Welcome back to CR! For newcomers, let’s start with an introduction: Who is RJ Barker?
Probably a bit of an oddball. I’m English, I live in Yorkshire, in Leeds, in an old house with lots of weird taxidermy, strange art, noisy music, my family and a very pretty but unpleasant cat. I also write books. But you probably knew that if you’re realising this here as it’s all about books. Or maybe you didn’t. If so, books are great, buy loads. You literally can never have enough
The second novel in your Tide Child series, Call of the Boneships, is due out on November 24th via Orbit. How would you introduce the series to a new reader? And what can fans of book one expect from the follow-up?
Right at the beginning I sort of described it as Hornblower vs. Godzilla. Which makes me laugh and is kind of true but like everything I do it’s about people and how they react to the world. It’s all set in a world that will be very unfamiliar to most people, full of strange creatures and a Matriarchal society that isn’t like ours and people that don’t think in quite the same way we do. But they still have relationships, and they still fear and they still fight for what they believe to be right. And there are massive sea dragons. Absolutely huge.
And if you liked book one I hope you’ll love book two. Because it was such a strange world, I made a decision with The Bone Ships to take my time and introduce the reader but with the second novel I don’t need to do that so we can just sink straight into the world and the adventure, and it means I can also tell a more complex story, with more nuance. And more massive dragons. To paraphrase Daft Punk, ‘Stronger, faster, harder, better.’ Or at least I hope it’s better.
What inspired you to write the novel and series?
One of my favourite authors is Patrick O’Brian who wrote the Aubrey/Maturin books that the film Master and Commander was based on. I don’t know enough about sailing ships to write an actual historical novel (and as the O’Brian books exist I’m not sure there would even be a point) but I’ve always loved the sea and I thought I could maybe capture part of that feeling. And I wanted to push myself and my imagination a little more, the Assassin books were almost entirely character based with a world that would be reasonably familiar to most fantasy readers, so I wanted to present readers with a new world. I’m also interested in power, and how that works and what it does to people, and presenting the power system as a matriarchy seemed like a good way of making the reader look again at things we might consider normal, and maybe think about whether they should.
The Tide Child series is your second. What lessons did you learn from your first, the Wounded Kingdom? Any changes in the way you approached this series – in terms of plotting, writing, etc.?
I’m not really a ‘learn from’ sort of person, in that I’m never consciously thinking about what I’m doing I’m just doing it. Obviously, I am learning stuff but it always feels as though it’s by osmosis. If anything, it feels like I go the opposite way. The Assassin books were first person fantasy murder mysteries that were very character-focused, and The Bone Ships is third person, big concept, fantasy. I do feel like I do a thing and then want to go and do something very different to see if I can.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
It seems to be in a good place, I think? If I’m truthful, I don’t really think about that much, ‘cos I’m just here doing what I do and it’s kind of selfish in a lot of ways, as I am only interested in writing stuff for me. But I am aware that genre it seems to be full of lots of new voices and different ideas and fiction coming from all cultures and ways of living and it can only be good really. Much as tradition and classic have their place, Fantasy is the literature of the fantastic and it shouldn’t be about retreading the same ideas; new voices and ideas are not only interesting but needed.
As to where I fit, I don’t really think about it I just write things I think might be fun. I don’t think I quite fit anywhere. It would probably be a bit easier if I was easily quantifiable. I like Dark Fantasy. So let’s go with that. I’m on the dark fantasy table.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m just editing the final Bone Ships book, The Bone Ship’s Wake, and I’ve been messing around with some things for new books. They are loosely Robin Hood-themed. Very loosely.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I recently finished Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, which was a lovely book and now I’m reading James Lee Burke’s Hackberry Holland books as he’s one of my favourite authors and I somehow missed them. Then I’m going to read Cormac Mcarthy’s Border Trilogy.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Watership Down. A book with so many layers it’s new every time I read it.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
I am very much a live in the now type of person. I think that might be why I’ve found lockdown relatively easy cos I’m always just thinking about what is happening now. But, I’d quite like to go somewhere. I miss travelling, not so much being somewhere else, just the act of going somewhere and the world passing by the window. It’s a good way for me to get lost in my imagination and it’s been missing for nearly a year now. And as a whole family it would be nice to go somewhere else, just to be somewhere different.