Saturday, 6 May 2017

Back Catalogue Books - Q&A with John Mayer

Back Catalogue Books is my new regular Saturday feature, focusing on books that are not the latest releases. There is going to be a mix of Q&As and also reviews, depending on what I have the space for. 

If you are an author wanting to take part in Back Catalogue Books then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you. 

I hope everyone enjoys this weekly look back at some of the slightly older books that are about but still great, and that I eventually make a dent in my TBRs as a result of it!

I’m John Mayer. I was an Advocate in the Supreme Courts of Scotland until I retired in 2013. I’d written books before I started to write fiction. These were Non-fiction and Legal books for use in universities and courts. I was a specialist in international child abduction and I’m glad to say I’ve helped return many, many children to the places from where they were stolen. I was also legal counsel to Greenpeace International. I even had responsibility for one of the ships for a short time.
I’ve lived in very violent places and posh places and now live quietly on a tiny Greek island where I go fishing from my boat, eat and drink with Greek friends (mostly rogues) and write my series called The Parliament House Books.

I’m married to a wonderful wife who helps promote my books. We have one son (36) who lives and works in New York City.

1) Please tell me about your first book, and what started you writing in the first place.

I’ve always burned to write. Even in Elementary School I wrote stories which went on for many pages. My first teacher of English (Miss Ralph, bless her) told my mother ‘The boy is a born novelist.’ which made me very proud. 

There is not one but three Prequels to my first novel. I wanted to properly introduce my central character Mr Brogan McLane QC and thought the best way to do that was to write a few short stories: the first about the night of his birth, the second about his ‘coming of age and getting a blood brother’, and the third about his first case as an Advocate in Parliament House. 

Only then was I able to satisfy myself that my first novel - called The Trial – would have a proper grounding. All of The Parliament House Books are essentially about injustice. 

Parliament House in Edinburgh is the seat of Scotland’s Supreme Court and is 500 years old. There are many great stories attached to its history. I know all of these stories and I can tell you they are mostly about injustice rather than justice being done. I’ve always been fascinated by Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ and of course we talk about living in Kafkaesque circumstances. I’ve found myself in such circumstances many times and from my first day in Parliament House I knew that I would, some day, fictionalise my cases into a series of novels. I’m now coming through on that promise to myself.

2) How many books have you written and what are they?

To date – besides my non-fiction and legal books – I’ve written three Prequels and three Novels in The Parliament House Books series. I’ve tried to sum up what all my books are about in the slogan that appears on every jacket: Low Life in High Places in the Old Town.

The first Prequel is titled The Cross and sets up the momentous night in Glasgow when 66 Rangers supporters were killed after a match against Celtic. That’s the night when my central character, Brogan McLane QC was born. I like the slogan for this prequel which is ‘How Blood Brothers Died and Rose Again.’

The second Prequel is titled The Cycle and deals with McLane’s coming of age. Both his mother and his best friend’s mother are sexually assaulted on their way home from the pub where they work. The suspect is caught – not by the police – but by locals. He’s put on trial in the Calton Bar where he’s found guilty. Such ‘pub trials’ used to be common in Glasgow. I’ve been to a few and I may say, there’s not much difference between these and the real thing in the High Court. McLane makes a very mature decision and is told that the community has a surprise in store for him. McLane breaks the cycle which the course of his life would otherwise take.

The third Prequel deals with McLane’s first case in Parliament House. It’s not a huge oak court with velvet-covered bench, but a lowly temporary Tribunal Room. This is where he meets Detective Chief Inspector Terry Imrie. McLane interprets some police regulations in a clever way which brings a very satisfactory outcome.

The first novel in The Parliament House Books is called the Trial and finds Brogan McLane in his old ‘second home’ called the Calton Bar in Glasgow. He’s been wrongly charged with the murder of a low-life judge in Edinburgh. Trials can be very flexible things and their outcomes can often result in other trials. That’s the course of this novel. The characters’ deeds and indeed some of their adult children in this novel haunt the next three novels. Injustice has long and resounding repercussions.
The second novel is called The Order and deals with my old speciality, international child abduction. After the casual murder of her father in Africa in broad daylight and being used as a diamond mule before being sold into sex slavery, a child of about 11 is aboard a ship, locked in a freezing steel box up on deck. When dumped in the Tranny Hotel in Edinburgh, the Russian owner trades her for some information from Mr Brogan McLane QC. McLane and his wife adopt the child who is severely traumatised. But as those effects subside, she reveals a spectacular talent for drawing in minute detail: which leads McLane to a very noble family at the back of the diamond smuggling. That family are protected by Royal Charter and cannot be prosecuted in a common court. So McLane has to devise another way to get justice for his daughter whose name is ‘Ababuo’.

The third novel is called The Bones. It’s about ‘a new bud on an old branch of medical science’. When McLane’s junkie clients are charged with breaking 35 of their 5 week old child’s bones, McLane tries to do a ‘2 for 1’ deal with the Crown Prosecutor. But predictably the jury convict on what seems like compelling evidence. McLane believed his clients’ pleas of innocence and after meeting a very old flame who is a midwife, he thinks he begins to see a pattern. An old professor of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh hears of his plight and helps McLane through the medical science which, by presenting false evidence to courts for years, has created terrible injustices. Will McLane find that new bud on the old branch?

The fourth novel is called The Trust. The public’s interaction with judges, juries, prosecutors, the law schools and bodies relies on trust. Without it, the justice system crumbles. When the Scottish Parliament, the University of Edinburgh Law School and the Faculty of Advocates in Parliament House is infiltrated by someone who breached that trust, there are catastrophic consequences. It’s up to Brogan McLane QC to get to the bottom of this. But will the trust which his wife has placed in him for 20 years survive it all?

3) Which book are you most proud of writing?

I think I’m most proud of writing a book which I haven’t published and may never publish. Finishing that story was confirmation that I could write qualitatively and tell a ‘whole story’. I could see the many mistakes in my writing of that story and hopefully I’ve rectified them.

4) Which book was your favourite to write?

I must say I have a soft spot for creating Ababuo in The Order. She’s the embodiment of a child I saved after being sold out of Africa. I know the real child so well and have written so much about the fictional one that Ababuo’s like my own child now.

5) Who are your favourite characters from your books and why?

Apart from my central character Brogan McLane QC (and of course Ababuo) I’d have to say my next favourite is not a person, but a place. It’s the Calton Bar where McLane and all his pals and his blood brother hang out. That bar, like so many in Glasgow, Scotland is a second home for most of my characters. Everything said and done in the Calton Bar is trustworthy – unlike Parliament House which is called the College of Justice in Scotland.

6) If you could go back and change anything from any of your books, what would it be, and why?

Well I actually have gone back and edited The Trial; which is now on its second edition. I wrote The Trial before the Prequels and in the course of writing those and beginning my second novel, I realised that my writing had taken a step-up in quality. So I revised The Trial. It’s only fair to my readers that, just like my Advocacy in Parliament House, they get the very best I can give them. 

7) Which of your covers if your favourite and why?

Well, you’ll notice that all the covers of the novels – though not the Prequels - are the same except for the title. That’s been done on purpose to create a recognisable brand. But I may say that the cover of The Cycle is a particular favourite of mine because it shows a place where I spent many long days studying. The first time I took a course of study I wasn’t a ‘proper’ student. I was 14 and had walked out of school because it was a war zone and I wasn’t learning anything. I studied privately in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow (on the cover) and learned a wide variety of things that no school taught.

8) Have you ever thought about changing genres, if so what else would you like to write?

Actually I have a historical series planned which of course is part of The Parliament House Books but set in the 18th century. I’m part way through writing the first book in that series which is called ‘The Enterprise : A story about how England got control of Scotland without a war.’ I’m dying to get down to finishing it.

9) Looking forward can you let us know what you are working on next?

Actually I’m still finishing The Trust (the 4th novel) in The Parliament House Books. But as I said, I have one eye on the historical series. I’m also considering writing a few spin-off stories about secondary characters in The Parliament House Books.

10) I dare not ask for a favourite author, but is there any author’s back catalogue you admire and why?

Oh don’t worry about asking. My favourite two authors are Franz Kafka for his seminal work ‘The Trial’ which has inspired The Parliament House Books and J.D. Salinger for his great everlasting work ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. The first time I read Salinger I was finishing ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ under a tree in a public park when I screamed into the last page; making people turn thinking I was mad or about to attack them. No book has ever affected me so powerfully.

11) Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your back catalogue of books?

I’m very proud of the Reviews I’ve had. When writing stories I am often affected emotionally and intellectually; but when the public are too and say so in Reviews, then there’s real satisfaction in looking back at the back catalogue.

Thank you so much John for answering my questions.

Author Bio:

John Mayer was born in Glasgow, Scotland at a time of post-WW2 austerity. In 1963 when he first heard The Beatles on Radio Caroline, his life path was set. Aged 14 he left school because, in his opinion, he wasn't being well taught. For the next year, in all weathers, he cycled 9 miles to and 9 miles from the Mitchell Library in central Glasgow where he devoured books of all kinds and began to understand what more the world had to offer. He became an Apprentice engineer, and soon moved on to teaching men twice his age. In the early 1970s his love of music led him to set up as a Record Producer. He built his own record company trading in 14 countries. After a disheartening court battle with global giants, he left the business world and went back into further education at the University of Edinburgh, becoming an Advocate in the Supreme Courts of Scotland. There he acted for the downtrodden and desperate as well as Greenpeace International. His specialism was in fighting international child abduction.

John has written non-fiction, legal texts and articles; broadcast to tens of millions of people on US and UK radio, appeared on TV and in print media.  Since retiring from the Law, John has enjoyed using his years of very colourful experience to create The Parliament House Books series.

The Trial is the first full length novel in this series. Set in Edinburgh and Glasgow, it is more than a nod to Franz Kafka's book of the same title. The Trial sees crusading Scottish Advocate, Brogan McLane, fight injustices so casually delivered by Low Life in High Places in the Old Town.

Link for John's Goodreads page for The Trial
Link for John's author page on Goodreads
The Trial    ASIN  B00SYZRN12
The Order     OR   
The Order  Amazon 

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