Andrew V. Barber, whose first book was released under the name A.V. Barber, is an accomplished poet and essayist. His unique writing style combines poetry and prose, and ranges from easy, straightforward writing to the more complex. His collection Me, My World, and I (2012) is a delightful mix of photography, artwork, musings and poems. He is currently working on a romance novel, Lion Hearts with writer Maree Ward-Russell.
Andrew Barber : I was born on the 16th August 1969 in the small Fenland Market town of Wisbech and grew up in the villages nearby. From the age of 16, I developed a passion for travel and have been a bit of a rolling stone ever since.
I wrote my first poem in 2011 and lost my heart to writing poetry soon after. My debut book, Me, My World and I, was launched in the autumn of 2012. I love nothing more than sitting before a log fire on a cold, dark winter’s day with a glass of brandy and a keyboard.
Lichen Craig : Andrew, I have been looking forward to this! Readers should know that you are one of the kindest people I know, in addition to being talented. I'm pleased to be able to introduce you to people who don't yet know you and your work!
Your work is unique in that your poetry can be very prose-like, and your prose can read like poetry. That style really defines you. The other big point to make about your work is that you write about the common man, everyday subjects, everyday beauty, emotions that we all can relate to. It is obvious from reading reviews that, that quality really appeals to readers!
Your first book-length collection of poetry, “Me, My World, and I” has been fairly well-received. I think you have something to be really proud of, since your style of poetry is complex compared to much modern poetry and could have proven intimidating to the average non-academic reader. Do you have any thoughts yourself on why the book appeals to people?
AV : First of all, thank you for your very kind introduction, people are always so very nice, repaying that in kind is easy.
I am not an academic and was far from being a scholar at school, I guess the truth is, I am just an ordinary guy who himself feels intimidated by the institution and their interpretation of poetry. Perhaps this shines through?
I wanted to paint a picture of the world through my eyes. As I say in the early pages of the book, you don’t have to agree with what I write, even disagreement is a reaction.
I really love to write in a classical style and I am not a fan of long drawn out poems, my aim was to create short pieces that are easily read and have meanings with which the reader may easily associate.
Most of my works have metaphor but I invite the reader to make their own interpretation. I believe that the consumption and enjoyment of poetry doesn’t have to rely on the reader seeing the same meaning as the poet.
I also include prose with each poem giving background to the work. From what I am told, many people tend to read the poem, then the prose, before going back to read the poem again, this time with new meaning.
I guess all of these things may help, but mostly I just hope that my work is enjoyed for what it is, words from the heart about life.
LC : I find your “essays” on your blog fascinating, in that what you dub “essay” is really a sort of prose poem. Again, as in your book, we see the melding of prose and poetry. While you are writing freeform as in prose, your words contain a continuous stream of metaphor, imagery, hint rather than blunt statement . . . all the elements of a poem. Again, as in your book, we see the melding of prose and poetry I see few people mixing prose and poetry successfully, as you have. Is this a style you developed over time?
AV : Indeed it is, and the process is ongoing. I am really still learning my craft; I haven’t been writing very long and am still very much finding my way.
When I write, I feel a rhythm within the lines and spend quite some time in the edit phase shaving words here and adding words there. It was never a deliberate act to write in this way, more an accident that came from a wish to shape lines and make them flow in a pleasant fashion.
I love the use of metaphor because it allows you to create more than one story at once and leaves the interpretation entirely open. Imagine writing a book where 10 people may see a completely different start, middle and end.
LC : Are you still working on the “postcard project”? I know that it has a lot to do with travel – and you are well-traveled and love it – and that it will feature the same prose style poetry as does your first book. What else can you tell us?
AV : Postcards should hit the shelf around October of this year. It has some similarities with my first offering too, in that the two books share the same format, chapters formed from one poem, 2 pages of prose and a picture.
I have always wanted to write a travel book, but wanted to give it a slightly different slant. This isn’t a book that describes the best places to eat or the best hotels but more a look at the sights and sounds of Europe through the eyes of a poet.
I have a lot of work to do between now and August, and am still researching destinations for some of the chapters, but it is an exciting project.
LC : Tell us about your new project, Andrew! You are working on a romance novel, Lion Hearts with writer Maree Ward-Russell, where the story takes place in medieval times during the Crusades?
AV : This really has taken on a life of its own. It’s odd really because formally we don’t begin work until August but there are already a number of Lion Heart essays, a popular fan page and a well developed back story. Maree has also added two “chapters” of spoiler prose with a third coming - so we have quite a bit of momentum.
I have always wanted to write a novel but knew absolutely nothing about how to go about it. Maree has been great in giving me guidance and as a result we are fast building a plot. When August comes around we will really hit the road running.
The story follows the adventures of two lovers, Merek and Lilly, during the Third Crusade. This is a period often depicted with deeply romantic overtones, being as it is, the late twelfth century and the reign of Richard the Lion Heart.
The plot so far is really quite beautiful, it’s a love story with twists and turns, battle, betrayal and intrigue.
LC : Andrew, I’m always curious . . . what is your background in literature? When I read the first lines I ever saw from you, I was strongly reminded of the years at university that I spent studying 19th century English poets – you particularly bring to mind Tennyson, Wordsworth and Coleridge for me. Where does your voice come from in your own opinion?
AV : It is an enormous honour to have my name uttered in the same breath as the masters, not alone have comparisons drawn, thank you. I would say that these poets, along with the Bronte sisters, Mary Barber, William Blake and Alexander Pope are those I consider to be my favorites.
I don’t have a literary background, as I mentioned earlier, I was never considered a scholar at school and due to teaching methods, failed to enjoy English Literature as a class.
I guess for this reason I still flinch a little when people call me a poet, I am still expecting the academics to pull me to pieces or other “poets” to debunk my work.
I really only started reading poetry after I had begun writing. I used Google to learn about rhyming schemes, meter and styles and adapted my style to suit what “felt” best for me. My work is entirely from the heart and formed from my love of the classical style.
Of course I missed out on a lot; I was 41 before I wrote my first poem and 42 before I formed my deep interest in the work of the masters.
LC : What writers have influenced you? Both in terms of sheer inspiration and/or in terms of style? Why do these particular people speak so strongly to you?
AV : I enjoy the work of Bill Bryson, his prose are very down to earth and lead you on a journey in such a way as you feel his equal. I guess this played some part in the way I approached the prose in Me, My World and I.
Another would have to be my good friend Kelvin Fowler, a published poet and author from New Zealand. He is also my co-author in a current collaboration called Black & White. It was he who originally encouraged me to write and he offered the early support that lead to where I am now. His work is very different to mine, but that is the beauty of all forms of art, diversity.
Maree Ward Russell has played a big part in my writing because before I started working with her I had no idea about things such as back story and how to properly plan. I have just finished her book The Transient and this did play some part in the inspiration behind my work entitled “Elsewhere”.
I guess the other would be C.S. Lewis, I remember losing myself to The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe at primary school and formed an immediate interest with the concept of creating new worlds through words.
LC : Do you write daily? Is that discipline, or does it come easily for you?
AV : I have a hectic day job that comes with travel and responsibility so sadly my writing still largely has to take a back seat. I set myself targets and try where possible to stick to them, but it is very hard.
I try to produce essays for my blog every Tuesday and Saturday, these are important because in the autumn of this year I plan to publish a book featuring these works along with a few more written specifically for the project.
In between times, there is my work on Postcards, poems for Black & White with Kelvin and my work with Maree on the back story for Lion Hearts.
LC : How old were you when you began to write? Was it poetry or prose? Did you aspire to be a poet, or has that come in later years?
AV : From primary school onward I loved to write stories. In my teenage years I wrote a lot of paranormal fantasy and science fiction, all of it in long hand and all of it very badly. But my dream always, was to one day see my name on the cover of a book.
Due to my academic background, I never would have dreamed that would day I would be writing and reading poetry and had it not been for Kelvin, I may never have done so.
LC : As a novelist and a former writer of non-fiction, I find that poets are a different breed altogether! They seem much more solitary in their work, perhaps less gregarious, much more contemplative. Am I crazy?
AV : I do like space and time on my own so I guess if your theory is correct I may have always been a poet and just never known it. I have always analyzed everything, to the degree that it is a weakness. Everything has to be filtered and thought about deeply.
That said, I do love socializing and really enjoy being around family and friends – just as long as I can withdraw and have my own space in between times!
LC : What do you like most about writing? What do you like least about it?
AV : I love being able to create worlds and move characters around within their space. I also love being able to express myself in a way that allows me to “unload”. I really love the feeling of elation that takes over when I finish a piece I am pleased with. Writing has also allowed me to meet lots of very nice people, so that should be included too.
I dislike the frustration that comes with gazing at an empty screen with a flashing cursor. I also struggle with the constant fear of not being very good, or being torn apart by academics and poets.
LC : Where do you ideally see your writing going in the future? How should it evolve? What are your goals in say. . . ten years?
AV : My ultimate goal is to make it my fulltime profession so I guess a more traditional publishing contract would be a very big step for me. It is very hard to get noticed in literature and perhaps even harder for a poet.
I would like to continue learning styles and methods and evolve my work accordingly. This means challenging my boundaries and pushing new limits which is not without risk.
I certainly would like to keep myself busy with a regular stream of new work hitting the shelf each year and would love to see Lion Hearts grow into something big!
LC : Is there anything else you would wish readers to know about you?
AV: Only that I am very grateful to you for this interview and to them for reading it.
See my review of Me, My World, and I right here at LichenCraig.
See my review of Me, My World, and I right here at LichenCraig.
Andrew’s wonderful, inspiring blog can be found at http://www.avbarber.com .
Find his book, “Me, My World, And I” at Amazon.com .Follow Andrew on Twitter at @authorAVBarber .
Read about “Lion Hearts” on Facebook .
Andrew’s Facebook page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Me-My-World-and-I/223078817817559