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How can you adapt your novel into a comic or graphic form? What are the different types? How does a creative career develop over the long term and when do you need to take a step back to consider how to move forward? Barry Nugent talks about all this and more.
In the intro, Amazon changes ebook return policy [Society of Authors]; Spotify introduces audiobooks [Spotify; FindawayVoices; Publishing Perspectives]; Neal Stephenson on The Sword Guy podcast.
Please complete my Creative Penn Survey 2022 here (by 7 Oct). You can also get 30% off my courses here until the end of Sept with discount coupon: SUMMER22
This episode is sponsored by Publisher Rocket, which will help you get your book in front of more Amazon readers so you can spend less time marketing and more time writing. I use Publisher Rocket for researching book titles, categories, and keywords — for new books and for updating my backlist. Check it out at www.PublisherRocket.com
Barry Nugent is the author of the supernatural adventure Unseen Shadows Transmedia Universe, as well as the middle-grade adventure Trail of the Cursed Cobras. He's also the co-host of the Geek Syndicate podcast.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Shifting from traditional to indie publishing in the early days
- What is transmedia?
- The production and sales of full-color comics
- Different formats of graphic novels
- Crowdsourcing to cover the expense of creating a graphic novel
- The different artists that are needed for comics and graphic novels
- In the intro, I mentioned AI comic creation [Twist Street; Campfire]
You can find Barry Nugent at BarryNugent.com and on Twitter @Unseen_Shadows
Transcript of Interview with Barry Nugent
Joanna: Barry Nugent is the author of the supernatural adventure Unseen Shadows Transmedia Universe, as well as the middle-grade adventure Trail of the Cursed Cobras. He's also the cohost of the Geek Syndicate podcast. Welcome, Barry.
Barry: Hi, Jo. Thanks for having me on.
Joanna: It’s an interesting topic today.
First up, tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.
Barry: I am now at the ripe old age of 53, so we'd have to turn the clock all the way back to me being 11 years old, and my brother took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Joanna: Ah, wonderful.
Barry: Yeah. We're kindred spirits on this front.
Barry: I remember I came out of that film and my mind was just completely blown. I knew I wanted to do something. I'd never written before. I knew I wanted to do something, but I didn't know what it was I wanted to do.
I remember saying this to my mom, and my mom saying to me, ‘Why don't you write something?' So I did. I remember the story I wrote was particularly terrible because it was just a complete ripoff of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The weird thing was is that story never really saw the light of day, but the title for that story I lifted. And now that is the title for my middle-grade novel. Trail of the Cursed Cobras was actually the title of the very first story I tried to write when I was 11 years old. So I thought it was quite a nice nod to the 11-year-old me.
Joanna: Did you write that for your kids or something?
Barry: No. I don't have kids. It's a strange story. I'd basically I'd been approached by an agent who had read some of my other work, and she'd asked me had I ever thought about writing middle-grade fiction? And I'd said, ‘Nope. Never thought of it.'
I've read a load of middle-grade fiction. I love that area, but I didn't think I could do it, I thought it was a lot more difficult than people think it is. But I gave it a go.
As it turned out, me and the agent parted ways and I decided to carry on my own. And it's been great fun. I'm currently working on the follow-up to it at the moment, and yeah, it's been great fun.
Joanna: You mentioned that you had an agent and you were originally traditionally published in 1999 with your novel Paladin but then you went indie.
Tell us a bit more about how your publishing journey unfolded.
Barry: Paladin got picked up by a traditional publisher who at the time… Let's just say I wasn't necessarily impressed with some of their business practices and we'll leave it there. And back then, I knew I wanted to do something on my own. I think I'd sort of came out of this and I'd started to approach other publishers and agents.
This was when I'd finished Fallen Heroes. And basically, the feedback that I was getting were people were saying to me, ‘We can't find a space for it. We can't see where it would go on the bookshelf.'
This might seem crazy now, but the term urban fantasy didn't exist back then. So, stuff like Da Vinci Code and even like your books, were very difficult to market back then because there was nowhere to really put it. Yes, you could call it a thriller, but I wouldn't say it was a thriller because they had all these different elements in it.
So that drove me down the independent route. But what I realized when I got there was I had no idea what I was doing. There was no real help out there in the same way. ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) didn't exist, and I was pretty much flying solo. I remember my sole guide was a book that I'd got on self-publishing. It was a little bit like one of those sort of guidebooks, but it was all I had. And they used lulu.com
Barry: So I basically followed everything they said step-by-step in terms of putting a draft together, getting it onto Lulu, trying to get it onto Amazon, trying to get it into bookshops.
The overriding thought that I had when I was doing this all was that I wanted this to look as professional as possible. That was the one thing that I wanted.
It needed to be indistinguishable from a traditionally published book when it was on the bookshelf.
And I was really lucky. I managed to find a cover artist that worked with me, and he came up with a brilliant cover.
Then I published it, and then I started approaching bookshops. I think I contacted… As I said, that back then was very different. I contacted over 200 individual branches of Waterstones…
Joanna: My goodness.
Barry: …just to try to sort of get him to take a copy. And in the end, what happened was I contacted my local Waterstones, and with a sort of, ‘Read this book, if you don't like it you don't have to contact me again, but if you do like it maybe you think about putting it on the shelf.'
They read it, they liked it, they took some copies, those copies sold, they took some more copies, they sold. They then invited me in for a book signing, and then a few other Waterstones got in contact. And it went from there really.
Joanna: When you say went from there, because, it sounds like you had a difficult start. But you've got this whole sort of universe thing going on now. And yes, so your website talks about Unseen Shadows as a transmedia project. So you've certainly gone beyond sort of one book into this bigger world, this bigger universe.
Where are you now and how do you define transmedia?
Barry: I'll answer that where I am now, because I'm at a crossroads really. I'm sort of taking a…which is weird doing this interview, but I'm taking a bit of a step back from everything because I'm trying to finish my current book. I've still got my other trilogy to finish.
What I found is that I think I've just gotten so confused with… there are so many different ways to market now compared to when I first started that I've just got a bit overwhelmed with it all, so I've decided to take a bit of a step back and refocus and repurpose.
And actually, what I found is listening to your podcast especially, and listening to ALLi and being a member of ALLi now, that's really given me a lot more tools than I had before, but in terms of the transmedia stuff.
I think that sometimes people can get confused. If you think of say one of your books, some people might think transmedia is literally someone takes your book and adapts it as a TV show, or they adapt it as a comic.
Whereas how I think of transmedia is, for example, in one of my books there's a character called Reverent, who's a bit of a vigilante. And what we've done is there's a comic which always deals with how he got started, what his origins are, and there's another comic which is another adventure of him.
Now, even though his origin is briefly mentioned in the actual book, I think there's basically a paragraph, the comics take that paragraph and expand upon it while staying within the confines of the story.
So, the way I look at transmedia storytelling is it's basically telling a single story or story experience across many different formats.
Does that make sense, Joanna?
Joanna: Over a decade ago I interviewed an author, I think it was J. C. Hutchins, on transmedia. Literally, that's why it was so funny when you pitched me this topic because I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I did this a decade ago.'
What it was back then was the word was used as let's say you have a book that references the character's phone number, then that phone number actually gets set up or it references a certain talisman that they have, and that actually gets created. And you can follow the clues in the real world, or a website that a private detective agency actually has a website set up for that.
Joanna: And in fact, in that TV show ‘Castle,' they actually published some of Castle's books, even though Castle was a character.
Barry: Yeah, they did.
Joanna: So, I see what you are saying is almost you are expanding.
If the book is canon, you are expanding the canon with these offshoot comics.
Barry: Yes. I think it was one of the draws for how the very members of the creative team got involved with it was what I said was, ‘Any of the other projects were 100% canon to my stories.'
Because I think one of the things that you see in a lot of other transmedia projects, they did it with ‘Star Wars' where they do these offshoot stories, but they don't actually say that they're canon. They just say, ‘These are nice sort of little side stories,' but they don't really affect what's going on in the main story.
Whereas I've done that differently. I've said, ‘No, this is all canon. Everything you read in the comics or you listen to an audio drama is canon.'
To the point of there was one graphic novel which is actually set six months after the events of my first book, and it bridges the gap between the first and second book.
But one of the things I've always tried to do is say that these can be independently enjoyed. So you don't have to have read my novel. You could just pick up one of the comics and just read the comic and just put it down. But obviously, you get a richer experience if you're aware of the story, the full story.
Joanna: There's a few questions from this.
First of all, this creative team. So tell us about this because so many of us as independents. There's been things like Kindle Worlds where authors could have other authors who would write in their world, so that's one model. But they're not canon, as you mentioned.
Then there's the co-writing. So Michael Anderle and Craig Martelle in that business. They're getting a lot of co-writers to write in their universes, but the royalties are split differently.
How did you attract your creative team? How does that all work?
Barry: It's a bit of a weird one, and it's uncomfortable because in one respect, I don't really have the creative team anymore. It's almost come back to me just because we've done all these titles now. It completely came about by accident. I know it doesn't sound it, but it came about by accident.
What happened was I'd been approached by a comic company who wanted to do a straight adaptation of Fallen Heroes. And I said, ‘That'd be lovely.' So, I started to work with them and the creative team that they had put together, which was a writer, artist, colorist, and a letterer. I'd started to work together with them.
We'd got partway through the first issue when the company went bust. I didn't know what to do, but the team that were involved, they wanted to keep going and they said, ‘Is there any way that we can finish the comic and get it out?'
And I was saying, ‘Well, I haven't got any money. I can't pay you.' And they were , ‘No, no, that's fine. We just want to get this out in some shape or form.'.
So, because I was doing Geek Syndicate I knew a few companies in the comic sphere, and I was able to get some advertising. Basically, what I did was I offered advertising space at the back of the first issue at the comic. And that was enough to pay for the printing of the first comic.
Then to cut a long story short, whilst we were working on all of that, one of the creative team had been talking to her partner who was a writer who had read Fallen Heroes and loved it. And he'd then said to me, ‘I'd like to be a part of it in some shape or form because. Maybe I could write a script for a comic, another comic.' And I was like, ‘Okay.'
He said, ‘Would you want me to do it?' I said, ‘Well, just pitch me a story on one of the characters and we'll take it from there.' And we did that and we put together a team. Again, it was the same sort of thing. I got approached by people.
I think a lot of it came because people knew me from the podcast and they knew me from comic conventions.
What started to happen was other people got more involved because they could see certain other people were already involved. It was certain artists would need to work with certain writers, so they got involved. I think people just liked the idea of creating something that hadn't been done before. This idea of using prose within comics.
And I think the fact that I was saying to people, ‘It was a 100% canon and effectively do what you want within certain guidelines, but, do what you want.' Does that make sense?
Joanna; Don't throw a robot in or something, except it would fit.
Barry: Well, yeah. It was weird, because all of the comics… I haven't written any of the scripts. These have been written by comic writers.
My involvement has been just overseeing it, just making sure that everything makes sense within the confines of the world that I've built.
But all of the writers have read the book.
What amazed me was how well they were versed in the lore of the book. And some of the questions that they were firing back at me as they were developing scripts and stuff, that gave me ideas when I was then working on the sequel.
It was a great experience doing all of these. But what's happened now is we've done them all. And because now I'm trying to get these other books done and stuff, I've taken a step back to really look at what's the best way I can sort of market the content that I have. I don't like that word content.
Market the books and all this creative stuff that I've got, is what's the best way to get it out there to sort of proper showcase the work that these men and women have done.
Joanna: Intellectual property. Let's call it that.
Barry: There you go.
Joanna: This is actually a question I have though, because one of the things that is very difficult with this work is the rights to the universe.
So, let's say, Marvel come and they say, ‘Barry, we want everything.' Have you always done like the right kinds of contracts so it's yours to control, or do you only control the two books? Because the problem is characters and how they cross different intellectual property assets.
Is that all in place in case you get a big film or a big gaming deal?
Barry: To a certain extent. I think part of it was because a lot of it was people that I knew, and these were friends as opposed to straight-up business relationships. Luckily, one of the people who was involved with the original adaptation, who was Nikki, who made all this possible. She basically put together almost like a softer contract, which basically laid out to people that the right set of characters in the world still belongs to me.
Barry: Yeah. So everything still belongs to me. But I think they also know that I wouldn't leave anyone hanging.
Joanna: Oh, no. I'm sure you wouldn't be a dick about it!
Joanna: The reality is these things can be held up because of contracts. So, that sounds amazing.
Let's just come back to the comics, because having a look at your website, there's loads of them. And it's so funny because you've …or it said that you didn't have to pay for these. They happen through the advertising model, or through relationships that you've made through your Geek Syndicate.
This is one of the challenges of graphic novels is they are so expensive to make.
Joanna: Apart from the cost, which you managed to do, what are the other challenges? Because also, back when you started, I mean, ComiXology was later bought by Amazon.
Barry: Yes. I think so.
Joanna: How have you done the distribution of the comics?
Barry: I've done like a small print run for when a title has come out. I've done a small print run which normally I then launch at a comic convention. But at the same time, I was doing digital additions which were available via Comixology.
But even when Comixology was bought up by Amazon, I could still get my titles onto Amazon via Comixology, although they've now changed the format of Comixology on Amazon, so it's going to be rubbish at the moment, which is a real shame because actually how it used to look was amazing.
There's a couple of other little more independent places where I can sell my stuff digitally.
And the good thing about it is some of those places handled the tax, which I think was part of the reason why I struggled with the idea of selling the digital stuff directly myself, was because they brought in this whole sort of tax law was if you're selling digitally, you didn't have to pay tax on it as well, and it was just an extra. And because I have a full-time job, this isn't my full-time job, I didn't have that time to try and work out that side of things. To be honest, I wasn't making enough to make that time viable.
Joanna: That's what I was thinking. I was like, ‘Goodness me. This looks like an incredible amount of comics for something that's emerged.'
What are those other sites, if people listening are interested in those?
Barry: See now you've put me in the spot. Comic-C, I think it's called. One is called Comic-C. That is probably the only one that I do use, because I've started to look into… I think it was on your podcast I heard it, which was Shopify. Because I know Shopify does digital stuff as well, doesn't it?
Joanna: Yes. And also, it does print-on-demand drop-shipped. You can have the files at the printer and they get printed when it gets ordered.
Barry: Yes. Which is one of the things that I've been experimenting with probably over the past sort of six months or so, which was putting the comic onto the likes of Lulu and Amazon as a print-on-demand model. The downside of that is that for the most part, it is still quite expensive.
Joanna: Are you doing full-color print or just black and white?
Barry: Full color.
Joanna: To me, these lovely comics in physical editions are essentially special editions because they're so expensive. But obviously, if you go to a comic shop, they're always going to be a little bit cheaper because we can't print at that scale.
Joanna: Tell us a bit more about the comics. You've got Geeks Syndicate and obviously, you go to comic events.
Tell us about the fan scene for it's more than just one genre obviously, but the formats for comics and graphic novels. It seems like it's huge now.
Barry: It was weird because when we first started Geek Syndicate, I've always been a comic reader since I was a kid. I went away from it a little bit, but I've always been a fan of the comics. And then when we started doing the podcast, I realized I'd never been to a comic convention. That was the first thing we put right.
We went to a comic convention in Birmingham. And even I went in with those sort of preconceived ideas. I think people have a lot of preconceived ideas about what a comic convention is like and stuff. Everyone is dressed in costumes and stuff like that. Which does happen.
But what I loved about it, and it's something that I've missed over the last couple of years with the pandemic, is the level of creativity that's in the air when you go to one of these conventions. It's amazing.
You can not come out of one of these conventions as a creative person and you just want to get home and create.
It doesn't matter whether that creation is writing prose or comics or acting, or whatever. It's just being around like-minded creative people. It's the same. I haven't actually done many book conventions. It's something I want to do. But I imagine it's a similar vibe that you get from a book convention.
I think one of the things you realize when you go to comic conventions, is all the different ways that people can create with comics, and the different types of stories that can be told.
I think when you don't know about these things, you go straight to DC and Marvel and you think they're the only types of stories and comics that are out there.
Don't get me wrong, I still love DC, Marvel stuff.
But you wouldn't think all about graphical comics, the thrillers, romance, what they call slice-of-life, sports comic. there's a comic for every genre. I always say there's a comic for every person. It's just about matching you up with the right comic.
Joanna: In fact, now there's a lot of nonfiction books being adapted to graphic nonfiction like Yuval Noah Harari's books. He's putting those out.
The difference between a comic and a non-fiction book told in images in the panels, is it a fact of just the format, as in a book format versus a comic format, which to me is a sort of soft cover, quite thin as opposed to a book?
Barry: No. See, I'm going to try and see if I get this right. If comic readers, if you're listening, I apologize if I now murder this. So let's start with a book.
You have what they call comic or what they call a floppy.
A floppy would be more your traditional comic, normally about 22 pages and it's floppy.
Then if you're doing a series, after you've done six issues, you might bring out a collection of those first six issues. That would be called a trade. So that's called a trade paperback, I think.
Joanna: And that is bound as a book?
Barry: That's bound. So that looks like, as you say, like a book.
Joanna: But a big book. Like oversized format.
Barry: Yes. That's called a trade.
Now, a graphic novel is basically a self-contained story which is bound, can be anything from 60 pages upwards to 200 pages.
So, even if you go onto my site, you'll see that I have some floppies, but I also have some graphic novels as well, which are self-contained stories that are about 100 pages.
I think sometimes people do get a bit confused, and sometimes I know some comic fans get a bit riled when people talk about a graphic novel and they think graphic novel is everything where actually it's a specific type of comic.
Joanna: Right. Now, that's really interesting. And it's so funny because I mean, now, you and I both in the UK, and you go into bookstores, and even in a reasonably small bookstore now you'll get a section for graphic novels, some of which I presume are those trades that you talked about, like collections of comics.
It seems like it's taken off a lot more even in the mainstream. And I can only link that to Netflix, and Amazon Studios, and a lot more of these properties being developed into transmedia, as you talked about, like TV shows. Neil Gaiman's work, for example, or, they're crossing.
Is it because when people pick up a comic a lot of the work's already been done in terms of an adaptation to a visual format? It's like, ‘Here's a storyboard, basically.'
Barry: Yeah. And also as well, I think the likes of Netflix have probably done that. It's become more acceptable I guess to experience it in that way.
And now I have mixed feelings because there's some adaptations which come to the screen, or come to TV, which are brilliant, some which are less so.
But also as well, I hate to be that guy, but most of them still don't hold a candle to reading the actual comic in the same way as reading the book. But it's, horses for courses.
Joanna: It's probably it's a much bigger audience.
Barry: Yeah. And also as well I think there are certain properties that if I said to people, ‘That was based on a comic.' They'd be, ‘Oh, it wasn't…' Road to Perdition with Tom Hanks, that was a comic.
Joanna: I think isn't The Boys on Amazon Prime?
Joanna: It's one of my favorite series. People listening, it's very, very violent. Do not watch it with children.
Barry: Very violent.
Joanna: I love that series. They've basically kept the comic splatter gore in that. What do you think about that adaptation?
Barry: I think, well, weirdly, that's a really good one because I actually remember reading the first volume of The Boys and I stopped reading it because it was too much for me.
Joanna: Oh, really?
Barry: In some ways, the comic is still more than the TV show is.
Joanna: Which is got a lot more comedy, I guess. There's a comedic edge to it too.
Barry: I just think that with the comic there's so much stuff going on that my poor sensibilities…it was too much, whereas I absolutely love the TV show.
Joanna: Me too.
Barry: It's one of the few times where it is I actually prefer the TV show to the comic. And that's nothing against the comic. Garth Ennis did a brilliant…is a brilliant.
Joanna: I think he produced the TV show as well.
Joanna: Which is amazing. This crossover environment is interesting.
I have talked to people on the show before about graphic novels. I don't know if you've heard that episode. It was probably six or seven years ago. Probably more than that now. Probably was a decade ago. I've been doing this so long.
[Interview with Nathan Massengill in 2014 on graphic novels.]
But this guy, we did actually talk about maybe doing a Kickstarter or something because it's so expensive to adapt. If people listening, if they want to do a comic of their novel and they don't have all the mates like you do, are there ways to do that now?
How would someone go about getting a graphic novel done of their work?
Barry: I think what a lot of people are doing now, a lot more people in the comic scene are turning towards Kickstarter.
I've seen a lot of people doing that now. And it's basically covering not only their printing costs, but the cost of paying their creative team. In many ways, that's probably one of the big ways now, because as you said, it is very expensive.
I was just fortunate, I guess, at the time. And I think if I was to do it again now, I would be looking to do it in the Kickstarter for varying reasons, because I would want people to get some form of financial recompense for the work they're putting in.
Also the fact that when you're going to come to do this, you've got to ask yourself how deep down the rabbit hole do you want to go. To put together any comic really, you could either do it yourself, which I've seen people do. Even people who wouldn't necessarily call themselves artists have done some…
Joanna: I was going to say, there's a specific artistic skill involved.
Barry: Well, yes and no. It depends on your view of comic artists, because there's some comics out there which you wouldn't necessarily say fall into that category of like fantastically great Marvel-style art, but have gone on to be hugely, hugely successful.
Joanna: Interesting. Can you think of any specific example? Putting you on the spot here, but in my head I only have that Marvel style.
Give us an example of something that might be a different style.
Barry: Okay. I think different style is a better way to look at it because it doesn't mean it's better or worse.
Rachael Smith, who is an artist and creator, and she did a comic during lockdown called Quarantine Comix: A memoir of a life in lockdown. She was doing it as like a web comic, and now it's all been packaged and released. And she's done a few other comics as well.
Now, her art style is dramatically different from what you…as you said, you mentioned DC Marvel. Her art style is dramatically different from that. And yet I absolutely love her work. And if you look to it, you might not think, ‘Oh, well, I could do that.' But there're people out there would think, ‘Oh, I could actually have a go at that.'
But I think with comics, it's the combination. It's the art and it's the writing.
You can have amazing art and terrible writing, so you've got a terrible comic. Or you can have not great art but fantastic writing, and you can still have a terrible comic.
Joanna: That's the truth with adaptation, isn't it? Regardless, whether it's TV, whatever it is, comics or anything. You can have an adaptation that it didn't fit what your words in your head, what your words were. Which I think it is the challenge.
You've got me thinking again about my book Desecration, which is about body modification and the history of anatomy and corpse art. It's super dark and it's a murder mystery too.
In my mind, it's always been visual, and I almost do see it like comic panels in my head.
Now you've made me think that maybe that's a good way to go about trying to tell the story in a different way, because you do have that visual.
Barry: If that's how you're think of it, the first thing you want to do is go online, look at some comic panels and some art, some different comic artists.
And you can just search for stuff, or you can go on Amazon and look at the comics in Amazon. Get an account, maybe pick up a few digital comics and stuff and start to have a bit of a look and find the sort of style that you like.
Like you said, you mentioned DC Marvel. That would cost you an arm and a leg. But then once you've got an idea of the sort of style, you could then start to shop around a bit and look for an artist that maybe you think would work quite well, and then approach them and then basically find out how much it would cost.
They have what they call a page rate. So they will charge you per page that they do.
Now, this is where it gets a bit complicated, because any comic that you put together tends to have these jobs.
Now, these jobs can be done by the same person, or they can be done by multiple people. Say we'd have a writer. So even though you've written it, you might want to have an actual comic writer to adapt it, because there's a very specific way to write a comic script.
Barry: And if you've never done a comic script before. People keep asking me to try my hand at writing a comic. I'm like, ‘No. No.'.
Joanna: Even though you're so embedded in it.
Barry: It's a real skill. It is a real skill. So that's thing number one. Then you want a penciler. So, it'd be someone who just does the pencils.
Then you would want an inker. So that's someone who then goes over the pencil with ink and sometimes they'll add extra sort of depth to it. Then a colorist would come in and add color, and then you'd get a letterer who would come in and would add the words.
Now again, letterers are an overlooked job. A great letterer will do wonders for you.
Joanna: And that's like the font and the layout of the dialogue, and the little inserts that…
Barry: Yeah. The speech bubbles.
Joanna: The speech bubbles and then almost the extra text that you have, like ‘Next day' and stuff like that.
Barry: Yeah. And again, the type of lettering that you'll see in comics will vastly differ from comic to comic as well.
Joanna: I guess in a way it's quite similar to when people do children's books and they have to work with illustrators and layout and stuff. It's a similar idea. It's just a very different thing. I've certainly talked a lot more to children's authors on the podcast. But I think this is super interesting. This is such an interesting topic.
Tell us a bit more about Geek Syndicate and what that is, and how it relates to your creative life?
Barry: Geek Syndicate is basically we look at geekdom through my eyes and the eyes of my best friend David Monteith, who we grew up together. I've known Dave since I was living and went to school together. And so we started it before podcasts had really started in the UK.
Dave had been listening to some American podcasts, and then he got in contact with me. We've sort of lost touch, actually. And we saw the podcast as a get back into touch with our love of geek stuff, because where we grew up there wasn't a lot of geeks in Tottenham.
Joanna: Tottenham back in the day. Back in the '80s and '90s.
Barry: No, there wasn't. Not really.
Joanna: It wasn't cool back then either.
Joanna: It wasn't cool to be a geek. It is now.
Barry: Supposedly. It depends on who you talk to.
Joanna: That's a good point. Okay. It's cool for me. I think it's cool.
Barry: We started doing the podcast with no thought that anyone was even going to listen to it.
We started it. I was just of the view of it was almost like an extended phone call between the two of us for an hour and a half. 16 years later and we're still going.
And it wasn't just Geek Syndicate. We then started to launch other podcasts on our feed. At one stage, I think we were running about eight or nine podcasts, which had different hosts on it, and sometimes we would pop on and whatever. We were doing interviews and we've hosted the panels at conventions. And then obviously, we ended up doing a two shows for the BBC, for the iPlayer.
Joanna: Which is amazing.
Barry: It was amazing. Just turned out. And it's one piece of advice I could give to anyone who's doing anything creatively, who's worried, as we all are, that no one is listening to me, or no one is reading my stuff, that sometimes… I know financially it's a different thing.
Sometimes it isn't about the number of people who might be listening, who might be reading, but it's that right person at the right time.
It turned out for us, one of our listeners we had no idea was a BBC producer. We had no idea. He used to listen to us, thought we were really funny, and then they were putting together this iPlayer show.
Originally, it was going to be ‘Talking Heads,' so, we were going to be like just one of the people they would cut to talk to. And so they brought us down. I came down to London. They shot a little bit of footage of us just so they could see if they could use it or not. And they showed it to the bigwigs of the BBC, and they loved it so much that they changed the entire format and they made us the presenters.
Joanna: Which says a lot, because they wouldn't have done that unless they thought you guys were good. And clearly, you've got chemistry between you because you are so good friends and you're super geeks.
Barry: Yeah. So it worked. We were only supposed to do the one show. And then during that one show, they commissioned a second show where we got to then travel around the country because it was the year of sci-fi that they were celebrating at that time, and they were doing all these different events around the country.
We went off to the British Museum to watch Flash Gordon and then we got to interview Brian Blessed.
Joanna: I saw that clip on him and Gordon on BBC.
Barry: You can't get it on the iPlayer anymore sadly, but it was a much longer sequence with us and Brian. He's quite the force to be reckoned with.
Joanna: Goodness me. I think what's lovely is that when we started this conversation, you started in this way of, ‘Oh, a bit confused. Now there's different ways to market. I feel a bit overwhelmed. I'm taking a step back.'
Now, we've gone through some of the things you've been doing over the years.
It feels like you've almost fallen into all of this different stuff. And yet you've created this incredible body of work.
I know it probably to you feels like a long time. I started my podcast in 2009. So you were a couple of years before me.
Joanna: Although I have a lot more episodes by the way.
Joanna: So clearly I've been working harder!
Barry: Yes. Right.
Joanna: Coming back to what you said at the beginning, because you talked about being overwhelmed and that you're looking at refocusing and, really thinking about things.
Looking back now, can you see how much you've achieved, and can you look forward into how this is going to go in the future?
Barry: Yeah. I'm really lucky that I have an amazing wife who constantly says to me, ‘Look at what you've done.'
Joanna: I'm with her. I'm saying that too.
Barry: ‘Why are you sitting there feeling… Well, look at what you've done.' And yeah, every so often… I think sometimes when you are caught in the eye of the storm, you don't always see the great stuff swirling around you.
I'm very proud of what we've all accomplished, because it's not just me. I'm very proud of it. And in terms of going forward, that's part of the reason why I do want to…
Sometimes you've got to take a step back to run forward.
And I think that's what I want to do, because I think I'm a little bit like one of those… I can't think of the bird if it's a Magpie, where I see something shiny and I automatically fly towards it. And I think that's what I've been doing. I think that hasn't been very healthy for me, I guess.
What I wanted to do was just take that step back so I could look to just be a bit more laser focused about where I go next.
Also sometimes when you're doing so many things, what can suffer is the one thing that you really want to be doing, which is being creative. sometimes you're so busy managing things, and editing, and stuff like that, you don't remember to sort of go, ‘Oh, hang on a minute. I'm a writer. I should actually get around to writing something.'
Joanna: Yeah. It's one of the dangers of what I used to call a multi-passionate creative. Because even like this podcast is creative, and I do think about the podcast as part of my body of work, because this will help people. This will help other people move into their creativity. And you've given me ideas, and I hope you've been listening to the show, so I hope you've had ideas from the show.
Barry: Yes. Plenty.
Joanna: That's the thing and that's what keeps me going as well. It's, ‘Look. Okay. So it takes us both some time to do this,' but I've certainly got a lot out of this conversation and I know people listening will have.
I'm just a couple of years younger than you are and I guess we've both been doing this for a long time. I feel the same way.
I'm trying to refocus and think about where I want to go over the next decade, and maybe we are just in that midlife phase as well.
Barry: I think as well, what happens with me is whenever I start to, or Dave does, because sometimes it's Dave as well, we think, ‘Oh, maybe we should wrap up the podcast or whatever. ‘ We get an email.
I remember it was when we'd been doing it for 10 years and I was thinking maybe I don't know, 10 years, that's a good number to sort end on it. And we'd got an email from… We don't get quite many emails, but we'd got an email from a listener who had said that his dad had passed away. And basically, one of the things that had kept him going.
I know what it's like to lose parents and stuff, so I could relate. And what he'd said was he went into his like real pit and it was a really horrible time for him. And he said the one bright spot was listening to the podcast, and he was thanking us for doing the podcast. So, when you get emails like that, you sort of go, ‘Okay, maybe we can go for a little bit longer.'
Joanna: Yeah. And here we are all these years later. I feel the same way. Well, look, it's been so lovely to talk to you, Barry.
Tell everyone where can people find you and everything you do online.
Barry: At the moment, the best place to find me is barrynugent.com. If you want more detailed stuff on ‘Unseen Shadows' stuff, you can go unseenshadows.com.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time. That was great.
I just listened to this episode with Barry. Thanks Joanna for another good podcast.
Glad to see you made it through your pilgrimage. I saw some of your photos on Instagram.
I was on vacation in Strasbourg & Paris at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s death and it was interesting to see the French perspective about her passing.
Great to have you back and looking forward to more good podcasts for creatives!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Marion, Glad you’re out and about in Europe again!