Today I am pleased to interview my friend John Holt, author of adventure and crime novels.
Born in 1943 in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire. I currently live in Essex with my wife, Margaret, my daughter Elizabeth and a cat who adopted us called Missy. For many years I was a Chartered Surveyor in local government. I was a Senior project manager with the Greater London Council until it was closed down in 1986. I then set up my own surveying practice, preparing reports for people purchasing houses, and preparing plans for extensions, and new properties. In 2004 I had a heart attack, and eventually retired in 2008.
I had always wanted to write a novel but could never think of a good enough plot. Until 2005 whilst on holiday in Austria.
Please tell us more about yourself, anything you like- interests, background…
My interests are varied, but none involve anything too strenuous. My days of playing tennis (badly I must admit) are long gone. Now I pursue far more sedentary activities. I like music, from Negro (can you still use that word?) blues to classical. I like movies, although not modern ones. As an author I like reading although I am very slow, and I am very choosy in what I read. I enjoy photography, or should say I enjoy doing restoration of old photographs. I have also done a considerable amount of research into family history on my mother’s side, and have traced links back to 1524.
Please tell us more about the book or books you would like to feature today.
I now have six books self published – My first novel “The Kammersee Affair” was an adventure story loosely based on a few truthful facts. This was followed by four novels featuring my private detective Tom Kendall and his assistant Mollie. My latest, “The Thackery Journal” is something of a departure for me, and way outside my comfort zone. It is a “What If” story concerning the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. On the night of April 14th 1865 President Abraham Lincoln attended a performance at The Ford Theatre, in Washington. A single shot fired by John Wilkes Booth hit the President in the back of the head. He slumped to the floor, and died a few hours later without recovering consciousness. Was Booth a lone assassin? Or was he part of a wider conspiracy? What if Booth had merely been a willing party to a plot to replace Lincoln with General Ulysses S. Grant?
I have been working on the book, on and off, for about four years. Strangely enough the first thing that I wrote was the final chapter. I tried to imagine how a hunted man felt as his pursuers came closer and closer. That chapter has virtually remained unchanged ever since.
What gave you the idea to write in this genre?
I suppose the first thing to consider is what genre did I not want to write in? That cut the choice down considerably, basically leaving adventure and crime. I have always loved the old film noir movie from the forties and fifties. Humphrey Bogart, Edward G Robinson, Cagney. I had planned on writing something in the style of the detective novels of Raymond Chandler, or Dashiell Hammett. It wasn’t very long before I realised that I couldn’t match their style. Then I realised that I shouldn’t even attempt to copy them, and that I should develop my own style anyway.
Is there a theme or message in your work that you would like readers to connect with?
No, there’s no theme, no hidden message, no deep profound statement. No enlightenment into life’s great mysteries. I write for one reason, and one reason only, good old fashion entertainment, in the hope that I bring a little bit of enjoyment into someone’s life.
What research did you do, and how? Or does it all come from your own imagination?
As far as the private detective novels are concerned this is pure imagination, and hardly any research was involved. The inspiration for “The Kammersee Affair” came during a holiday in the Austrian lakes. We were staying at lake Grundlsee in 2005. The next lake was lake Toplitz. I discovered that this lake had been used by the German Navy to test rockets during the War. I carried out a search on the Internet and found out a bit more about these activities, and what happened as the war came to an end. I also discovered that there been rumours of gold bullion being hidden in the lake. Putting everything together formed the basis of my story. My latest work, “The Thackery Journal” is a what if novel set during the American Civil War. In order to make the story as real as possible I did a lot of research into places, civil war battles, and generally what life was like at that time.
What’s the funniest/weirdest thing you’ve done when doing research for your book?
I don’t think there was anything funny or weird. I was however amazed when researching “The Thackery Journal” the way the South almost welcomed the war. They seemed to think it was going to a great little adventure and that it would be over in a matter of months. The reality was vastly different.
Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
Apart from “Thackery” and “Kammersee” I generally write private detective stories involving murder, blackmail, and robbery. These are not aspects that I come across on a daily basis. So no none of my characters are based on people I know. In fact I deliberately make my villains almost larger than life, over the top.
Do you make a plan for your novels, or do you just start writing and see where it goes?
I generally have a basic plan, sometimes more detailed than others. Quite often the plan will change has the story develops. Sometimes one, or more, of the characters will run away with themselves, and go off in a totally different direction than I had planned. “The Mackenzie Dossier”, the first of the Kendall stories, started as a straight forward political corruption story. About a third of the way in somebody gets murdered, shortly followed by a second murder. I then needed someone to solve the crime, so Tom Kendall was created. He hasn’t gone away since.
Which of your own books/ characters is your favourite and why?
That has to be my private detective Tom Kendall, firstly he is by far the main character that I have created, and appears in four of my books, but also because there is a lot of me in Tom. We both have a sense of humour, and we are both stubborn. Once he and I, get an idea in our heads we don’t shift until someone proves that we are wrong.
What has been the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received as a writer?
We all get all sorts of advice – write about what you know; don’t use adverbs; don’t do this, and don’t do that; ad infinitum. I can’t say that I have ever received a helpful piece of advice, not one that I have encompassed anyway. I’m not a great one for rules anyway. I would say the only rule worth noting is “Write for yourself and no one else”. If you are happy with it then that is all that matters. If someone else likes it, that’s a bonus. Oh and enjoy what you do. If writing becomes a chore, and no longer enjoyable then what’s the point? Forget it.
What books or other projects do you have coming up in future?
I am currently working on two other Kendall novels. One is about halfway, the other barely. I also have made a tentative adventure story based on events that happened in 1931, and I also have the germ of an idea for another Civil War novel. I don’t expect any of these to be ready until early in 2014.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?
Well apart from please read my novels, all I would say to those who have read my works is I hope that you enjoyed them. To those who haven’t yet sampled my works there are a few chapters available on http://www.wattpad.com/user/JohnHolt1943; and http://www.scribd.com/my-uploads Go take a look and see what you think.
Finally my thanks to you Lily, for giving me this opportunity. You have been a great and valued friend and always supportive.
John’s books are available here: