HE’S conquered the West End stage and stared in some of television’s most popular shows – but John Barrowman says writing a bestselling book with his sister is his biggest achievement to date.
John and Carole have already topped the New York Times bestseller list with their first fantasy novel, Hollow Earth, and are hoping to enjoy the same success with the sequel, Bone Quill.
The Scots siblings collaborated on both of John’s autobiographies, as well as a Torchwood comic book.
Now they continue the story about time-travelling twins Matt and Em Calder, who can bring artwork to life.
John, 44, said: “I love working with Carole because we share the same sense of humour and crazy ideas.
“We both have a wild imagination and spend most of our time laughing when we should be working.
“Writing together was a great experience and one of the best things I’ve ever done.
“There’s no better feeling than getting ideas down on paper and seeing a book come together.
“It was a proud moment when we topped the bestseller list with Hollow Earth and we’re hoping to do it again.”
Carole added: “We always said we wanted to write a series of novels together but we were always so busy and struggled to find time to do it.
“When we had a few weeks free we started brainstorming and had so many ideas that we could write 10 books.
“The great thing about working with John is that we are very similar.
“Our personalities are very alike and that makes the process so much easier.
“We don’t tend to argue over plots and know how we want the characters to progress.
“We’re very lucky – I know a lot of siblings who can’t be in the same room together, let alone write together.
“We brainstorm the ideas, come up with plot lines and talk about characters, while I take notes.
“I hand John a chunk of pages, which he will either say are perfect or we will work on changes.
“It’s a perfect collaboration.”
John and Carole grew up in Mount Vernon, Glasgow, and emigrated to Michigan in the 70s with their parents. While John was a born performer, Carole, 53, had an obsession with writing.
She studied literature and became a professor of English in Milwaukee, while writing short stories in her spare time.
They both agreed they should collaborate on a children’s book.
John said: “It was always a dream to write a book and one of the proudest moments was making it on to the New York Times bestseller list. It was a huge moment. When you start writing a book you never know how it will be received and this was beyond anything we could have imagined.
“The idea for Bone Quill came when we talked about how great it would be if the main characters could bring their drawings to life.
“We’ve included real and fictional paintings by famous artists represented in UK galleries.
“It’s a page turner and we tested the book on our nieces and nephews, who couldn’t put it down. That’s when we knew that it must be good.
“Kids are the harshest critics so we knew we were doing something right.”
John and Carole are also proud of their Scots heritage and credit it with helping them write their novels.
And he admits a lot of the dynamic of the relationship between the books’ heroes Matt and Em Calder is based around themselves.
Other characters are based on their own relatives, while the action takes place on Firth of Clyde island Cumbrae – renamed Auchinmurn as a tribute to their granny Murn.
John adds: “We have relatives in Glasgow and try to visit when we can.
“Scotland has a special place in our hearts and our parents were always telling us about what it was like for them growing up in Glasgow.
“One of the most fun things about this type of writing has been getting to pay tribute to our heritage.
“A couple of characters are based on real people or named after them.
“All of the characters have a great sense of humour, a bit like all of our family – it must be a Scots trait.
“We had great fun writing this and it brought back a lot of memories.
“I can remember going to Largs with Mum and Dad for a day out and eating fish and chips and ice-cream.
“We had wonderful times in Scotland and wanted to try to incorporate this into the books.”
John’s move into novels follows his success in West End productions and TV. He started off on stage and moved into TV via Doctor Who, Desperate Housewives and Torchwood.
He has starred in movies, released an album and sold out singing tours.
He has also been a TV presenter, a talent show judge and a reality TV star – and now a bestselling author.
He said: “I’ve been very lucky as show business is a tough game.
“I don’t take any of it for granted. I’m a jack of all trades. I love theatre and that’s where I started out.
“I remember going to see my first show aged 10 and being fascinated.
“Even at school I was always trying to impress the teacher by singing instead of concentrating in class.
“I was never interested in homework. I’d dance around my bedroom singing into a hairbrush. Carole was more academic but we both loved reading.
“Our parents said the only time they got any peace was when we were reading, so they bought lots of books!”
The pair are already working on their next literary venture.
John said: “I can’t sit still so it’s best if I’m kept busy. We’ve got too many ideas not to put them into print.”
*Bone Quill is published by on Michael O’Mara Books. Visit http://www.hollow-earth.co.uk
Book Week Scotland runs from November 25 to December 1. It aims to encourage people of all ages and of all walks of life to get together in libraries, schools, community venues and workplaces to share and enjoy books.