We all know John Barrowman as the man who can virtually do anything. I mean lets face it. The guy sings, leaps single buildings in a single bound and somehow manages to convince us that he is called Captain Jack and cannot die. Have to say I ain’t buying that last one, but hey a guy can dream.
In recent years John has worked fairly closely with his sister Carole Barrowman and between them they have written several successful books as well as comic book series. And trust me when I say that these stories are really, really good.
The latest of these writing projects is the Hollow Earth series of books, which is now up to its second novel ‘Bone Quill.’ I was recently fortunate enough to catch up with both John and Carole Barrowman, who took pity on me and answered a few questions about their book series as well as their plans for future installments.
SciFiPulse: I think most people know you both for your collaborations on novels and comics based around Torchwood. What made you both decide to branch out into the children’s book market and how much have you had to change your approach to story telling?
John Barrowman: ‘Bone Quill’ and the Hollow Earth series make it five books we’ve worked on together. We collaborated first with ‘Anything Goes’ in 2007, which was my first memoir. Even back then we had a notion that we wanted to write a children’s book together and we let our publisher know that. I think we also wanted to write something that we would read, a story with lots of action, adventure and time travel… because, you know, I’m good at that.
Carole Barrowman: Shush! No spoilers. John and I have always had active imaginations so I think what changed for us from earlier books to these is that in the Hollow Earth novels, particularly ‘Bone Quill,’ the fantasy form gave us so much more freedom to let story and characters take over and not be limited by this reality.
SFP: Your first novel in the ‘Hollow Earth’ series got a really good reception. How well has ‘Bone Quill’ done for you thus far and are you happy with the feedback you’ve both been getting?
JB: We’re very happy. We especially love when our young readers write with questions for Matt or Em or Zach… we were doing a presentation at a school in Edinburgh earlier this year and one young man who’d read both books asked a question that left Carole and I gobsmacked! Because his question told us he was figuring out one of the reveals in book three that we seeded, but haven’t developed yet. Carole and I turned to each other and our mouths dropped open. It was amazing. I love stuff like that.
CB: We also get sent lots of drawings of beasts from readers and it’s amazing to see how our story has stimulated their imaginations. A few of our older readers have told us they miss Vaughn in ‘Bone Quill.’ We did too, but we felt because the ‘Bone Quill’ plot is complex that we wanted to keep the number of other characters and plot lines to a minimum. But he’ll be back in book three.
SFP: One of the things I love about the premise to your stories is that the two kids can draw things that come to life. Now as somewhat of a mischievous person I can’t help but chuckle at some of the possibilities having a power like this would have. So I can see the story potential. But what drew you both to the idea of a person’s art coming to life?
JB: We were finishing another writing project and thinking what our next collaboration should be. Since we began working together, we’ve always had the idea to write something for children. Then one late night we were driving from London to Cardiff–
CB: –lots of candy was consumed.
JB: Oh, big sugar high! Anyway, I’m not sure how the conversation came around to it, but we went from deciding what would be our superpowers (flying) if then we came up with the idea that it would be amazing if your drawings could come to life and from there we started brainstorming what that would mean for siblings who already had a strong connection to each other if they’re imaginations were their superpowers what would that mean. We did decide then that having that power could be a dangerous thing. Others might want to control you.
CB: I loved ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ and so did my children and we both loved adventures stories with a fantasy element like The Chronicles of Narnia… we’re pretty mischievous too.
JB: Not me.
SFP: Given that John has such a hectic schedule with singing, acting, charity work and all manner of other exciting things. How do you both find time in amongst all of that to collaborate on these books?
JB: I love to keep busy–
CB: –he’s dangerous when bored.
JB: We brainstorm and do most of the plotting when we’re together. Carole lives with me a few times a year, and we try to record as many of our conversations as possible. Then she goes back to Milwaukee with pages of notes and an outline of the big events and she does the actual writing. I don’t bother her much for that part of the process and then I jump in again with notes after she’s finished a draft.
CB: If a character does something unexpected as I’m writing (which happens), then I’ll call him (sometimes forgetting the time difference) and we’ll talk about it… we know each other’s strengths and we trust each other so the process works well for us. Best part is that we have a lot of fun together.
SFP: Do you guys ever see there being potential for a Hollow Earth animated series or video game in the future?
JB: We’d love to do that!
SFP: From what have been reading. A lot of people have said that Bone Quill seems to have become a little darker in tone than the first book and have even seen some comparison to the Harry Potter series of books in terms of the tonal shift. Was it always your intention to have the books gradually get a little darker as the two kids gradually grew up throughout the series?
CB: We love the comparison to Harry Potter because we’re huge fans of JK Rowling. The main difference, though, is that Matt and Em live in this world. The nature of the conflict that Matt faces in ‘Bone Quill’ forced a darker tone in order to be honest to his reality. I guess we hope as Matt struggles with his choices in ‘Bone Quill,’ it may help readers realize they’re not different or alone because their worlds aren’t always shiny.
JB: I agree. Although ‘Bone Quill’ is fantasy fiction we wanted our young readers to see honesty in Matt’s emotional struggles, especially boys whose father’s have abandoned them.
SFP: Your Hollow Earth series of which Bone Quill is the second part is a trilogy. Do you both see any potential for the book series to go beyond three books?
JB: I’m glad you asked. We just signed with Head of Zeus for three more books with the twins as older teens. Carole and I plan to begin thinking about those later this year.
SFP: Out of curiosity what sort of stories do you both enjoy to read for fun in what little spare time you both have?
JB: We grew up in a story-telling family… I enjoy scifi, fantasy, adventure and I love horror stories.
CB: I’ve eclectic tastes too. I especially love apocalyptic novels and crime fiction. We were both big fans of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and adventure stories when we were growing up.
SFP: On the subject of ‘Torchwood.’ I was a huge fan of your comic strip that was featured in Torchwood Magazine a couple of years back and I know you have done a novel since then. Are there any plans for further Torchwood novels or comics in the works?
CB: We’ve a couple of projects in relation to these areas that we’re playing with possibilities.
JB: Also our Torchwood novel, ‘Exodus Code,’ will be released in paperback in the US in September which is awesome.
SFP: John, like many of your fans, I was a little disappointed to hear that you would not be taking part in the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, but given that you have been writing fiction with your sister Carole for a few years now. I’m wondering if you have perhaps thought of throwing you hat in the ring in terms of doing a Doctor Who novel or comic story? Maybe bring Captain Jack back into Doctor Who that way until such times as Steven Moffat and the team find a way to include you in the series again?
JB: If we were asked to write something, we’d certainly consider it.
SFP: And as a closing question are there any actors that you and Carole could see as a good candidate for the 12th Doctor Who, and what are your thoughts on maybe a female Doctor Who?
JB: I’d don’t have anyone in mind… I’d be open to all possible shapes, sizes and colors.
CB: Me too!
SFP: Thank you both for taking the time and the very best of luck with Bone Quill and any other projects you have on the go.
JB&CB: Thanks for you great questions.
Bone Quill is out now in all good book stores.