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Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with John Mayer

Today I’m hanging out with an author I’ll admit I knew very little about until we hung out together, but I’m sure that many of you reading this will have read his books. I’d like to introduce you all to John Mayer – author of The Parliament Books.

Photo courtesy of John Meyer

John Mayer was born in Glasgow, Scotland, a war-zone where violence and poverty reigned. In 1963 when he heard The Beatles on Radio Caroline, he decided to change his life. Aged 14 he left school because, in his opinion, he wasn't being taught. For the next year, in all weathers, he cycled 9 miles to and 9 miles from the Mitchell Library in central Glasgow where he devoured books of all kinds and began to understand what more the world had to offer. He became an Apprentice engineer, and soon was teaching men twice his age. In the early 1970s his love of music led him to set up as a Record Producer. He built his own record company trading in 14 countries. After a disheartening court battle with global giants, he left the business world and went back into further education at the University of Edinburgh, becoming an Advocate in the Supreme Courts of Scotland. There he acted for the downtrodden and desperate as well as Greenpeace International. His specialism was in fighting international child abduction.

John has written non-fiction, legal texts and articles; broadcast to tens of millions of people on US and UK radio, appeared on TV and in print media.  Since retiring from the Law, John has enjoyed using his years of very colourful experience to create The Parliament House Books series.

The Trial is the first full length novel in this series. Set in Edinburgh and Glasgow, it is more than a nod to Franz Kafka's book of the same title. The Trial sees crusading Scottish Advocate, Brogan McLane, fight injustices so casually delivered by Low Life in High Places in the Old Town.

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Hello John and welcome to The Hippo.

We’ll start with a hard one. Can you describe yourself in five words?
Intelligent          Fearless            Ambitious            Eidetic             Humorous   


Has reading any book ever made you cry and why?
J D Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ does it to me every time. The central character ‘Holden Caulfield’ who is around 15 years old and very emotionally vulnerable, represents the USA at a time of painfully growing up to take on the responsibilities of the world’s largest economy in the post Second World War era. Salinger captures perfectly the naivety and false sense of security that small happinesses bring Holden; and by association, those false happinesses felt by the people of the USA through being consumers. By the end of my first reading, I was screaming into the pages.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I try not to write anything which I can’t see clearly in my mind’s eye. I don’t write to a timetable. I’m not a robot. I write only when I feel like writing and think I can give the session my very best qualities. What I do is turn my feelings into words and back again into the reader’s feelings. That, so I’m told, connects my writing to the very core of my readers’ hearts and minds. To write any other way would seem phoney to me.

Do you often hear from your readers and what do they say?
Oh, I’m very pleased to say that my books get comments all the time such as ‘If I could give this book six stars, I would’ - ‘I’m right there in the courtrooms, the jail cells, the Calton Bar and the bedrooms of Mayer’s characters. They’re very real to me.’ - ‘Mayer is a master at leading you in to the world of Brogan McLane QC. Well, his twenty years in Parliament House must help with that. Authentic? Yeah!’ - ‘Read all three Prequels before you start the novels. They’re free from the Parliament House Books website and will set you up for your Grand Tour through the novels.’
I feel very proud when I get such comments. Even though I get them more and more nowadays, that feeling of pride in the quality of my writing never goes away.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Oh that’s easy. Drinking late at night, is the answer. Right now I’m enjoying some fabulous farm-made white wine from Poros in the Saronic Gulf in Greece. I was privileged to be included in a small group of guys who went by sea late at night to buy it by the 100 litre barrel. I like to watch interesting things (often on YouTube) on subjects such as Astrophysics or Egyptology and drink my wine. If I get an idea for my current novel, I’ll write it on the white board above my desk for examination the next day when I’m sober.

You must have strong will-power John, as this is what happens to me when I venture onto YouTube! πŸ˜‚

If a genie could grant you three wishes, what would they be?
I’d firstly ask for ten million dollars. I’m a firm believer that money can buy happiness; but you have to know how to spend it and on what things. That’s the difficult part. Ten million is just enough to keep a big investment income rolling in for the rest of one’s life. Any more than ten million could bring more trouble than the money’s worth. Secondly, I’d ask for the date, place and time of my death. That way I could schedule things I want to accomplish before dying. I’d also be able to die in any way I chose; which could be great fun. Thirdly - and here I remind myself that these wishes are being granted to me and not all of humanity - I would ask for that most elusive faculty; the one which the poet Robert Burns told us was impossible; that is to be able to see myself as others see me.

What did you edit out of your last book?
I edited out quite a lot of colloquialisms from the dialogue. Some readers say they love it because it is so authentic and deepens their experience of reading my books. But others - mainly Americans - say they can’t understand the colloquialisms and these therefore slow down their reading. My business is communication and if I slow down, or worse - stop my readers in their tracks, then that is a fault in the writing which I must correct. The joy of digital publishing of course means that I’m considering issuing versions of the novels written almost entirely in colloquial language.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Oh what a question! Actually I think I’d give reassurance more than advice. To give advice might alter the course of my life and I wouldn’t want to do that. What I would say is ‘Don’t worry, whatever you do, you’ll always become the guy who came from a tenement street in a gang war zone and rose to be an Advocate in Parliament House, sit on the Council of the University of Edinburgh and be the Legal Counsel to Greenpeace International. And of course, you’ll be the proud author of The Parliament House Books.’

Thanks for having me. I enjoyed this  -   John 

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The Trial is the first full length novel in the series so here’s some more about it.

An urban legal/crime novel set in the beautiful Scottish city of Edinburgh.

Part I of The Parliament House Books series - 3rd Edition

When Glaswegian Brogan McLane completes many years of university education and legal training he crosses that great divide from Glasgow to Edinburgh. 'Called' to the Bar of the Scottish Supreme Court, he becomes a member of the most prestigious club in Scotland; The Faculty of Advocates in Parliament House.
When High Court Judge, Lord Aldounhill, is found dead after a transvestite party in his sumptuous home, those who know the killer close ranks and need a scapegoat – who better than 'outsider' Brogan McLane?
Out on bail with his career on hold, McLane and his band of blood brothers in the Calton Bar in Glasgow need to get ahead of their enemies or McLane will go down for life after Trial. But every time they discover a piece of evidence, it seems there is a mirror image to contradict it.
Through the murky world of Russian controlled transvestite hotels and with some unexpected police and judicial help, McLane battles against 'Low Life in High Places in the Old Town' until the killer is found.
But well protected and knowing all the tricks, will the killer ever stand trial in Parliament House?

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You can find out more about John, his books and connect with him using the links below:
Mailing list (sign up and receive 3 free books!)

I’d like to thank John for taking the time to stop by for a chat, it’s been great getting to know you and finding out about your books.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Jack Steele

I’m delighted to be hanging out with the very lovely Jack Steele today. I first became aware of Jack when he popped up in my inbox a couple of years ago asking if I would review his debut novel Loose Cannon for him and since then I’ve become a huge fan of his work. Jack is no stranger to The Hippo, I’ve reviewed both of his books and if he’s not appearing here in a review, then he’s in my favourite books of the year, an accolade which he has achieved with both Loose Cannon and Long Shot!

Come on in and introduce yourself to everyone Jack.

Photo courtesy of Jack Steele

I was born in Hackney, London and grew up on the Bannister House Housing Estate in Hommerton. I now live in Nottinghamshire and married with two grown up children who now have lives of their own, leaving me time to indulge in my favourite passions, reading and writing. I still work full-time in the printing industry which is where I have been for the past 40 years. On many occasions it interferes with my writing, working extra hours or weekends, so it can be a balancing act but one I seem to manage along with an understanding wife of course.

I spent five years researching books, magazines, documentaries, movies and internet articles on various subjects as well as completing a creative writing course and attending workshops run by the Nottingham Writers Studio.

It was a great achievement in 2016 when I published my first Crime Thriller novel 'Loose Cannon' with great reviews. It was the first in the Detective Joe Stone series and I was encouraged to write the sequel ‘Long Shot’ which was published in July 2017.

My writing style is a fast-paced page turner with cliff hangers, moral dilemmas and believable characters.

I would like to thank all my readers, editors, bloggers and Crime book club friends who have been so supportive through this process. Their encouragement drives me on to write the next book in the series.

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Loose Cannon and Long Shot can be read as standalone novels, but personally, I think it’s best to read them in order to really get under the skin of Detective Joe Stone. This is where I let you all into a little secret. . . . .  BOTH of these fabulous books are currently available for only 99p each until the 22nd March. Yes that’s right, you can read them both on your kindle for under £2!! It would be rude not to right? But don't keep it a secret. . . .tell your bookworm friends!

So let me give you a little taste of them both right now.

                                                    Loose Cannon

A psychopath is loose in London. Detective Joe Stone must hunt the serial killer before a gangland civil war breaks out.

Amazon  πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§
Amazon πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

You can read my review here.

                                                       Long Shot

Detective Joe Stone and his team investigate a major terrorist attack on one of London’s most iconic buildings. They soon draw up a list of suspects who are highly respected members of the community and government. When most of his team is attacked, it soon develops into a war of nerves and a race against time before a deadly weapon is unleashed with horrific consequences.

You can read my review here.

Amazon πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§
Amazon  πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

If crime thrillers are your thing, then I’m pretty sure that you’ll enjoy them both. πŸ˜‰

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What other authors are you friends with and how do they help you become a better writer?
I often attend Crime Writer/ Blogger meet ups and chat one-to-one with so many authors. It’s a great way to become friends and ask how they deal with writer’s block, plotlines and other questions.
Many of the book clubs online have regular Author Chats where you can ask questions and again receive great replies.
Both of these, I believe, have enabled me to become a better writer.

Hopefully one of these days we’ll both manage to be at the same one Jack!

Do you often hear from your readers and what do they say?
I am extremely grateful when readers write to me and say how much they are enjoying the series. It spurs me on to keep writing. Just this week I received a letter from Audrey who is 83 and she was so complimentary saying that as long as I kept writing she would keep on reading.
Then there are the reviews from bloggers, readers and fellow authors left on Goodreads and Amazon. I realise the time it takes to read a book and then leave a review so I am extremely grateful.

I’m with Audrey! I remember when I finished reading Loose Cannon, my first thought was to email you to find out if there was another book on its way and I’d never done that before.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Stop putting off writing until later. I am as busy now with a full-time job and family as I was twenty years ago. The difference is to manage the spare time better and maintaining a writing routine.

What did you edit out of your last book?
A final scene where the detectives have solved the crime and throw a party – I thought it slowed the ending down too much even though it provided more characterisation. The balance between keeping the story moving and the character development is a fine one but writing a series enables me to add more layers with each novel.

What do you think is more important: characters or plot?
Obviously they are both extremely important but to answer the question I will say characters. The reasoning is due to the amount of books I have read where I have forgiven an author a weak plot because I identified with the characters so much.

If you could spend time with a character from your book who would it be and why? What would you get up to?
It would have to be Detective Joe Stone purely because I have invested a lot of my character traits into him. I have been told that I am chilled and easy to get along with. I respect the point of view of others even if I may not agree with their stance. I am loyal and trustworthy and able to keep a secret. I like my privacy and find talking to a large crowd sometimes daunting. That has become his traits too.
So if we were to get together then it would have to be in a relaxed environment say a coffee shop or bar where we could chat and get to know each other better. He could tell me his issues and trade banter with me because we have a similar sense of humour.

What character in your book are you least likely to get along with and why?
Jasper Peach is the Strategic Intelligence Unit’s undercover operative. He thinks he is the James Bond of the team. He turns up to team briefs when he feels like it. He is conceited and self-obsessed even refusing to pitch in when any of the team has been compromised or injured.
You couldn’t trust him and basically he is the least likely person that I could get along with.
The fact that he was hand-picked by the team’s commander has often perplexed Joe, the leading detective, who often questions the connection between the two. When the Prime Minister announces that the unit covers the whole of London instead of just Tower Hamlets, Joe fears that his unreliable colleague Peach will create more pressure on already stretched resources.
I have witnessed this kind of behaviour both at work and in my personal life. To watch others attempt to cover someone’s laziness and narcissism while struggling to maintain productivity in their own areas, makes my blood boil. Anyone who doesn’t think to show their appreciation for someone who has compromised their own personal situation to help them just astounds me. 

Do you have any bad habits?
Yes. The main one for me is I am easily distracted. Years ago I would wait for a suitable time to write. I had to be alone to write. The football is on Sky. The weather is too good to be indoors. The excuses meant I wasn’t achieving my goals. So I decided to write every day even if it was just for an hour. I got rid of Sky. If the sun was shining then open the French doors and continue to write while enjoying the fine weather outside.

You’re not alone, I think most of us are guilty of this from time to time Jack  πŸ˜‰

You can find out more about Jack, his books and connect with him using the links below:

I'd like to say a big thank you to Jack for hanging out with me today, it's always great to have you here and I hope that book 3 is progressing nicely. . . . Audrey and I are waiting! πŸ˜‚