Topher Hoffman: Hello folks! And welcome to the House of 1000 Books! Today I have a special guest who happens to be the writer of two excellent novels. The Hanging Women and The Fourth Victim! He specializes in the crime, thriller, and mystery genre and writes about events that are based on actual people and real events.
From his biography, it states that he is a vivid people watcher! That indeed works out for his writing in my opinion because he can sit back and wonder what really makes people tick!
Anyways, enough of what I think, let me introduce you to John Mead!
Welcome John, to the House of 1000 Books! I’m super thrilled that you are here and I more pleased that you were willing to take the time to talk to the readers! So without wasting any more of your time, let us begin the cross-examination! (See what I did there, he’s a crime writer, get it?)
John, from your biography I see that you are a worldly traveller. Can you tell me, what was your favourite place to visit?
John Mead: The easy answer to this question is always Tibet, with Nepal in a close second. However, in reality, I find all travel fascinating – watching people and what they do is completely absorbing. Whether it’s simply walking around or sitting outside a café watching people go about their everyday business. Or waiting at train stations and in airports imagining all those journeys that are about to start. The spirituality of some places, like India, or the gun culture of America, or discovering the horrors of past wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. Enjoying a glass of wine in a small air-conditioned bar in Venice, a power cut in Shanghai, ice cream in San Francisco, watching Fruit Bats fly across the Mekong. Or, simply, eating a delicious plate of mussels with a pint in a pub, by the beach in Llandudno, on a warm spring day. Every excursion becomes a new adventure.
TH: With you being in so many parts of the world, do you recollect a time that you were visiting another country or city that you feared for your life or, at a minimum, your safety?
JM: In many places, the biggest threat is getting run over – and you don’t always have to be on the road for that to be a danger. India seemed the worst, where even driving towards oncoming traffic on a motorway didn’t seem out of place.
In most cities, there are places you are told to ‘watch your back’, though Durban SA came out top on that score. We did a stop over there and the hotel we stayed at gave us a map with about 80% of the city covered in crosses as being unsafe for tourists. Although, in Egypt, the guide happily showed us the bullet holes on the temple walls were the tourists had been recently shot. And, in more than one place, we have aroused suspicion and curiosity in equal measure by wandering around back streets and markets not usually frequented by foreigners.
In practice, we have never had any trouble, apart from a couple of attempted pickpockets (Florence and Paris) and having my camera stolen whilst in a hot air balloon over Luxor – long story.
TH: Are any of your books based on your travels?
JM: The Hanging Women – we travelled by train across the USA and, along the way, I was really taken by Chicago and it’s history. The incredible rate of technological, social and economic change taking place in the 1800s was staggering. Throw in the gun culture, gangs and racial mix and you have the basis for a real potboiler.
TH: You are a people watcher, have you ever worked any of the personalities you have seen into a story? If so, what is that person like?
JM: Virtually every character has some personality traits of people I’ve met. Initially, I start by thinking I need to use a character, someone like X, for a particular part of the story. But the problem is they soon take on a life of their own, even the minor characters, and the plot ends up following the characters. So, in the end, I doubt if anyone would recognise themselves in the character.
It has been my experience that there are no good or bad people, no heroes or villains, just people with a mix of everything in them. It is the process of living a life, that causes that mix to come out in a certain blend, that is what is important to understand when developing a character.
TH: Ok, changing pace a bit here is a random question and the one I ask everyone that I have interviewed. If you had the chance to tell your younger writing self one thing about writing, one piece of advice that you wish you knew when you were younger, that you know would have helped, what would it be?
JM: If you want to develop a career in writing then start early – build a base, start a blog, review books, read a wide range of books, write short stories and articles. Basically, do anything and everything that helps build a following and will show your talent and credentials to potential agents and publishers in the future. Don’t bother about writing a great opus, write what you enjoy – what you need to write – in a style that is your own.
From a practical point of view: always assume your book can stand to be edited at least once, if not twice, more than you think necessary.
TH: Who is your favourite author, and why?
JM: PG Wodehouse – for his wordplay
RL Stevenson – for never wasting a word
C Hibbert – for his historical research
G Simenon – for atmosphere and character
TH: If you had the chance to meet one author, and ask them one question about their work, what would it be?
JM: It would have to be Shakespeare – and the question would be: ‘Did you really write every work accredited to you?’
TH: Most people say that their family supports their writing, I’m asking you, does anybody in your family disapprove of your writing?
JM: To be honest, I don’t ask, and I suspect they are all too polite to tell me if I did.
TH: If you had to give up one thing that is exceptionally important to you, what would it be, and why would you decide that is the one thing that you would give up?
JM: I’d lie – I’d never give up anything important to me, not willingly. As Confucius once said: ‘If someone demands you give them your pen, then your only logical recourse is to stab them in the eye with it.’ Or was that Machiavelli?
It was the only quote my school friend learned for O Level English Literature, while I memorised 30 plus quotes and had context and analysis to use them in a variety of ways – he ended up with the same grade as I got. There is, I feel, a lesson in life there.
TH: I see that you have two books published in 2018. What one is your newest book, and can you tell us about it?
JM: The Fourth Victim – it’s a police procedural crime story.
I wanted to write something that tended to reflect how police really go about solving crimes. It is more team based rather than around a central angst, a filled hero who ends up solving the crime against the odds. And, like most crime stories, it isn’t meant to be a mystery, the real uncertainty is how or if the police will discover who the real killer is – the story is in the journey rather than the end. The latter is especially true as knowing who the killer is doesn’t mean they will be convicted.
It is set in modern-day Whitechapel –
‘Whitechapel is being gentrified, the many green spaces of the area give the illusion of peace and clean air but are also places to find drug dealers, sexual encounters and murder…’
And the police are not only having to do battle with crime but also budget cuts. Solving crime is about choices not just about detection.
TH: What is one thing in the book that you have left out of the blurb that should have been in the blurb?
JM: ‘This is not a cosy murder mystery.’
‘A story about how life will bite you back.’
TH: Who is your favourite character from your newest novel, describe that character in three words.
JM: I’m developing the ‘Whitechapel theme’ into a series of books and one of the characters that emerge is an old, smalltime East End gangster whom one of the police officers describes as ‘a proper arsehole crawling, racist little shit.’ Unfortunately, he reminds me of one or two people I grew up with.
TH: Using that same character, if a movie adaptation was produced out of your book, who would you pick to play that character, and why?
JM: Bob Hoskins – cornered the market in this type of character in The Long Good Friday
15. There are so many genres out there that you could have decided to write, what has drawn you to write in the mystery, thriller, and crime genre?
JM: Given the context of this genre, stories tend to be looking at the most terrible moments in a person’s life – events that bring out the worst and best in people. They will also have a smattering of technology (in the form of forensics, etc) and tell you something about society – how the criminal and victim are viewed and treated. Therefore, they have a large range of angles and issue to explore.
TH: Where can the readers find out more about your work?