Friday 4 October 2019

Interview with Blair Denholm, Author of Sold, and Sold to the Devil

This week, I interviewed Blair Denholm, which I found an immense pleasure. I read his novel, a crime noir tale called Sold, last year and loved it. You can read my review on this blog. So when Blair took time out from his travels for the interview, you can imagine my elation.

Blair Denholm is a freelance writer and translator who has lived in Moscow, New York, Munich, Abu Dhabi and Australia. He has written content for commercial websites and done corporate voice-over work in English and Russian.

His first novel in the Gary Braswell series, SOLD, was released by Clan Destine Press in November 2017 and has received rave reviews. The long-awaited sequel, Sold to the Devil, is due at the end of 2019. He is also working on a murder mystery based on a real event that occurred in Moscow in the late 1980s.

Blair interpreted for the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Moscow, translated for the Sochi Winter Olympics and voted in a foreign election despite having no eligibility to do so. He was also almost lost at sea on a dilapidated Russian fishing boat sailing from Hobart to New Zealand. He currently resides in Hobart, Tasmania with his partner Sandra and two crazy canine


Thanks for taking the time to chat today, Blair.

What was the defining event that made you start writing? 

A conversation while out driving with my partner made me want to start writing in earnest. I’d already written and self-published a kids’ book that I thought wasn’t too bad. Friends, colleagues and relatives bought a few copies, and I was satisfied with that. But I wanted to write something for an adult audience. Out of the blue as we’re cruising down the highway Sandra says to me, “Hey, you always wanted to write a  book. Why don’t you write something about a real estate agent?” It was a light bulb moment. Yes! She works in the industry and had been telling me crazy stories about the people she’s met, both as colleagues and seller/buyers or just tyre kickers attending open homes. No shortage of material there, and with my fertile imagination, I could envision something interesting emerging from this vague idea. Soon, Gary Braswell, the protagonist of SOLD, was born. I’m working with my editor as we speak, polishing off the sequel, Sold to the Devil. I’m very excited about this one. We’ll see some more over-the-top action in a new setting and lots of character development. Lots of laughs and then BANG, the shocking incident.

What other writing have you done? 

I’ve written web content galore for all kinds of customers (and myself, of course), short stories and flash fiction. I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of works chosen for publication in anthologies. Right now I’m working on a project with a cartoonist which will, I hope, end up as an illustrated book that will make people laugh.

What makes your writing unique compared to others in the genre? 

I call my genre “comic noir” and can only compare myself to Irvine Welsh. Admittedly, I’m not in his league stylistically or in terms of commercial success (I wish). Like him, though, I try to imbue my crime fiction with a sense of absurdity and outrageousness. In other words, I try to describe real situations that make you go, that’s ridiculous, but at the same time I want everything to be relatable and believable. Kind of like sitting on the edge of reality. For example, by having exploding birds and talking Tasmanian devils take centre stage in normal, everyday Australia, while people are struggling to make sense out of extreme situations. I’m a huge believer in driving narrative through dialogue and use it a lot. Perhaps I’m seeing everything like a movie as I write. It’s a wonderful tool that many aspiring writers don’t take advantage of enough. You can pick up some novels by newbies, and they’re full of backstory and description for the first five pages before anyone says a word.

Which scene from your book do you like best and why? 

There’s a scene in Sold to the Devil where Gary first meets the talking Tasmanian Devil, Harrison Devlin. The animal becomes a mentor for Gary, but it’s immediately questionable whether the advice is worth heeding or if it’s going to drive Gary further into the depths of hell. It’s a complete mind-fuck for the reader. At least I hope it will be. It’s like Doctor Doolittle meets Jurassic Park. I enjoyed writing that scene so much I didn’t want it to end.

Okay, I'm sold on Sold to the Devil. I can hardly wait for its release.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

Nice surprise question! In July this year I paid a visit to the Livaria Lello bookstore in Porto, Portugal. This was a favourite haunt of J.K. Rowling when she worked as an English teacher, before she became famous. The incredible wooden staircase inside apparently inspired her to write Harry Potter. If you want to know why, Google it and check out the pictures. Breathtaking! Anyway, there’s a queue a mile long just to get into this shop. You have to pay three Euro to enter, but this is taken off the price of any books you buy. I ended up buying three books there, none of them from the Harry Potter series.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

I think “voice” is crucial for a writer. Your voice as a writer is the identifying trait that readers will recognise when they pick up your book and start to read it. Find that voice, and just let the magic fly from your fingertips to the keys. Sure, it sounds like “use the force”. If only it were that easy! But seriously, I’ve found overthinking what I write to be a handbrake on productivity, and, in the end, quality. Instinctive writing is the way to go. Having said that, you’ll find some shocking clangers when you go back to edit, but your voice should still be there amongst the wreckage. Save that voice and nurture it. You can still write stories in genres that are popular, “write to market”, but if you keep your original style, you’ll stand out from all the imitators.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

No way. I’m so emotional it’s embarrassing at times. I can’t even re-read the ending of my own new novel without tearing up. And I know what’s coming! On the other hand, I love to laugh, and clever comic writing impresses me as much, if not more, than dramatic literary prose. But I love that too! In other words, if a writer can draw upon my emotions, they’ve got me in the palm of their hand. But non-emotional writers can find a niche, too. Writing technical manuals for washing machines, for example.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Well, this is rather embarrassing. I get these amazing ideas, start a project, then get a better idea and abandon the previous one. I have to admit the following future best-sellers are patiently waiting to be written: a crime novel set in Moscow called Revolution Day (the book I always wanted to write), a satirical self-help book, a series about a retired boxer turned PI, a speculative dystopian novel with a medical theme, and a post-apocalyptic series where the northern hemisphere has become uninhabitable and there are new “superpowers” – Australia, Brazil and South Africa. Not to mention the illustrated humorous book I mentioned earlier. I really need to get someone to organize my life!

What does literary success look like to you?

Sitting on a beach in Croatia, tapping away on my laptop, checking my emails from my agent about the next movie deal. That’s the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). Realistically, success would be making enough money from writing to be able to stop working for someone else. In non-monetary terms, I would like to have a big band of loyal readers who can’t wait for my next offering to appear. Whether that’s with a Big Five traditional publisher or as a driven, self-published author who’s managed to claw their way to the top of the Amazon mountain (yes, I know it’s really a river). It’s a huge thrill to read a positive review and know that someone has enjoyed reading what cost me blood, sweat and beers to turn into a finished product.

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

I used to think it was a thing. I’d sit staring at the screen and wonder why the words wouldn’t come. Now, I’ve found a way to fix that. Write some dialogue. It might not be the optimal fix for a problem, but at least it’s something that can be used as a base. If you reckon you’re a writer, then just write. Get your arse in the chair and shut the door. I think that one’s from Stephen King. I read a great analogy somewhere. A truck driver doesn’t suffer from truck driver’s block. Nope, they just drive the damn truck. What people really mean when they talk about writer’s block is procrastination, which is every writer’s biggest problem. No one is immune from it, and it’s a huge problem for me. I have the attention span of the proverbial gold fish and spend too much time on social media and looking at YouTube videos. Ironically, the latter are often “how to write” videos. If I’m going to be honest with myself, I’m just wasting my time looking at them. I know what to do. It’s just a matter of knuckling down and doing it.

Quick quiz:

Favourite food: Ice-cream, salted caramel or chocolate if possible.

Favourite drink: Dark Czech beer called Kozel (it means “goat”)

Silliest saying: It’s not often you’re right, son, but you’re wrong again (my late mother used to say

that to me. A lot)

Best holiday spot: Hands-down Croatia, especially the Istrian peninsula. Heaven on Earth

Favourite song at the moment: The Git Up

With writing, are you a plotter or (seat-of-your) pantser? Pantser with plotter aspirations

Star Wars or Lord of the Rings: Red Dwarf

Best superpower: Invisibility

Number one thing to do on your bucket list: Take mum’s ashes to Scotland

Book title:  SOLD
Genre:  Crime fiction – comic noir


The Gold Coast swelters in record temperatures, and car salesman Gary Braswell's hot under the collar. With sales at rock-bottom, and up to his neck in debt to loan shark Jocko Mackenzie, Gary's sweating on a fat commission from a mysterious Russian couple.

If the loan is not repaid, there's more than Gary's kneecaps at stake - his long-suffering wife's also in peril. But Jocko demands more than repayment and has sinister plans for the hapless salesman.

Gary turns his skills to real estate and is soon embroiled in the murky world of money laundering. With the federal police sniffing around and Jocko on his tail, Gary concocts an audacious scam.

Success means money - lots of it.
Failure means death.
But can hard-drinking, cocaine-snorting Gary pull it off?

Hilarious and dark, Sold is noir at its best - a whirlpool of sex, drugs, and real estate.

    • Publish date: October 2017
    • Publisher: Clan Destine Press

Twitter:  @blairdenholm

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