Conversation with British Author and Historian, James Barr-Part One

(James Barr is a British author and historian. His book on Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt, ‘Setting the Desert on Fire’, was published in 2006. ‘A Line In The Sand’, on the rivalry between Britain and France for dominance in the Middle East, followed in 2011. His latest work is on the post-war middle East and will be out by mid-2018. In this candid conversation with nikhimenon, he opens up about his work, inspiration and how he deals with criticism.This will be published in two parts,the first part can be read here)

James Barr
Q: What inspired you to be a writer?
Though I started writing when I was quite young, my first big ‘break’ happened about 15 years ago when I got an opportunity to pen down the history of a small organization in London. Immediately after the publication of that book I went to Syria and it was my experience there that served as the real inspiration for my debut work.Fortunately, it got good acceptance and my second work infact grew out of my first book .

Q:There are ‘best-selling’ authors authors who work with  newbie writers to bring out a book.What is your take on that? Do you think it works better that way or the ‘veteran’  is just lending his name for ‘easy money’?
Yes,you do hear about that.There are some authors who work with a team of people ,who inturn basically do the job for them.Well,if you are successful enough ,it’s a way of working. But personally, I would never prefer that kind of work .For me, the excitement of the job I do is about finding things out and if I delegate that job to somebody else, I would lose that ‘sense of discovery’ which is partly what I find exciting about what I do. Secondly, there is also the question of trusting other people’s judgement. As soon as you involve other people in the (writing) process, you are risking your reputation to someone else’s judgement. If the book turns out to be an awful one, it’s you (the ‘brand’) which ultimately suffers!

Q:What are your hobbies?
I used to like drawing. I think it has helped me a lot to kill time while attending extremely boring conferences(chuckles)!

Q: Do you ever plan to write for Television?
Not particularly!

Q: When will your next book come out?
I am just finishing my next book now and it should be out by mid-September ,2018. It’s a history of Anglo-American rivalry in the middle-east from the second world war through to the 1970s.

Q:Do you intend to write fiction at some point of time?
One of the big frustrations when you do these projects is the amount of stuff that you can’t use in the book. Most of the background data don’t go into your book and it’s quite tempting to make a fictional work out of all these ‘junk’ info. But to be very frank, I don’t intend to do something like that in the near future. Mixing fact and fiction quite often leaves a reader confused and having said that, it’s a reality that the style of history writing has changed a lot. People tend to write popular history as if it is fiction. I think I would struggle to ‘invent’ a story as I believe Truth is stranger than fiction.

(Nikhimenon is an Infectious Disease doctor by profession and a freelance book blogger by passion.He has been trained in India and in the U.K.The second part of this conversation will be posted soon.)

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