Welcome to the archive of the John Barleycorn blog, produced by Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn during the process of creating their graphic novel John Barleycorn Must Die. As part of that process, you'll find discussions of magic, of creativity, and 'Around the Table' discussions with a range of internationally known artists, writers and film makers. The graphic novel was printed in a limited edition, so if you managed to get one, good for you! Although this project is over now, we're leaving this blog online as an archive and as a snap shot in time.

Friday, 16 December 2011


Sorry, we're down with flu. Normal(?) service will be resumed next week!

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Reckoning...

H - We've had our feedback from our editor, and it was very interesting, wasn’t it, Rex? How did you feel about it?
R - I was very inspired and excited! 
H - At the time, or afterwards, or both?
R - More afterwards.
H - It’s actually quite hard, at first, to absorb such detailed and honest feedback on work that we’ve been so close to for over a year, isn’t it?
R - It is.
H - Let’s detail some of our editor's notes before we discuss our feelings about them at greater length, as I think that this is a very important part of the writing process: how one takes and uses editorial oversight.
R - Okay.
H - So, our editor took a week to read over the comic, giving it three reads. The first, we were told, was a general read, to get the feel of the book; and the second read was focused on plot and pacing, the third on character development and language. The good news is that the story works, in general, although there are a number of things that need revision. Chief among them is something which I think is common when creating ‘fantasy’ worlds, which is that we hadn’t yet explained our world fully to the reader. As our editor says, there are things we know about John Barleycorn's world that aren't yet down on the page. This makes the story hard to follow in places -- almost as if we assume the reader already knows who our characters are and how our world operates because we know it. 
R - I think the more we worked on and talked about our characters and plot, the more comfortable we became with them, and we simply forgot that some of this was knowledge that we hadn't shared with the reader.
H – It's an obvious, and probably fairly common, mistake to make, which highlights the importance of giving the work to someone else to read who is outside of that closed creative environment. In our first draft, as regular readers will be aware, we had narrators called ‘Q’ and ‘A’ whom we used to explain a lot of the ideas that we are dealing with in our world: the mundus imaginalis, magic, various realms and mythical ideas about gods, etc.. And then we took those narrators out of the book in second draft, didn't we, Rex?
R - We did, because we thought the story had outgrown them.  
H - We were worried about relying on them too much. We wanted a tight, character-driven plot, rather than relying on them to explain things.  By taking them out in the second draft, we were forced to really focus on the mechanics of plot, and our characters' motives. This had the effect that we wanted of making the plotting of our story much tighter...but clearly it also meant that important information about the world was no longer being delivered!
R - Fortunately we still have the narrators' text from the first draft, so we had a fruitful work session yesterday re-introducing it into the second draft.
H - It was amazing how well it slotted in. With just a little bit of tweaking, that narrative device will serve to give the background information the story needs – and do it in an interesting way, without it seeming like mere “info dumps.” And yet, I think it was an important part of the creative process that we took the narrators out of the second draft, because this forced to look at other ways of delivering information. 
R - Now we have the best of both worlds! A tighter plot, and the narrators have returned!
H - So going back to our earlier discussion: How did you find the experience of being edited, overall?
R - I really liked it, in the end. I completely gave myself up to someone with far greater knowledge of storytelling than myself, and I was grateful for the opportunity to have the work reviewed in that way. How did you feel about it, Howard?
H - I found it hard at first, to be honest, because someone is questioning what one has done and I always have to fight an innate resistance to that. I also have an emotional reaction against being ‘told what to do.’ I know that it isn’t what's really happening, but an editorial critique triggers something resistant inside, from childhood probably. I do work through that though, always, by putting the needs of the project above my own patterned feelings. And once I push the emotional reaction aside and focus on the work itself, it becomes very enlightening to learn where my ideas aren’t coming across, and to hear suggestions for correcting that.
R - Maybe it was easier for me, as I am not the writer of the book as such. Had the visual narrative been under question, I might well have been crying and stamping my feet....
H - Yes, like you did every time I questioned the need for certain page spreads! I think that, for both of us, once we had digested the editorial feedback over night it opened the book up to us afresh, inspiring us and suggesting a whole host of new possibilities and ideas. I can see why some writers find the idea and experience of being edited daunting, but a good editor helps one to find the core of what one is trying to say, and gives advice about how to make that accessible.
R - It's also brought me closer to some of the characters. I am able to empathise more with their story and I want to explore their relationships further.
H - That reminds me of another comment we received: that some of the characters weren’t yet fully explored -- and the subsequent discussion about this has led to a deeper knowledge of them and their drives.
R- One character in particular: the 13th Conjuror, who is still somewhat one-dimensional. I've suddenly developed an empathy with him. I want to show another side to him in the story.
H - I think for me, coming off the back of the editing process, I am left with several things: The first is relief that the book isn’t just complete rubbish! Then secondly, I have an expanded awareness of things that we'd missed out in this draft: world setting issues, some character motivations, and a lack of clear emotional reactions to events by some of the characters. And from that awareness comes an understanding of how I might correct those things, and also excitement about how better written and more substantial the book will become when I do.
R - After talking to our editor, we have pulled an entire scene which wasn't really relevant…
H - …and we’ve added a completely new scene, which is relevant.
R - We’ve extended two scenes in order to deliver more information, and change the pace…
H - …and, as mentioned above, we are re-introducing the narrative voices.
R - For all of you who are awaiting the publication with baited breath, we are getting closer now!
H – Before we go, however, we want to acknowledge how delighted we are to have received a Liebster       blogging award from Katherine Langrish. We'll talk more about this in a future post, and “pay it forward” to other blogs we like. We've been so busy with the edit to give it our full attention this week, but we're honored and we'll post about this further as soon as work on the project settles down a bit.

Friday, 2 December 2011

While we wait...

H - Our graphic novel is with our editor, and next Monday we get feedback.

R - So while we wait with baited breath, here is a deleted scene in which John goes to a Tarot reader. 

H - The Tarot reader is Glady, who is a Romany gypsy. In my original book, 'Immortales', Glady took one of her eyes out to throw to John, as he needed the 'eye of a seer' as a bargaining tool. In Rex's version of the story, the eye was changed to a coin.

R - And in the novel now, John reads his own Tarot, so this scene was deemed redundant. Enjoy!