Thursday 14 October 2021

Interview with C. F. Barrington

Today it is my great pleasure to welcome C.F. Barrington to the blog. Barrington's first novel, The Wolf Mile was published earlier in the year and I loved it. Read my mini review here. It was the first exciting outing into what is set to an epic series of novels about The Pantheon, an underground game that sees sword-wielding warriors clash on the streets of modern-day cities all over the world. Book two of the series, The Blood Isles, is out now, so it seemed like the perfect time to invite C.F. Barrington in for a chat.

C.F. Barrington has worked in organisations as varied as the RSPB, Oxford University and the National Trust. When his role as Head of Communications at Edinburgh Zoo meant a third year of fielding endless media enquiries about the possible birth of a baby panda, he finally retreated to a quiet desk beside the sea and discovered the inspiration for the Pantheon saga. 

Raised in Hertfordshire and educated at Oxford, he now divides his time between running over the hills of the Lake District and dog walking on the beaches of Fife.

Please tell us about your Pantheon series.

The Pantheon series charts the rise of Tyler Maitland and Lana Cameron as they are plucked from their normal lives to become players in The Pantheon, an underground game bankrolled by the world’s wealthy elite and watched online by thousands. Warriors from seven ancient civilisations are trained, sworn to allegiance, then pitted against each other in battles across five major cities while being filmed in real time. 

The first installment – The Wolf Mile – sees the protagonists recruited into the Viking Valhalla Horde and their battles amongst the claustrophobic alleys of Edinburgh. The series is a modern thriller, but it mixes elements of historical fiction, as well as a sweeping romance, which takes the protagonists from friends, to sworn enemies and finally to lovers.

What inspired you to base The Wolf Mile in Edinburgh?

The story is first and foremost inspired by a sense of place. Apart from a sojourn into the forests of the Highlands, the book’s action all takes place in the closes, tunnels and rooftops which flow from the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Indeed, it was Edinburgh’s Old Town which really allowed the story to manifest. The dark, malevolent history of the Old Town and its stunning architecture and rumours of tunnels and secret passages, set my mind ticking. I am sure that the whole concept of The Pantheon could not have come together if it had not been for my life in and around Edinburgh.

The story was also prompted by two other factors: Firstly, I had always wanted to take my love of historical fiction and coax it into a modern thriller – without going down the well-trodden route of some sort of time-travel. Secondly, after a career spent in major gift fundraising for charities and universities, I had communicated with many very wealthy individuals and I got to wondering what makes someone excited when they can buy everything? As the book asks….. Imagine riches beyond your wildest dreams. What would you do with them? Travel the world? Buy a yacht? Now times it by ten.  A hundred. We’re talking mega-wealth - the kind that buys governments, shapes economies, enervates security forces and makes a mockery of justice systems. NOW what would you do with it? Less certain?

In ancient times, the wealthy of Rome spent their money and energies on forsaking human life in the gladiatorial stadia – and that’s where the concept of The Pantheon grew from in my head.

Please tell us a bit about book two, The Blood Isles.

While The Wolf Mile focuses on the recruitment of the main characters and the challenges thrown at them in the first of the Pantheon’s annual seasons – the Raiding Season, The Blood Isles takes them on to the Blood Season – where the risks become far greater and the action culminates in a full Grand Battle between the Valhalla Vikings and the Titans. As the name suggests, the story shifts from the tight spaces of Old Edinburgh to the bleak expanses of the Outer Hebrides, somewhere lonely enough for two Palatinates to face-off in the ultimate blood struggle.

How many novels are there going to be in the series? Where are they heading next?

There are five books in the Pantheon series, with The Blood Isles launching in October 2021 and Book 3 (The Hastening Storm) coming in spring 2022.

As the series progresses and the characters advance through the ranks, the story opens out to Rome, Budapest, Beijing and Istanbul as each of the rival warrior teams must be faced. 

There are clearly many references to the past and mythology in the Pantheon Series of books. Have you considered writing historical fiction or high fantasy?

I’ve often considered writing historical fiction. I’m addicted to reading the genre and love authors such as Bernard Cornwell, Wilbur Smith, Giles Kristian and Mr Matthew Harffy himself! (MH: Well, what was he going to say?) I did write a book set during the Third Crusade – Led By A Lion – when I was in my teens and I had lots of encouraging letters from publishers, but my writing needed the benefit of a few more years to mature!

I’m less into fantasy, apart from classics such as Lord of the Rings, and it’s been somewhat strange to find The Wolf Mile classified as Sci Fi in Waterstones stores! I guess it’s because the events in The Pantheon could never really happen in real life without them being closed down by the security forces, but I’ve never viewed the story as fantasy or sci-fi and there are certainly no dragons or elves or magic!

What do you love (and hate?) about having set the books in the 21st century? 

I love the mix of history and modernity in the series. When the characters are fully ensconced in their roles within the Valhalla Palatinate, they could be part of a genuine historic Viking horde. But then the story shifts and they are traipsing the modern streets of Edinburgh or sharing coffees in Jenner’s department store! I really enjoyed being able to bring the buzz and vibe of today’s city into my descriptions.

Another aspect I love about the 21st century setting is that if my ancient warrior teams have any historical inaccuracies I can get away with them because this is a modern game re-interpreting historical cultures!

The worst thing about the modern setting is that I’ve had to find plausible reasons why blood battles on the streets of Edinburgh do not bring with them headlines, online notoriety and clampdowns by government and multiple arrests! You’ll have to read The Wolf Mile to discover how I achieved this.

What are you working on at the moment? Have you got plans beyond the Pantheon Series?

I’m currently editing Book 3 – The Hastening Storm – and planning the story arc for Book 4. The series is such a twisting, turning adventure with a large cast of characters and a tale which expands geographically, so I’m finding it a complex task to pace and plan the action and to ensure all the loose ends tie up between books!

When did you start writing? Do you write full-time now? What made you take the plunge and write your first book?

I’ve always aspired to be an author – but my actual attempts to make this a reality have been few and far between. I wrote a full-length novel when I was fifteen, set amidst the 3rd Crusade, and I had some encouraging feedback from publishers. Nevertheless, it took me another fifteen years before I wrote my next one, Crestfallen, a thriller set in the Lake District. I was lucky enough to obtain a well-known London agent, but no publishing offer was forthcoming. It’s then taken me another fifteen years to get around to writing The Wolf Mile

I currently work three days a week and try to focus on my writing for another three – with a day off to keep the family happy!

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

Now that my first book is published, the best thing about being a writer is knowing that there are actually real people out there who are enjoying reading my work! It is utterly amazing to be able to spend time dreaming up stories and then see them professionally packaged so that people – strangers(!) – can immerse themselves in the world I’ve created. I count myself as unbelievably privileged to be in this position.

For me, the worst thing is forcing myself to focus and get the words down. I’m easily distracted by social media and daytime tv! Each morning, faced with a blank screen, it’s so hard to get into the zone. It feels like being a student again and having to write an essay from scratch every single day – and that’s got to be everyone’s worst nightmare!!

What is the best book you've read in the last twelve months?

I adored Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts for the sheer, utter beauty of the language. And I’m currently blown away by Into The Silence by Wade Davis, chronicling the early attempts to map and conquer Everest. 

And now for the quick-fire questions:

Tea or coffee?

Tea every time. Proper loose leaf, in a pot with a strainer and warmed milk! Not quite the whole Japanese experience, but nearly!

Burger or hot dog?

Burger if I have to – but not that keen on either. I prefer a curry.

Villain or hero?

It’s got the be the villain. You always want to understand why they’re so bad.

Beer or wine?

Tough one. Probably wine. A glass of Merlot after dinner. But I spend a lot of time in the Lake District and there are some damn good Cumbrian ales.

Movie or TV series?

TV series. If they are good – and I’m often a fan of foreign series – there is so much more opportunity to explore the characters.

Happy ending or tragedy?

I must admit I’m partial to a tragedy. Leave the readers/viewers in tears – though maybe with some light amongst the clouds.

In the car, audio-book or music?

Music. When I’m writing I have only instrumental scores playing, but in the car it’s going to be songs. I like many styles – but according to my partner, they’re all crap!

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions.

Connect with C.F. Barrington