One of my passionate pastimes is reading – I enjoy most genres but I do like thrillers, murder mysteries and such like as well as the English literature classics, like The Great Gatsby. I came across “Danny’s Boys, An East End Tale”, a gangland thriller based on an East London criminal gang of kids from Walthamstow in the 1980s, by author Richard Barnard – not only did it tick boxes for me genre-wise, but having been a teenager myself in that era and area I was looking forward to reading about the places I knew. So, this week I’m pleased to welcome onto the blog the author, Richard Barnard, to chat about “Danny’s Boys”, his Walthamstow memories and past lifestyle, his life now as a published author … and about his fashion tastes too! Hi Richard….
Hello my name is Richard Barnard, author of Danny’s Boys, An East End Tale and expert analysis in high level criminality.
Congratulations on publishing your debut gangland thriller, “Danny’s Boys, An East End Tale”, the first book in your proposed “The East End Series”. How does it feel to be a published author?
To me it feels strange my clairvoyant aunt predicted my writing career when I was just a small boy and at that time I had no interest in literature or school for that matter.
Your book is based on an East London criminal gang of kids from Walthamstow and their rise to the top during the boom of the 1980s cocaine era – obviously coming from and being brought up in Waltham Forest in the same era myself there are lots of memories I can relate to in the book – but non East Enders would still enjoy the thriller too!How much of your book (and the series) relates to your own life experience?
The trilogy is a fictional story based on how I grew up. It’s no secret I was a career criminal, stealing at infant stages, then progressed on to being the principle organiser of a major cocaine importation at the turn of the Millennium. Oh,and anyone can relate to the story, I get a lot of people from outside London, places like Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and even abroad praising the originality and realism of the skullduggery. It’s also nice to get an email from the ladies who appreciate a good love or sex scene. I’ve been told they’d had a few late night pillow scrunching moments, that’s keeping it mild!
Have you always enjoyed the written word, books and story writing as a child?
Going back to your second question, when my aunt told me I’d one day become a successful writer it saddened me because I thought, how boring. She said if my brother followed his true path he would become a movie star. I’m now grown enough to know without writers there would be no actors, movies or singers of music for that matter.
What made you realise that you wanted to write a book? What impact did meeting Jeffrey Archer whilst you were both serving time in prison make to your new career path? Did he offer any helpful hints and tips?
Jeffery Archer, now there’s a character. I have no doubt, our brief encounter during the year 2001 was fate. The funny thing was at the time he was more intrigued about my life and mind than I was his. I couldn’t help questioning him in detail about the world’s corrupt governments, the Bush administration, Maggie Thatcher, cover ups and David Icke style conspiracy theories. Lord Archer said to me, if I were a writer my work would make for interesting reading. I do feel his statement got my mind’s literary cogs turning and ready to move through the gears. After a four month long court battle my fate was sealed, I received a 20 year sentence and needed something to occupy my time. My defending QC Stephen Solly, one of the most respected, said I was a man of remarkable intelligence. Coming from him I took that as a huge compliment. He was the junior barrister defending the high profile eighties Marijuana and hashish smuggler, Howard Marks (Mr Nice). He actually said myself and Mr Marks had similar traits, that particular observation put a smile on my face during some bleak, testing and troublesome times I have to say. After a while you get bored of other prisoners’ stories – them telling you how many they’ve killed, how much precious stones they’d heisted abroad or how many tons of cocaine they’ve shipped in from Columbia. If truth be known you get sick of hearing it! My daughter inspired me to give up smoking and I became a fitness fanatic, running half marathons around the exercise field. I began reading familiar best-selling crime novels and without being too big headed, I felt I had something to offer. I’d criticise a book, how they’d got the ending wrong, inconsistencies and regularly work out the plot. I grew up in the East End and some of the fictional character leading gangsters in stories would have got laughed off the manor. I can remember one morning waking up in my cell seriously thinking my writing career has begun. As the months went on I began making notes, then giving out chapters of Danny’s Boys to other inmates. There was no better place to have your crime novel criticised, Whitemoor Prison is Europe’s highest security prison housing the world’s top level sophisticated and most dangerous individuals. I continuously used the education department’s printer giving out a few chapters to major cocaine traffickers, armed robbers, hit men and IRA terrorists. The thing was no one had any negative pointers, I would often say, forget us being friends, I need the truth but they had nothing but praise saying they love that genre and it’s the most real they’d read. I’d often try to trick them, saying the text was written by a top author. They didn’t doubt it and most could tell it was written by a man who experienced it first hand. That was it, their words set the wheels in motion, I knew my destiny.
In one of your interviews you quoted that “there is no fairytale ending in a gangster lifestyle. It just brings misery, prison and people getting killed”. Never a truer word spoken, Richard – so is that really the moral of “Danny’s Boys”? How hard was it to turn your life around?
Linda, I’ve said it a million times, there is no fairy tale ending in that life, it ends in jail misery or death. Even the ones that stop after accumulating mass wealth, they’re never out of the woods, they still worry about someone plotting their demise. They know when you’re on top of your game, the authorities are the least of your problems. I was more worried about the desperado’s flying in from abroad, they’d done their homework and knew who was flush or making large amounts of cash at the time. If they simply took your wealth and went on their way that wouldn’t be so bad but these guys play by different rules such as torturing family members including children until they’re satisfied you’ve given and signed over all you have.
Now that your debut book has been published and receiving rave reviews – I’ve downloaded the book and am enjoying it myself (not finished yet) – you are busy with the second installment. When is the second book due out?
The second installment realistically will be with us by the Spring of 2015. I’ve been touched by the public’s response to Danny’s Boys but in my opinion if they think that was good the sequel will be a phenomenon. The buzz I’m getting from the characters fills me with a tremendous energy, a feeling it has already been made into a hit movie. I actually believe the epic story is happening, the vibe of the novel is that strong.
Is it harder to write a follow up book or now that the juices are flowing, are your ideas/thoughts tumbling out?
Now the East End series has begun I can’t hold myself back Linda. Having lived the life makes it effortless, I have so much original knowledge. One old gangster I left at HMP Whitemoor, never to be released once pointed out “Son, who better to write an East End gangland thriller than a boy who lived and breathed it? Go on son, get out and make it happen for yourself, just send me a copy” he laughed. He was once a well loved fence but got put into a situation and being incarcerated indefinitely was the outcome.
Apart from the East End series, are you hoping to write more books in the future? If so, would you stick to the same format or would you try a different genre?
Whilst in prison I wrote an amazing first draft story, the basis being reincarnation. God forbid, but when your body dies your spirit will enter the fetus of a female just conceived and life goes on and on and on, a continuous cycle. In another life, Linda, you could have been my father or lover and our souls continuously meet in new lives we live, that type of thing. The thing is, I have a secret amazing addition to add to this life cycle concept I truly believe in. It’s in first draft stages at the moment but when I get it right, the right film producers will have a block-buster on their hands. I get an amazing buzz and often smile and even laugh when scenes pop into my mind and I file them. What intrigues me most is where do all the inspirational, creative thoughts and ideas come from. It often makes me feel I never chose to become a writer, I feel more like I’ve been chosen, if you can make sense of that.
On your cover of “Danny’s Boys” you have the picture of the old Walthamstow Dog Stadium, which has now sadly been pulled down although the sign remains. I have had many enjoyable nights there, both as a child and an adult! What places in E17 hold sweet memories for you?
Most sweetest memories in Walthamstow – I’d have to say the Market as a kid hustling, stealing, robbing, making money. I grew up poor and treats were few and far between in our neighbourhood. I speak for many around the world when I say “There is no better feeling than earning readies”. I love the memories of our local Stoneydown Park, off Blackhorse, kicking football and meeting up with friends to go out on the “thief”- sorry but for me those were the sweetest times for me in our E 17. I felt cursed as a child but now realise being deprived was a blessing, it gave me the backbone and made me the man I am today. I look in the mirror each morning and feel proud.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I like smart and casual clothing, Italian and French design Armani, Replay, Chevignon, that type of stuff. I often send a pair of boots I like the style of to Thailand to have them copied in a crocodile or snakeskin, other than that a nice trendy pair of Nike or Adidas trainers will do.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
Yes, I shop online for Oakley sunglasses, my favourite.
Links you would like to share so that readers of the blog can learn more about “Danny’s Boys”:
Thank you Richard…so, dear readers, if you are looking for a thrilling read whilst reclining on your sunlounger this Summer, get your copy now…
Photo Credits: All photos have been published with kind permission of Richard Barnard.