He was raised in Newarthill, North Lanarkshire. He began a degree in journalism at Napier University in Edinburgh. but switched to a degree in English literature & sociology at Lancaster University. He spent a year on scholarship at the University of Texas at Austin where he wrote for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. He completed a master's degree in sociology at the University of Lancaster on a full scholarship from the Economic & Social Research Council.
He was listed number 92 in the Pink List 2013. The citation said:
- "A journalist, playwright and author, Barr is now famous for his best-selling memoir Maggie & Me, about growing up in Lanarkshire during the Thatcher years. His Literary Salon has seen writers such as Bret Easton Ellis, Louis de Bernières and Helen Fielding read their work for the first time."
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