Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today, I’m welcoming John to the tearoom to chat about his writing. Welcome. My first question is what drink would you like?
Firstly let me thank for inviting me here. Love a coffee, black, two sugars. And I must say that those cream cakes look very tempting, but really I shouldn’t …. Well, maybe just a couple then.
Now we have our refreshments let me start by asking you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
Now where was I? Oh yes, what drew me to my chosen genre? Good question. Well, it wasn’t really as simple as that. Like a lot of people I’m sure, I have long had the dream of writing a novel. I never really gave much thought to a genre, I was more concerned with thinking up a decent plot. Then in August 2005 we went to the Austrian Lake District. We stayed about a mile from Lake Toplitz, which was used by the German Navy during World War two to test rockets and torpedoes. There were stories of gold bullion hidden in the lake as the war came to an end. My novel, “The Kammersee Affair”, was completed twelve months later. But it would be another year or more, with the publication of my second book “The Mackenzie Dossier” before I began my favoured genre, Crime, Murder Mystery.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
To be absolutely honest with you, since last December, when I self-published book number 14 “An Act of Murder”, I have been struggling to think up a new case for my detective to investigate, so if you or any of your readers have any ideas I would appreciate hearing them. In the meantime I have two extremely unfinished projects. One is another murder mystery. So far I have the murder, but can’t decide on the killer, or how the murder is solved. So not good. The other project is way outside my comfort zone, but it is an idea for a time travel mystery. Once again it is very tentative.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter, or let the characters lead you?
It depends on how the idea originally comes to me. The idea for several of my novels were suggested by actual events. “A Killing In The City” came about following the financial crisis in 2008; “Epidemic” followed the Bird Flu epidemic; “”Diagnosis Murder” came about following stories of several doctors disappearing in Florida and Georgia, in the first part of 2016. Many of the doctors were later found dead. I might (if I’m fortunate) I get the idea for a story in full. All I have to do then is plan out the chapters, and fill in the action. I have to say sadly that does not happen that often. Generally, I get the basis of a story, and that’s it. I start writing and see how it develops, and what characters emerge, adding more and more thoughts that come to mind. Somewhere along the line I got side-tracked. 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 became the last chapter of “Thackery”, and largely unchanged from when it was first written. “The Thackery Journal” is set during and just after the American Civil War, and took five years to write. And it didn’t take that time because it was a long epic. It started quite simply as a short piece relating to the last few hours of a hunted man, and what happened when his pursued caught up. And that chapter remained like that for several months.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
You know, I’ve heard it said that you should write about things you know. That would actually cause me some difficulty. I generally write crime novels, murder mysteries. My main characters, Tom Kendall, and Jack Daniels, are private detectives, who spend their time hunting down murderers, blackmailers, and other forms of low life. I wonder exactly how many actual murderers Agatha Christie knew. And how about the creators of Columbo, did they know any real life killers? I doubt it. For my part I have to admit that I don’t personally know anyone of that kind. All of my characters are 100% fictional and simply created for the purpose of the story.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
What did I learn? Not absolutely I learnt anything, not really. I write in the hope of entertaining someone. A little light relief from this wicked old world. Entertainment, and also enjoyment. I’ve now written fourteen books. Thirteen of them are completely fiction, all made up and imagined in my mind, so no real research was necessary. It was a little different with my novel “The Thackery Journal”. Although still a fictional story, it is a ‘what if’ story set during, and just after, the American Civil War, concerning the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Civil War battles were researched, and incorporated into the story.
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
I’m not certain about them being surprised, but I hope that they would be interested. For several years I was the Chairman of the North-West Essex Branch of the RSPCA. I was also the Architect for the Wild Life facility that we provided to our animal rescue centre in Wethersfield, Essex.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
To be honest I don’t really have a work schedule. I’m not one for setting targets of so many words per day, or of having a set amount of hours in a day. I wish I could just say I will write so many words today, or write for so many hours, but it doesn’t work that way. At least it doesn’t in my case. There are times when I just can’t think of anything to write, and I could go days with nothing done. Then perhaps I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a whole scene in my mind, or even a whole chapter. Then, of course, I have to quickly write down as much as I can.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I did consider it, once. My name is quite short, eight letters and that covers it. I wondered if it looked reasonably okay to the reader. And I wondered if a longer name on the book cover might look better. Somewhere in my family history a double barrel name appears.I had thought of making use of the name as a pseudonym. I decided that it was tough enough getting one name known to the reading public. It would be twice as twice with two names. I never pursued the idea of a pseudonym.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
Naming characters should be the simplest part of the writing process. Should be… Of course the characters in the story fall into several categories. The major characters; secondary; and finally the others. To select names I generally use the names of people I have known, either at school, or at work. Generally, I take a Christian name from one person, and add the Surname from another. The name has to sound right, and certainly for the major characters the name needs to be memorable, and roll off the tongue. And, no I don’t know everything about my characters before I start a story. I have a basic idea, but I let them develop as the story progresses.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
How long does it…. Any chance of another cream cake?
(Yes, of course, John. Help yourself. Another coffee to go with it too?😉 )
Guess not, well not to worry. Let me see how long does it take me to write a novel? Well, it’s now 14 years since my first novel was completed. Since “The Kammersee Affair” there has been ten further novels, and three novellas. Apart from “Kammersee” and “The Thackery Journal”, they have all been crime novels. So 14 books in 14 years, that’s an average of twelve months per book.
Thank you for joining me, John. Please take your time finishing your cakes and coffee. When you’re ready please let our driver, Brutus know and he’ll run you home.
If you would like to know more about John’s writing and books check out the links below.
Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/John-Holt-Author-553064201380567
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.