Monday, 20 January 2020

Mick & Sarah At The Pictures

I can’t remember now which Con Andrew David Barker & I first met at - though I’m going to assume it was an Edge-Lit - but I was already aware of him.  Thanks to Ross Warren and James Everington raving about it, I picked up The Electric (which I’ve been putting off reading, oddly enough, because I want to have time to properly savour it) and then Dead Leaves (which I wrote extensively about here).  A gifted writer with a great ear for dialogue and a nice line in nostalgia (always a winner with me), we were talking at Edge-Lit a couple of years ago about his next project, Mick & Sarah At The Pictures.  Part of the Unbound Books process, I was intrigued at the in’s-and-out’s of the project and eagerly pledged my support early on.
In the autumn of 1970, Mick and Sarah meet at their local cinema, The Rex, and go and see a Hammer horror double bill. They are nineteen and the future seems wide open. But they have no idea what kind of a decade they are about to grow into.

Last week, I got a chance to chat with Andrew about the book and everything else.

MW:   Hi mate, thanks for taking the time with this.  So to start off with, can you tell us what the book’s about?

ADB:   Mick & Sarah At The Pictures is a love story told in glimpses, snapshots over the course of a decade as my eponymous stars visit their local fleapit cinema, The Rex, and fall in and out of love during the movies. Each chapter takes place in a different, successive year, from 1970 to ’79, and features a different film they go and see.

They are two downtrodden working class kids in a dead end Midland town finding sanctuary in the images on the screen, and in each other.

It moves from glam to prog to punk, from Edward Heath to Margret Thatcher… about a Britain that is long gone, mostly for the better, but in other ways, it’s a disappeared England that I kind of yearn for.

It is the story of two young people and the old picture house that shapes their hopeless lives.

MW:   How did the idea come about - and how much research did you have to do?

ADB:   This is my third novel to be about the movies, or more to the point, about how cinema can effect our lives, shape our imaginations, and give us the pull, the need to get out of the drab streets of industrial towns. Seems that’s kind of my thing. This novel, I believe, is a more mature work. The kids in The Electric were 15, in ‘Dead Leaves they were 17, and in this one, I chart Mick and Sarah’s life from the age of 19 to 29. An age of huge change. I’m probably just building up to my middle-age novel.

I knew I wanted to explore the nature of love and how it can be held onto, what happens when it begins to drift, and what are the things in life that can bind us. That bind us forever. In Mick and Sarah’s case it’s the movies down at their local fleapit. I had the idea while writing The Electric while imagining the lives of the two lovers in that novel who build the haunted cinema. It took awhile to find the period I wanted to use. I think my original idea was to meet the characters every ten years and it move from childhood in the 1930s/40s up to present day, but that was just too unwieldy.
I arrived at the 1970s because I’m interested in that period of British history, both culturally and politically, as it was such a turbulent time and yet, such a vibrant time. The 60s were well and truly over and there was the three day week, and rubbish piled up in the streets, and loads of bombings, and blackouts and such political turmoil, but hey, the music was great, for the most part, and so were the movies.

Yet, the 1970s may be seen as the golden age of American movies, but in provincial picture houses up and down the country they weren’t necessarily showing The Godfather or Jaws, but film adaptations of TV sitcoms such as On the Buses or Up Pompeii! and of course the Carry On films. These used to pack ‘em in. Also there were the British sex comedies, such as the Confessions series and Can You Keep It Up For a Week? starring Boba Fett! All this stuff was just naughty seaside postcards writ large and viewing them now it’s incredible people paid to see them at the cinema. But they sure did.

I was interested in the historical context of these films and how they played into the society and the sexual mores of the times.  As I was writing about a certain year one chapter at a time, I didn’t research that year until I started each chapter. So I kind of went through the decade with Mick and Sarah. It was fascinating. I was born in 1975, so my memories of the decade are soaked in a brown and yellow-patterned wallpaper haze. I talked to my mum quite a bit about the world then and she gave me some great insights. It was a strange time, on the one hand the country was on its knees, yet there seemed to be a great sense of community and social connection. I say that knowing that wasn’t the case for minorities at all. It was grim on that side of things.

MW:   Why did you choose to go the crowdfunding/Unbound route?

ADB:   I am interested in all new platforms, new ways to get work out to audiences. On the film side I’ve embraced streaming; I embrace self-publishing, I embrace using platforms like SoundCloud, Spotify and such to get your music out there. Anything goes now. It’s all in flux and it’s all up for grabs. No one knows what the media and entertainment landscape will look like in 5 years, let alone 10. Everything is changing and the old guard, the old ways of doing things are slipping.

That said, I’m still chasing that large publishing deal, that agent. I’m GenX and still clinging onto the old Empire in a lot of ways, but I also know it’s not going to last. Unbound appealed because they are a hybrid between crowdfunding and traditional publishing, plus their produced books are very beautiful, and their reach is ever widening. Coming from self-publishing and the small press world it felt like the next step up the ladder, but I’m not sure if I was kidding myself there.
At Edge-Lit 7 in July 2018, Andrew & I with Kevin Redfern - you can read my report on the event here
MW:   How have you found the campaign and need to market?

ADB:   The campaign has been tough, I won’t lie. I recently wrote a piece about facing potential failure on this project (which you can read here). Being very English about it, I’m not comfortable asking people for money. It’s a hard thing to do, especially for a book that has no fixed release date. It’s basically a pre-sale for something that might not be in your hands for another year, and I know that’s a big ask. I also know that times are tough and extra money is not something most people readily have. But I felt I had to take the chance.

I’ve a few friends, writers and filmmakers, who have crowdfunded and most have been successful. I like it in principle; I like that it is putting the project right in the audiences’ hands. The reality is a lot tougher.

I want to give everything I can in doing it this way. It is an experiment, and it’s still got a long road ahead, but we’ll see. 

MW:   You’re a multi-hypenate when it comes to creative projects, having written and directed short films too.  What’s your favourite creative process and do ideas present themselves in a concrete way, ie “this should be a book” or “this is definitely a film”?

ADB:   I did return to filmmaking in 2018 after being out of it for a long while after my feature film, A Reckoning (which you can see on YouTube here), went into the ditch. That’s a long story which I won’t cover here, but the films I made recently are short films and were designed to be as simple as possible. Basically designed to get me going again. I wrote and directed the simple, two-men-talking-in-a-pub short Two Old Boys and the more elaborate and fantastical Shining Tor in quick succession, and both have gone onto do really well on the festival circuit - Shining Tor in particular, which has won quite a few awards. So those were specifically designed to be made as short films, as where the subsequent shorts I’ve written.

Longer story ideas are a bit trickier to decide what form to write them in. For the most part I do know if it’s a novel or a screenplay, but I do currently have a 60 page treatment for a very big project that I don’t yet know how to approach. Is it a novel, or a grand limited series? I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both. Whatever it is, I know it’s a big, big project. Definitely the biggest I’ve ever tackled. So with that one the lines are currently a bit blurred.

As for a favourite creative process… the novel wins I suppose because I love to write prose and I have trouble with the format of the screenplay- the actual nuts and bolts template you have to stick to in that form. That said, I can’t keep away from movies. The great thing about screenplays is that they are pure story, pure structure, everything has to be moving the narrative forward, and I think writing them helps me streamline my novels as well.

I have ideas for more stories set in The Electric universe - basically want it to be my MCU! - and I want to take a very transmedia path with that, given the opportunity. So - novels, short stories, short films perhaps, graphic novels… kind of combining all the stuff I do under one project. That’s what I’d really like to do, but we’ll see how things pan out. I'm ready now for that all-consuming project - the big project of my life.

If this has perked your interest, more details of Mick & Sarah (including how to buy the book in pre-sale and other ways to support Andrew) can be found at the Unbound site here.

Andrew David Barker was born in Derby in 1975 and has worked as a window fitter, a rail track worker, a factory worker, a carpet salesman, a car cleaner, a delivery driver, a bricklayer's labourer, a shop assistant, and a care worker, among others.  None of them stuck.  In the late 90s he played lead guitar in a rock band that got signed, made a single, played London, thought they were famous, and, subsequently, imploded.

He is the author of The Electric, Dead Leaves, and the short ghost story collection, Winter Freits.

As a filmmaker he wrote and directed the feature A Reckoning and the award winning short films, Two Old Boys and Shining Tor.

He now lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughters, trying to be a grown up and can be found online here and on Twitter here.


  1. Great interview Mark. I'm really looking forward to reading Mick & Sarah, and seeing what comes next in The Electric universe.