Jon Barton – Q&A

Jon Barton
Jon Barton

Dive is a gripping crime thriller about the murky world of Metropolitan Police divers and the River Thames, London’s deadliest crime scene. When his daughter disappears and bodies surface in the river matching her description, workaholic diver David Cade and disgraced detective Naomi Harding join forces to uncover a sinister crime that will change the course of everything.

Jon can be found at:
Twitter: @jnbarton
Instagram: @jn_barton

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My side hustle starting out was pulling pints at the Captain Kidd, next to the Marine Police in Wapping. Those guys would sometimes come in to unwind after a shift and share war stories with trademark black humour. It struck me that divers are neglected characters in crime fiction, yet they have one of the diciest jobs in the Met. Sitting down to write ‘Dive’, I wanted to explore this shadowy world of policing, with the Thames at the heart of the action.

What came first the characters or the world?

The world came first in this case. The river holds secrets and has a habit of exposing them. If you’re lucky you’ll find treasure on the foreshore; if you’re not, you could see a body being dredged from the mud. I just felt it was the perfect setting for a thriller exploring a part of London that’s rarely glimpsed, this undertow of criminality concealed beneath the surface. It also felt like a great way to get under a character’s skin metaphorically.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

Dive by Jon Barton
Dive by Jon Barton
I submitted the novel to agents during the first lockdown, and it was then Kate Nash Lit that picked it up. I spent six months developing the book before it went to editors in Spring 2021. It was a painful ten weeks, and a lot of rejection. It went to acquisitions with two other publishers, before it was picked up by Joffe Books for a three-book deal. I’d spent four years working on Dive on-and-off at that point, so it was hard not to take it personally. When you know you’ve written the best book you’re capable of, and people still don’t like it – that can take some getting used to.

How long did it take to write?

‘Dive’ was a screenplay before it became a novel, and I spent six months writing that before I thought of it in another form. All told it then took me a further six months to write the first draft. I easily spent a further two years revising and editing. I’m happy to say the second book didn’t take as long to write, but there’s something about that first novel. I was learning to write a novel the first time. I was teaching myself how to do it. Writing the second book meant I was trying to carry over everything I learned the first time round.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

I have a playlist of movie soundtracks, although I do only put it on when I’m editing or have hit a snag and need inspiration. I’m jealous of people that can write to heavy metal or on public transport. I have to be totally immersed. I need silence when I write.

How many publishers turned you down?

Twenty publishers turned ‘Dive’ down, and it went as far as acquisitions elsewhere before Joffe Books acquired it.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

I’ve had the full gamut. Some people (my agent and my friends) give me the biased response. There were definitely some publishers that said they wanted something more conventionally commercial. I get the strongest reaction from people that actually like crime fiction. While I’ve had nice responses in reviews on GoodReads and Netgalley, I’ve also had blank stares and muted reactions. You can’t please everyone.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

I don’t think I have a favourite. It’s gratifying when someone reads it and totally invests in the world and the characters, and they can see the same potential I saw listening to divers and their stories.

What can you tell us about your next book?

The Thames is the world’s biggest crime scene. There’s huge scope for criminality and darkness as I discovered in the research phase. The idea behind the ‘Dive’ series is that it explores the kind of crime with each book. The first story is about the drugs trade. There is a second story exploring human trafficking. The backdrop to all that is a long-running story about city-wide police corruption. But it all depends on whether Dive sells well enough to justify another story featuring those characters.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Yes I do. Though I’d love to say I have the willpower to ignore them.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

I’d really love to write a children’s story. I have an idea that’s been burning a hole in my head for about a year now. Sooner or later, the time will come when I won’t be able to do anything but write that. On the other hand, all my new ideas are psychological and destination thrillers. We’ll see which comes first.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I’ve done a lot of things. I graduated in 2011 when there were no jobs to be had thanks to the aftershock of the financial crisis. I found myself working in pubs, theatres, bookshops… anything that paid the rent. I’m lucky enough to teach creative writing now and I love it.

Which author(s) inspire you?

I loved Michael Crichton when I was younger. That mix of science fiction and science fact and fast-paced action just ticked the boxes for me at that time in my life. I’ve always loved children’s writing. Lately I’ve been digging into Michael Connelly and Jean Hanff Korelitz. Anything that I find propulsive an exciting inspires me one way or another.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I don’t discriminate if I can help it. I gravitate to commercial fiction. I really like good science-fiction if it’s grounded, and I have a lot of time for horror. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend was a seminal moment when I read it the first time, but I would say the same of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Roald Dahl’s The BFG. I like to think I read widely.

What is your biggest motivator?

I love telling stories. I love breaking them, finding a way into them, spending time with the characters. I write because I often struggle to express myself. Writing is a way to articulate that lived experience. Stephen King has a great quote in On Writing that I can relate to: “Writing is not life, but sometimes, it can be a way back to life.”

What will always distract you?

I have a cocker spaniel that basically finds it insulting I’d have other interests besides her, so she does distract me often when I’m at my desk. I also have a prolific writing partner who can write much faster than I can. We’ve always got something in the air, but it’s nice to be spinning more than one plate.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I had a lot to say about the first cover design for Dive. I heard a statistic somewhere that 90% of authors don’t like the covers for their books. Make of that what you will.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes I was. I read a lot of Roald Dahl and Terry Pratchett, and because I loved movies I read a lot of novel adaptations for the films I enjoyed at the time. I think that’s why I found my way to Michael Crichton when I was too young to really understand what he was writing about.

What were your favourite childhood books?

I really loved one of Terry Pratchett’s early stories called Johnny and the Bomb. Almost nobody has heard of it now, but at the time, it was incredible. This bombastic adventure about a kid with a time machine in a shopping trolley being pursued by men in black… I’d never read anything like it because this was pre-Harry Potter.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

Can’t say I do.

What books can you not resist buying?

It’s all about the story for me. If I write a blurb that grabs me, I’m all in.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

Cup of strong coffee, total silence, and I really like to be by myself if I can help it. I find it difficult to write in public spaces.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I don’t really buy books I don’t read if I can help it. I’d say about five at the moment, but I don’t tend to buy books if my TBR pile is too high.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I really liked Josh Winning’s first book The Shadow Glass so his second book, Burn the Negative, really appeals to me.

Any events in the near future?

I’ll be recording some podcasts with Chloe Timms and Yvonne Battle Felton, and I hope to attend one of the book festivals like Crimefest or Harrogate.

And finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

The story came first and the genre made sense after that. It didn’t feel like anything other than a crime thriller. I also wanted to tell a story that wasn’t strictly procedural or a mystery, but something else, something people haven’t read before. Ultimately, I’ve written the book I think I would like to read.

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