take over my writing life to a very large degree, but I’m not blinkered as to what else is out there. I recently began writing a horror novel that played about with time, but I got side-tracked (by Black by Rose) and haven’t yet revisited it. I hope I will one day.
I’ve just got to polish a short story I wrote in January, the title of which is, Any Old Iron. So I can and I do write other things, but I know where my heart lies.
You are, of course, a human being as well as an author. Do you find it hard to switch off your mind when in the middle of a book?
Extremely. While at work, I often blink myself awake with people staring at me, saying, “Well?” I miss more questions or discussions than enough when I drift off into a scene I’ve been working on. I can sit through a whole film and not know what it was about. I can drive to work and wonder how the hell I got there.
My biggest problem while writing is music. As I’m trying to lower myself into ‘the zone’ I’m constantly distracted by random tunes appearing in my head! Does this happen to anyone else? It might be a tune I heard yesterday or even last week, it might be words on a page that are part of a lyric, and some annoying part of my mind will begin to sing the song and I lose my train of thought and bob to the surface again like a rubber duck!
And what about reading? Do you read a lot? If so, do these books differ from the ones you write?
I read when I can. I admit to not reading enough. When I get spare time at home, my selfish side takes over, and I go write. I should read more and I often beat myself up with a guilty stick about it. And I buy far more books than I can possibly get around to reading.
A couple of years ago I immersed myself in Lee Child’s Reacher series, but after ten books I was pulling my hair out in frustration. The character was too perfect, nothing ever happened that he couldn’t control and so I quit the series. I’m now reading James Carol’s books. They’re crime books, not forensically based, but good solid thrillers. I also enjoy reading non-fiction too. Especially science books, Stephen Hawking, that kind of thing. That stuff really makes you think. Over the last few years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading some wonderful Indie authors’ work. Had I not been around the forums, I wouldn’t have even known about them. But there are some truly wonderful and gifted people writing extremely entertaining books. They know who they are.
I agree. The forums are an excellent place to discover great authors you wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. What do you do to relax?
I used to be very keen on photography, and pencil drawing. I used to walk in the Dales, and I used to read often. I used to play the guitar (badly). I’ve given all that up because I write.
And if I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing.
Sad, isn’t it?
Well, that’s not the end of the story really, because I now have a lovely lady and we have a lovely baby. So there are plenty of things I do that don’t involve writing. We always try to have family days out whenever I’m not at work, and it makes me appreciate life more, somehow.
Ah, wonderful. Your life seems pretty varied and must be fulfilling in many ways. Time’s almost up now so we better conclude. The Third Rule trilogy and The Lift are both currently free for a limited time. Tell us in one sentence why readers should download them.
Because they’re free!
Only joking. Readers should download them because I relish the chance to entertain people with really deep realistic stories played out by people we can all relate to.
Thanks, Andy. I’m off to download The Lift right now. I can heartily recommend The Third Rule to fellow readers; it is truly excellent.