The US Civil War Through British Eyes- John Holt

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that one of my least favorite periods to read about is the American Civil War. (Or, as it will be known in the future, Civil War 1.0) The reasons are long and boring, and will annoy perfectly nice people, so I won’t go into them. I am always interested in the outsider’s view of any historical event, so when I found an Englishman with a fascination for the “war between the states,” I was willing to suck it up and learn more. John Holt’s latest book is “The Thackery Journal.”

What’s your deal, John?

I was born in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, during World War 2. Clearly the world had a lot to contend with at that time, so my coming offered some welcome relief. Whether I had a major influence, or it was pure coincidence, I shall never know, but the war ended shortly after my birth. I have always been a half glass full kind of person, and I’m quite positive in my approach to life. I was brought up on a diet of Rock ‘n’ roll, and only two TV channels. How did we ever manage I wonder? Programmes like Bilko, and Tony Hancock helped I guess, and probably accounts for my sense of humour. As a youngster I wanted to become a doctor, however there was problem, a major problem. I hated the sight of blood, so eventually I became a land surveyor, and spent 24 years working in local government. I then set up in private practice, carrying out property surveys, and preparing architectural drawings. I guess, like a lot of people I had always wanted to write. In fact for several years I used to write articles for a couple of blues magazines (sadly no longer in operation). But I wanted to write a novel. The opportunity came about in 2005, whilst on holiday in Austria. That was the catalyst that lead to “The Kammersee Affair” published in 2006. It is a story of the search for hidden nazi gold; a story of blackmail, murder and revenge. Over the following years eight more novels, and three novellas, were produced.

I get it. After years of writing articles, scripts and standup, I told myself I’d never be a “real” writer til I did a novel. Sounds like you’ve caught up. What’s The Thackery Journal about?

As the first sounds of gun fire echoed through the land, young men rushed to enlist, to fight for a cause that they believed was right. Shop assistants, bank clerks, farm labourers. All believing that the South would win. Right was on their side, and besides it would all be over by Christmas. 

Two life-long friends enlist on opposite sides of the conflict. Both believing that right was on their side, and both hoping that they would never meet each other on the battlefield. Their lives become inextricably entwined as the war nears its end culminating in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. On the night of April 14th 1865 Lincoln attended a performance at The Ford Theatre, in Washington. A single shot fired by John Wilkes Booth hit the President in the back of the head. He slumped to the floor and died a few hours later without regaining consciousness. Was Booth a lone assassin? Or was he part of a much wider conspiracy? Was he part of something even more sinister? Was he part of a plot hatched by Lincoln’s own generals to replace Lincoln with General Ulysses S. Grant. A plot financed by stolen Confederate gold bullion.

What is it about the story or time period that intrigued you?

I have always been fascinated by the American Civil War. A Civil War is the worst kind of war that there could be. A war that divides the Country and splits communities: a war that puts brother against brother, and father against son.  A war that splits families; and makes enemies of long-time friends. A war where in reality there are no winners. Indeed, a war where there could be no real winners, and where everyone loses something. The effects would be felt long after the war ends.  Could reconciliation and forgiveness really take place? How long would the wounds, mentally and physically, take to heal? Could communities divided by war, be re-united by peace? Even now statues of Confederate Generals are being torn down because of what they are perceived to stand for.

But that in itself is hardly a reason for writing the book. If the truth be known, I never actually considered writing a Civil War novel at all. But sometimes, instead of the author being in command of what he, or she writes, it is the writing itself that takes charge. It will suddenly go in a totally unexpected direction, and you are forced to go with it to see where it leads.

Somewhere along the line I got side-tracked. During my research into “The Kammersee Affair” (a story of hidden gold bullion) I found an item on the internet about a consignment of Confederate gold that had gone missing as the Civil War was coming to an end. The gold had, apparently never been found. I thought perhaps I could make up some kind of a story. The gold had obviously been stolen by someone, and I got to thinking how that person would feel as his pursuers caught up with him. Very quickly I had the makings of a fairly well developed final chapter. That chapter is now the last chapter of “Thackery”, and largely unchanged from when it was first written. It was also obvious that the gold had been stolen for a reason. I wondered what that reason could have been. Then I had an idea.

What’s your favorite (or favourite, if you insist) part of the book?

That’s a difficult one, there are so many. But if I must choose one I think it would be the very last scene of the novel. Oddly enough, it is the one that was written first. Jason Thackery is a hunted man, wounded and alone. His pursuers have tracked him down and are closing in. Thackery is afraid and knows exactly the fate that awaits him. His thoughts turn to the past, to his mother, to his friend, who, even now, is waiting to take him prisoner. There is no escape, no way out. There is no one to save him.

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

Amazon.co.uk – https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Holt/e/B003ERI7SI/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/John-Holt/e/B003ERI7SI/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/John-Holt-Author-553064201380567/

We interrupt John’s interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

Dream Review for Acre’s Bastard

I know that as a grown-ass man I shouldn’t care about reviews. In my stand-up days I learned that if you believe the good reviews, you also have to believe the bad ones. I recently got one, though, that means an awful lot. Mariah Feria published it in an online magazine that I enjoy (and has published some of my short stories) Storgy.com. Read the whole review here


Acre’s Bastard is certainly an accomplished piece of fiction. Turmel makes it clear that he is not done with this story, and especially not with the characters themselves. 

Mariah Feria, Storgy.com

Truthfully, I wouldn’t have dared write a review like this for myself. She enjoyed the parts of the book I enjoyed (the lepers! She liked the lepers!) and correctly pointed out the weaknesses (Mark Halpern I’m not. Description isn’t my strong suit, but I’m working on it.) Since I am neither related to her nor owe her money that I know of, I’m going to assume she means what she says and that makes me feel good.

The best part, is she told Twitter something that is the highest compliment my work can get: “I don’t usually read historical fiction but may need to reconsider.” Yeah, baby.

If you haven’t yet begun reading about Lucca’s adventures, may I suggest this is a good time to begin. Then don’t stop. Acre’s Orphans picks up the next day… why shouldn’t you?

A Russian Family Caught Up in Revolution- Julia Underwood

We all have the historical era we find fascinating, and one of mine is the Russian Revolution. I have no family connection, I’m not Russian, and there were more guns than swords, which usually counts me out. Still, I can’t get enough whether it’s writers from that time (I’ll fight anyone who won’t let me include Mikhail Sholokov on that list) or just people chronicling it from afar. Enter Julia Underwood and Red Winter…

What’s your story?

My father was an Army Intelligence Officer stationed abroad, so I was sent to a boarding school in the English countryside at seven years old. I was the one who was always in trouble for telling stories after lights out. Those epic tales of children in dire peril kept other girls awake and gave them nightmares, and I’ve been at it ever since, on and off.

Life got in the way, of course. As a teenager I wanted to save the world and be a doctor. Unfortunately, equal opportunity was still a distant dream and, although I had the qualifications, I didn’t get a place in a teaching hospital, the preference being for young men with sporting credentials. I ended up in medical research – not at all the glamour I’d envisaged. When I gave that up, I did many jobs, working in advertising, as a statistician, and in marketing and publishing. I also ran a restaurant – talked into this by a friend. Never again, I said, but I later ran a pub with my husband. I have lived in Germany, Austria, Jamaica and France.

 It wasn’t until my children had left home that I finally began to write full-time, joined a writing group and let fly with my imagination. I sold an article to The Lady very quickly, which gave me a false sense of competency, but I persisted. I have now published three full-length novels, three murder mystery novellas and many short stories. My latest novel is Red Winter, the story of a family caught up in the Russian revolution.

Now we’re talking. What’s Red Winter about?

An Englishman, Jonathan Cooke, is the third generation of Cookes to run the Russian arm of his family’s business from St Petersburg. Married to a Russian woman of aristocratic origins, they are wealthy and have five children. Their eldest daughter, Sophie, marries Anatoly Andropov (Tolya), an aspiring doctor. The story follows her and her family through the horrors of the First World War and on to the revolution and the brutality of the Cheka, the Bolshevik’s secret police. The family eventually flee to England with little more than what they stand up in, although Sophie remains in Russia with two small children, almost starving, not knowing if her husband is alive or dead.

What is it about that time period that fascinates you so much?

I was reading an autobiography by someone who recalled, in a short chapter, meeting a Russian émigré family who had lost everything in the revolution. I was struck by the horror of their plight at having to leave all they possessed in a country where misery and death had changed everything beyond recognition. I found the concept fascinating and, after a lot of research, I invented the Cooke family and set about writing their story with all its drama, sorrow and, ultimately, their happiness.

It was early 2016, just a year before the centenary of the revolution, so this seemed the perfect moment to write the story. It was published by my digital publisher – Endeavour Press – just in time, in October 2017.

Never underestimate the power of Serendipity. What’s your favorite scene in the book?

What is your favourite scene in the book?

This is a difficult one. There are so many scenes I am proud of, where the emotion of the action stirred me. Sophie’s marriage to Tolya; when her first baby is born in the field hospital at the Crimean Front; when the Cheka tear apart their home in St Petersburg; when Sophie faces the Bolsheviks in Moscow; when she arrives in London with her children after finally being allowed to leave Russia. I can’t say more without spoiling the story.

Where can people learn more about you and your books?

I have a Facebook Author Page here

You can find it on Amazon

and on Goodreads

Don’t forget to support the authors we showcase. Of course, you could give some love to my novels as well. Acre’s Orphans is available on Kindle and Paperback. And if you enjoy what you read, spread the word with a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Goodreads.

Live Event in Las Vegas- Join me and other writers for a YA author event at the Clark County Library May 16

I’ve met some very cool authors since coming to the desert. One of my fellow Sin City Writers has a new book coming out May 16. Cyberspiracy is about a 15 year old girl hacker who tries to save a presidential election. But there’s more.

Because Wolf O’Rourc is an inventive guy, he’s designed a very cool online search experience where teens can find the answers to questions about the various books on display (including Acre’s Bastard and Acre’s Orphans) to win prizes. To see what he’s up to, check out the Cyberspiracy Online Experience.

The live event is May 16th, 2:30-5:30 pm at the Clark County Library,

1401 E Flamingo Rd

Las Vegas, NV 89119

(702) 507 3400

Acre’s Orphans is a “Discovered Diamond” Award Winner

There aren’t a lot of indie-press awards for historical fiction that carry any cachet. One of the few is Helen Hollick’s “Discovering Diamonds” blog. I’m proud to announce that Acre’s Orphans has won the award.

Acre’s Orphans is an award winner


“These characters breathe life from every page and made me care about what happened to them. I highly recommend this book!”

Kristen McQuinn, Discovered Diamonds reviewer

My thanks to Helen Hollick and her team for supporting independent historical fiction. Blessings upon you all.

Count of the Sahara didn’t win one. Acre’s Bastard got a lovely review but missed the top designation, so a) I might actually be getting better at this book-writing thing, and b) If you haven’t yet read Lucca’s second adventure, what’s stopping you?

You can buy the award-winning (actually multiple award=winning now) Acre’s Orphans here.