An interview with Blair Denholm
An indie author from Brisbane, Australia.
Welcome to an indie author, a place where you can find self-published (indie) authors and authors-to-be. We host interviews and conversations threads, providing a place where you can learn from, be inspired by, and make friends with fellow writers going down the ‘indie’ route.
Today’s interview is with Blair Denholm.
Some key highlights:
🌏 based in Brisbane, Australia
💼 works as a Russian language translator
📖 has written crime, & also for children
📺 enjoys The Office (US), Black Books & Father Ted
So, let’s dive right in…
Hi Blair! Thank you for taking part in this. So, can we kick things off by finding out which part of the world you grew up in?
Hi, Jas. I was born and grew up in the beautiful subtropics of Brisbane, Australia.
It looks like your work has taken you to lots of interesting places. Where have your travels taken you?
I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of travelling over the years. My first trip abroad was a cruise around the Pacific Ocean with a group from university. Not long after that, I went to St Petersburg and Moscow for a month, and then I spent an entire year in Russia studying the language. I made several trips to Russian after that, most recently in 2015. My partner and I try to visit Europe once a year, and the list of countries is too extensive to name them all. Favourites are Holland and Croatia. I’ve also lived and worked in New York and Dubai.
I don’t often don’t delve so much into this next question, but your work really does look fascinating. Can you give us a glimpse into some of the translation and political work you have been involved in? And your current firm looks interesting; what do they do?
I work for an organization with a long name - the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. The shorter and easier version is CCAMLR (pronounced “kamel-ar”). The Commission was set up under the UN to look after animal life in the Antarctic. In particular, it regulates fishing and monitors research activities on seabirds, seals and other fauna. I work as a Russian language translator. Most of the documents we translate are scientific papers and reports, correspondence and legalistic texts. To be honest, it sounds much more exciting than it actually is. Fiction writing is my passion.
At what point was it you realised that you enjoyed writing?
I’ve enjoyed the process of writing since I was very young. But it’s only been in the last ten years or so that I decided to do something about it in a serious way.
That’s interesting, what was it that made you finally take action in a ‘serious way’?
There a couple of reasons. Firstly, I realized writing is what I’m probably best at (apart from snacking and watching TV on the couch). Secondly, I thought perhaps if I put my heart and soul into it there’s a chance I could get some financial rewards for the effort I put it. So far those rewards have been modest, but in 2020 I’m hoping to see a big uptick in that area.
Do you recall the moment when you felt brave enough to call yourself a ‘writer’?
I’d say it was when an actual publisher - albeit a small one - accepted the draft of my noir novel SOLD that I decided “the moment” had arrived. It was that “confirmation” that many writers crave.
Can you recall the first piece of writing you did that is particularly memorable, or otherwise feels significant?
I remember once at primary school we were given a bunch of essay topics in English class. I struggled to choose, but then I noticed one had a typo in it. It was something like “What I like to do in my lunch hour”. I went on a rant about below-par educational standards and what we should do with teachers who can’t spell. I think I got an A!
Before we dive more into your writing, your website bio mentions that ‘He voted in a foreign election despite having no eligibility to do so, was almost lost at sea on a Russian fishing boat, and was detained by military forces in the Middle East. I don’t know where to start here… can you give us some more context with regards to one of these stories? :)
Let’s start in order. Back in the day I happened to be in Russia when there was an election on. Someone close to me, an old babushka, was too frail to make it to the polling station. She gave me her passport and asked me to vote on her behalf. I waved the document at the guy on the door, mumbled a few words in Russian, and he let me inside where I cast the vote according to babushka’s wishes. Quite a nerve-wracking experience!
The second adventure happened when I asked if I could tag along with some fishermen on a Russian fishing boat. It was sailing from Hobart, Tasmania, to New Zealand to have its hull repainted. A day out and a huge storm struck, almost capsizing the vessel which had lost steering capabilities at the peak of the tempest. The only thing stopping the ship from tipping over was the huge amount of sand in the fish-hold that was being transported to NZ to sand-blast the hull. Another couple of degrees of list and she would have sunk, no doubt.
The last episode relates to a job I had in the middle east (I won’t name the country). I was with some colleagues, driving around the desert, when one of our team decided to snap photos of a piece of infrastructure guarded by soldiers. Before we knew what was happening, we were all arrested and detained on an army base. We were held there for more than seven hours, given nothing to eat and the occasional sip of water. Our passports were confiscated and we collected them a week or so later after signing a paper in Arabic and promising not to be naughty like that again.
Your novel Sold looks fascinating. Before this, though, I understand that you wrote a children’s(?) book called Escape from Passing Winds. I love the title! How did writing this come about?
About fifteen years ago I took a correspondence writing course and ended up with a kids’ book, Trouble Brewin’. Two years ago, I rebranded it as Escape from Passing Winds (a kind of double entendre based on the name of an old folks’ home), stuck a decent cover on it and put it up on Amazon. It’s sold a few copies, so I’m happy with that.
I love the name of that kids’ book. With regards to Sold, what made you choose the Crime genre?
I’ve always loved detective stories. The first books for grown-ups I read were the Agatha Christie novels. I must have read them all by the time I was fifteen. In my own writing, I like being able to throw up all kinds of clues, put in twists. Crime seemed to offer the best medium for me to do that.
Those Agatha Christie’s are classics.
What was it like to write your 1st novel? Can you go back in time a little for us and paint a picture of it was like, and how it felt? Did you follow a particular ‘process’?
Writing SOLD was a labour of love. I got the idea and even the title for the book from my partner, a real estate agent. As most writers with day jobs can attest, finding the time to write can be the biggest challenge of all. Therefore, my process was kind of haphazard. I would grab an hour here, two hours there, and shut myself in a room and just write.
I think a lot of writers will be able to relate to those sentiments. So how long did it take to finish your 1st book, from start to finish?
It took way too long for my liking. Two and a half years or so. The sequel, called Sold to the Devil (out very soon, make sure you get a copy!), took a little less time - two years. But I’ve recently learned how to write faster and I’m planning on smashing out several works in 2020. Writing “The End” is always a joy!
And it looks like you have published with a small, independent publisher - Clan Destine Press. How did this relationship come about?
Good question. I attended a local book launch here in Hobart and had a chat with the author at the end of the event. He put me onto Clan Destine and they were amazing. Even though it was officially out of their stated submission time-frame, they had a look at my manuscript and liked it enough to take me under their wing.
That’s great. How long did it take them to get back to you, and how did they contact you to give you the good news?
There was some toing and froing via email between us over a few months. At one point I wasn’t sure whether they’d take a chance on me. It was maybe the 10th email where the publisher finally said congratulations, we’ve decided to offer you a deal. It was a hugely exciting moment for me!
Did you consciously choose to publish through a small publisher, rather than look for a traditional publishing house or else self-publish alone?
To be honest, I was lucky enough for the first publisher I approached to accept the work. So I didn’t go looking at the big publishing houses. Self-publishing is something I’ve done and am going to do more of in the near future.
What is it like to have the ‘backing’ of a small, independent publishing house? Are you expected to do your own marketing? What do you feel are the advantages? Are there any disadvantages?
My publisher is very approachable and helpful. That’s a huge advantage. You’re given that extra personal attention. Especially when it comes to editing drafts. And yes, I am expected to do my own marketing. Even the Big 5 demand that of their authors these days. Unless you are Stephen King of JK Rowling.
So, let’s dig into your writing process. Do you keep to a writing schedule? What does this look like, if so?
My writing process is evolving. From totally chaotic to only mildly so. My aim is to allocate a set amount of time each day, but it never works out like that. When it comes to my method, I’m definitely a pantser rather than a plotter. I’ve recently read a fantastic book called Writing into the Dark, all about writing your story with no outline. Exactly how I do it!
That book sounds right up my alley, I’ll have to check that one out.
It appears that some of your interesting, international experiences through your professional work have inspired some of your fiction writing. Could you talk more about this?
Whether consciously or not, there seem to be Russian characters in most of my stories. Goodies and baddies. I’ve also drawn a little on my experience of living in New York for my book of comical sketches featuring NYPD cops Officer Boyd & the Sarge. These two guys were born of a Twitter word-prompt hashtag (#vss365) and have drawn a bunch of fans from around the world.
How is it you balance your writing with your work and other commitments?
This is very hard to do. Work and other boring stuff gets in the way of lots of valuable writing time. I also like to run and lift weights when I get the chance, which helps keep my mind alert. Kind of.
I think carving out that time is one of the most challenging things for any writer.
Did you always plan a follow-up to Sold? Please talk to us about the follow-up novel.
The publisher wants three books in this “franchise”. The second one is nearly completed and will be out in the world early next year. It has the same detestable anti-hero Gary Braswell, as well as a bunch of new compelling characters, including a talking Tasmanian devil.
And do you have any others works planned?
I sure do. The first is my new series of indie thrillers, Revolution Day, starring Investigator Viktor Voloshin. It’s based on real events centering around the covered-up murder of an African student in Moscow. There will be three in this series, more if it takes off. Fingers crossed it will. But before that, I hope to have Boyd & the Sarge out before Christmas 2019.
Are you going to continue to publish through Clan Destine Press?
If they will have me, sure. I’ve at least got the third Gary Braswell book to do for them. After that, who knows?
I’m sure it’ll work out well for you, whichever way you go!
Aside from your fiction novels, do you have any other writing to tell us about?
Earlier this year I did a short spell as a feature writer for a start-up magazine, The Gold Coast Chronicle. Some of my short stories have been included in anthologies.
Do you have any favourite books/authors?
My unchanging answer to this is: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky and The World According to Garp by John Irving. I’ve got two indie writer friends everyone should check out: Chris Johnson (Dead Cell) and Aza Clave (You Don’t Know Me).
Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year (2019), or have you in the past?
Yes. I started late this year (5th November), so getting to the goal may prove difficult. But taking part is the main thing.
What advice do you have for your younger (writer) self?
Don’t be afraid of writing a terrible first draft. Start earlier, like, as a teenager!
That sounds like solid advice!
Outside of your writing, what does your life look like? What do you spend your time doing, and what else is important in your life aside from your writing?
Reading, reading and more reading. I love traveling around the world, meeting new people and enjoying different cultures. I can watch most types of football for hours on TV. I used to play a lot of golf, but haven’t for years.
Oh, I enjoy my sports too. I also notice that you’re a fan of television … any favourite shows that you’d offer to share?
Indeed. US version of The Office, Get Smart, Father Ted, Black Books. I’m enjoying an amazing Australian political miniseries at the moment called Total Control.
The US Office is one of my all-time favourites, and I love Father Ted. They show it every year in the UK around Christmas-time, and I always try to watch an episode or two.
Where can we find you online (website & social media), & where can we purchase your books?
You can get all my books here: https://www.amazon.com/Blair-Denholm/e/B0719RW45X
I’m getting a website makeover right now, but the domain name will be the same: www.blairdenholm.com
Also Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blairdenholm/
Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16940478.Blair_Denholm ]
Well, this has been great fun. Do you have anything else to share with us before we wrap things up?
Only “watch this space”. I intend to write lots of quality books in 2020, and also interact with more authors from all over the world.
We’ll certainly be doing that! Thanks so much for taking part, Blair, this has been great. :)
It’s been a pleasure!