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Author Wednesday – John Holt

cropped-cropped-typewriter.jpgIt’s Wednesday, and time for another installment of Author Wednesday where today John Holt stops by for a chat. John joins us from England where he writes detectives, mysteries, and historical fiction. His novel The Thackery Journal explores a “what if” concept regarding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.DCP_5221 Most of his novels feature Tom Kendall, a private detective.

John, I’m so glad you could join me today. I know that you had another career before starting to write fiction, so tell me, when did you first discover your voice as a writer?

I guess, like a lot of people, I had always wanted to write a novel, or certainly as far as I can remember, I did. I could never think of a decent original plot. Then in 2005, we went on holiday to the Austrian lake district. We stayed at Lake Grundlsee. The next lake was Toplitzsee, which had been used by the German Navy to test torpedoes and rockets during World War II. I had the basis of a plot. The Kammersee Affair was published in December 2006. It was when the five-star reviews started to come in that I began to think that just maybe I was a writer.

You are definitely a writer. Do you set timetables or deadlines for yourself as a writer?

I don’t have any set routine, no particular targets, no particular times for writing. Sometimes I might write nothing for days on end, then I might scribble down just a few hundred words. I don’t see the need to have some arbitrary target of  x-thousand words a day. What’s the point? If the words aren’t quality, and are merely a forced quantity, then they are of no value. Why set yourself a set time for writing if you’ve nothing to write. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night, with a whole scene in mind. I quickly make notes and go back to sleep.

That’s a great way to do it. I tend to agree, except for that little devil sitting on my shoulder telling me I need to be productive to be successful. I like your way better! Do you have any messages you try to insert in your books?

There are no messages, no hidden agendas. No profound meanings to be unraveled. No deep meaningful content that needs to be analysed every which way. I write for pure enjoyment, nothing else. I just want people to read my works, and say that was good. I enjoyed that.

Perfect. What are you working on these days? 

I currently have four projects that I’m working on, at various stages. Firstly, there is the sixth novel featuring Tom Kendall, my private detective. It is currently about fifty percent complete, and I am hoping for a release in June or July. I have also made a tentative start on an adventure story, but it is only about ten percent, so a long way to go. Finally, I have a basic idea for another Kendall novel, and for a second American Civil War story. I’ve also recently published a novella, The Candy Man, which I hope to be the first of several novellas.Book[1]

You’ll be busy. You must love the character of Tom Kendall. Is he your favorite character? 

I have now written seven novels, five of them feature my private detective Tom Kendall. Without a doubt, he is my favorite character, and I’m glad to say that he seems to be quite popular with my readers. There’s a lot of me in Kendall. He is stubborn, dogged, and determined. Once he gets an idea, he sticks with it. Just like me. He’s not the fittest guy in the world, and doesn’t exercise as much as he should. Also, just like me. He has a wicked sense of humour. Again, just like me.

That’s funny. What’s the best thing said about one of your books by a reviewer?

Taken from a five-star review of The Kammersee Affair – “I loved this book. John Holt is clearly a born story-teller. He has the knack of dangling together just the right mix of interesting characters and impossible situations and then takes you on a journey full of twists and turns and surprises and amazing endings. The Kammersee Affair is a perfect example of this clever list of ingredients. Highly recommended.”

How lovely! I’m sure you appreciated those words. Tell me a little bit more about The Thackery Journal. What’s your one sentence pitch for your book?

Civil War – the worst kind of war that any nation could face. Fighting against itself there could be no winners in such a war, a war that divides communities, splits families, and makes enemies of long-time friends.

How did you choose the title? 

Generally I prefer short titles – three or four words maximum. I had imagined this story to be told in the form of a diary, a journal, kept by a particular person – hence The Thackery Journal. That title has remained unchanged since it was first chosen some five years ago.

How long do you estimate it took you to take the book from an idea to a finished, published?

I have always been fascinated by the American Civil War. A civil war is the worst kind of war that there could be. A war that divided the country and split communities, a war that put brother against brother and father against son.  A war where in reality there were no winners and the effects would be felt long after the war ended.  But that in itself is hardly a reason for writing the book. I started to write The Thackery Journal about five or six years ago. I had finished my first novel The Kammersee Affair in December 2006, and the first of the Tom Kendall stories, The Mackenzie Dossier, had been published (as The Mackenzie File in August 2008). I began outlining my next novel, The Marinski Affair. Somewhere along the line I got sidetracked. During my research into The Kammersee Affair (a story of hidden gold bullion), I found an item on the internet about a consignment of Confederate gold that had gone missing as the Civil War was coming to an end. The gold had apparently never been found. I thought perhaps I could make up some kind of a story. The gold had obviously been stolen by someone, and I got to thinking how that person would feel as his pursuers caught up with him. Very quickly, I had the makings of a fairly well developed final chapter. That chapter is now the last chapter of The Thackery Journal, and largely unchanged from when it was first written.  That last chapter gave me the basis for the opening chapter. After some months, I had a good couple of chapters at the beginning, and a couple at the end, together with about 100 pages of research. I then came to a complete stop. I wrote two more novels featuring Kendall, adding little snippets to Thackery as I went along, but still basically stuck. Then suddenly the whole outline of the book came into my mind. It was all there. I knew exactly what to do. The book was completed three months later and self-published in August 2013.

I love it when that happens. Sometimes the best thing we can do is leave the story for a bit. Why did you choose to self-publish?

I had long realized that the chances of being published by a mainstream publisher was remote. My first novels were originally published by a vanity publisher in New York, between 2006 and 2010. In March 2012, I decided to go down the self-publisher route. I now have seven novels under my ‘Phoenix’ banner.

What is the best thing someone could say about The Thackery Journal?

This is a beautifully written book, which grips you from the first page to the last, with very believable characters. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the American Civil War. I will be looking for more books by this author.

Without giving us a spoiler, tell us a little bit about your favorite scene in this book.

There are so many scenes that I like, but I would say that, now wouldn’t I? But certainly, I enjoyed writing the scene where Miles Drew, a southerner, meets up with the Union soldiers he will be joining to fight the war. However, my favorite scene is probably the one set up in the final chapter of the book, where the two friends, fighting on opposite sides, meet up once again.

If you could invite two other authors over to your house for dinner, who would you choose?

If I could choose any two authors, alive or dead, then I would pick Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, so that I could learn her secrets of how to create a plot; and Charles Dickens, to my mind one of the greatest authors of all times.

Great choices. I’d like to be invited, too. Is there one book or author with whom you identify or hold up as your standard-bearer?

I was brought up on Enid Blyton, possibly the greatest author of children’s stories ever, sadly no longer in fashion. I subsequently progressed on to Nevil Shute, Alastair Maclean, and Hammond Innes. But I do not consider any of them as a standard bearer. I have developed my own style, and do not attempt to copy anyone.

That’s a healthy perspective, John. Thank you for stopping by today. It’s been a pleasure to learn about you and your works. You are unique and passionate–all things that will bring you great success in your writing career.

John 2-AAbout John Holt: Born in 1943 in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire. I live in Essex with my wife, Margaret, and my daughter, Elizabeth. For many years, I was a Senior Project Manager with the Greater London Council. Then in 1986, I started my own practice as a Chartered Surveyor, working until I retired in 2008.

Links 

Amazon Author Page

Facebook

Twitter: @JohnHoltAuthor

 

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26 Comments

  1. Solid comments on the form and function of fiction writing. It is remarkable how much of the process Holt has described seems all too familiar to this writer. I agree that force is not helpful or necessary to create.

    Liked by 1 person

    • P. C. Zick says:

      Mike, I agree with you. I was impressed with his honesty about the creative process.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I lived with schedules and due dates for 36 years. That is more than my share. I write as it comes now. It would not be any fun otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

      • P. C. Zick says:

        I wish I didn’t feel this compelling need to sell what I write. It drives me a little nuts and takes me away from the writing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I get a chance to “build” my fan base blogging, on facebook and twitter. My publisher has my first novel scheduled to hit in October and the second next February. they haven’t scheduled a date for the third yet. I keep working both on the media side and writing but I have no set schedule. As my release date nears I suppose I will have to get even more serious about spreading the word. Hopefully the novel I’m working on now will be finished by then, we’ll see…

        Liked by 1 person

    • John Holt says:

      Hi Mike – glad to hear that you thought this was of interest, and that you stopped by and left a comment. I could never understood the apparent need for some to get X thousand words done in a day. In November 2013 my brother was killed in a traffic accident. Since then I have found writing to be a struggle. I have been working on another Kendall novel, but it had been hard. Oddly enough an idea for a short story came to mind “The Candy Man”. It all fell into place and I wrote 20000 words in 12 days. I am also halfway through a second novella.

      Liked by 2 people

      • P. C. Zick says:

        John, I’m so sorry to hear of your brother’s death. But as I’ve learned over the years, writing is a great healer and catharsis for pain. I always tell myself when the muse isn’t sitting on my shoulder that everything I do, see, hear, and feel is simply prewriting! Write on!

        Like

      • It is all enjoyment to me now. I took a year off after retiring and then began to focus. Now I have three novels written and in the q for publishing and am about a third of the way through my fourth. And research is well under way for the fifth. It does just come. Can’t force it out and into the laptop. It works for me. If I need a break from the novel I cook up a blog post or write wordy responses on other people’s blogs. Short story contest, a magazine article to benefit charity, always something working,

        Our daughter was struck from behind by a drunk driver in 2008 and survived, barely. The trauma of that awful time has helped me draw on some raw emotions and has added depth to my characters. Oddly though, I had written the initial draft of my first novel almost 20 years ago and then put it aside as my kids got into teenage years. Long before our daughter was injured I had written about the death of my main character’s wife after she was struck from behind by a drunk driver. Life is sometimes like a Twilight Zone script. I hope you can channel those emotions from your brother’s passing into your fiction.

        I look forward to reading your detective series. My detectives are all sworn law enforcement as that discipline is still fresh in my mind. But I also love writing historical fiction. Perhaps one day I will combine them. Thanks for an interesting and informative interview.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. John Holt says:

    Firstly my thanks to you Patricia for featuring me. I’m glad you thought it of interest.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have always loved John Holt’s books, and I also love him as a true friend who is always willing to help other writers. His novels are exciting and well written and full of surprises. This was a most interesting interview and has told me even more about this lovely man than I knew before.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great interview with a good friend. If you haven’t read any of John’s books yet where the hell have you been hiding.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A great feature and as always John’s professionalism shines through. He is a great inspiration to me and I value his friendship. I love the Kendall series and can’t wait to read The Candy Man.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. gerrymccullough says:

    Another interesting interview, John. I loved your thoughts on Kendall and your other books, but I think in The Candy Man you really have something good to build on. You are so good at coming up with new characters and new ideas. Keep it coming!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great to see John here. I am looking forward to featuring him on my blog in March. I’m a big fan! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. John Holt says:

    Thank you Christoph for your comment, your friendship and your support

    Liked by 2 people

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