Q&A with Jonathan Barnes: Advanced Creative Writing Workshop Director

Jonathan Barnes is the author of three novels: The Somnambulist, The Domino Men and Cannonbridge. He is also a prolific writer of audio drama, most recently an adaptation of Dracula starring Mark Gatiss. An established literary critic, he contributes regularly to the Times Literary Supplement and the Literary Review. He lives in London where he teaches Creative Writing at university level. We’re delighted that Jonathan will direct our 3-Day Creative Writing – Advanced Workshop during Listowel Writers’ Week in June.

The Somnambulist
The Somnambulist

Q. You have a first-class honours degree in English Language and Literature from Oxford University. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

A. Yes, from a very early age. As a child I was always making up stories and so on. I read a lot growing up and still do. It’s certainly something I’ve always wanted to do.

Q. Was it difficult to find your first publisher?

A. It certainly wasn’t straightforward. Although one thinks in terms of finding agents rather than publishers… Contrary to popular belief, I’m not related to Julian Barnes so I had no “in” to the industry. It was a case of making a very wide submission to as many possibilities as I could. Sending off the first three chapters and a synopsis. And, of course, I’d written the whole novel first!

Q. Can you tell us a little about your latest novel Cannonbridge and what inspired you to write it?

A. I’m very proud of Cannonbridge. It’s my love letter to English literature but is also very personal. It came about when I was reading John Sutherland’s Lives of the Novelists – a survey of the biographies of dozens of canonical writers – and it struck me how easy it would have been to have invented one of them from whole cloth. The idea grew from there – ultimately, it has a kind of Science Fiction treatment – but that was the seed of it.

Q. What writers influenced you most growing up and why?



A. I’ve always been a big fan of the writers of the late Victorian/fin de siécle era and it was that kind of stuff which inspired me growing up. In particular, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle, H G Wells… those kind of writers. Boyish melodramas, I guess, but shot through with an odd and unexpected melancholy.

Q. What are you reading currently and what books do you most enjoy?

A. I’m just about to go on holiday and have, as always, selected my recreational reading with great care – from Simenon to King to Capote. I read a lot of fiction, both for pleasure and for review – living favourites would include D J Taylor (on this side of the Atlantic) and Michael Chabon (on the other).

Q. What are you working on at the moment?

A. I’m currently adapting a couple of Victorian novels for production as audio drama, having previously adapted Frankenstein and Dracula. After that: onto my fourth novel!

Q. Do you have a daily writing schedule?

A. Nothing specific or regimented. I find that it’s very difficult to write all that much prose in a day. You seem to get to a certain point and just stop. So a couple of hours a day, I think, ideally first thing, before lunch. Exercise afterwards!

Q. For those who are moving forward on their creative writing journey, what is your best piece of advice?

A. Just to remember that it’s a marathon rather than a sprint. To be patient and not get frustrated. To work away at learning the craft of it. I’d also like to stress the importance of editing. Most first drafts are thoroughly imperfect – as Stephen Fry once remarked, writing is a lot like ironing as it consists of going over the same crease over and over again, until the shirt is entirely wrinkle-free.

Q. What do you think are the main benefits of attending a 3-Day Creative Writing Advanced Workshop?

A. Hopefully, it’ll be an opportunity to work in a really positive, creative space. I work hard to create a warm and friendly atmosphere. It’s also a great way to really focus on writing in a very narrow window of time – just long enough to get a concentrated blast of your potential before taking that it into your everyday life.

Domino Men
Domino Men

Q. Briefly, what will you be covering in the Workshop?

A. It’ll be a mixture of straightforward workshopping of individual work (read in advance by the whole of the group) together with exercises, extracts and questions and answers. The focus will be very much on the craft of writing, on both the micro and the macro levels.

Q. Have you visited Listowel Writers’ Week before?

A. I’ve never visited the festival (or even Ireland!) before so I’m greatly looking forward to seeing both for myself.

For more information or to book Jonathan’s workshop, please see below.