Written by JJ Barnes
I am excited to share with you now my interview with author Ros Barber. She talks about her new book, Devotion, her writing experiences, and shares her wisdom to inspire others.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Novelist, former poet, academic, DIY enthusiast, sports car lover, Shakespeare nut, mother of four humans and the good sort of witch.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was nine. I’d been writing little stories since I was six but at nine I read Watership Down and when I finished it I sat down to write the first three chapters of a very derivative story about foxes. I then carried on with shorts stories (and poems) through my teens, tried to write another novel at university, realised I didn’t know enough about how novels work, or indeed about life, so I stuck with poems for a bit (with time out for being in a dysfunctional relationship and having children).
When did you take a step to start writing?
At the end of my first marriage, my (now ex-) husband mocked me for my ambition to write a novel. So I ignored him for six months and completed my first one with my third child clamped to my breast (or so it felt – there was plenty of typing one-handed). I got an Arts Council grant on the back of that one and an agent on the back of the next, but none of the first three were published so I gave up for a few years.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My first book was actually a collection of poems written over many years. My first novel (The Marlowe Papers) was my fourth attempt at a novel and it took seven years (ouch!) from conception to release – four of those years writing it while I was also looking after my baby daughter (with the help of a much nicer second husband) and completing a PhD.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My third novel is nearly done but not quite, so strictly speaking my ‘latest’ book (Devotion) was published in 2015 🙂 It took four years from first idea to release.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Devotion?
I have a science background and for a few years, I’ve been interested in the point where science and spirituality meet. I didn’t realise when the novel fragments started arising in my mind that my subconscious had an ulterior motive in giving me this story, which was to get me to finally process my grief about the loss of my brother when I was a teenager. So it ended up being something I didn’t expect: an exploration of grief and loss. Publishers’ Weekly called it “A rewarding meditation on the tragedies that motivate or destroy a person’s reasons for living”. I wish I’d realised that’s what it was when I was writing it!
What were your biggest challenges with writing Devotion?
I had to process my grief about my brother’s death and couldn’t get my protagonist through his own bereavement until I had (very belatedly) come all the way through mine.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
It’s hard to say. Finlay Logan emerged slowly out of the ether, mostly when I was taking showers or travelling. I felt nothing but compassion for him in all his flawed humanity but I discovered when the book was put in front of others that he was a bit of ‘Marmite’ character. I think those who dislike him are judging him unfairly due to the fact that we meet him (in close third person) through the veil of his own self-loathing, as at the start of the book he is in the depths of a suicidal depression.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The Antagonist of Devotion is Logan’s emotional state: his grief and self-loathing. What inspired me, I suppose, is knowing that state rather intimately for a few decades.
What is the inciting incident of Devotion?
Logan’s daughter dies in an accident. In tenuous mental health, he is asked to assess the sanity of a woman his daughter’s age who committed a religiously motivated atrocity.
What is the main conflict of Devotion?
The conflict is essentially Logan fighting his demons on a number of fronts, and eventually choosing between anaesthetizing his all emotions (including positive ones) with pharmaceuticals or undertaking an experimental process that removes negative emotions completely. Do we need to feel guilt, for example? I take the reader through both choices to explore the outcomes.
Did you plot your book in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I’m mostly a pantser rather than a planner but structural components required a certain amount of planning.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Devotion need?
My editor at One World gave it what is known in the business as a ‘light edit’ and then it had a copy edit and a final proof edit. i.e. it came back to me three times.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Separate the creation process from the editing process. Write freely and easily, knowing you can make it ‘better’ later. Get the story out. Work out the process that works best for you (I edit every day the section I wrote the day before, rather than doing a rough first draft), but never edit and create at the same time.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I got the idea for my ‘female pirate book’ in 2013 and started writing it in 2015. I’m editing and rewriting the last section and it should be finished this summer (and out late next year if all goes well). It’s a fictional autobiography of the 18th-century soldier and pirate Mary Read, and it now has a title, The Tragical History of Nothing. It has been a lot of work but a huge amount of fun.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely. Both novels have done well in their own way, and I still get some lovely reader comments. It’s great to know you have made something that other people have enjoyed, sometimes in profound ways.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
A little gift for your readers (an unpublished prize-winning short story) is here: https://bit.ly/movingstory-t. It means signing up to my email list but you can grab the story and immediately unsubscribe if you want to, I won’t take offence 🙂