RJ Barker lives in Leeds with his wife, son and a collection of questionable taxidermy, odd art, scary music and more books than they have room for. He grew up reading whatever he could get his hands on, and has always been ‘that one with the book in his pocket’. Having played in a rock band before deciding he was a rubbish musician, RJ returned to his first love, fiction, to find he is rather better at that. As well as his debut epic fantasy novel, AGE OF ASSASSINS, RJ has written short stories and historical scripts which have been performed across the country. He has the sort of flowing locks any cavalier would be proud of.
Welcome to the Asylum! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
I’m RJ Barker, author of The Wounded Kingdom books, sort of fantasy murder mysteries, and The Bone Ships, first book of the Tide Child trilogy, a story about honour and loyalty and what it means to find a place in the world. And what you will do to keep that place. Aside from that I like strange taxidermy, outsider art and very noisy music.
Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like?
I think I pretty much already do. Our house is deifnitely unqiue in its décor. And it has the great advantage over most fantasy lairs that it has central heating, running water and modern plumbing. I’ve been camping, once, and I know how important those things are.
Uh huh, I hear you… How did you become an author? Was it a childhood dream or something you realised you wanted to do in later years? What is the hardest part of being one?
I wanted to be a musician really. And played in bands for years and years but the problem with that was I was never a very good musician, which does hold you back a bit. When I eventually admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to be good enough, I knew I wanted to do something creative and I went back to the thing that’s been my constant companion through life – books. It had never really occurred to me that a working class kid from Leeds could become an author, it seemed even more unlikely than becoming a rock star, but I’ve never been one to give up on an idea just because it was ridiculous. So I went for it, and here we are. I’m still not sure how, it all seems so very unlikely but I am doing something I love, which makes me very lucky.
Oooh, didn’t know you were a musician! That’s so cool! What inspires your writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil?
The short answer is EVERYTHING. I don’t look to any particular thing and I mostly read out of the genre I write. But I’m a magpie, like all authors. Books, and history mostly I suppose, C.J. Sansom was a huge influence on the Wounded Kingdom books and Patrick O’Brian was a huge influence on The Bone Ships. Sometimes it’s odd, reading what people think I am influenced by.
Hell to the yes, I love C.J. Sansom. Which one of your characters would you like to switch with and live in The Hundred Isles in their place? And which of them would you like to live with in an Asylum?
Blimey, none of them. They’re all awful and lead miserable lives. Even the best cabins on a sailing ship were miserable cold, damp places to be. And The Tired Lands are even worse. I suppose if I was forced into it then I’d choose Girton from the Wounded Kingdom as, even though he is pretty sulky, he would at least keep me safe as he is pretty driven to do the right thing.
I saw the video in which you explained all about ships, so I know you are very knowledgeable. What was the hardest part you had to research a lot? I especially liked that you used a unique language/vocabulary set for the different roles and parts for both the ships and the crew.
Well, I hate work, of any kind. So when I write I gravitate to things I already know a bit about. And I’ve read a lot on big sailing ships. As to making up a unique vocabulary it’s all about making a world that obeys its own logic. Birds feature heavily in the world so wings makes sense, as do spines. And the ranks of the ship are based around a matriarchy and what is important to these people. I wanted something a reader could immerse themselves in and I know with this type of book there is definitely a hump to be got over for the reader, but the introduction to this world and how it works is necessary for the reader to understand what happens later. It’s not going to be for everyone, but that’s alright.
It’s not much of a secret, that my favourite character was the gullaime. What inspired this creature? Did you have a favourite creature or part to write?
Well it was kind of a confluence of things, comnversations with friends, a lifelong love of the Chamberlain from The Dark Crystal and artwork by Tom Parker. I knew I wanted something that was ’alien’ in the book cos that interests me, and the gullaime came about from that. It is definitely not human, in its thinking and behaviour and I think the bond it makes with one of the crew is all the more touching because of that.
How would you persuade those who haven’t read The Bone Ships yet to get to it?
It has the best battle sequence I’ve ever written in it. Usually I sort of worry my way through an edit but this particular sequence I found myself holding my breath. And this book is only the start, everything in it is going to come back, bigger and stranger and faster.
How do you relax after a long writing/research session? Do you have any hobbies (writing not included :P)?
I’m a pretty relaxed person anyway to be honest. But cos I’m ill I only have a very limited amount of concentration, then I spend the rest of my time sort of zoned out. Ps4 is good for zoning out on, or reading, or music.. But my default position is realxed, if I’m honest.
What are you working on now and what can we expect from you in the future?
I’ve just finished edits on the second Tide Child book and I’m writing the third. And in my spare moments I’m writing a crime novel, cos I like a change.
Sounds exciting! Can’t wait to read what happens next. Where can people meet you this year? Any plans for attending cons?
I’ll almost definitely be at FanatsyCon, not sure what else I have planned yet. I’m happy to go most places.
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
Watership Down. I love that book and always seem to find something new in it.
Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
If you’d like to get in contact with RJ Barker, you can find him on social media:
Read my review of The Bone Ships, then go and grab a copy of it or check out RJ Barker‘s The Wounded Kingdom trilogy by clicking on their covers, which will lead you to your local Amazon page.