Interview with NJ Barker, Author of The Honesty Index

23 Jan 2024

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write The Honesty Index?

The idea developed as I wrote the story. I approached this novel very much as a ‘pantser,’ as opposed to a ‘plotter.’ I wrote the first (very bad) draft in about six weeks. All I had when I started was the idea that it would be about a group of old school friends who met up at some sort of reunion and that someone starts to manipulate them.

The first draft was quite different to the final novel, with more physical challenges than psychological ones. But as I wrote more, I became drawn to the idea of each character being at the center of a round. It had a cinematic and dramatic appeal. From there, the focus on truth was quite an obvious one. Truth, lies, secrets – I guess they’re at the heart of many psychological thrillers and so I thought I’d spotlight that by having a truth game.

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of The Honesty Index, what would they be?

For Trent, music is all about the lyrics, the rhythm of words, that street poet vibe of the likes of Shaun Ryder and Shane McGowan. So I’d pick Wrote for Luck, by Happy Mondays.

For Lila, it’s much more about the music and being lost is sound – the novel references the KLF and Sonic Youth. I think her theme song would be anything by My Bloody Valentine – probably, one of When You Sleep, Swallow, or Soon.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

Yes, I love thrillers. But I try and branch out occasionally. I recently read a collection of short-stories, Attention Seekers by Emma Brankin – they were brilliant. And I read non-fiction when I can – Empire of Pain is on my bookshelf.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

I’ve just finished The Mother by TM Logan. I’ve read all of his books and love them all. I’m about to start The Year of the Locust, the Terry Hayes sequel to I am Pilgrim, and I’m also reading Going Infinite, the Michael Lewis book about Sam Bankman-Fried. I’m also very excited about two books I have pre-ordered – The List of Suspicious Things and The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

Possibly one of the scene that I ended up cutting! It made me laugh, but it didn’t really deserve its place in the book so it had to go. I’d probably chose the opening pages of the book proper. It just flowed and I remember writing it very vividly. It doesn’t always happen like that.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

No – not really. Writing is quirky enough in itself, isn’t it? I mean, on some level, we’re all a little crazy.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Another no, I’m afraid. Am I doing this wrong?

I’m just hoping for the best, really. On some level I guess I try not to take myself too seriously. There’s so much rejection in the life of an aspiring author. I’m learning to pick myself up more quickly and it helps to remember how lucky I am and how lucky I’ve been.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

The title of my next book, The Genius Club, or my Kennedy Logan Thrillers series?

No, seriously, perhaps something about the nature of truth. I took a philosophy module many years ago as part of my pure maths degree and the only part I remember was reading some essays about the nature of truth. I didn’t do very well in that module but I found it fascinating. Truth gets held up as something to aspire to, and largely I’m all for that. I love the film A Few Good Men and all of Jack Nicholson’s lines, but particularly the ‘you can’t handle the truth,’ speech. Truth is often complex. I don’t think everyone has a ‘dark’ secret.

More often, we can’t articulate clearly enough what we mean, or how we felt, or why we did something and so we only give a representation of truth. That can lead to misunderstanding and pain, even when that wasn’t anyone’s intention. And clearly, some people do have ‘dark’ secrets, and for better or worse, we don’t usually know who, or what. I, obviously, don’t have any deep dark secrets, but if I did, I’m not sure what I would do if I was faced with playing a round of the Honesty Index.

I was listening to Happy Mondays a lot (showing my age, now) when writing the early drafts of this novel. I think Shaun Ryder summed it up well in Wrote for Luck (Trent’s song): ‘You used to speak the truth, but now you’re liar. You used to speak the truth, but now you’re clever.’


NJ Barker is the author of the new book The Honesty Index

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