Friday, November 16, 2012

John Barlow Guest Post

ISLANDERS, the new YA novel by John Barlow

My first YA novel, ISLANDERS, is out today. It took quite a few years to write, and I almost didn’t publish it. At various times over the last few years I thought it was finished, only to return the manuscript to a drawer and wait. I don’t know why, really. I never even showed it to my agent.

Inevitably, things started to get in the way--work, other books, kids, life--but something always told me to hang onto this novel and give it some time. I never stopped thinking about it, wondering how to improve things, to perfect its dystopian world and make the plot-arc that runs through it compelling. I knew the story itself was good, but I also knew it still needed some work.

Early this year I had a little free time, so I got ISLANDERS out and read it again. It was better than I remembered. So I decided to re-write it, taking bits out and tightening the storyline, making the action a little faster and the characters work off each other more effectively. After that I uploaded it to my Sony Reader and sat down to read it as a novel, in one go. I really liked it. Then, on a whim, I sent it to all the YA-aged people I knew. The response was good, and I began to wonder whether I should in fact publish it.

I did another re-write (yes, I like re-writing) and got more opinions. Even my parents liked it. My dad said he felt embarrassed how much he enjoyed a novel for people 60 years his junior! That was the clincher. If a seventy-five year-old ‘young adult’ liked it, perhaps it was ready. I sent a synopsis to a cover artist I know and asked him to see what he could do. The result is, I think, stunning.

So that’s the story behind ISLANDERS. Zia also suggested that I include some details about how I write. Well, I’ve been pretty much a full-time writer since 2004, writing my own books, as well as working as a ghostwriter, journalist and translator on the side. ‘Full-time’, then, really means ‘literary dogsbody’. This week, for example, I have been:

Working sporadically on my latest crime novel;
Researching an article on cheese makers (I write for a food magazine);
Writing an article about an art project I’ve been involved with (I’m the ghostwriter on the project);
Translating an academic study on aspects of the history of English.

Somewhere in there I should have been planning the next ISLANDERS book, but there just hasn’t been any time. When it comes to a daily routine, I’m lucky that I don’t have a day job, and that I can prioritize my work according to what really needs doing. That means clocking on at 9.15am (after taking the kids to school) and working through until about 2pm. After lunch I might have boy-sitting duties, but otherwise I’ll work through until about 7pm. If I can manage anything after supper, it’ll be revision, often using my Sony Reader. Every day is the same, unless I’m off travelling; next week, for example, I’ll be visiting cheese makers at some point.
Anyway, that’s how ISLANDERS was written. No rush, no push. Every day more or less the same.

The novel is an adventure. Ben Brewer has lived all his life on an island, with his mother and a community of people who escaped the ravages of war in search of somewhere safe. Ben’s father was a war hero, but he was killed before Ben was born, fighting for freedom (a cause which was lost).

When a young messenger arrives on the island saying that Ben’s father is not dead, Ben decides to go and find him, taking four friends with him. Perhaps his dad is in danger. But Ben is 13 and his dad has been gone all those years. Why did he never come back home to see his own son?

They journey to the Mainland, a post-war landscape where germ warfare has destroyed much of the natural order, leaving a weird world of genetic mutants. There are still some humans around, but they’re not doing very well, enslaved in an industrial dystopia that condemns them to a life of mindless drudgery. It’s a world gone mad, with one man controlling everything. This tyrant, Jack Sullivan, was the bitterest enemy of Ben’s father, and he holds they key to what really happened during the war. He also desperately wants to discover where the Island is. Ben has to try and find his dad without leading Sullivan back home.

If you like your animals mutant, and your heroes young, smart and brave, ISLANDERS might just be for you. After all, my dad liked it.

John Barlow

ISLANDERS is available at all major ebook retailers, and is on special introductory offer (99cts) through November 2012 at Amazon (US, UK) and Kobo.

Where to buy:
Amazon UK

John can be found at:

Goodreads author page:
Twitter: @John_Barlow_LS9