AW: Welcome John and thanks for agreeing to talk on the blog today. Your first four novels are all set during the years of WWII. What particularly attracted you to this period?
JAM: I’ve been fascinated by the history of WWII throughout my life, and it seemed natural to choose that time period when I began writing. I think the global conflict was a classic struggle of good versus evil, and using it as a backdrop offers unlimited opportunities for plots, personal stories and locations. I like to write about ordinary people who become heroes – not admirals or generals or famous politicians – and WWII provides the perfect setting to accomplish that.
AW: Your latest novel, Honour the Dead, seems like a slight departure in that it's set in the years following WWI. Was this a new area of research for you, and why did you choose to go back and look at an earlier period?
JAM: My last WWII involved the murder of a British spy, and it prompted me to stray from the thriller genre and write a mystery. The 1920’s are another of my favorite time periods, so I set the novel in 1921 Italy. I was intrigued by the utter devastation wrought by WWI, so often overshadowed by WWII, and I tried to show how survivors were impacted, their lives forever scarred, through the characters in my book.
AW: What are you currently working on?
JAM: I have two books in the publishing queue – another 1920’s murder mystery set in New Orleans that will be issued in March of 2020, and a thriller about an escape from East Berlin, set in 1961 just as the Wall was being built, set for release sometime later next year. And I recently finished another novel – a kidnapping during the Cuban Revolution in 1958 – which I just sent to my agent.
Since I’m far ahead in my deliverables, and have more time than I would normally allow to write my next manuscript, I decided to step completely out of my comfort zone and create a Medieval epic. I chose the year 1215, when some of the barons, aided by the French, revolted against King John. I’m close to completing a rough draft – I’m a sloppy writer who goes through many, many drafts from concept to completion – and I expect to be finished in nine or ten months.
AW: That certainly is a departure! But I'm sure that you'll find some similar themes, even in an earlier period. How important do you consider accuracy to be in historical fiction?
JAM: I think accuracy is important in regard to details when writing historical fiction. I think many writers start with a historical event or location and modify the high-level events to fit their plot and timeline. But I find readers expect accuracy in details – street names, clothing, food, music, etc. For example, in one of my WWII books, an advanced reader pointed out that I had used a plastic syringe. She suggested I change it to glass, since plastic wasn’t available until eighteen months afterwards.
AW: Those little details can certainly make authors trip up! Is there a book already out there that you really wish you had written? If so, why?
JAM: I wish I had written the book Centennial, by James A. Michener, which describes a fictional town in Colorado and the people who came from around the world to settle it. For those not familiar with Michener’s many books, the main character is always a location – Alaska, Poland, Texas, for example – and he describes generations of inhabitants and immigrants that live there through the course of a thousand-page manuscript.
AW: A great book to curl up with on a wet winter weekend, definitely. John, thank you so much for popping along to chat today.
JAM: Thanks so much for chatting, Annie.
You can find out more about John and his work here: