1 – Lots on the specials board today, John. I’ve been up since the crack of dawn and the cake platter is heaving with goodies. So, state your preference, please; coffee, tea or hot chocolate, and perhaps a little something to go with it?
JH - Well firstly let me say that it’s great to be here. Coffee will be fine, black and two sugars please. It used to be six but then I had to cut it down. I must say that Chocolate gateau looks pretty good, and you made it yourself. A slice of that would be terrific. Just the one slice - a large slice. Oh and a smidgen of double cream - a large smidgen if you don’t mind.
2 – John, perhaps you’d like to tell us how you ended up here on my sofa. Are you a full time writer or do you have an additional occupation or interest that drags you away from the keyboard. If you have a secret skill or moonlight as something particularly exciting we want to hear about it...we really do!
JH - I wish. No, sadly I’m not a full time writer, and if I weren’t actually retired I would need a day job to keep the wolf from the door. As it is I retired some years ago, basically because of a heart attack that I had in 2004. I used to be a Chartered Surveyor working for the Greater London Council as a Senior Project Manager. Then in 1986 I started my own surveying practice, doing reports for people buying houses, and preparing architectural drawings for extensions and new houses. I did a lot of work for a couple of local Estate Agents. Then I had the heart attack and lost several clients who could not, or would not, wait for me to recover. Then I began to lose interest anyway, and eventual stopped about five years ago. As for secret skills well I do like restoring old photographs, so if you have any old pictures with tears and scratches let me know and I might be able to restore it for you.
3 – How did you initially get into writing? Are you a disciplined writer with a daily word quota? What does your family think of all the time you spend with your fictional characters?
JH - In one way or another I guess that I have always wanted to write a novel, but apart from the lack of time, due to full time work, I could never think of a decent plot. Then in 2005 I suddenly had the time, my work load had decreased considerably, and the germ of a plot was presented to me. We were on holiday in Austria, staying at Grundlsee, one of three lakes. The next lake, Toplitzsee, had been used by the German Navy to test rockets during the war. As the war ended there were rumours of nazi gold being hidden in the lake. Hence came the idea for “The Kammersee Affair”, which was published in December 2006.
At first I think the whole idea of me being an author cost me a fair sum of money, and was not taken seriously. It wasn’t until my books began selling that things began to change. Now Tom Kendall is almost a member of the family. And no I don’t have a daily target. I write as and when I think of something suitable. I don’t believe you can force yourself to write, it has to come naturally, and in its own time.
4 – What was the first thing you had published and how did you go about it? Did you run the gauntlet of the query letter? Enter a competition or decide to self publish?
JH - Once I had written “The Kammersee Affair” I had visions of it being snapped up by a publisher and then I would sell lots of copies and make a lot of money. A search of the Internet soon had me thinking differently. It seemed that publishers were not looking for new authors who did not have a track record, or weren’t an A lister. But then I found a number of publishers who were more than willing to publish my works, a long as I paid them. The fees ranged from $10000 (I kid you not) from Dorrance Publishing in New York; £2400 from Austin and Macauley; £700 from Authorhouse; and £400 from Raider Publishing in New York. I agreed to go with Raider, after all it was good to see my book in print, and naturally I would sell lots of books and get my money back wouldn’t I? I started book number two, “The Mackenzie Dossier” (originally “The Mackenzie File”). That too was published by Raider, for another fee. By 2009 I had four books published with Raider. Sadly none of them were selling. Furthermore my contracts were only for a three year period. In March 2012 I decide to re-release all of my books, and self publish them myself. In August of that year Phoenix (my publishing brand) released “A Killing In The City”. In August 2013 Phoenix released my sixth book “The Thackery Journal”.
5 – From your own experience as a writer do you have any tips for those not yet published? Is there anything you would do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
JH - Hindsight is a wonderful thing. All I can say is I wish I had self published long ago, although I have to admit that it probably wasn’t as easy to self publish a few years ago. Now, with the likes of Lulu.com, Createspace, and Kindle Direct, self publishing is simple and cost nothing. Being self published does not stop you from also looking for a traditional publisher if that is what you want. But please do not go near any of the so called vanity publishers who charge to publish your works.
6 – I know you write crime, and adventure based on historical facts and wonder which is your favourite and why? Is there a particular genre or type of scene that you would avoid and if so why?
JH - Firstly I don’t suppose there’s any more of that cake around is there? Ah – right. “The Thackery Journal” took me four years to produce, on and off. I got quite bogged down at one stage. I had done a lot of research, and had pages and pages, but just couldn’t work out how to set it out as a novel. Then quite suddenly the whole basic layout came into my mind, and three months later the book was finished. Despite the problems I had initially I really enjoyed writing this book, and I certainly hope to do another novel set during the American Civil War. Nonetheless I have to say that my favourite genre has to be Crime. I loved those old film noir movies with Humphrey Bogart, and Edward G Robinson. Genres I avoid are Romance, Sci-fi, fantasy, and certainly I have no interest in erotica.
7 – Where do you think your love of books and writing came from, John? As a child which was your favourite book? Do you have a favourite book and author now? What are you reading now?
JH - Every Friday evening when my father came in from work there would be a selection of sweets, which were shared with my brother Brian, and kept in a sweet tin; there would also be the latest issue of the Eagle comic, and a copy of the Enid Blyton magazine. I loved her Secret Seven, and Famous Five novels. Any time I was given the choice of what present I would like it would always be a book. My favourite book as a child was probably “Treasure Island”. My all time favourite book would be “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. There is nothing to beat the opening two lines, or the final two lines. Brilliant, there is no other word for it. Nowadays I tend to read Alastair Maclean (a favourite from my youth). Regarding modern writers I stick to other Indie authors. One of my favourites is somebody who wrote something about “Wildewood Revenge”, can’t remember the author’s name. Another of my favourites is Alfie Robins who also writes a mean crime novel. I almost said that his writing was criminal. Just kidding Alfie, just kidding. I am currently reading "The Trojan Project" by Eileen Thornton, another Indie author - early days yet I'm about 10% into it. It reminds me of the sci-fi films from the fifties. It is scary, it is exciting, it grabs you and is taking me along into who knows what, but I'm hooked.
9 – Okay, John, now you’re full of delicious cake I reckon it’s time to tell us a little about the books you currently have published.
JH - Well as I said earlier I now have six novels published. “The Kammersee Affair”, a story about hidden nazi gold involving blackmail, a murder or three and revenge. Then there followed four novels featuring my private detective Tom Kendall – “The Mackenzie Dossier” all about political corruption; in “The Marinski Affair”, there’s a murder or two, blackmail, a kidnapping, oh and a jewel robbery. But not everything is what it seems. Then we have “Epidemic” about a corrupt pharmaceutical company, and the sudden death of a young reporter, all set as a viral epidemic slowly spreads throughout the world. In “A Killing In The City” Kendall’s holiday in London is interrupted by the sudden death of a fellow passenger. My latest novel is “The Thackery Journal”, a ‘what if’ novel set during the American Civil War. It poses the possibility that the assassination of President Lincoln was actually planned by his own generals.
10 – If it’s not a closely guarded secret, can you give me a hint at what you have planned next? I won’t tell anyone...promise.
JH - I am currently working on two more Tom Kendall novels. One is about 50% complete, the other, set in Ireland, is about 30%. I have also made a tentative start on an adventure story based on an event that happened in 1931. A privately funded expedition planned on going to the North Pole under the ice cap. It never arrived, and later the submarine was scuttled in a Norwegian fjord. What happened has never been explained. I also have a very vague idea for another Civil War novel. But not a word to anyone, you are sworn to secrecy.
11 – And please tell us even more about the one you’ve brought with you, John. Also if you have a music track that you listened to while you wrote it, I’ll pop it on now. I did explain about reading an excerpt later didn’t I? Oh good. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or coffee, for that matter.
JH - Many years ago I used to write articles, interviews and reviews, for a couple of Blues magazines, sadly no longer in print. So the music track I have chosen is “Dust My Broom” by Elmore James, hope you like it.
12 – Pick one of your characters and sell him/her to us in twenty words or less.
JH - I may have had difficulties picking a book excerpt, but when it comes to picking a character it’s easy. It has to be Kendall himself. He is featured in four of my novels, and two that I am presently working on. There is a lot of me in Kendall. He is stubborn, has a wicked sense of humour, is methodical, and never gives up.
13 – While I go and get your coffee topped up, would you like to read a short excerpt from your book?
JH - I wasn’t sure which of my books to pick, but eventually I picked this one. “A Killing In The City” was inspired by the economic crisis that affected much of the world a few years ago. Kendall, and his business partner Mollie take a much needed holiday and travel to London. A holiday which is interrupted by the sudden death of a fellow passenger.
John Wyndham Collier was a big man, big in every sense of the word. Six feet four tall and weighing a little over fourteen stone, he ruled this vast financial empire with an iron fist. Nobody crossed Collier, not if they had any sense, that is. Nobody disagreed with him. Nobody argued with him, and nobody ever questioned his judgement. Nobody dared.
He was a self-made man, who had worked his way up to the higher echelons of power. He was now head of this financial giant. He owned fifty-one percent of the shares, and was the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board. Nothing happened in the company without his knowledge, and his agreement.
Of course he hadn’t done it entirely alone. He had made good use of several other people over the years. Not that they had any knowledge of what was happening of course, or had actually given their consent. Indeed they hadn’t actually suspected a thing. In fact, the vast majority of them didn’t even know of his existence. If they had known what was happening they would almost certainly have objected. Many of them had lost their life savings because of Collier, not that they knew of his involvement.
Always the opportunist, Collier had merely taken advantage of various situations that had occurred. And why not, he asked. If a few people were just too gullible, or too stupid, was that his fault? No it wasn’t. So they couldn’t think for themselves, was that his problem? Was he his brother’s keeper? No, he wasn’t. If a few people got hurt, or trodden on, along the way, well it was just unfortunate, wasn’t it? It was just one of those things, one of those things that couldn’t be helped. What did it matter anyway? Did anyone really care? Collier very much doubted it. Besides he wasn’t really worried whether they cared or not. In fact he wasn’t worried at all. So he had made a few enemies along the way, more than a few. But what did that compare with the power he now possessed. You couldn’t cook an omelet without cracking a few eggs, could you?
If you don’t want to get burnt, stay out of the kitchen. That was one of Collier’s favorite sayings. He had got burnt, once, many years ago. He had vowed then and there it would never happen again.
14- And let us know where we can find it?
Barnes & Noble
15– And where we can find you?
You can also catch up with John on Twitter - @JohnHoltAuthor
16 - And finally before you leave, a test for your imaginative, story weaving skills. We’re playing a little game that I hope all my guests will contribute to. Can you give me 100 words of your choosing to follow on from this last line from Paul Trembling? Your last line will be picked up by the next guest... and so on: (You can catch up with the story so far Here)
“We must find out about the Grey Woman!”...
“What do you mean, what happened to you?” Marcus asked. “And what has that to do with the Grey Woman?”
“I’m not sure,” replied the girl. “But I know that I’ve been here before.”
“That you have, Mistress Rose,” said Peter.
Marcus turned and shivered involuntary. “I knew we should never have come here.”
“Ye had no choice young sir,” replied Peter as he started to walk away. Then he stopped by the door. “It was destined. See for yourself.”
He held the lamp aloft. There on the wall was a painting of a lady, a lady dressed in grey, but the face was that of Rose herself.
JH - Thank you for having me here today. I really enjoyed it. By the way I’ve just remembered the name of that author I mentioned, you know the one who wrote “Wildewood” – it was a certain B A Morton. Did you say I could take some cake home with me. Well a little of that chocolate cake would be good, and those jam scones look good, and I do love meringues, and .... alright I’m going.
Thanks for being a very entertaining guest, John ... and yes, you can take some cake home with you :)