Welcome, John! Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What kind of books do you write?
I am a retired Chartered Surveyor, who used to work for The Greater London Council, and later had my own surveying practice. I live in Essex with my wife, daughter, and our adoptive cat Missy. Adoptive because she adopted us. Like a lot of people I suspect, I had always wanted to write a novel, but could never think of a decent plot. The first novel I wrote, The Kammersee Affair, was inspired by a trip to the Austrian lake district. We stayed at a place called Grundlsee. The next lake was Toplitz which was used by the German Navy during the war to test torpedoes and rockets. As the war ended many items were disposed of in the lake, including jewellery, weapons and counterfeit dollars and pounds. There were rumours of gold bullion also being placed in the dark waters of the lake. Extensive searches have never found any gold. The book is about the search for hidden Nazi gold. But it is much more than that. It is the story of two men, an SS Major, and an American GI. It is a story of blackmail, murder, and revenge. The other published books all feature Tom Kendall, my private detective.
I noticed that you have a number of books on Amazon. How frequently do you put out a novel?
I currently have five books on Amazon. As I said my first book was The Kammersee Affair. It was originally published by Raider Publishing International in New York in 2006. Then came The Mackenzie File in 2008; The Marinski Affair in 2009; and Epidemic in 2011. My fifth novel A Killing In The City was published by Night Books (no longer in existence) in March 2012. The contracts with Raider have all expired, or have been terminated by mutual agreement. In August 2012 I started to self publish and re-issue the books under my own banner, PHOENIX. Epidemic was re-issued only a few days ago. So five novels in seven months, not bad. If only I could do that over and over. The truth of the matter is that I suppose each novel would probably take twelve months from scratch.
What kinds of characters do you like to write about?
I like characters with character. By that I mean my characters have to have a strong personality, to have qualities and values and standards that they live by, whether for good or bad. My main character, Tom Kendall, is a private detective. But he isn’t the tough guy toting a gun type of detective. He is methodical, and plodding. He isn’t as fit as he should be, and eats all the wrong kinds of food. He has a wicked sense of humour. He is determined, and once he gets an idea into his head he won’t shift until he has been proved wrong in a dozen different ways. In many ways there’s a lot of me in Kendall. My villains are dominant, ruthless, out for power and control. You know they are bad right from the off, and you know they committed the crime. The point though is to see how Kendall solves the case.
Do you have a writing process?
Do I have a writing process? That’s not that straight forward. I don’t have any hard and fast rules. Unlike the truly great authors such as Dickens, I could never start at page 1 and make my way through to the end. I don’t how he (and others) did that. To write a chapter a week, I couldn’t do that. Some weeks I might only write a handful of notes; other times I might write large sections. I usually have a basic ides of what I want in the story. I might even have a handful of chapters in outline. Then I will gradually add things as they come to mind. When I say add them I mean I might think of something to add to the ending, or it might be a piece that fits in somewhere in the middle. Often it might actually mean I have to change something previously written, but I get there in the end. Sometimes I use the “What If” scenario.
Generally each novel takes about a year.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience in publishing? Why did you choose to indie publish?
Having written The Kammersee Affair, I investigated the possibility of a mainstream publisher snapping it up. I soon realised that not being a celebrity chef, or an A-Lister, the mainstream publishers weren’t interested. Then I approached Dorrance Publishers in New York. They simply loved the book, and were very keen to work with me. They produced a very nice review/critique. All I had to do was sign the contract and send them a cheque for $10,000. Yes, that’s what I said, $10,000. It may surprise you to hear that I never did sign with Dorrance. After that there were a number of other so-called vanity publishers. Austin Macauley wanted £2,400; Author House wanted £700. Eventually I went with Raider. Yes I paid for the privilege, although it was considerably cheaper than Author House. Regrettably the books did not sell that well, and suffered from poor promotion. Then there was Night Books. With them there was no charge. Sadly for reasons now water under the bridge Night and I parted and went our separate ways. I then decided that because I was doing my own publicity and promoting why not do the whole thing: self-publish. They way I had control over everything—the book, the cover, the price, publicity, and I kept all of the royalties.
What does it take to turn a manuscript into a book?
Good question. How long is a piece of string? When is a book ever finished? I have realised that you cannot possibly please everyone at the same time. Look at the reviews: “a slow boring read I couldn’t finish” for one person; “A well plotted crime thriller” for someone else. You know full well that as soon as you type The End and put the book in front of the public, someone is going to be critical. It’s too long; it’s too short; your characters aren’t realistic. Not realistic! It’s fiction, anything is possible in fiction. A man wearing his pants on the outside, with x-ray vision, and flying faster than a speeding bullet, isn’t something you see that often. Yet Superman has made a fortune for his creators. I decided that I wouldn’t try to please anyone except myself. As long as I was happy then that would be that. If others liked it then that was a bonus. So as long as I’m happy with the manuscript, and it says all of the things I had in mind, and I’ve checked the spelling for the umpteenth time, then the manuscript is ready to become a book. I don’t employ an editor or a proofreader so it’s quite probably that a misspelling will get through; or there will be a punctuation error, or three. But so be it. If a spelling mistake spoils the whole book for you well I’m sorry, but stick with the bigger picture.
In your opinion, how has the Internet age affected the publishing industry?
Like many aspects about the Internet there have been good, and bad, effects as far as publishing is concerned. Certainly the growth of e-books has had an effect on paperbacks. E-books and Amazon has certainly had an effect on bookstores. I much prefer paperbacks, and resisted ebooks for a long time. I have now (sadly) realised that paperbacks can no longer compete with ebooks. In the States, I understand that more e-books are sold than paperbacks. The same will I expect be true in the UK before long. The Internet has certainly had an effect on bookstores, and many independent shops have disappeared. On the plus side is the fact that it is now much easier for self-published indie authors like myself. With the likes of Lulu and Createspace, it is now easy to self publish your paperback (at no charge), and with Kindle Direct and Smashwords, getting your e-book out there couldn’t be simpler. Then, of course, the other major consideration is the so called social media. I have met so many nice people on here, people I will probably never ever meet, but who I call friends. They are very supportive in all sorts of ways, including encouragement, and publicity.
Of the books you’ve written, do you have a favorite?
That’s difficult, but I suppose The Marinski Affair, or Epidemic. But there again I liked A Killing In The City and… Sorry, you wanted one. Okay, let’s say Marinski.
What is your favorite aspect of writing?
To me writing must be fun, you must enjoy doing it. If it’s a labour of love, forget it. If in any way it causes anguish, or worry, forget it. I write in the hope of entertaining someone. I know it’s just a little bit of nonsense. There are no deep innermost feelings to be analysed, but if someone gets some pleasure out of it, or they find Kendall’s humour to their taste, that is absolutely fine.
What are you currently working on?
I have four novels at various stages: two more Kendall novels, one of which is about 60% complete; the other is barely an outline. A friend of mine, Hans Fricke, carried out several underwater searches of lake Toplitz. About two years ago he carried out an underwater search in a Norwegian fjord. He had discovered a submarine. It seems that the submarine had undertaken a trip in 1931 heading for an under the ice voyage to the North Pole. For reasons it never got to the Pole, and was later deliberately scuttled in Norway. I am trying to put together a novel about it. That is about 30% complete. Then I have a “What If” novel regarding the assassination of Lincoln. This is 75% so that is the one I’m concentrating on, in the hope of having it ready before the end of the year.
John Holt's novels are available at: