Carole E. Barrowman's Authorial Journey to Hollow Earth

Hollow Earth isn’t just any book. It may be the Next Big Thing in young adult (YA) literature. It’s cover proclaims that “Imagination can be a dangerous thing,” but fans of John and Carole E. Barrowman are more than willing to take that risk.

Hollow Earth

Publisher: Buster
Author: Carole E. Barrowman, John Barrowman
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2012-02

Carole Barrowman admitted on Facebook that she squealed when she saw the cover of her first young adult novel, Hollow Earth. Many first-time novelists might have a similar reaction, but Carole is not your typical author. Her previous non-fiction books have made best seller lists. Plus, her co-author (and brother) is entertainer John Barrowman. If anyone should be used to the spotlight or even blasé about success, it’s these siblings.

However, Hollow Earth isn’t just any book. It may be the Next Big Thing in young adult (YA) literature. Two days before its UK release, the novel was in the top 40 and rapidly climbing Amazon UK’s list of best-selling children’s science fiction/fantasy books. With the authors’ February schedule filled with book signings around the UK and television and radio interviews, Hollow Earth gives the Barrowmans plenty of reasons to celebrate—and their fans to squeal in delight.

The story behind Hollow Earth begins in summer 2010, when the authors spent two months developing the plot and researching the book’s island and London settings. Again, this collaborative approach might seem typical for a first novel, but it became complicated because Carole lives in Wisconsin; John, the UK. When Carole returned home, she wrote a draft, and John provided more input—a process repeated in following months. Carole thinks “it took longer to write [this book] than anything I’ve done to date because the process was a bit more stretched out from our initial pitch (in spring 2010) to publication date.”

Anyone who has watched Carole and John tease each other in public, or has read about the Barrowmans’ upbringing, as told in their previous autobiographical collaborations Anything Goes and I Am What I Am, might wonder how they get anything done, even when working on the same continent. Some kids, it seems, never grow up. ”Oh, we both revert to childhood on most of our projects together, but this one even more so because we were continually asking ourselves what kids would like in a book, especially one with monsters and lots of adventure. Writing Hollow Earth gave us an excuse, if nothing else, to be kids again — well, more kids than usual,” Carole acknowledges.

The plot revolves around 12-year-old twins Matt and Emily Calder, who, working together, have special powers, such as the amazing ability to bring art to life. When villains seek to use the twins’ powers to access Hollow Earth, “where all the demons, devils and creatures ever imagined lie trapped for eternity,” the Calders flee their London home to an island off the Scottish coast. Nowhere, however, is safe, and the twins—and readers—are in for excitement and danger.

“We named the island Auchinmurn Island,” the Barrowmans’ imagined version of Cumbrae Island. “The name was to honor the memory of our gran, Murn, who we were really close to as children and young adults. The abbey’s housekeeper is a kind of composite of Murn and our Auntie Jeannie (her sister), who was also important in our lives.”

The family connection is further reflected in character development. Carole explains that “Emily is my middle name and the name of my other grandma, and Matt is a name John and Scott [Gill, John’s partner] love. I think there’s probably some of John and me in the twins, but, unfortunately, we do not share their drawing abilities. John and I both have active imaginations and we love art, but neither one of us has learned how to draw very well.”

They excel at writing, however, and Hollow Earth gives them a chance to create the kind of story that they have always enjoyed reading. “John is a huge superhero and comic book fan, and I spend a lot of my reading and writing time in the mystery. The best mysteries are full of moral ambiguity and deep conflict. In fact, Ross MacDonald, a literary hero of mine, once wrote that mysteries in particular and popular fiction in general can ‘describe new modes of behavior, new versions of human character, new shades and varieties of good and evil, and implicitly’ can critique them. I think that’s why I’m drawn to them.”

YA fiction, especially fantasy, often creates a mythological world for its characters, and Hollow Earth benefits from Carole Barrowman’s interest in myth. She is “fascinated by the way in which myths shift meaning and significance at different times in history and across different cultures. In this first novel, in one obvious way I think we’re trying to create new myths about art and artists while at the same time weaving myths from some of the great art of western civilization (at least in this book) into the world we’ve imagined. Solon’s story, which is set in the Middle Ages and which readers flash back to throughout the novel, is going to be significant in the creation of some of the myths that the twins come to realize are shaping their lives in the present.”

The Barrowmans’ next literary project takes them away from Hollow Earth and into the familiar territory of their first fiction collaboration, “Selkie”. This comic book story, based on the television series, Torchwood, also allowed them to incorporate myth and a Scottish setting in a tale of danger. Their current writing project is a Torchwood novel, but the collaboration “is different again for us because John [who is internationally renowned for his role as Captain Jack Harkness] has such an intimate relationship with our novel’s main character and because we’re adding to a rich canon and a highly successful franchise.”

Carole’s future includes yet another novel, her “Civil War mystery with Walt Whitman and Clara Barton as detectives.” That book is in the revision stage, but this prolific author has to juggle writing projects with teaching at Alverno College. Sometimes her busy schedule relegates a wonderfully creative story like this to “my back burner for far too long,” even if her thousands of Facebook fans look forward to reading more.

Right now, however, Hollow Earth takes center stage. When asked if she, like the twins, could have a special power, what it would be, Carole recalls that “as a kid, I wanted to be able to time travel. Now, I’d settle for the ability to hold back time—or to fly.” Having the ability to fly, especially transatlantic, would certainly help the collaborative process. Not only are more books in the works, but there’s the possibility of a television series based on Hollow Earth. At this point, all she will reveal is “we’ve had some initial conversations.”

Carole E. Barrowman

Carole emphasizes that she and John “both love TV and we love books!” But it’s not the excitement of publication, the upcoming publicity tour, or even the possibility of a TV show that means the most to this author. “When we started imagining the story, we decided that one of the great thrills of this project would be if a child who hasn’t read much, or who thinks she hates reading, would read Hollow Earth, enjoy it, and then ask for other books similar to it to read next. Now that would be awesome.”

Hollow Earth is published by Buster Books (a division of Michael O’Mara Books) in the UK and will be published by Simon & Schuster in the US.





West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression (premiere + interview)

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.


Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.


'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.