DEMAIN welcomes author A.D. Barker to the family! April 8th sees the publication of his novella Society Place (cover by Adrian Baldwin). During February, Dean sat down with him to chat…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome, welcome. I know we’ve been trying to work together for a while so we were very happy that you considered DEMAIN as a home for Society Place. Let’s start with who you are and how (and why!) you became a writer.
A.D. BARKER: And I’m very happy to be here. I had a pretty poor education and left school not really knowing how to read and write, certainly not to the standard I should have been at at 16 anyway. It took me a long time to catch up after that. Most of my 20s really. Yet, I always had a head full of ideas, and it was incredibly frustrating that I had no real outlet for them. I couldn’t even get them down on the page, not really. But the drive was there and slowly, over a number of years, I taught myself how to read and write. And I wrote a lot. All of it terrible, but over the course of about a decade or more, I began to find my way and develop my own style.
I don’t know where it came from, and I’ve often thought it best not to analyse it too much, but a lot of it is to do with movies. I was obsessed with cinema when I was growing up and it’s been a lifelong love. Movies made me want to create, to do something with my life. They made me, and still make me, want to create. Moreover, writing has been a way for me to focus my life. I don’t feel right when I’m not writing.
DP: You and me both. So your background, did that influence you as a creator do you think?
ADB: I come from a working class family in Derby. My dad is a bricklayer and mum was home with me and my sister. I had a very happy childhood and I am filled with nostalgia for my past. I’ve always been a nostalgic person. I get nostalgic for times I didn’t even live in. The past and our relationship to it seems to be a theme that runs through my books. I’m drawn to writers and filmmakers who also have that yearning sense of nostalgia: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, these artists have that pull of the past and I am very influenced by all three of them.
DP: Yes, I can definitely see the Spielberg influence actually in Society Place. I’m intrigued about your having nostalgic feelings for times you haven’t lived in. I’m a bit like that with Napoleonic France. It’s very odd. Actually saying that now whenever I’m in Paris (in particular) and I come across something ‘historical’ it does affect me. I remember finding the spot where Henri IV was assassinated in 1610 and I was overcome with emotion, very overwhelmed, quite odd but hey ho, it takes all sorts haha. So what was A.D. Barker’s first introduction to our wonderful ghost/horror genre?
ADB: My first introduction to the horror genre came from watching all the Universal monster movies at a very early age. They ran on BBC 2 in the 6pm slot and I devoured them. I was pretty young. Five or six maybe. I loved Lugosi in Dracula, but my favourite was The Wolf Man. I love all those films still, they're beautiful. They also showed a lot of 50s Sci-Fi in that slot, but that may have come later. I remember Invaders From Mars really scaring me. I wish they'd show stuff like that on TV now. They’re difficult to find on streaming services as well.
My mum and dad both like horror movies and encouraged my interest in monsters and ghosts. Dad tried to show me the original King Kong when I was very, very young, but that was too much for me. I made it up until Fay Wray was chained up and Kong was moving through the trees. That was it for me. Too scary. What a film that is.
They got me a copy of A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford, which was a seminal book for a lot of horror fans growing up in the 70s and 80s. I would look through that book for hours. I still have it.
DP: Us talking is making me nostalgic now. You just don’t get those films on tv nowadays do you? BBC2 used to be brilliant on a Friday night (I seem to remember) where they’d run the old horrors, the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes and series like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and (had to check this to get the title right) King Of The Rocket Men. When I was a kid I lived in Saudi for a while and there was a video shop we’d go to and there was no copyright over there so it was all ‘knock offs’ but there were so many US shows we didn’t get in the UK. Halcyon days for sure. The kids today are sure missing out! Anyway, anyway, Society Place…
ADB: Yes. Society Place is a ghost story about a young widower who moves into a very haunted house during the blistering English summer of 1976. I wanted to play around with the traditional set up of a ghost story and subvert it somewhat. I suppose if it has the flavour of any other author it would probably be James Herbert, but for me it’s a little different to my other books in that this is the first one to have a female protagonist, and the first not to feature the world of movies and movie-making as a backdrop. It is also my first horror novel, I suppose. The Electric was supernatural and Dead Leaves is about horror fandom, but neither were horror novels. This one has some creepy stuff in it, I think.
DP: It definitely does! When I read it the first time I really got the James Herbert vibe and it wouldn’t look out place next to him on the shelf. Because of the nostalgic aspect and because the setting seems very close to your heart (not saying it is, that’s just the way it comes across, there’s a real ‘love’ there) I guess you didn’t have to do much research?
ADB: Not too much, but the research I did was a lot of fun. Like what was on Saturday night telly August, 1976, and how hot it got that summer. I was one year old during that heatwave, so of course I can’t remember it, but my mum has told me about it many times. Especially about the ladybird invasion. Had to do a bit of research on that.
But mainly the book came together from a sense of place that I knew very well, as the street and the house are based very much on the house I grew up in until I was eight. Nostalgia again, you see.
DP: I love ladybirds. One time in Cannes I was sitting out on my terrace writing and I suddenly realised that the paper I was writing on, the table, the floor, the bushes were all covered in them. Beautiful! Um, so, did you find Society Place difficult to write?
ADB: Only in terms of finding the time to write. I began the book in 2017, wrote a couple of chapters and then got distracted by other projects and didn’t touch it again for about a year. And this happened again and again. It was just one that I kept coming back to, until I finally sat down and finished it during the first lockdown in the spring of 2020.
DP: The best projects take the longest time I find. There’s a screenplay which was so easy to write the first draft but I knew it wasn’t ready and for the past four/five years I’ve taken it from the shelf, tinkered with it, put it back. Another couple of years and I’m sure it will be ready. I was annoyed at first with the process but now I love returning to it every couple of months and changing a comma here or a full stop there haha. I ‘knew’ you before I knew you because of your novels (and your film work)- what would you say was your biggest creative success so far?
ADB: Hard to say. The Electric and Dead Leaves both did pretty well. Especially in terms of reaction they got from readers, but I’m still working on that big success that will enable me to get up every morning and create and get paid for it. I still have a day job. I think if you’re able to make a living from doing something creative in this day in age, I’d say that is a big success. Whether you’re earning millions or just enough to pay the bills. That’s success to me.
DP: Especially with everything that’s happened this past year or so. It’s been tough for a lot of industries but for us creatives I’d it’s been even tougher and a lot find themselves as part of the ‘excluded’. Hopefully we’ll start to see some movement come the summer and we can put some of this behind us…tell us about the books (or authors) you read and do they influence you?
ADB: Well the aforementioned Ray Bradbury and King are pretty high on the list, but there are many others. I like Paul Auster a lot, Magnus Mills, Bret Easton Ellis. I tend to find an author and read a lot of their work in quick succession and learn everything about them. Been on a Walter Tevis kick lately. Mockingbird is great. And Daphne du Maurier, been working through her work as well. I also love Dickens.
DP: Some AMAZING names. I’m a massive fan of BEE and actually recently ordered all his early books again as I love them. I met him once at a private event in London when he was doing a tour for his Imperial Bedrooms and he’s exactly what you expected – it was a very very funny night. When I personally get interviewed about my own writing I mention Clive Barker a lot as an influence which is 100% true but sometimes I forget how important BEE was too me. I was at university when a friend introduced me to his work and I was blown away. I know this next bit is going to sound pretentious, sorry, but after I graduated I used to spend a lot of time in Eton in this one particular pub and over a series of weekends (not that many actually, I think two months) one summer I wrote a novel which was heavily inspired by BEE. It was very dark, so dark actually that I put it in a box and it’s in my storage unit. I was really happy that I wrote it though and maybe one day I’ll go and retrieve it and see if it’s any good. Lordy, I’m getting nostalgic now! Okay, moving on! What does horror mean to A.D Barker?
ADB: My book Dead Leaves is all about my deep love of the horror genre. That one is set during the video nasty era of the early 80s and is about a group of horror fans and their search for the notorious “nasty” The Evil Dead. There’s a lot of books and films about music and how a passion for a certain band or artist drives a group of individuals to form their own band, but I found there was nothing about how being a horror fan makes you want to create your own horror films or write your own horror novels. The drive and desire that springs from loving something so much is a universal one and applies to anything. Anything you are inspired by that makes you want to create your own art. Horror, both films and books, made me want to create my own art. Romero films made me want to make my own films and Stephen King books made me want to write my own books. That’s how much it means to me.
DP: With that in mind then, what do you think draws readers into the horror genre? What are readers looking for in ghost stories?
ADB: Ghost stories are about atmosphere. They are about tone and style over a driving narrative. Most ghost stories, particularly really good ones, are not heavy on plot. In many ways ghost stories are very internal. Less is often more in a ghost story. I think readers want a real sense of place and time, and a creeping dread running beneath the ordinary and mundane.
Horror has a far wider remit than that. Horror is a genre of extremes and audiences and readers embrace that.
DP: That’s very cool actually. I’m directing a ghost story feature film as soon as the restrictions are lifted and I think the cast will find that useful. Cheers! So it’s been a tough 2020 / early 2021 – so much has changed and nothing will ever be the same again. It’s been a massive shift. Do you think our genre is affected by world events?
ADB: Horror is definitely a genre that reflects its times. Vietnam hung heavy over those 70s films made by the likes of Romero, Craven, and Hooper, and you could say Jordan Peele and Ari Aster are reflecting these times. I’m not sure I have done it myself, although the politics surrounding the video nasty craze and the general state of the country in the early 80s certainly hangs over Dead Leaves. I haven’t written a contemporary novel yet, although there are parts of Society Place set in 2019. I kind of write to escape from modern life to be honest.
DP: There’s nothing with that. I’m working with another writer on a period piece but what’s crazy is that though we were both clear it has nothing to do with the times we find ourselves in, it seems it is even though it’s set 200 years ago. Very weird. Okay, is there a horror book (or film) soon to be released that you’re looking forward to?
ADB: In terms of horror I’m not sure. I’m looking forward to Last Night in Soho and I’m interested to see Army of the Dead. Axelle Carolyn’s The Manor and a couple of others. I’m interested to see what Robert Eggers does next, and David Lowery. As for books I’ll be reading The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix and whatever Stephen Volk has coming out next.
DP: And is there any new name (in books or films) that interests you?
ADB: In terms of the horror genre, I’m into a new horror author named David Irons, who writes very 80s-flavoured horror. His books are like the straight to video horror fun from that decade. But my current interest is an old, classic author, Ira Levin. He’s my next kick. I’m not very current.
DP: Very cool! Mr Levin has certainly written several influential novels hasn’t he? Probably because of the pandemic, when life has been scary enough, it’s been reported that the horror genre is dead, what would you say to that?
ADB: Rubbish. Dark times always spawns great horror and when we look back to the films that have come out in the past five or so years, from Get Out to Hereditary to The Ritual to Lights Out to Host, I think we’ll see how rich it’s been. Horror novels are big business again as well, with writers like Paul Tremblay and Josh Malerman hitting the bestseller lists. And streamers like Shudder are producing fantastic original content. I think there’s a lot more great stuff to come. Audiences and readers want the catharsis, because watching and reading horror is a catharsis act. Always has been and always will be.
DP: I think you’re right. Watch this space, hey?! What is A.D.Barker scared of then.
ADB: Well I have kids now so everything scares me. Once you have kids it’s all over, man. The world is terrible and scary and beautiful and amazing. There’s a scene in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin where a man drowns leaving his baby alone on a beach, and the alien, Scarlett Johansson, just walks away, leaving the kid. Well, before kids that scene probably would have washed over me, but I watched it just after my first daughter was born and it destroyed me. I still think about that scene. It wrecked me.
DP: Creatively is there something you’d like to do but you haven’t quite managed yet?
ADB: I want to write and direct another feature film. A Reckoning was so low budget and so DIY that it was more like a long student film. I’d really like to make something on a more professional level. I’d also like to work as a screenwriter for hire and work for other directors.
On the novel side, I want to write my grand epic. I want to write something big and sweeping and I hope to be in a position to be able to do that someday.
DP: The best of luck, so writing is a long term career for you?
ADB: Whether I make any money or not, whether I have ten readers or a hundred readers or a thousand readers, I’m in it for the long term. I’ll always write. It’s something I have to do.
It definitely is. And we’re richer for it.
Mr Barker, thank you so much for your time. I enjoyed that immensely and I know readers will love Society Place.
If you’d like to connect with A.D. Barker direct:
(Photo of A.D. Barker by Lee Allen)
Dean M. Drinkel