MA: All the way from the UK, please help me welcome today’s guest-blogger, Ian Barker! Ian has always dabbled in writing since leaving school. However, he spent almost 20 years working in IT before he discovered that writing about computers was easier than fixing them. He is now editor of PC Utilities magazine and lives and works in Greater Manchester, UK. Fallen Star is his début novel. Tell us more about your background.
IB: I was a voracious reader as a kid and have always been interested in writing. I repressed this for quite a long time, however, and it expressed itself in the odd comic poem for birthday cards but not much else. It was only once I’d turned 40 that I started to take writing more seriously and that led me to combining career and interest and getting a job on a computer magazine. The idea of writing a novel came around the same time. Maybe it comes of a desire to leave something permanent behind.
MA: Why did you choose to write novels, and not poetry?
IB: I’m not sure you ever choose to write novels. The call of the story simply becomes too strong to resist. I’d done the usual thing of writing a semi-autobiographical first novel and consigning it to the bottom drawer. The initial idea for Fallen Star I thought might make an interesting short story but it quickly turned into something bigger.
MA: Tell us about Fallen Star.
IB: It’s about the shallowness of celebrity culture, the price of fame and how, almost inevitably, we find ourselves living in the shadow of our parents and often repeating their mistakes. It’s an adult/young adult crossover – the protagonist is 21 – and at its heart it’s a love story.
Karl has been a member of a boy band since leaving school and at 21 knows no other life. When another band member dies of a drug overdose he’s forced to readjust to real life. To further complicate things he falls in love with Lizzie, but she’s the daughter of an IRA terrorist and that makes her someone Karl’s ex-soldier father is bound to hate.
All of that might sound a bit grim but there’s a lot of comedy in the book. Although it’s been described as a modern day morality tale it doesn’t hit you over the head with a message, it’s an entertaining, fun read.
MA: Where did the idea for the story come from?
IB: Appropriately enough the idea came from watching a reality TV show. Around 2003 the BBC ran a series called Fame Academy with a group of would-be pop stars trained and forced each week to ‘sing for survival’ to stay on the show. It was around the time that digital TV began to take off and this was one of the first shows to have live ‘round the clock feeds. I started to think about what would happen if you reversed the situation – what if you removed someone’s fame when they were at their peak? The story grew from there.
The terrorism angle came later but I think it adds an extra dimension to the book and makes it more relevant to today’s world.
MA: How hard did you find it to write the two main characters?
IB: I found Karl relatively easy to write. I don’t think men ever grow up much beyond the age of eighteen anyway! It was much more difficult to get inside the head of a 25-year-old woman for Lizzie’s parts. I was constantly hounding female writer friends to read sections and tell me if they rang true.
MA: How does the hero’s develop through the book?
IB: A key part of the book is Karl’s growth as a character. At the start he’s shallow, immature and somewhat vain, the world has always come to him. That made for a tricky first few chapters as in the beginning he’s not especially likeable. As the story progresses he comes to realise that he must take responsibility for his own actions and take control of his own life. He also finds that he has more in common with his father than he ever thought possible.
MA: Does Fallen Star have its own unique bad guy?
IB: Not in the usual melodramatic sense. Patrick, the closest the book gets to a bad guy character, is dishonest rather than outright bad. He’s also a rather peripheral character. His impact is felt in its effect on other characters but he only actually appears in a few scenes.
The real villain here is the way that terrorism affects people’s lives even one generation removed.
MA: Did any of your real-life experiences influence the plot?
IB: In terms of the main plot points no, but as always there are certain incidents and conversations that are rooted in things that have happened to me or to friends. There are also the inevitable snippets of overheard conversations and such.
MA: Beyond this novel what are your future writing plans?
IB: I’m working on a sequel which picks up Fallen Star’s characters a few years on from where this book ends. I don’t see it turning into a long series, however, there probably won’t be a third book on this theme. I’d like to revisit the idea of my bottom drawer novel. I think the premise – a coming of age tale set in the mid 1970s – still works but I know that I could write it much better now. One of Fallen Star’s characters does appear as his younger self in my original version though so it wouldn’t be a complete break.
MA: Would you do it again?
Yes. Writing a novel and getting it published is a long and often frustrating experience but you only appreciate that when you’ve tried it. If I’d known at the start what I know now I might have done a few things differently but it wouldn’t have stopped me.
MA: Ian, thanks for traveling so far to visit with me today (wink). I recommend my readers check out Ian Barker’s website for more information about him and his novel: www.iandavidbarker.co.uk.