Interview with the famous British novelist John Harding

February 11, 2015

Through his books, he explores the dark sides of the soul, and other things none would never have the courage to tell. Today, he is along with us to talk about the wonderful and sometimes hard craft of writing. Dear readers, he is John Harding, the famous British novelist and author of the international best seller “Florence and Giles”, the book we reviewed just a few weeks ago. As always, the questions of the interview are written by the journalist, blogger and book reviewer Rosalba Mancuso, while the answers come from the same keyboard of Mr. John Harding. We recommend you to read the interview carefully because it contains  some important advice that can be very useful to aspiring writers.


Advicesbooks: Dear Mr. John Harding, I know you are the most versatile and appreciated
contemporary novelist. Unlike other authors, your books, indeed, span among
several literary genres, such as mystery, comedy and thriller. Why did you choose to write about so many different genres? Among them, which do you
like the most?

John Harding: I’ve always found that books come to me. The ideas just appear from somewhere and some of them really excite me and so I begin to work on them. I think it would be quite boring to always write in the same genre and hard to have any passion about what one was writing. I read all sorts of books and I try not to have prejudices about genres or subject matter. The thing all my books have in common is that they are the sort of books I would like to read.

Advicesbooks: Your career, apparently, seems to be arrived very rapidly. This sensation
depends on the success of your novel titled “Florence and Giles”, today
translated into many foreign languages. Could you reveal us the real path of
your literary career?

John Harding: My first book, published in the UK as “What We Did On Our Holiday
” in 2000 (published in Italy as “Il segreto dell’ultima estate 2012 by Garzanti) was a bestseller in the UK and was in the Top 10 Original Fiction chart as well as being shortlisted for the W.H. Smith Award for best first novel. But it only received limited publication outside the UK. My second book was published in France, and my third in the U.S. Florence and Giles was very well published by Garzanti in Italy and also by its Brazilian publishers and it was translated into Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Czech, Bulgarian, Polish. My latest book is The Girl Who Couldn’t Read (L’inganno delle pagine segrete). What We Did On Our Holiday was filmed for TV in the UK. Florence and Giles is currently under film option and it looks likely that a film will be made.

Advicesbooks: I know before writing as a novelist you worked as a reporter and editor. Has your previous job helped your career?

John Harding: In some ways. I suppose it got me into the habit of writing! As a book reviewer I read something like 130 books a year and that helps my writing. Reading is the most important thing for a writer.

Advicesbooks: Your stories are inspired by foremost writers, such as Henry James in
Florence and Giles and William Shakespeare in One Big Damn Puzzler. I guess that you read many classic authors before working as a writer of novels. Is
it like this? And more: what are the authors that a new aspiring novelist
should read before writing?

John Harding: I think anything that excites you and fires you up to want to write, which for me is people like Shakespeare and Tolstoy. If I read a book that excites me it makes me want to rush to my desk and start writing. It’s the excitement that helps.

Advicesbooks: Even though your stories belong to several literary genres, they share a
common topic: to explore faults and weakness of human beings. Your books
can capture readers because they speak about aging diseases, sex addiction,
mental illness and other dark sides of the soul. Have these topics been
developed during your experience as a reporter or during your career as a

John Harding: I think all the things you mention are part of the human condition. My father had Parkinson’s disease and my first book was very autobiographical, based on my experiences of caring for him. While the Sun Shines was about the fear of death which is something that troubles most people at some time or times in their lives and I have always found that very hard to detail it. The Girl Who Couldn’t Read was inspired by the anger I felt at the way mentally ill people are still badly treated. In the book which is set in the 1890s they were locked up and harshly treated. Today millions of people are put on to anti-psychotic drugs, tranquilizers etc and I think often this is a convenient way of avoiding helping them with kind treatment, and talking cures which are often more effective, There’s a huge international drugs business and I’m not sure it’s there for the best interests of the patients. So, in a way, while the book is a thriller, it’s also my protest.

Advicesbooks: Only the thriller “Florence and Giles”, that is now being followed by “The
Girl Who Didn’t Know How to Read”, broke the rule of the common topic. In
this story readers may breathe and feel smell of ghosts and witches and a subtle sensation of unexplainable mystery. Why, at a certain stage of your
career, did you decide to change the subject of your novels?

John Harding: It was inspired by Henry James’ novella ‘The Turn of the Screw‘ . The book was made into an opera by the 20th century British composer Benjamin Britten and on my way home from watching the opera I began to think it would be interesting to tell a similar story, only this time not from the point of view of the governess as it is in the Henry James book, but from the viewpoint of one of the children. I’ve always loved stories like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and I loved writing in the genre. So much so that when the book was a huge bestseller and people in the UK and Italy and Brazil kept asking for another book in the same genre I decided ‘Why not’ (Perchè no?)

Advicesbooks: Your collection of famous works consists of five novels: What We Did On Our Holiday (2000), While the Sun Shines (2002), One Big Damn Puzzler, Florence and Giles (2010) and The Girl Who Couldn’t Read (2014). Is there a novel you
have written or would like to write and that your readers have not read yet?
And Is there a secret to write a successful novel?

John Harding: Well, that’s a hard question. I’m always writing, every day. Some books I don’t finish, others I do and am not satisfied with. I am full of ideas for books but I can’t really say what they are because it’s only when I try writing them that I find out if they are good ideas, or ideas that I can make into a book. I think there are many ways to write a novel and many kinds of novels. I don’t think there is a secret to writing a successful novel. Luck plays a tremendous part and you need a good publisher, which I’ve had in Garzanti in Italy and in Leya in Brazil. But I think anyone who sets out to write a bestseller will probably fail because the best books come from the heart of a writer. So my advice is, first read, read and read, all the novels you can. Write the kind of book you would like to read yourself. Write for the satisfaction of producing something you will be pleased with and never worry about the market or making a lot of money. Most authors do not make anywhere near enough to live on!

Advicesbooks: What were the ways you used to publish your books? I ask you this question because, today, many aspiring authors seek to publish their books through
self-publishing websites. What do you think about this new evolution of
literary market?

John Harding: My books have always been published by established publishers both in book and ebook form. I would never wish to criticize anyone who manages to write a book because it’s such a difficult demanding thing to do. I still find it so and I’ve been doing it for 20 years. It’s even harder to get a book published. The problem with self-publishing is there is no objective quality control. Now I know that some self-published books are very good and some authors of them have gained big sales and been given contracts by traditional publishers, but there are also many very poor self-published books out there. It’s very difficult for the book buyer to know what is genuinely high quality and what is rubbish. I think if you’re serious about being an author you should explore every way to get a traditional publisher. And if that fails there’s no harm in self-publishing and seeing your book in print as an ebook.

Advicesbooks: I know you are still working as a freelance journalist. Between being a
novelist and a freelance journalist which is the most profitable in the
field of writing?

John Harding: Ah, that’s a good question. Generally journalism is much more profitable, but in my life there have been times when I’ve made a decent living from journalism and very little from my books and other times when I’ve earned a good amount from a book and not so much from journalism. Obviously if you manage to achieve a bestseller you will make a lot more money than from writing for newspapers, but very very few books become bestsellers!

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