The birth of Barnaby Brown and the new method for sprawling sagas
Sagas are not one book. They are an in vetro family and there's no point giving birth to just one at a time. Avoiding painful labour required a new concept. I'd give birth to quintuplets!
I was on a business trip to Singapore, flying from Shanghai. Next to me was sat a little old Chinese lady who was coughing constantly. No mask for her! The norm in Hong Kong was, if you’re ill, you wear a mask. People didn’t work from home back then and wouldn’t take sick days. Anyway, I kindly supplied the old dear with water throughout the flight and she very kindly, in return, gave me whatever strain of influenza or SARS she had been carrying. How sweet!
I made a couple of meetings but was soon confined to my bed for a week. On my first night of delusional fever-ridden musings, I had my notebook and pen in my hand working on experience designs for a potential Singapore client. It was about 10 pm. We work long hours at FNZ, but we work hard, play hard! My brain was no longer functioning in the realm of User Experience and began to drift. As my thoughts meandered through the pathways of my life, I stopped at one junction that simply said ‘Time Machine’. Closing my eyes I wondered what this could be. This elusive novel.
I had recently been watching, with my good friend Leigh, the Comic Strip Presents - Five Go Mad… comedies. We used to chortle about those mad, old, nostalgic Enid Blyton books, loaded with ignorance, racism and adventure. Those four kids and a dog foiling the plans of robbers and smugglers with a mad uncle, lashings of ginger ale and cucumber sandwiches. The cast of Five Go Mad did a hilarious take-off, but it got me to thinking. 'What if I took the five and handed them a time machine?' That would be a jolly old adventure! Something nostalgic for us all. Of course, I couldn’t set it in the thirties or forties, so what would appeal now?
2. The embryos
Well, one of the characters should be terribly English, otherwise, it doesn’t nod to Blyton. Let’s call him Barnaby. Barnaby Jones. Let’s keep the Harry Potter-type simple naming convention alive. But to mix it up, let’s place him in New York! Okay, so his friends have to be American. But let’s have some diversity. One of them has to be from… ah! Singapore! Let’s make her pretty. Marsha. Marsha… Moon! He says looking out of the window. Okay, now add something I know about. The other two should be… of course! Twins! Boy and girl, just like my own. Let’s call them Jack and Polly. Warner seems like a good surname! Okay, now, a mad uncle. Obviously he invents the time machine. Let’s call him Mathias Finch. Now, we need a bad guy. I need him to dysfunctional, but believable. He’s also got to be handsome and rugged. Okay, let’s take someone like Don Draper from Mad Men and make him a confused billionaire arms dealer who wants the time machine for his own gain. Boom, we have a cause. And let's call this guy Darius Dent. Now, I know I want this to run over many books so it has to go somewhere. Well, there has to be aliens and some source of power over which they’ll all fight. Okay, let’s throw in some aliens.
3. naming my babies
Then I thought it might be cool and refreshing to have each book cover a specific sci-fi genre? So there’s something for everyone. They can’t all be solely about time travel! It’s the lure of the first one, but the others need something else. Okay, what stands out when you run through the list of classic sci-fi’s? Flick through Netflix and what intrigues you the most? Okay, we need to keep the time thing going but how about doing something a bit more Indiana Jones with it. Some temples, some quest. Ah, some sort of sacred stones. Wait, they can be what powers the time machine! So Dent will want to get his hands on those. So, that's it settled, book one will be called Barnaby Jones and the Time Machine. After a quick bit of research on 'sacred stones,' I found the perfect candidate in the form of baetylus stones. I didn't just want to make up something. Like Raiders of the Lost Ark, having something with a relatable historical back-story gives it extra credence. So, Barnaby Jones and the Baetylus Stones will be book two.
Next, how do the aliens fit into this? Well, how about they monitor the use of the stones and try to use their wisdom to direct how they are used? That gives us a wise old man. Who can be the damsel? Well, let’s throw Polly to the dogs. She could do with rescuing. Now, these aliens. There must be bad ones, right? Okay, we need an alien empire with domination plans. Natch. Are these guys coming to Earth? Totally! As I say, I like things to be relatable! Okay, book three will be full-on War of the Worlds/Independence Day. Book three will be called Barnaby Jones and the Battle for Earth.
I need tragedy. Okay, I have plans to work that in. No spoilers. There has to be a romance or two. Tick. Comedy? Okay, Jack’s the funny one! This makes book one have more of a Goonies feel than Blyton. Book four? Strange new worlds! We have to go Star Trek / Azimov. My love of Asia says it should have an influence from there. Perhaps something with a Kipling feel to it. There should be another sub-quest. Freeing slaves or something. Barnaby Jones and the Lost World or something like that.
Book five? Well, this is the culmination. Where we go full-on exposé of everything that’s been going on and a conclusion to all that has preceded it. It shall end on some of the most primitive aspects of human emotions. Love/want. Good/bad. Learning/choosing. Barnaby Jones and the Something I'll Decide Later. I jotted all of this down and went to sleep.
4. GROWING ARMS AND LEGS
The next day, I started writing. As I researched more, I found there was a U.S. show called Barnaby Jones. Oh well, how about Barnaby, um, Brown! It’s a good-old common surname! I can play with that and call him BB. The characters started to develop. Marsha is head-strong, petite and girly but into her martial arts. Jack is cocky, cheeky but loyal. Polly is a goth or grunge. She has issues. She could possibly be bipolar. She could have much darkness in her future if she gets her hands on this power. She should be dominant, like Rosa from Brooklyn-nine-Nine. It’ll take a lot to crack her shell. Barnaby is stoic. Logical. Central characters don’t have to be fun. Look at Luke Skywalker. He’s a pretty whiny teenager and then a pretty dull, but brave, twenty-something. Nothing like Mark Hamill’s personality, which I could only aspire to be. It was lovely to see some of that personality shine through in The Last Jedi. That’s okay, contrast and juxtaposition are good. They can't all be Han Solo.
As I made my way through the story, more stuff came to light as the characters developed. New ideas sprung up. The thing is, they’ve continued to do that through the course of writing four novels and I’ve subsequently gone back and changed things in the series. Even the prologue of book one was added after book four was finished. As I started to do audio versions of book one, I realised that Uncle Finch’s character should not be a bumbling one, but rather an intense one. A stark contrast to the bumbling professor Peter Lansdowne who had not initially been seen with Mathias until the end of book two. As I placed them in the prologue of book one, two bumblers didn’t make sense. So Finch went from being Nigel Bruce’s Watson to Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock.
I make no effort to hide the fact that I want Barnaby to end up on the big screen. It is written with that in mind. Therefore, my commitment to getting the story right first time is essential. This is an EPIC journey, covering all the elements that Lucas used so successfully, whilst allowing myself the luxury of being able to run across all the popular genres. The framework of five books was laid down.
5. A smooth delivery
Having written four and the finer details of five worked out, in fact, the writing of book five is well underway, I felt the time was finally right to launch book one, to be closely followed by book two. I have enough money saved to self-publish, with professional editing and cover illustrations. I have employed a fantastic agency to help me self-publish, showing the tools to use, good PR techniques and how to embrace social media. POZA Publishing is giving me all the guidance I need.
Writing Barnaby has been a journey in itself. His story has been written in Hong Kong, Singapore, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Australia, the U.K., Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. Experiencing it all in-situ offered enormous influence to the places, the situations and the characters in the books, particularly book four.
6. parenthood and wisdom
Now, in this new world of virus, lockdowns and white supremacy, we need guidance and escapism. We need our young to be raised to understand the intricacies of human nature and to respect that. But this series isn’t just for kids. It’s really twelve plus, although my kids have been enjoying most of it since they were nine. In the character of Darius Dent, I have created someone who wasn’t really born psychotic. He’s been nurtured through poor parenting and his abhorrence at the human race, much preferring the animal kingdom. There is much in alignment with Hitler, being a vegetarian dog-lover, but unlike Adolf, there is the potential of redemption. It keeps him partially likeable. We hold out hope for him. Can he be turned by love? It’s what we want for our race. Look at what Gandhi achieved by renouncing violence in all its forms. It’s another fundamental part of the story. I believe the values in the pages are true and righteous. At my age, I have seen and read enough to see how we fail and how we succeed. What drives people and what stops them. I simply could not have written these books when I was fourteen or thirty or even forty! The only thing I regret is not writing others earlier.
I think escaping normality briefly is such a remedy for the soul. There are countless fiction writers out there, almost as much as there are budding guitarist and singers, but they all have something for you. A world, or worlds, that came out of their heads. It is one of the most enviable aspects of the human condition that we can plan ahead and create. It is what separates us from all others, making us truly unique in history. Our biggest failure is not to learn from history. Nobody craves a dystopian future. Humans are on a journey. We won’t rest until utopia is reached, otherwise let’s stop all of this and go back to our mud huts. Above all, our greatest trait is tolerance. If we can just balance that and our basic survival instinct, we will have something we can truly be proud of. This is the core message at the heart of the Barnaby novels. Balance achieving peace.
So from the gutters of Edinburgh to the beaches of the South China Sea, I’ve been on a journey. One of learning, waiting, crafting, hoping to inspire but ultimately entertain and leave behind a legacy of love-embracing thought. Remember, you only live once. Plan, create and enjoy.
Love and peace,