Thursday 1 March 2012

John Barlow interview: Hope Road

Hope Road by John Barlow
95p | $1.50 | £2.22 | $2.99

John Barlow was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire, but now lives in Spain. He won the Paris Review Discovery/Plimpton Prize for his first published work, and since then has published fiction with HarperCollins and non-fiction with FSG. His books have been translated into six languages. His website is at:

Can you sum up Hope Road in no more than 25 words?

HOPE ROAD is a psychological mystery. It’s about the son of a career criminal who’s been ‘straight’ all his life, but who gets involved in a murder investigation.

What's unique about it?

It’s an amateur sleuth story with a police procedural running in parallel. But I’ve also tried to explore the way that crime affects human relationships, in particular the relationship between the sleuth (the son of a career criminal) and his girlfriend (a young police detective). That’s the ‘psychological’ element, a term I adopted after an early review pointed out the character-driven nature of the book.

What are your expectations for the book?

My aim is to take the crime family at the centre of the novel and write a whole series of novels. It’s set in Leeds, and I’ve had some very gratifying comments about how I’ve evoked that city. My dearest hope is that someone will say, ‘It’s a bit like Kate Atkinson’s STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, but grittier, and it delves a bit deeper into the soul.’

What did you learn while writing it?

On the practical crime side I learned two main things. First, I discovered that my uncle John had been an arms dealer, and was found dead on a flight from Amsterdam with his throat cut. The UK police were after him for the theft of munitions from the British army, and he was suspected of various other arms-related crimes. That, of course, partly explains why I am so interested in the issue of crime and families... Then, I was lucky to get a contact which eventually led me to a real money counterfeiter (HOPE ROAD involves a subplot about fake money). That was really great research.

Do you bear the reader in mind when you're writing? If so, how does that affect the way you write?

I try and write in such a way that the reader never notices that there’s an author there. I want to story to be told as naturally as possible. I do loads of rewrites, each one trying to make the prose simpler and smoother. I try and become a reader every time I return to the text, coming at it from different angles, re-reading in different ways.

Can you provide a youtube link to a song you'd like to be the title track to the movie adaptation of your book?

And So It Goes, by Billy Joel I will choose to be with you
As if the choice were mine to make
For you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break.

And so it goes and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows...

HOPE ROAD is really about why we lie to those who love us most. It’s about the pain but also the normalcy of deception. A love story, I guess. ‘And So It Goes’ perfectly captures the underlying melancholy of the main character.

Who would you like to direct the film adaptation?

Michael Winterbottom

To what extent do you view writing as a business?

It’s my job. I write my own books, and I also work as a ghost-writer (financial thriller at the moment!). In addition, I do some journalism and also work as an academic editor and occasional translator. So, one way and another writing is my only business. Writing my own fiction is special, though; I could stop all the other stuff tomorrow, but not my own writing.

How much do you read?

I read and/or write all day, every day. The only respite is that I do the occasional feature for a food magazine, and these involve travelling to report on some food producer or other. Reading for pleasure? Less that I used to, but a fair bit. More crime than anything at the moment.

What are your ambitions for the next year?

I aim to finish the follow-up novel to HOPE ROAD, which will explore the background to my uncle’s arms dealing activities more deeply. I also have a YA novel. I’m probably going to sign with an ambitious new e-publisher for the YA book, which will be a new and exciting departure for me.

What are your long-term ambitions?

My primary aim is to see how the ebook market develops and to try and position myself somewhere within it. One way or another, I’ll be staring at a screen all day, that’s for sure!

Hope Road by John Barlow
95p | $1.50 | £2.22 | $2.99


  1. Hi Allan. Thanks for posting this. I've only just seen it, because my PC is broken. I've been writing all day with A PEN! How's that for retro.
    best wishes, JohnB

  2. I've tried that, John. Lasted about 15 minutes before my hand seized up. Badly out of practice these days. Thanks for agreeing to an interview and best of luck with Hope Road.

  3. Everything about this sounds excellent.