Hey there everyone.
For today’s treat to get us over hump day, I have been lucky enough to spend some time chatting to author John Hanley about his exciting Historical Fiction novels which are full of action, adventure, wit, suspense and even a bit of romance.
So without further ado, it’s time for John to take us back to the past, as we all have a blast finding out more about his books and writing techniques.
Hi there John, wonderful to have you here as a guest today.
Let’s begin with your published novels Against The Tide, The Last Boat & Diamonds For The Wolf: Volume 3 (Jack Renouf). Tell us more about them and the genre(s) that they find themselves in, along with your own experiences that have fuelled them and how they all link together.
Growing up in Jersey, which was occupied by the Germans from 1st July 1940 to 9th May 1945, I’ve always been fascinated by that period. The island is littered with the artefacts of war as Hitler was so obsessed with keeping the only English territory he ever seized that the Germans excavated more earth and poured more concrete into the Channel Islands than they did in the entire Atlantic Wall on the continent!
My mother had been trapped in the island and had to endure those five long years. I wondered what it would have been like for me had, like her, I’d been born in 1920 so decided to find out through writing.
Common wisdom is that a first time novelist should write about subjects with which he is very familiar so I chose the Jersey Swimming Club’s massive tidal pool – the largest in Europe – as the base for “AGAINST THE TIDE”. I spent all my summers from the age of 12 to 22 there during the 50’s and 60’s and it had hardly changed since 1939 when the novel series starts.
Though the principal characters are all fictional, their attitudes and attributes are inspired by my observations of young and old friends and acquaintances from both periods. The central theme which continues throughout the entire series is about the relationships amongst and between Jack, Saul, Caroline and Rachel.
The initial plot developed when I discovered information about a German spy who was sent to photograph defences in 1939. The visit of HMS Jersey – a destroyer partly funded by the island – happened during this period so I was able to combine the two and involve the principal characters in this episode.
Further research revealed that the island’s beneficial tax and loose financial arrangements had been exploited by Fascist sympathisers to assist the Germans to defeat the embargo imposed by the British on industrial diamonds. The reluctance of local politicians to prevent this forces the main characters to take the law into their own hands. Because of this ‘swimming against the tide’ behaviour the novel shifts genre from romantic entanglement, through political intrigue into outright thriller action.
The second novel, “THE LAST BOAT” starts in June 1940 with Jack and Saul helping to evacuate members of the British Expeditionary Force from France. The opening scenes are historically accurate and provide a harrowing eyewitness account of the German bombing of HMT Lancastria which is sunk with the loss of over 5,000 troops and civilians in less than ten minutes. Coinciding with this evacuation the British managed to rescue the world’s entire supply of ‘heavy water’ from Paris where Nobel prize winner Professor Frédéric Joliot had been using it in experiments to moderate chain reactions in uranium.
At the time, very few physicists understood how important this was and how essential it would be to the development of atomic weapons. Having escaped the tragedy of the Lancastria, Jack, Saul and a collection of French Foreign Legionnaires have to fight off German troops and “Fifth Columnists” to transport this “shipment” to England.
Even though the romantic element is still fundamental, this novel is mainly in the action genre. Some reviewers have likened it to a ‘Boys Own Adventure’— a description which is probably accurate for most of the activities undertaken by S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) during the war!
Churchill set up S.O.E to ‘set Europe ablaze’ and, after several adventures transporting the ‘heavy water’ to safety, both Saul and Jack are recruited into this organisation by Ian Fleming, the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence.
Fleming is best known for his own writing but played a very central role in the secret war. Some of the real plans he formulated now seem even more bizarre than the fictional ones he cooked up for James Bond.
In the third novel, DIAMONDS FOR THE WOLF, set in 1941, Jack is thrown into one of these — Operation” Ruthless”, when Fleming commandeers a captured Heinkel III bomber and tries crash land it in the sea in an attempt to intercept and storm a German naval vessel and steal its code books. While this plan was Fleming’s brainchild, the driving force behind it was Alan Turing who believed that his code breaking through ENIGMA could win the war. Without the latest naval codes, he believed the war would be lost. “Ruthless” went operational so what happened? The answer is in the novel!
You mention that you have a series of ten novels planned in total. This is going to excite your readers a lot, since we know that we are going to be expecting many more books from you for years to come! How have you come up with this particular number and do you have specific themes that you are aiming to touch upon with your subsequent books?
The fourth novel is on the stocks and starts in August 1941 when Jack and Saul travel in the brand new battleship, HMS Prince of Wales, to the Atlantic Conference in Newfoundland. Churchill is also aboard and is hoping to persuade the American President, Roosevelt, to join him in fighting the Fascists. Jack and Saul, both now sub-lieutenants in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (Special Branch) are being sent as liaison officers to share their experiences in commando operations with the United States Marine Corps.
Beyond that I plan to publish a new novel every 18 months or so, each set against the background of real, if little known events. Each will take place during a short intense period and be structured along similar lines to the previous ones focusing on action but digging quite deeply into the political and military considerations driving them.
The final novel, “HO 17” was written before the “AGAINST THE TIDE” was published and is set in 1990. All four of the main characters feature though the protagonist is different but related to one of them. As the characters have lives of their own in the series they have forced me to make many changes to the ‘history’ and I constantly have to update this final work! Already, I have been surprised by their actions and events I hadn’t imagined have happened literally as I type!
If your novels were to be made into movies, who would you cast in the lead roles?
Not Tom Cruise! As the novelist I would have no say in who was cast. I read something this week from a well-known author who had the temerity to point out an historical inaccuracy in a scene during filming only to be told by the producer to ‘relax and have another glass of free champagne’.
Who are some of the authors in general that inspire you?
John D MacDonald has been an inspiration since I first discovered him in the 1960’s.
His sparse and focused style has always impressed and I love his wit and wisdom. Recently, all of his Travis McGee novels have been reissued in Kindle format with a foreword for each produced by my other favourite contemporary author, Lee Child.
Both have produced long series with a very strong male protagonist and in, JD’s case, written in the first person, which is my preferred style. Child writes some of the Jack Reacher series from the same perspective but most are in the third person.
What sort of research do you do to write your books?
I’m obsessive about historical accuracy and spend an inordinate amount of time researching in physical archives, my own library of period books (500+) and on line but, particularly, I study photographs of particular events. I find I can learn so much from just looking – after all a picture is worth a thousand words isn’t it?
Why do you write? What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always been a writer from the time I taught myself to type at the age of 14 but I only really invested serious time in it once I retired from teaching teenagers English and Drama.
It’s always been a dream or a series of daydreams when carrying out the multitude of managerial tasks my ultimate role in education demanded. I’ve had to write millions of words to gain my qualifications and in the course of my teaching and managerial career so the discipline of writing to deadlines wasn’t new or a great challenge.
Writing readable fiction was though and, through a process of trial and error I developed my current first person narrative style. I sought feedback from professional editors and learned a lot about ‘showing and not telling’. I also tested my writing on an authors’ website YouWriteOn.com where, in return for reviewing other’s work, yours gets the once over as well. That was a sobering experience as stories are allocated randomly and it was not unusual for someone whose first love is vampire stories having to read and review my historical fiction. I learned that achieving a broad appeal is not simple.
What keeps you motivated during creative slumps? How do you deal with Writers Block?
I don’t write everyday though I do spend time in promoting my books through social media so I’m constantly in touch with my characters and their stories. New ideas are humming in the background especially when I’m carrying out mundane tasks such as swimming training. I’m quite patient and prepared to wait until my research is sufficiently advanced for me to write and create scenes with confidence. Because of my theatrical background I tend to visualise the story as a series of scenes and endeavour to create a hook to the end of each section or chapter.
How do you spend your free time when you are not writing?
I have two daughters who have each produced a son so I love looking after them. I also swim (I’m lucky enough to have my own outdoor pool – it’s England so swimming in the rain has to be enjoyed as well.) I play golf, strategy games on the computer and watch TV shows like Glee which my friends find appalling. However, I used to produce musical shows with my students and love the buzz.
Finally, are there any nuggets of wisdom that you can impart to other aspiring writers?
- Initially I used to let the story flow through my finger tips on the keyboard but now I try to edit as I write.
- I would recommend paying for an opinion from a professional about your style especially your sentence construction.
- Don’t rely on your spell checker or relations for proof-reading.
- Don’t overwrite. Are all your adverbs really necessary? Following the advice of a professional editor, I killed thousands of mine in “AGAINST THE TIDE” to improve the flow. It hurt at the time but I have suffered no regrets!
And that’s a wrap – thank you for your time John.
John F Hanley was born in Jersey in 1946. He grew up surrounded by the massive fortifications the Nazis had constructed to stop the British reclaiming the island they had bombed and occupied in 1940. He discovered that everyone, including his mother, who had endured that occupation had stories to tell. Eventually, he decided to immerse himself in the history of that period and use some of that first-hand material to write a series of novels set during the Second World War.
Before he had the luxury of retirement to fund the time for such a venture he spent nearly forty years teaching in London, Cornwall and Jersey where he ended his career as deputy headteacher of his old high school.
When he was eighteen he left the island to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He often wondered what it would have been like to be eighteen in 1939 and faced with a rather different choice and this question provided the initial impetus for the series.
He has now completed four novels in the planned series of ten.
The first, Against The Tide, was published on 1st October 2012.
The second, The Last Boat, set in 1940 was published in August 2013
The third, Diamonds For The Wolf set in 1941 was published on 1st September 2015
The final novel, HO 17, is also ready, though, as the characters keep seizing control of their own story lines, he has to constantly update it to accommodate their little surprises.
You can contact John via the following Social Media platforms:-
You can buy his books here:-
If you too would like to be interviewed on my blog at TooFullToWrite and you have a book or a series of books that you would like us to chat about then fill out the Contact Me form here with your details and we can arrange a future interview slot.
Still want more? Well John’s novels take many dramatic twists and turns. For more blog posts that follow the theme of being ‘Dramatic’, check out the links from my fellow bloggers below:-
1. Mainline_Matter – Dramatic News Development
2. Dramatic – Joker no kuni no Alice ~ P O I S O N ~ (Joker x Alice) Video – Flower Clocks
3. Gastblog: Het spannende verhaal van Giri en Leo – @Peter’s Blog
4. Citamard – Vivid Dreamer
5. aratrikaspeaks – Woes of a Drama Queen
6. Love to Addiction – Luminous Feathers
7. Dramatic – Scott’s website
8. burntbreakfast – Day 13: Dramatic
9. Dramatic – Inner Whispers
10. This, On Purpose – The Curse of a Single Woman
11. Fluffy Pool – Smoke
12. MY ENDURING BONES – Meet Dramabones
13. Dramatic Silence: A Loss of Hope – blackcattwriting
14. Le Drake Noir – Prompt tripartite
15. Dramatic – firelight
16. ativ schuberg – The brokenhearted optimist (paper Soldier 2)
17. TheDaily – Tony Robbins is not your guru
18. Sean Hogan – Go Home! (Full Short Story)
19. duffrunning – When is a Run Not a Run?
20. Copper Cranes – An Extempore Romance
21. Here I am !! – Dramatic
22. ISN’T IT DRAMATIC? – agurlblog
23. Wander Woman – A Day in the Life of a Drama Queen
24. Drama Queen – The Chaos Within
25. 3 Ways to Live a “Dramatic” Life – YOLOcruz
26. Purposive Writer – Unpremeditated Path
27. theblackwallblog – Life Is Good!
28. Dramatico – apserranoblog
29. Hmmm….Dramatic? – My Degrees of Separation
30. Oh, Noisy Mind – A live mockery that danced
31. tuckedintoacorner – smile + dramatic
32. Night Sky is Dramatic – Writcrit
33. Travel Much? – Roskilde Cathedral, King Pantsless
34. Dramatic – trailingthoughtsblog
35. Eden of Knowledge – Dramatic
36. Fledgling – StrangeLander2015
37. Joy Write – Child of Mine.
38. helen meikle’s scribblefest – Daily prompt: Bad blogging
39. Why is it, that drama, glory and revenge top the news? – Why is it?
40. Dramatically Indecisive – BÁI MEI LIÁN
41. witchlike – Juliet at Lammas Eve
42. How do Words Affect the Mind? – Martha’s Daily Writing
43. Wrestlemania – From Sand to Gemstones
44. The Fair Shooting – Karuchan
45. A Useless Female Child.. – MariaJob
46. Lost Property Repository – Big Bear Episode 6 Dramatic
47. 36 Years – Mac’s World
48. Lost Property Repository – New domain name
49. Am I Dramatic? – Suddenly-Outofstyle
50. LINES of SHADEAU – SO Dramatic!
51. Dramatic Soprano Tanka – Ramblings of a Writer
52. Simply Me – DRAMATIC
53. Impromptu Promptlings – The Melmac Drama
54. Jaded Psychodelicide – Lotusflower
55. jesscombs.com – I’m a whole year old!!!
56. Giggles & Tales – The Daily Prompt – Dramatic!
57. Leanne Murphy – Ten words #16
58. Flowers and Breezes – Dramatic
59. Dramatic – wordsareallihavesite
60. Jibber Jabber with Sue – Colourful Sunset
61. Siena Writes Things – Dramatic
62. So Dramatic – April’s Perspective
63. inspiration in progress – Dramatic
64. This is Another Story – Dramatic Dream
65. writingjourneyblog – Dramatic-Limerick
66. Boys – TAwrites
67. Face off! – Girl With A Tripod
68. Almost Wisconsin – Dramatic
69. Dramatic – Wie is Theo Herbots ? // Who is Theo Herbots?
70. Drama Vs Dramatic – A lot from Lydia
71. OW! WHAT DO YOU MEAN I NEED ANOTHER MAMMOGRAM! – M.G.David
72. Sundays – Doodle 066
73. Brittany Brice – Dramatics
74. Pokemon Go is like Campus Placements – Expressions
75. B_ up to date – Cruelty – Tragic & Dramatic
76. Beauty of Raindrops – Heaven’s Sunshine
77. A dramatic view – Pardon my English
78. Shell Games – So the Drama – Chrono Trigger and Dramatic Direction
79. Writing Web – Daily Prompt for July 31, 2016
80. simply.cindy – Playing Towards a Better World
81. Nature is Wildly Dramatic – Writcrit
82. Eat Less Sugar You’re Sweet Enough – Happy BC Day
83. artifiswords – FLAIR FOR THE DRAMATIC?
84. Tales of Drama…Tales of Â Writing – SUCCESS STRATEGIES
85. Musings of a Menopausal Maven – Clandestine Bullies
86. Zombie Flamingos – Two kitties and a car
87. Water of Rain – wish for wish
88. Annette’s place – Daily prompt/dramatic/7/31/2016
89. dramatic Evacuation (Dronexit#17) – a nerd’s confession: when-iam-68
90. My shoes – Life is BEAUTIFUL
91. My Dramatic Life! – vaishu29
92. Lives In Stone – Tick Tick Dra-ma-Tick
93. Dramatic – Covert Novelist
94. Christian Ecstasy, Ineffable Joy, and Jesus the Lord – Lance Price Blog 2016
95. thisisawritingblog – Films lack drama!
96. Dramatic – Roberta Pimentel
97. Peaceful Journey – You Deserve an Emmy
98. Dramatic Dynamics – rupalislale
99. To Wear A Rainbow – nothing dramatic…a haiku prayer
100. The Chanson Dramatique. – psychonomadblog
101. The silence – Words in verse…..
102. Wake up, it’s reality. – Stokespeare
103. Make Mass Magnificent – Canterbury Convert
104. Joes-Fotowelten – Dramatic good view
105. Star ~ Wish Upon a Star – Word Adventures
106. One Line Sunday- Nothing dramatic – In my world
107. Growing Toward the Sun – The Business Plan That Had Nothing To Do With Me
108. Musings of a Random Mind – The Naked Truth
109. Hill – variouslemon
110. Angst of an Amateur Actor – The Inkwell
111. Dramatic – Tuba
112. Dramatic without the drama. Daily Post. – PsychPerspectives
113. HarlemATL Inner City Blues – The Sanctuary of Ignorance
114. The dramatic one! – HashtagTrustYourInstincts
115. DRAMATIC – My QuotesVilla
116. debooWORKS – Game Over
117. Dramatic – Awordseeker
118. 3am Bursts of Inspiration – Aren’t Ordure and Odour the Same?
119. 3am Bursts of Inspiration – A Response to My Brother’s Anger At My Never-ending Feminism
120. Dramatic – Ayoka
121. multiplemyelomaandme – As drama goes
122. SERENDIPITY – DRAMATIC CLOUDS. NO RAIN.
123. kStan(ly) kSays – he recites soliloquies
124. Michael J. Fite – How Can Dramatic, Positive Change Bring Growth To Your Life?
125. Camel riding nomads – Hi India
126. Fiend – indisputably inconclusive
127. All that Drama – Kristoffe Tries to Explain It All
128. To think differently – ideas and culture
129. Nutrition Facts Talk – Come in, sit down
130. Drama queens in politics ⋆ Obsolete Childhood
131. Slumber – indisputably inconclusive
132. Dramatic, a Craving Transformed – Compassionate Atheism
133. 3 Amazing Things That Will Happen If You Write for 12 Hours Straight – DarkfictionComa
134. lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown – Family Harvest
135. Amusement – indisputably inconclusive
136. The Gad About Town – Everyday Masks
137. House of Dramatic Events – eddaz
138. My Mother – Making Sense of Complications
139. THIS MUSIC SUCKS! And Other Opinions You Should Keep to Yourself – Ellies Little Adventure
140. The daily dialogue of “First Responders” is a true indicator of how Dramatic life has become! – simplycathrynblog
141. Journeyman – Myanmar Trip Day 8: City Tour at Inle 2
142. The Daily Post – Progressing into Solitude – Dramatic
143. 83 Unsung Heroes – A Mountain Out Of A Molehill
144. Just A Simple Country Girl – Dramatic
145. Dramatic – Postcard from a Pigeon
146. Drama Tic – Where’s the Windmill?
147. Southern By Design – Controversy Thy Name Is Media
148. A World I Admire – I Rhyme Without Reason
149. Retirement and beyond – Daily Post : Dramatic
150. Dramatic is my middle name – Bloggers Paradise
151. myquiltprojects – dramatic fabric!
152. The Cat Chronicles – Daily Feline Prompt: The Dramatic Feline
153. Grace in Housekeeping – Family Picnic in the Park
154. The Poetry Channel – Precipice
155. kristinakoti – Little incidents
156. Drama Queen – The golden years revisited
157. thelonerose – Saturday
158. Dramatic Past seeking Attention – Akanksha
159. Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss – Dramatic events during a golden oldie sleep
160. La Tour Abolie – Even wobblier in all sorts of ways than I had imagined
161. Writers No One Reads: Onetti – lucarna
162. Lori A. E Barney’s Blog – Dramatic should have been her first name
163. I always ran away – From One Crazy Life To Another
164. I love it when she yells – writemebad
165. Dramatic! Imbros Gorge, Crete – Chronicles of an Orange-Haired Woman!
166. My Mind Gasps – E. Denise Billups
167. cynsworld80 – Drama-free Zone
168. Jacki Kellum Juxtapositions: Read My Mind – Do You Have a Flair for the Dramatic? You Should be a Writer
169. A Vibrant Palette – Drama Queen
170. Saskatchewan drinking water measures could be in place for months due to Husky oil spill: official Financial Post – Top Stories – The Mono-Economy of the New Millennium
171. The Grand Day! – Eloraquence
172. Passion through Poetry – Dramatic
173. Devil Doll Musings – I Write Sins Not Tragedies
174. Travel Much? – Roskilde Cathedral – the Nave
175. Leprechaun – zorazebic
176. The first and best moment- part-2 – likhitha998
177. the15thday – the great white pube and the devastated “gardener!”
178. Tomorrow – wanderlustandcoffeelover
179. Designer Sophisticate – Melodramatics aren’t necessary.
180. Hot White Snow – It’s just a phase
181. Dreams Dramatic – mySestina
182. Dramatic – Pete Gardner Psalms
183. ….on pets and prisoners….. – daily prompt: dramatic
184. Unmotivated Enthusiast – “Jack of all trades, master of none”
185. Frank Prem – shhh crazy
186. Snapshots of the World – Elephant in The Room
187. Lantern Words – Dramatic Change