In Conversation With… Andrew David Barker

In Conversation With... Andrew David Barker

Factory worker, Carpet salesman, Car cleaner, retail work and window fitter, even a stint as a rock musician, it seems there’s not a job that writer/director and screen writer Andrew David Barker has not had. With no past experience in the literature world Andrew put pen to paper and began teaching himself how to write a fiction piece of storytelling. Mind you, he always possessed an interest, it just took him quite some time to learn how to nurture it. His first novel, The Electric, met with positive reviews along with his second, Dead Leaves. Andrew has now began turning his hand to directing with his first film, The Reckoning. Keep your eyes on Andrew David Barker as he is an amazing talent that is currently gracing the literature world. 

“The writing and interest in filmmaking was there from an early age, it just took me a long time to figure out how to do it.”

So, Window Fitter, Rail Track Worker, Factory Worker, Carpet Salesman, Car Valeting, Care Worker and Shop Assistant to name but a few. What made you decide to go into Writing, Directing and Screen-Writing?

Yes, it’s been a pretty wayward journey to say the least. It’s still fairly wayward, to be honest. I grew up in a working-class family in Derby and had quite a poor education. I couldn’t really read and write when I left school, yet I always had this head full of ideas, and was obsessed with movies from a very early age. I was the daydreamer at the back of the class. 

I left school in 1991, which unbelievably is coming up for thirty years, and I had no idea what I was going to do. It took the entirety of my twenties and into my thirties to figure things out and in that time, I must have worked in every kind of manual job going. My dad’s a bricklayer, so I did a lot of site work, but kept moving from one thing to another. Every job I took I saw as just a stop gap until I figured my own stuff out. Always daydreaming, you see. 

The writing and interest in filmmaking was there from an early age, it just took me a long time to figure out how to do it. I wanted to go to film school when I left school, but my parents didn’t have the money for that, and kids round our way didn’t do stuff like that. My short novel, Dead Leaves, is very much autobiographical in that sense. It is set in Derby about a working-class kid who wants to make films – inspired by the video nasties he loves so much – but his reality is working on building sites or in factories. That was my life for a long time. 

Also, you had a stint in a rock band as a guitarist, how did that go?

We were legends in our own lunchtime. It was late 90s: British guitar band heaven, and we thought we were the next big thing. We did have some good tunes, and our singer, Chris Topliss, who is now in the band Lost Vegas, was definitely a star. We got signed, made a single, gigged up and down the country and had a great time. But then it all imploded for one reason or another and I found myself back on a building site wondering what the hell had happened. There was quite a bit of that down the years. 

Out of all the jobs you’ve done which ones had their Perks and Downs?

A lot of them just had downs. Being a care worker was rewarding as it was challenging, but I felt I really could help people and that was a good thing to do. The down side on that one is that the money they pay care workers is a joke. It’s disgusting, and the company I worked for were not great to their staff, and I think that’s a common problem. The hours care workers work are ridiculous as well. 

As for the writing and filmmaking side, that is a never-ending journey of perks and downs. 

In regards to your writing ability was it easy to put pen to paper?

It’s never easy. Never has been, never will be. Ideas come all the time, but getting them down, that’s work. I’ve written four novels now and I know when I start my fifth I will wonder how the hell I did it before. 

Was it an easy or challenging thing to learn bearing mind writing in itself can be a skill?

Story is all structure. Whether it’s a novel or a screenplay, particularly a screenplay, the foundations of a story are all in its map, its beats, its arcs. Once you know these elements, you can really begin to hone your skill. It is a craft, and it takes a long time to master it. I’m still learning and always will be.  

Andrew David Barker

As a writer you’ve got several interests such as the supernatural, music and movies. What inspires you?

Movies were the first big impact on my life, from a very early age. I was born in 1975, so I am very much part of the Spielberg/Lucas generation, and being a working-class kid from Derby, their movies opened up my imagination like nothing else. They took me away from my world and transported me. 

Later I found other filmmakers, far from the mainstream, which also gave me a kick. George A. Romero, Sam Raimi, these directors showed that you didn’t need Hollywood. My book Dead Leaves is all about how an artist can inspire you so much that you burn to want to do it yourself. 

Music has always been important also. I couldn’t exist without music. I was playing in bands from when I was 14 years old, up until I was 26. For a long time, I thought that that was what I wanted to do, but the stories, the writing, never went away. 

As for the supernatural, that comes from my mother. She gave me a love and interest in the otherworldly. A lot of my work is touched by the supernatural in some way or another. I don’t believe in the supernatural, at least I think I don’t, but as a storytelling it really fires my imagination. 

For the many writers out there their literature ideas come from both personal and past experiences and everyday life. Have you ever been intrigued in doing something along similar lines?

The two books which have been published, The Electric and Dead Leaves, are what Ray Bradbury would have termed as “autobiographical fantasies”. Both pull from my childhood in major ways, particularly Dead Leaves. That one is set firmly in Derby as well. 

I think it’s important to put as much as yourself into a story as possible. That way, it can only be yours. 

Your first novel, The Electric, tell us about it

The Electric is a supernatural, coming of age tale set in the mid-80s about a group of teenagers who discover an old abandoned cinema that show movies made by ghosts. It was first published in 2013 – yes, before Stranger Things came out and made 80s, supernatural nostalgic a thing again – and was immediately picked up by a US transmedia company for a movie version, which, eight years later, is still ongoing. These things do indeed take time, it seems. 

I’m very proud of the novel and think it would make a great film or TV series. The premise has a lot of legs. Also, it’s a filmmaker’s playground that book because there are so many movies within the story itself, movies in all different styles and genres. A director could have a lot of fun with that. 

And where did your ideas to write about it come from?

The Electric seemed to just arrive in my head one day. I think it in around 2008. I tend to sit on ideas for a long time and let them grow in my head. I started writing it in 2010 and it took me two years. But that wasn’t me writing every day, only when I could. That’s still the way I have to work. 

How did you find the public reaction when it got its reviews as they were good?

The Electric is certainly my best reviewed book. It seems to touch people, that one, which I’m immensely thrilled about. The audio book was released last year on Audible and that opened it up to a wider audience, and some of the reviews have just been incredible. It was read by Nigel Peever, who did an amazing job. It’s a bit like an old radio serial. To read about someone in a snowstorm in Minnesota having to drink coffee all night so she can stay up and finish the book will always stay with me. Connecting with strangers across the world is a certain kind of magic. 

Same for when you did Dead Leaves?

Yes, Dead Leaves was nominated for a This is Horror Award in 2015, which I came runner-up, losing out to Lisa Mannetti’s The Box Jumper. That’s fine, as mine isn’t a horror novel, but it is about horror. It’s set in the early 80s, during the boom of the so-called video nasties, and follows three working class lads searching for a copy of the notorious VHS The Evil Dead. Again, it was very well reviewed, but it was released (twice) through small presses, and small presses do wonderful things, but the reach isn’t very wide. I hope one day both these books see releases through major publishing houses. 

What would you say is more interesting to write, a story set in the modern contemporary era or something set in a different time?

Ha, I haven’t written anything in a contemporary setting yet, so that might answer your question. I write to escape this world. 

A Reckoning was your first step into directing, tell us more please.

I’d made a few shorts before hand, but yes, A Reckoning was my first major directing gig, and it was pretty brutal. It’s a last man on earth tale about a lone man, left in this abandoned and derelict village, who, to give himself a sense of normality and stability, surrounds himself with a community of straw people. He talks to them as his friends, his neighbours – he even teaches straw kids in school – but then this fantasy way of living soon begins to fracture and tear him apart. Lots of laughs, that one. 

I wrote the story around a location I found – an old, RAF base, just outside of Nottingham – and we shoot during a brutal winter, but the snow gives our film a kind of epic feel, even though we didn’t have any money. This was as micro budget as you can get. 

We finished the film in 2011, and then it got cast into limbo when there was a falling out with the folks that put up the money for the shoot. It took me out for the game for a long time. I didn’t make another film again until 2018. 

The kind of happy ending is though that a US company have picked it up, after all this time – Film Regions International, and it will be Amazon Prime in the UK in August. It’ll be great for people to finally have the chance to see it. 

Is it easy to direct if you’ve had a hand in literature cos when you direct someone’s else literature you’ve got to translate someone else’s vision into live-action, whereas if you wrote it you already what the vision is?

I’ve only directed stuff I’ve written, and so, yes, I think it is easier because I know it inside out and it’s mine to mess up. Easier, but never easy, I might add. That said, there are several books I’d love to adapt, so I am open to playing inside someone else’s world. I’m not sure I’m a director for hire kind of guy though, I’ve too many of my own stories I want to tell. 

I do however really want to work as a screenwriter for other directors, mind.

Your first two novels and a third one, Curse, are currently in development. In terms of storytelling what can we expect from them?

Well Curse is an adaptation for a novel by Daniel Farson. He was a pretty interesting guy – a writer and broadcaster who wrote biographies and horror fiction. He was a pioneer of early investigative documentaries for the BBC. He also happened to be the great-nephew of Bram Stoker. Anyway, I’m attached to write and direct a film version of his 1980 horror novel, Curse, for Cannon Films LTD. There is, I believe, 70% of the funding in place, as long as we find the rest, which is what we’re trying to do now.  Hopefully it’ll happen. 

Since March we’ve been in lock-down, has that given you more time to work on anymore novels?

I have finished a new novel, yes. It’s a 70s-set ghost story entitled Society Place, and I’ve been working on it, on and off, since 2017. In lockdown I finally got it done. I’ve now started to send it out to publishers, so fingers crossed. I also been working on something I was brought in on as a screenwriter, which I’ve had to sign an NDA on, but if that goes, it’ll be amazing. And I’ve co-written a new short film script with Ashley Price, a director I’ve worked with on other projects. Hopefully we can get that done. 

Also, has it inspired you in some way as well?

I think it has inspired me. It’s inspired me to get out there as soon as I can and get stuff done. The world’s a scary place at the moment, in many ways, and I want to fill my time being as creative and as positive as I can, to counter act it. I want to put good things out into the world, in the hope of casting out some of the darkness. 

And since 4th July when restrictions eased has it made it easier for you to get work moving again?

Well yes, I want to get out there and make some stuff as soon as possible. It’s still all pretty tentative though at the moment. 

And finally, what can we expect from you later this year going into 2021?

I’ve got a sci-fi short I wrote called Endling which is currently going out to festivals. It’s about two A.I. beings taking the remains of the last human to be buried, directed by Rishi Thaker. Also, I have a children Christmas book coming out in November called The Winterman, which will have beautiful illustrations by a young artist named Tabitha Marsh. I’m really excited about that one. Again, good, positive work to light the darkness. 

I have about 3 or 4 short film scripts with other directors, so I’m hoping at least one of those gets made, and I’ve also written a horror short with novelist Joseph D’Lacey called Night Road that I’d really like to make. Then there’s Curse and whether that comes together or not. I have a screenplay for Dead Leaves, which I really need hawk around, and there’s the novel Society Place, of course. 

All this without an agent as well. That’s the next thing on the list. It’s really time to get an agent. There’s just too much stuff going on now. It’s a great ride.