Jake Barton is an enigma. He’s a best selling author with a past he can’t talk about. Or won’t. He can’t elaborate. So for this week’s interview, I sent Jake a list of questions and made him promise he’d answer at least half of them truthfully. Which answers are true and which ones bold-face lies? I’ll let you decide…
In Jake’s own words: I’m grateful for this opportunity to appear under the byline of a writer, blogger, sensual woman (<- Kim’s note – his words, not mine!) whom I both admire and have reason to be grateful to. Mindful of my strange and distinctly murky past, Kim suggested I take an approach whereby not all answers are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The very idea! In retrospect, there may be the odd word, here and there, which may not stack up in the real world.
Q. You recently released Ramblings of a Deluded Soul, which is a compilation of Jake Barton writing snippets. Can you tell us a little about the book?
A. Ramblings began as a blog, a refuge for scribblings, ideas for future novels, memories and random musings on the craft of writing, specific to myself. It contains the best material I’ve ever written, together with much else. I’ll allow the reader to decide whether there’s any merit here, but it’s the only project, so far, where I’ve been anywhere near satisfied with the result.
It’s a disjointed format, deliberately so, and as such may irritate a reader expecting a conventional novel, but has allowed me scope to branch out in my writing. I’m still, desperately, trying to make it ‘free’ in the Kindle version, but to no avail as yet. As the least mercenary man on Earth, I’m not interested in making money from such a self-indulgent piece of work, but Amazon don’t agree with me. Perhaps I’ve made them too much money in the past with my other books!
Q. How did you come up with the idea of combining all of this into one piece?
That pre-supposes an element of prior thought – in my case, a characteristic in very short supply.
Q. Are you really a deluded soul, or do you just play the part well?
I play many parts, well on occasions. I’m not remotely deluded about the important aspects of life, but am easily baffled by others. Technology defeats me, absolutely, for example. I’ve had to think ‘on my feet’ for most of my adult life, as a means of self-preservation and a distinctly frivolous, even feckless, nature masks my true self.
Q. All of your work is very dark… How did you get started writing crime thrillers?
A. When I first thought about writing a novel, both legs in plaster and unable to do anything physical, I thought long and hard about what was involved. I underestimated the work involved, massively, but considered what was ‘selling.’ At that time, as now, crime fiction was selling well, so that was it, decided. I didn’t have any clear link with the genre as regards my reading choices, but had met and mixed with any number of violent criminals in my time and thought this experience would help. I know the methods of very bad men, their habits, thought processes – it’s a start.
I deliberately made my first books very dark. Why hold back? I like writing about villains, the nastier the better. My first ‘nasty,’ Marcus, has no basis in reality, yet I’ve met several men during my working life who made Marcus look like a choirboy.
Q. You’re a fellow indie author. Can you tell us more about your decision to self-publish? What has been your experience so far?
A. I’d been down the submitting to agents and publishers route and had several offers of interest but nothing resembling an actual contract. I looked at e-books as I feel certain they’re a trend which will continue apace and thought I’d make the attempt, see what happened. Two authors I’d known about from Authonomy, Lexi and Mel Comley, had already taken the plunge and done well, selling books, finding a readership. Mel, in particular, persuaded me to publish my first book to Kindle.
I published on Christmas Eve, 2010, and sat back, expectantly. In retrospect, having become reasonably widely known on Authonomy, having a successful book there, it may not have been the best idea to change the title of the book and my own name, thus losing a vast potential customer base, at the same time. My book sat there, sold a couple of copies a week for about six weeks. I did nothing to help it, no marketing, no publicity, at all. That’s an area I just can’t go into. I’m happy to proclaim the work of friends, but can’t do it for myself. That very British fear of being thought big-headed or pushy, I suppose.
One day, in February, Burn, Baby, Burn sold 151 copies. Gulp! That proved to be just the beginning as in another few weeks it was in the Amazon Top Ten chart, outselling the likes of Lee Child. Gobsmacked is such an appropriate word.
Q. Do your friends and family read your work? What do they think, and are they supportive?
A. Scarcely any of my friends and none of my family even know I write at all. I have a few close friends, those who knew me before I took on other identities, who are supportive and my wife reads everything, not always with absolute pleasure as she finds my violent episodes – fictional episodes – distasteful on occasions.
Q. What kind of reaction have you gotten from your readers?
A. I wrote my third book, Heat, for a different readership. A more refined novel, far less violent, yet still a murder mystery in nature. By far, my worst decision. Most people wanted me to return to what I did best, murder and mayhem. I’d dispute the term as I don’t see what I write as being, in itself, in any way a celebration of violence, but it does reflect a violent world to which a reader may escape, for a time. Even the worst excesses of my characters are tame in comparison to things I’ve witnessed, and taken part in, over the years, but few readers would accept these revelations as being believable.
Q. You and I met on Authonomy, a writers’ community started by HarperCollins. Tell us more about your experience there, and was it beneficial to you as a writer?
A. Authonomy was the very best resource for a writer. I loved the opportunity to read thousands of books, free of charge, and have fellow writers read my own work and criticize it. It’s far from perfect, but the good parts massively outweigh the bad. Best of all, I met fellow writers there whom I’m still in touch with and treasure their help and friendship. Writing is a solitary practice and having a support system in place is essential for the dark hours of self-doubt that are a writer’s lot. In particular, Poppet, Jane Alexander and Kim Jewell kept me sane, improved me as a writer, if not as a person, but there are many others whose help has been invaluable. You know who you are – I certainly do! Then there are the writers, mostly unpublished, who have lifted my spirits and aroused my admiration. Dan, Cody, Glenn, Diana, oh there are so many.
Q. Who are your favorite authors, favorite books?
A. In my ‘own’ genre, I like Lee Child, Gerald Seymour, writers of that ilk, but my reading tastes are very wide. Favourite book, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, magnificent. Others that come to mind, immediately to hand within view as I write, are American Physcho (predictably) by Brett Easton Ellis, The Talented Mister Ripley, Plum Island, The Godfather, Catch 22, The Secret of Santa Vittoria, Child 44, The Road, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Gormenghast.
Some oddities, the Bindle books, very rare, but available for the persistent among you and the following that have occurred to me as I write. What the hell, here’s a list of some favourites: Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Anything at all by John Le Carre, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Candide by Voltaire, Just William by Richmal Crompton, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, The Castle by Franz Kafka, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, Notes from the Underground and The Idiot, particular favourites by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Bouvard et Pécuchet by Gustave Flaubert, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, in translation, sadly. Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Plague by Albert Camus, White Noise by Don DeLillo, The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Debacle by Emile Zola, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, The Beach by Alex Garland, Anything and everything by Cormac McCarthy, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, Count Belisarius by Robert Graves, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez… Enough? Ten minutes thought, so many more I’ve missed.
Q. Do you prefer real books or an e-reader?
As an ‘e-book phenomenon’’ as I was described by some strange person from the Guardian who interviewed me a month or so ago, the answer’s easy. Books, of course, real books, ‘proper’ books. That said, I’m happy enough reading on my Kindle and it’s such a boon when travelling.
Q. Okay, now give me the deets on the real Jake Barton… Is that your real name?
A. Ah, thought this might come up. No, it isn’t my real name, but it’s MY name, for now. A year ago, I was Jared Conway, had been Jared for almost twenty years and only a very few people knew my by my real name. A security issue, since resolved, brought about a new name, for online usage at least and I picked Jake. Such a manly, no-nonsense name.
Q. You’re quite mysterious about your past… What can you tell us?
A. Kim, I could tell you anything you want to hear. I have to be cautious about my past. For twenty years I worked, mostly undercover, for the ‘good guys.’ Nothing to do with police, a Government agency with wide-ranging interests. I was head-hunted while at a loose end after reluctantly concluding there wasn’t a living to be made as a surfer. I’ve made a few attempts to reveal a small part of what my work involved in Ramblings of a Deluded Soul, but this was dangerous work and revealing any more would endanger others. The work goes on.
I’m a Scouser, fanatical Liverpool fan, have lived abroad for twenty years, mostly renovating old houses to provide enough money to live on, even though my building skills were at zero when I started. Travel is my passion, I have been deliriously happily married to the same fantastic woman all this time and there is so much more I want to do with my life, even in my dotage!
Q. Where do you live?
A. On a beach, in a cave, in the back of a van, in a penthouse, in a ruined house with no roof but magnificent views, in a desert, in a squat with heroin addicts, in a prison cell – all of the above, at different times. Wherever I lay my hat wouldn’t be far off the mark. I’ve owned 22 different properties, lived hand to mouth, all dependent on circumstances. NB, in all cases the prison cell tenure was work-related, yet fully justified.
Q. Do you have a day job?
A. I refuse to answer such a demeaning question. Do I look like a wage-slave, beholden to others, an alleged superior overseeing my daily routine?
Q. Tell me something random that no one knows about you.
A. Hmm. I have an IQ of 184. This does not mean I am clever, just a fact. Others, took this to mean intelligence, more fools they.
I played sport, at county level, – the Brits will know what I mean, others think State level – in five different sports.
My knees are disaster areas – oh, hang on, everyone knows that.
I was once, while living in London many years ago, a poster boy for a gay magazine. I was photographed, without my knowledge, and appeared on the cover of a magazine for gay men. As a heterosexual male, not my proudest hour, yet I still have the magazine. Hmm!
Q. Favorite horror movie?
A. Don’t be ridiculous. What do you think I am, an adolescent? (Kim’s note – why yes… Yes, I do, in fact!)
Q. Are you a social butterfly or wall flower?
A. Interesting. I can, and indeed do, talk to anyone and everyone, but am far from a party animal. I’m certainly not shy, but prefer small groups to crowds and one person’s company to anything else.
Q. Most reckless thing you’ve ever done?
A. Where to start? I’ve been knocked about many times, broke my nose seven times, broken at least twenty different bones, been in traction twice and that’s just sport!
As for work, well I’ve had guns pointed at me, including having the trigger pulled twice only for the gun fail to fire, (well, obviously), received numerous kickings, had fights on a regular basis, but none of the above were what I’d call ‘reckless’.
A few years ago I crossed several hundred miles of the Sahara without any support system or anyone knowing where I was. That was ‘reckless.’ I also swam across Loch Ness, alone, which wasn’t terribly bright with hindsight.
Q. Where and when do you write? Pen and paper or keyboard?
A. Quill pen and papyrus. All of them. I scribble on paper, often in the small hours, reject all I’ve written by daylight, but mostly I tap away on a keyboard. Laptop or Ipad.
Q. Do you create your own cover art?
A. I’m an artist of great acclaim. I passed ‘O’ level art. One of these statements is true. My new book, Ramblings of a Deluded Soul, is about to come out in paperback. The cover art is all my own work. The kindest description, so far, has been ‘dowdy.’ I’m okay with that.
As for my e-books, I had offers of help for covers from Bradley Wind, Kim Jewell and Shubie Richmond, all gratefully accepted. They’re far more talented than I’ll ever be.
Q. At what age did you start writing? Did you always want to be a writer?
A. I wrote my first sonnet at the age of three weeks. It wasn’t very good and I never even bothered writing it down. Since my teens I’ve written regularly, but never for public scrutiny. Poems, heaps of them, a couple of stage plays that were performed professionally, long ago, but only took on a novel when so incapacitated as to be fit for nothing else. I never wanted to be a writer, still don’t. My Kindle success brought me offers from publishers, all of whom wanted control over output and content.
I don’t need money, a simple soul in many ways, and certainly don’t need to be told what to do and when to do it. My own boss, well a partnership, for far too long to change now, I’m happy to do everything myself. That may or may not involve writing which remains one of my least viable abilities, just below playing a recognizable tune on a comb and tissue paper, at which I’m a virtuoso.
Q. Do you have any advice for indie writers?
A. No. See, I can be awkward. Okay, in brief as it’s not my place to advise anyone about any aspect of their life, but I’ll say what works for me.
Be happy with your book. I don’t mean satisfied, that will never happen, but make sure it’s the book you intended it to be, not a fudge, an amalgam of other people’s opinions.
Focus massively on the first impressions of a browsing potential reader. A good cover helps, of course, even if it’s dowdy, but the pitches, the blurb, what the book’s about is key. Get that right, force a browser with millions of books to choose from to look at YOUR book. Make the pitch enticing, giving away a little but not all. Don’t tell a reader it’s a great book – let them come to that conclusion themselves.
At some point, tell yourself the book is ready. Edit with care, obviously, but if you wait until all is perfect… It will never be perfect, not ever. Make it as good as you can, then take the plunge. What are you risking? Money? No. Ridicule? Oh, come on, take a look at what books are selling in bucket-loads. Are they all great works of literature? Not even remotely. Just, go for it.
Finally. Be true to yourself. You’re an Indie writer, not beholden to any outside agency. Poppet told me once, ‘to thine own self be true.’ Best advice, ever. We may not have much control over our book’s success or failure in the marketplace, but give it your best shot. Succeed or fail, on your own terms. That way, you won’t regret it later. You tried and if you don’t ever try, how will you ever know what might have been?
Q. What can we expect next from Jake Barton?
A. Oblivion. Being optimistic.
Jake Barton may yet endure. Write more books, engage with the Facebook friends who delight him so, become a better person and devote his life to good works. Alternatively, he may wander off into the sunset, travelling without map or compass, without any hint of a discernable plan for an unspecified period, perhaps forever.
Okay, Jake… Thanks for that very enlightening chat! I’m still scratching my head on some of those answers, but I’m guessing you intended that all along, didn’t you? If you would like to purchase any of Jake Barton’s books, you can find him on Amazon UK and Amazon US. For more information on the enigma that is Jake, follow him on Twitter, Facebook or his blog.