Who is Novelist, Annie Barrows?

Why did I google Annie Barrows?

Before this article, I didn’t know who Annie Barrows was. I only knew that she was a co-author, with her aunt Mary Ann Schaffer, of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. My absolute favourite novel!

Annie Barrows helped Mary Ann finish her novel when she became very ill with cancer. Annie decided to embark on this project because it was a way she could do something for someone she loved. In a way, she was also working on something that became an embodiment of her aunt, since the book and the characters reminded Annie so much of Mary Ann.

It was like Mary Ann herself. Suddenly, the rest of the world had a seat at the table where I had been feasting my whole life, and, as with family party, they clustered around Mary Ann, weeping with laughter – or sorrow – as her stories billowed forth.

Annie Barrows

However, since this is the only novel Shaffer ever finished and since she passed away before her novel was published – I was in despair. I would never be able to read another novel written by this wonderful writer.

But then I wondered. Did Annie Barrows ever write anything else? If so, was it anything like the novel she wrote with her aunt?

I have yet to determine whether or not her written work is similar to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but I’m quite convinced that I like Annie Barrows a lot. Thanks to her website I managed to learn enough about her to increase my curiosity.

Annie Barrows website image

So, who is Annie Barrows really?

Annie Barrows was born in 1962 in San Diego, California. However, her family moved when she was just a few weeks old, which resulted in her growing up in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area.

If you must move, it is ideal to do it when you are 3 weeks old. If you are older, even just a little older, they’ll make you help.

Annie Barrows

Since a child she loved reading and spent most of her time at the library. She even started working in the library at the age of 12, shelving the library books.

After school, Barrows attended UC Berkeley where she received a B.A. in Medieval History. Her first job out of university was working as a proofreader for an art magazine and later as an editor at a textbook publishing company.

In 1988 she was hired by Chronicle Books as an editorial assistant. Here she stayed and climbed the career ladder to a senior editor post. After a few more years of living and breathing as an editor, Barrows decided that she would like to try her own hand at writing. In 1996, Annie received her Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing from Mills College.

It was also around this time when she started a family. Choices had to be made. She decided to move away from the editorial career and focus more on her own writing and raising her children.

Written work by Annie Barrows

Non-fiction

Annie Barrows wrote several non-fiction books about operas, urban legends and divination:

  • The Book of Divination, published by Chronicle Books in 1999.
  • The Completely and Totally True Book of Urban Legends, published by Running Press in 2001 and illustrated by Mark Ulriksen.
  • At the Opera: Tales of the Great Operas, published by Chronicle books in 2003 and illustrated by Peter Malone.
Fiction – Children’s books

However, it was reading children’s books to her two daughters that made her want to try her own hand at creating books for a younger audience.

We spent a lot of time reading. While I was reading all those kids’ books, I paid a lot of attention to how they were made and what made some terrific and some crummy.

Annie barrows

She also remembered how important books were to her as a child and she wanted to contribute to the children’s books genre. Her first book in her children’s series, Ivy and Bean, was published in 2006. Since then, Barrows has written 11 more books that form part of this children’s book series.

The inspiration for this series came from her own experience as a child. Her parents always wanted them to play and get along with their friends’ children. This didn’t always work out for Annie, since she felt too different from the other children.

The same happens to Ivy and Bean. Their parents wanted them to become friends and get along. However, these two girls were very different. Ivy was quiet and liked to read, while Bean loved playing games and poking her nose into other people’s business. They believed they would never like each other.

Circumstances, however, brings them together, forging a bond that results in an eternal friendship. The rest of the series is about the adventures and disasters created by this unlikely team.

Other children’s books written by Annie Barrows are John Marco, The Magic Half, Magic in the Mix and her latest children’s series, Iggy.

Her Iggy series is about Iggy Frangi, a nine-year-old kid whose life motto is; “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” In this series, Barrows writes about the different things Iggy does or wish he hadn’t done.

It is a very entertaining and realistic depiction of a kid who isn’t a trouble maker at heart, but whose a perfect example of what a highly imaginative, bored kid would do. Please watch this video and listen as Annie Barrows reads a chapter from the first book in the series, The Best of Iggy.

Apart from the enthusiasm and liveliness with which Annie Barrows reads out loud. I enjoy seeing the scene unfold as Iggy starts playing in the bathroom. How effortlessly it moves to that scene and how everyone – child and adult – can relate to it, because who amongst us haven’t played with our parents’ shaving cream or beauty products?

Annie Barrows pays attention to all the right things while writing this scene. It makes it possible for the reader to understand Iggy’s mindset. Which is the mindset of a nine-year-old boy with a huge imagination. He doesn’t see make-up or shaving cream, he sees blood, wrinkles and grey hair.

These associations and Iggy’s actions are so beautifully written and purely innocent, which makes it even more entertaining. I’m definitely planning on buying this series for myself.

Fiction – Young adult novels

Having written a lot of children’s books, Annie decided to experiment with a novel project for young adults. This project turned into her first young adult novel, Nothing.

It is about a teenager called Charlotte and her friend, Frankie, who decide to write a book that would depict their lives as it really were.

It’ll be, like, a searing document of today’s youth and how incredibly lame our lives are!

Nothing by Annie Barrows

Many people believe that one needs to write about something impossible or different from real-life to make a story interesting.

But how many people can actually relate to the actual events of such a story?

Fiction usually helps readers to break away from real life and to live in a world where anything is possible, but it is possible that stories like these make readers believe that one’s life cannot be interesting unless something magical or out of the ordinary happens.

Annie decided to write a novel about the exact opposite of that. A story about the mundane where no one runs away, gets kidnapped by hot aliens or where someone is stuck in a love triangle. She focuses on what is real and relatable, which makes the reader identify the small beautiful moments in their own lives and re-evaluate the meaning of an interesting life.

Nothing by Annie Barrows

Whether or not Annie manages in conveying this through her novel, I cannot say for certain. This is only how I’ve managed to come to understand what the novel is about and the message it tries to convey.

If you would like to read more about this tale of nothingness, please follow this link and make sure to watch the interview on her website regarding her novel, Nothing.

Fiction – Adult novels

Annie Barrows’ first solo adult novel, The Truth According to Us (2015), is a historical fiction that takes place in 1938 in the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia. The novel revolves around the exitance of the town and the history of its people as the protagonist, Layla Beck, is hired by the Federal Writers’ Project to document this historical town.

During her research, she uncovers that the history of the town isn’t what it appears to be and it all seems to revolve around a well-known family, the Romeyn Dynasty. Buried secrets are revealed, truths are uncovered and during the process, history is rewritten.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

Annie wanted to write about a snippet in history before it was overruled by the knowledge of The Second World War.

What was life like for people in a small town before they knew war would be inevitable?

However, she didn’t just want to know what had happened during that time in history. She was more interested in the mindsets and the associations’ people had with certain images and words.

What were people’s aspirations, values, beliefs and culture?

What values were so widely understood that individuality was measured by divergence from that norm?

Annie Barrows

According to Annie, even though culture isn’t uniformed, there is a group understanding, shared ideas about what the conventions of a specific culture or norms is supposed to be.

Those group understandings are what she was researching as she pilled through books, magazines, newspapers, movies, songs, cartoons, catalogues, recipes, menus, headstones, artwork, yearbooks, photographs, graphics, slogans and architecture of the late 1930s.

My research methods certainly weren’t scientific, but neither was the information I was trying to obtain.

Annie Barrows

This certainly sounds like an interesting novel, especially after reading what Annie wanted to pinpoint and reveal through her writing. You can go read more about it on her website; The Truth about 1938.

Some readers even say that they’ve managed to spot similar traits and characteristics found in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This of course makes me all the more excited to purchase and read this book. Any opportunity to read something similar to what Annie Barrows created with her aunt, is an opportunity worth investigating.

Annie Barrows, carrying the torch

Even though I haven’t read any of Annie Barrows solo work, I am eager to add her novels to my reading list – from the children’s books to the adult novels.

It’s been so lovely reading up on her and learning who she is as a writer. It seems she loves stories and that she is quite good at telling them in an entertaining way. I love the playfulness, wit and joy she conveys in her interviews and audio readings. It reminds me so much of the protagonist, Juliet Ashton, in The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society.

This makes me happy, because this means I might be able to have a little bit more of Marry Ann Shaffer after all.

Irene

Art, in all its forms, has the power to make the viewer see the world with new eyes. It tells stories, creates awareness and changes our perspectives. This blog is dedicated to appreciating art and artists. Focusing on how they bring colour into our ordinary lives.

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