Interview With Author D.A. Holdsworth

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Hi – I’m D.A. Holdsworth and I have not always wanted to be a writer. There – that’s my confession out the way! In fact, for most of my adult life I was insistent that writing was precisely what I did not want to do. With hindsight, perhaps I did protest too much.

Anyway, the calling came eventually. As a very clever fellow once said (Kierkegaard), we “only attain [our] desire by passing through its opposite”. Aged 42, I set to work on my debut novel, How to Buy a Planet. Four years later, it published.

The novel is a sci-fi comedy with this basic premise:

“It’s the year 2024. Drowning in debt following the pandemic, the world’s leaders have taken the only logical decision. They’ve sold the planet.”

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

So here’s the spooky bit. It took me four years to write a satirical novel about a global debt crisis and a viral pandemic…

And then C-19 happened.

Lockdown in March 2020 was the moment I decided to stop waiting for an agent or publisher to pick me up. The book had become too topical. I knew I had to crack on and self-publish. I made a few light amends to the text, put it through several proofreads, commissioned a cover, set up my own imprint, and published in August 2020.

But the story behind the book actually started a long time before that. A long, long time before – pretty much at the dawn of time (…or my career, whichever came first…) After university, I worked for a spell as a trainee fund manager. I found out quickly and painfully that I wasn’t cut out for a City job and I soon quit. But the role had given me a basic grounding in economics and finance that proved crucial.

Fast forward to the credit crunch of 2008/09. Like everyone else, this made me a little mad: why did society end up submerged in so much debt, while the people who caused the problem (city bankers) got to keep their jobs and bonuses? My years in the City and my awareness of the financial world did not, shall we say, lessen the antipathy.

Fast forward a few more years and the plot for How to Buy a Planet came to me one afternoon in a single vision – whole and complete and (in my mind, at least) perfect. And it was to be a comedy. I had sublimated all the frustration I felt about the City into something funny. At that point, I still didn’t want to become a writer in a general sense; but I knew I had to write this novel.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The best thing? That’s easy. When I completed How to Buy a Planet, I felt – for better or worse – that I had realised the original vision. In fact, it came out better than I had imagined. That was a great feeling.

The worst thing? There have been very few bad things, thankfully. Inevitably, there’s that first 1-star review. That’s a gloomy moment – but it’s also a rite of passage for every author. You quickly notice that 1-star reviews come from serial 1-star reviewers, and that these people are working through their issues, not yours. And you move on.

The most surprising thing? The support that people have given me along the way. Again and again, friends have stepped in at crucial moments to help (…a particular shout-out to Claire, whose marketing expertise was a god-send). Also, my readers. This was my biggest surprise. Lots and lots of them have done three things I never used to do: they chanced several hours of their lives reading an unknown novelist – they signed up to his mailing list – they wrote up their thoughts on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s been humbling.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I’ve got a saying for this: “All art is either great – or someone else’s fantasy.” Sometimes your book just isn’t the right fantasy for that particular person. Don’t sweat it. Move on.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

This is a really great question – and also tricky.

I generally try to write something that I would enjoy reading. Better to go with Polonius’ advice (“To thine own self be true”), than try to write to the perceived rules of a genre. I think readers would quickly sniff out artifice.

But having said that, I’m very open to reader feedback. Before publication, I used a half-dozen reviewers for How to Buy a Planet and I’m using about a dozen for the next book in the series. I’m also finding I can learn from the post-publication reviews. I pay a lot of attention to the 3 and 4-star reviews: they often include an instructive “I loved it but…”

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

Titles and covers can be agony. We wish they weren’t all-important, but they are. The very last word I changed in How to Buy a Planet was in the title: the working title had been How to Sell a Planet right up until the last minute. For the next book in the series (actually, a prequel), I spent months and months agonising before I settled on The Zoo of Intelligent Animals. I polled my readers, bugged my friends, drove my wife mad. But I’m happy with the outcome (…I think).

And titles are the easy bit. Covers are even harder.

So to answer the question: I have a few tips, but they’re not sophisticated. One, give yourself time. Two, ask others for their views and opinions (without feeling beholden to them). And, three, trust that the answer will become clear to you. If you give yourself space and time, it usually does.

# What are your plans for future books?

Top priority right now: the prequel, which is set in 1970s London. The Zoo of Intelligent Animals. I’m hoping to bring it out in late August 2021 – exactly a year after Book 1. But it’ll be tight. Ideally, Book 3 will come out a year after that and so on – I’ve got several ideas queuing.

In between times, I’m developing other smaller projects on the side. First up is a satirical book of cartoons, The Glossary of Modern Life. (And, yes, I spent ages agonising over that title too.) The book will comprise about 40-50 terms and phrases in common use, providing a satirical definition for each one and a cartoon to illustrate. Some of the terms are distinctly modern (‘troll’, ‘influencer’ etc); others are standard language (‘placebo effect’, ‘face coverings’, etc), to which I lend a modern, satirical take.

After that, I’d like to publish The Tale of Admiral Benbow – an illustrated poem that spoofs The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Moby Dick. Basically, I’ve got lots on the go. The joy of self-publishing is that I’m no longer waiting for a break in the clouds to get these things done: I’m cracking on.