Interview with Tom Holt

1. Can you tell us a bit about the journey that led to your first published novel?

It’s not an inspiring story, since it’s basically dumb luck and shameless nepotism – without which, I maintain, it’s practically impossible to get published these days. My mother was the literary executor of a Truly Important Author. In the course of her work, she got to know many publishers. I’d just started writing a novel (I was 21 or so) She showed the first 6 chapters to one of the editors she knew. He read it and said that when it was finished he’d be prepared to take a look at it. I wrote the rest of the book in no time flat, in case he got away. It was accepted, and the rest is a tiny, tiny footnote to literary history.

2. Your books are absolutely hilarious. What are some of the influences that led to your satirical style, and led to such a unique blend of humor and Fantasy?

When I was a kid, I read nothing but comedy; by the time I was 13 I’d read everything Wodehouse, Runyon and Bramah had ever written; also Caryl Brahms and C J Simon – forgotten now, except (I suspect) by the late Terry Pratchett; also Eleanor Farjeon and Alan Coren, Aristophanes and the greatest of them all, W S Gilbert. All the above wrote what was essentially fantasy. Wodehouse, Bramah and Runyon wrote about a self-contained world that never existed, though it shared some place-names with our own. Gilbert’s stock in trade was incongruous inversion, the art of pushing what-if to impossible conclusions. Fantasy, after all, is simply holding a distorting mirror up to Nature and seeing what’s really there

3. You’ve had a massive career having published nearly 40 books under your own name. What is the key to your prolificacy?

Poverty; or, at least, the avoidance thereof. After seven years in the legal profession I came to the conclusion that my momma didn’t raise me to be no lawyer, and furthermore I’m unemployable – I have a bad attitude to authority and find it very hard to work *for* someone; also, I’m not much good at most things. That just left writing, so that’s what I’ve done ever since. And, unless you’re lucky and talented enough to make it big, on the Rowling/Pratchett level, living by writing means writing lots and lots. So I have. I stopped counting at fifty, but that was a while back. It may not keep the wolf from the door, but it keeps him from getting upstairs.

4. For an author with such a large catalogue it’s often daunting to know where to start. For new readers looking to dive in to hint work, where would you recommend they begin?

You’re asking the wrong guy. My favourite is always the one before last. On which basis, I would wholeheartedly recommend The Management Style of the Supreme Beings and Sixteen Ways To Defend A Walled City.

5. Recently the secret that you are in fact, Fantasy Author K.J. Parker as well. Can you go in to a bit of detail about how the pseudonym began, why it was such a secret, and why you finally decided to come clean with the revelation?

One string to your bow is bad SOP for a professional, so I wanted to diversify a bit; also, I felt my comic fantasy books were getting a bit stale, and a little variety would help. I fancied the idea of writing rather more orthodox fantasy, but I knew that if I did that, my comic fantasy readers would pick up the new book expecting to find A and get B instead; they’d be disappointed and put off. So, since the name Tom Holt was hardly one to conjure within any case, I started writing the other stuff under a pen name. That worked just fine for a long time, and I wish I hadn’t spoiled things by coming out of the closet. I liked it when there were two of us.

6. When you are not reading, what takes up the majority of your time?

For the last 20 years or so I’ve worked a very small smallholding; a few cows, pigs, chickens &c and a small timber lot for firewood. I started too late in life and I’ve made every mistake possible, but it’s been fun and put food on the table

7. You’ve relatively recently signed on to Orbit Books both as Tom Holt and K.J. Parker. How did that arrangement come to be? How has it been working with such a well known force in Fantasy Fiction?

I’ve been with Orbit for many years and I can’t imagine a better publisher. Actually, they’re not so much a publisher as a patron of the arts, since they’ve supported and encouraged me way beyond what I’m worth to them in commercial terms. The same goes for Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press. Other writers have harsh things to say about publishers, but that’s not been my experience.

8. How important is reader interaction to you? What are your favorite ways to network with your fans?

What readers think is very important to me, and it’s very frustrating that I know so little about it. Basically, the only index is book sales; and if one title sells much better than the others, was that because they liked the book, or was it the cover design or the blurb, or just a fluke? K J Parker has had some good reviews over the years but the readers have stayed away in droves (old Broadway saying; everybody loved it except the public) and I don’t know what I’m doing that’s such a turn-off.

I don’t network, because (a) I’m a technophobe (b) my life is very boring and I can’t imagine that anyone would want to hear about it; no, really. I have a reasonable mental profile of my readers, and they don’t want to hear about pest damage on the fodder beet or ear-tagging the pigs.

9. Have you read anything in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi genres this year that you can recommend to our readers?

To be honest, no. I used to review SF/F for a magazine in the UK, which was great because I kept up to date with what was happening in the genre. Since I lost that gig, I’m sadly out of touch. So, when I say that the best thing in SF right now is ‘The Orville’, you’re getting a catastrophically uninformed opinion. Great show, though.

8. What’s next for Tom Holt and K.J. Parker in the foreseeable future?

More of the same, I hope, for as long as people want it.

9. If you could offer a couple of words of wisdom to new and aspiring authors, what would they be?

One of the pleasures of being a published author is occasionally being able to help someone get into the trade – not through influence or contacts, since I haven’t got any, but with a little gentle advice about the basics of the craft. My advice is; (1) All new writers overdo it. Don’t overdo it. And thereby hang all the law and the prophets. (2) prose should be like a diamond – hard, clear, sharp, compressed and invariably improved by skilful cutting (3) prose is also like painting a door; finish one coat, and move on. Don’t keep going back and fiddling with what you’ve just done, or you’ll end up with a horrible mess. As for how to be a good and successful writer; if I ever find out, I’ll let you know.

10. You’ve often been affectionately compared to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, in fact, the brilliant Christopher Moore blurbs the Adams comparison on the cover of your new novel. How do you feel about that? Is there ever any pressure on you as a writer when you receive such accolades?

When I first heard the radio version of Hitchhikers’ Guide back in the late 70s, I knew with Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus certainty that this was the technique for me. I admire Adams this side idolatry; I can see exactly how he does it, but I can’t quite do it myself. I came to Pratchett quite late (the first book I read was Guards!Guards!) and I’d already developed my style and technique, so it was a case of differentiating myself from him to avoid accusations of off-ripping; sometimes difficult, since we shared the same influences (there’s an academic paper to be written on the influence on Pratchett of Caryl Brahms and C J Simon). I never met Adams; I met Pratchett once and we loathed each other on sight, which is a shame. It’s hard to read books you love to bits when you don’t like the man who wrote them.

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