Meet Our Authors

John St A Shorthouse

 

Our authors are inspirational. They come from all walks of life, from different cultures, different generations even. Yet they are all bought together by a shared passion for writing. We ask each of our new authors to tell us more about them, what inspires them and to offer any advice they can share about writing a book for the first time.

Tell us about your book!

I have always been inspired by great achievers.  So when I finally committed the dreams in my head to paper they revolved around those facets of life that I most admire. Winners – in business, in sport, in deeds.

The central figure, James Carrington, is 14 years old when his family are evicted from Milford Hall, the country estate where his mother’s family, the Staincliffes, had been squires for centuries. Their fortunes were further enhanced by the dawn of the industrial revolution when they encouraged the disciples of George Stephenson to bring their rail tracks through the great grasslands of the Vale of Belvoir. For them, as with James Carrington, enterprise was their very life blood.

From them, he inherited the iron determination to succeed; the word NO is not tolerable; a door slammed in his face will somehow be opened, no matter what it takes or who gets in the way.  However, his apparently gilded lifestyle does have a few dark secrets; his determination to have his own way does cause great grief to his family and friends and to himself.

With his great friend Edward Lawson he shares many triumphs both on the rugby field and in business. Together they build a construction business that sets new standards, that initiates new concepts, that makes them so successful that only a Merchant Bank can finance their dreams.

His travels across the Europe and Australia provide the back drop to new ventures.  The one interest that can truly divert his mind from commerce is the Sport of Kings, but even owning and breeding racehorses has to be commercially viable.

However, the monkey on his shoulder, the vow that he made as a fourteen year old, underpins every stage of his exciting life, to return his family to their spiritual home, Milford Hall.

What inspired you to write the novel?

I was inspired to write this book by my uncle and Godfather, A.J. Downes.

He was the man I aspired to be; he was tall, incredibly handsome, a fine sportsman and an extremely successful business man. Sadly, he died before I could tell him that I was writing this novel, or before he could talk me out of this tribute.

I originally trained to be an architect, hence my interest in the construction industry. However, after two years of study, I realised that constructing buildings was more interesting than drawing lines on paper or being hunched over a computer all day long. I was never a builder, but renovating old buildings has been a passion.

I then turned to sales and marketing where I came across a rich seam of humanity. I met rich people in big houses and poor people in ordinary houses, but there were plenty of crossovers. I find that people generally are fascinating; they are the colours on a writer's palette.

I have always been an avid reader, I am fascinated by words and their derivation – standing in the bar in your local, you will hear all kinds of derring-do and I have unashamedly borrowed and reworked some of this into my story – mind you as my mother was wont to remark – ‘John can always be relied upon to tell a tale or two to wriggle out of trouble’!

The notion of writing a book was in my head for a long time – but talk is cheap as my friend David Nobbs,  who has written so many hilarious books based on characters in real life, advised me. I accepted his challenge and James Carrington was born.

How long did it take you to write your book?

I started writing in 1994; the words came easily but the constraints of work ate into my spare time as did golf, squash and mucking out horses – not to mention renovating old houses!

So the book dwelt in my computer until we sold the horses and the stud and downsized to a house that allowed us more down-time and holidays.

Just before embarking on a cruise in Sydney, Australia, Lyn presented me with a netbook and issued the instruction, "no more prevaricating, get on and finish your book". It has taken four years, but I am a glutton for information, so no doubt spend more time researching than is perhaps necessary. But, as I have already admitted, I love words and information.

So it has taken a long time, but this year, sensing the end was in sight, I have assiduously applied myself and now it is done. I am already missing James Carrington – it is like sending your kids off to boarding school! However, I do have ideas for other books.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

I have already confessed that James Carrington’s alter ego is my uncle. I also admit that four of the other main characters, Tim Cooper, Anthony Jayes, David Barrington Jones and Jack Priory are good chums, whose friendship I wish to acknowledge. It was nice to share their company on this journey.

Do you have a particular method or approach to writing?

I have in the past, even when I was running my own company, spent an awful lot of time behind the wheel of a car. To while away the hours, I would be constantly mulling over ideas and finding ways that would enable James Carrington to outwit his rivals.

Every author has the occasional ‘writers block’. When this happens, I find it best to try and get something on to paper. What comes out of my fingertips still amazes me; the story seems to have a life of its own and so often the narrative has gone off in a different direction. You feel you are reading a book rather than writing one.

What do you have around you when you write?

I have lots of photographs and books in my garret – office really – just trying to sound like an author !!}

For some time now Google has been the font of all knowledge so I have a laptop next to my computer and find it a priceless asset. However, when checking pedigrees of horses and other racing details, I relish the excuse to open one of the hundred or so books I have on the subject. They feel so shiny and tactile and convey the atmosphere so much better and a lot of them are exceedingly well written.

Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer?

Difficult to say – I don’t think I ever had a ‘Damascus‘ moment or I might have been St John St Aubyn Shorthouse – bloody hell - publishers would have been queuing up to sign me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Words always came easily. At school I was reprimanded for writing essays that were too long. Personally I thought the English Master was trying to make life easier for himself, but as saying so would have meant detention or worse, I kept my opinions to myself – well, usually!

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Most of us are rather self-conscious about announcing that ‘I am writing a novel’; I certainly was, so I wrote a couple of hundred pages before I even let my wife read it – and the saucy bits – my kids are going to see me in a different light in the future !!    

Having bitten the bullet and received encouragement to write more, I would advise aspiring authors to overcome their reluctance to admit they are writing a book and ask friends and relatives to give them an opinion – concentrate on those you know are keen readers as they will be the ones to help you polish the structure and the text. They will also – and I think this very important – they will find alternatives to phrases that are over-used. This is a problem I have.

Fresh eyes will also notice grammatical and punctuation errors and if you are including a pastime or event with which you are not familiar – Ballet or Opera maybe – ask them to alter the text to ‘opera speak’ etc.

Presentation is most important – you HAVE to persuade someone to take your book off the shelf and at least read the opening page. Having done that, they will read the synopsis on the reverse of the cover which must compel them to buy.

If you have fixed ideas you may decide on the front cover yourself. Most people do not have that artistic bent, so be advised by your publisher.

Who is your favourite author and why?

This is an ever changing list :-

Alexander Kent, Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth, Wilbur Smith, David Nobbs and Jeffrey Archer.

All of the above have, at some time, ruled the roost in categories I have enjoyed . Like many others, I have copies of them all.

Four hundred years ago, assuming I could read, I would no doubt have argued the merits of W. Shakespeare or J Milton, both of whom I tussled with for O-Levels. So the choice is subjective and like art a moving feast.

Right now I think Jeffrey Archer is the best teller of tales and his sales confirm this – 28 books ; 28 million sold!

I have always been ambitious but Jeffrey is King - well, Lord - Archer!

Which are your favourite books and why?

The answer to the first part lies in the above: Except there are other books.       

My heroes in sport –   Biographies of sporting giants such as :-      

Sebastian Coe, Daley Thompson, Sir Bobby Charlton, Jonny Wilkinson, Jack Nicklaus, Sir Henry Cecil, Vincent O’Brien and Lester Piggott.

And of course Arkle, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard and Frankel.

Biographies

I love them whether they be auto-biographies or the work of another.

I have dozens of biographies but my favourite, narrowly, is Captain Scott, followed closely by Captain Cook and George Malory. The vagaries of the weather and the extreme conditions in which they survived outweigh any sporting achievement and they did this for King and Country – mind you they were obsessional.

Scott was beaten to the South Pole by an underhanded Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, who did not obey the courtesies of the day. On our recent trip around the Baltic we came upon a statue of Amundsen; much to Lyn’s amusement I told him what an unsporting cheat he was!

When you're not writing, what do you do?

I have lived a fairly frenetic life, but since the operation on my back, my pursuits are rather more leisurely. I now go on more holidays with my darling Lindy, no longer wondering what business opportunities I might be missing. We are still keen race-goers, so are often to be seen on the Knavesmire in the members stand contributing to the bookmakers pension funds.

One of the great advantages of imagining I am an author, is that I can hide away in my garret and avoid tasks in the garden! – Good, eh what?

 

John's book, "The Carringtons - In search of a legacy" is available to purchase on Amazon.