Wrapping-up the mini-series on RJ Barker and his phenomenal debut ‘Age of Assassins’, I invited RJ to talk about anything he wanted. This being RJ, the guest post could have been about antlers, or taxidermy, or his editor-cat. Now, not to spoil your fun, because those would’ve all been brilliant topics (and RJ if you’re reading this, I now challenge you to write either a guest post at least a 1000 words long, or 300 word flash fiction, combining all 3 of them) we had to steer this towards ‘something to do with writing’.
And again, this being RJ, he welcomed the suggestions with good graces.
Then he went and did his own thing anyway.
But you know what? I love him all the more for it.
Guest posts are probably my favourite thing to host on this site. A) because I get to do bugger all work; b) I can sit back and read something written by my favourite authors; and c) when an author writes a post themselves, there’s no ‘interviewer lens’, no filter – it’s all on them.
So, for the last time (at least for now) I’d like to shine the spotlight on RJ Barker. One of my favourite authors, but also, one of my favourite human beings.
p.s. as ever with RJ (I seem to be doing this a lot, damn you Barker!) don’t forget the footnotes at the bottom…
I didn’t really know what to write about for this. Mike said it might be cool to write about Girton being disabled and how that relates to me being ill; or how it’s a coming-of-age story, but one with its own distinct flavour. I thought they were great ideas and said, ‘Yes! I’ll do that!’ But, because I am a contrary creature, I have ended up doing something entirely different.
(You owe me a guest post/flash fiction on antlers, taxidermy and editor cats! – Mike).
I’m going to write about inspiration instead. Not the ‘Eureka!’ running down the high street naked type, but the slow, drip, drip, drip of everyday life and how that permeates through a book.
There are two scenes in Age of Assassins, both easy to overlook, that are very much me walking into the book. Well, everything an author writes is that, to some degree, our experiences: people we’ve known, things we’ve done, books we’ve read, it all gets thrown into the mix. But I try not to throw myself directly into the mix because, to be quite frank, a book about someone who sits on a couch all day daydreaming about other people might not be that exciting. Though I also walk to school to pick up my little boy every day. Sometimes there are puddles on the journey and it gets a bit hairy, however, as I’m not a thriller writer we can forget about that sort of craziness.
Anyway, these scenes. Can you guess what they are?
They really are the sort of thing you’ll breeze past without thinking but they’re also, I think, terribly important to who I am as a writer.
They’re quite similar. In them Girton does the same thing, he watches people, fascinated by a life he has never been part of. And that – the people watching, is me.
I am fascinated by people, love people. I think it’s part of what makes me want to write, to tell stories about people because I have met so many and each of them has been unique and had something that made me like them.
The vast majority have also been, good, complex, flawed, capable of mistakes –like we all are – but good. Even amongst those few I’ve met who, maybe, aren’t so good, there’s been some glimmer, or some story in their past that at least elicits a sense of sympathy.
Actual evil is rare.
But actual evil isn’t my point.
My point is people are generally good. It might not seem that way sometimes but they are. It’s easy to get lost in the news and dragged into this belief that everything is terrible, but it’s news for a reason, because it is out of the ordinary. The vast majority of us will go through life without ever hurting anyone, or experiencing something terrible; outside of the domestic scale of friendships, family deaths and illness that is far more common – and generally not considered newsworthy.
On those rare occasions when terrible things do happen, like in Manchester and London recently, see what happens then. People come together, people of all types. Who and what we are stops mattering in the face of other people in danger or being hurt or being scared.
Girton has his genesis, in watching people and realising this. He is, at heart, a very ordinary person trained to do something very out of the ordinary, and he does his best to do what he believes is right with the skills he has.
Age of Assassins’ world might be gritty and grim in many ways but it is a book about people and where you find people you find good and you find hope so it is, in the end, a book about hope and the belief in that hope.
You, reading this, are 99% likely to be good people, in fact, a large amount of you will be far better than you think you are. And I hope, if you read the book and enjoy it, to some degree you see yourself reflected in it and recognise that. Because every reader brings themselves to a book and if you read Age of Assassins and you go away feeling good about Girton, that’s from you. You brought that to it. It’s your desire to do the right thing and to see it done.
Go with it.
It’ll generally lead you right.
Well, that turned into a bit of a sermon, didn’t it?
I almost forgot about footnotes for a bit.
RJ Barker lives in Leeds with his wife, son and a collection of questionable taxidermy, odd art, scary music and more books than they have room for. He grew up reading whatever he could get his hands on, and has always been ‘that one with the book in his pocket.’ Having played in a rock band before deciding he was a rubbish musician RJ returned to his first love, fiction, to find he is rather better at that. As well as his debut epic fantasy novel, Age of Assassins, RJ has written short stories and historical scripts which have been performed across the country. He has the sort of flowing locks any cavalier would be proud of.
1 Or MAYBE IT WOULD. It’s my idea, paws off.
2 The books not out yet, RJ, they can’t know. Oh yeah. Didn’t think of that.
3 See 2.
4 It should not be overlooked that they are also spoiler free scenes and since AoA is partly a murder mystery I’ll do my best to keep it mysterious. Like me. I am the sound in the night. I am the something else mysterious that I can’t quite think of at this second. The snuffling of hedgehogs in the breaking dawn. I don’t know. I’m not really very mysterious if I’m honest. Though Hedgehogs! they are mysterious. Have you ever heard a hedgehog hunting? They are SO loud. I couldn’t believe it the first time I heard one. I thought a wild boar was about to come roaring out of the herbaceous border at me.
5 Okay, hope backed up with swords.
6. (RJ! THERE WAS NO FOOTNOTE 6 – even though you put it in after the line about forgetting about footnotes!AFTER THE LINE ABOUT FORGETTING ABOUT FOOTNOES! Are you screwing with me on purpose? – Mike.)