Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Interview: John Lathrop

Share |
Interview: John Lathrop

Author John Lathrop discusses his new novel, The Desert Contract, answering questions from readers.

Having lived much of his life in the U.S., Philippines and the Middle East, John Lathrop is now a Canadian citizen and resident of Calgary. Set against the fascinating and volatile backdrop of the Saudi Arabian desert, his book is one part political thriller, one part explosive love story.

R:

The twenty-plus years you’ve spent living in the Middle East must give you unique insight into the delicate political situation there. Even so, was it daunting to deal with such complex and complicated subject matter?

JL:

It was actually about fourteen years, and any writer who has spent that long living in any country, and who takes an interest in its history, culture, economic and business environment, politics, etc., will not feel daunted at the task of including it in a novel. I did do some additional research to get certain details either 'right,' or at least believable; research in the Middle East and in London. The most difficult part, however, was figuring out the money angle. It had to be plausible, believable, able to be grasped by the average reader, and it had to provide a strong plot

R:

Did you originally set out to write a political thriller?

JL:

Yes, I did. I enjoyed reading them at the time, particularly around swimming pools in the Middle East. And it’s what I call an 'open genre.' By that I mean it’s what the author wants to make it. It can be a pure thriller, or a vehicle for a very literary novel, or even a vehicle for a comedy.

R:

What kind of additional research did you do?

JL:

I interviewed a Saudi political refugee in London. He’s now forgotten, but when I interviewed him he was still news. He was Sunni, not Shia, but I gave Dr. Ali in the book a few of his characteristics. Also, I visited Turkish Cyprus several times and I had a very interesting discussion about Saudi money laundering with a young English unit trust salesman in Bahrain. Like Kemp in the book, he was selling investments (in his case British investments), to small and medium-sized Saudi businessmen.

R:

What are you reading right now?

JL:

I’m re-reading the collected short stories of L. P. Hartley.

R:

Who are your favourite authors?

JL:

21st century: Ann Patchett. Ann-Marie MacDonald. 20th century: Leonard Woolf. Graham Greene. L. P. Hartley. Eric Ambler. Hammond Innes. 19th and early 20th centuries: Wells, Shaw, Bennett.

R:

Which do you prefer, popular novels or literary novels?

JL:

I do enjoy 'popular’ novels, and there are many that are good examples of their kind, and that are not ‘literary.' However, I prefer literary novels, and I believe that a good literary novel should also be a page turner. If it isn’t — if you have to force yourself to turn the pages — then, as far as I’m concerned, it’s either poorly written, or written from a point-of-view, or has a plot or characters or whatever, that I’m not in sympathy with.

R:

What’s your next project?

JL:

I’m working on another novel now. As before, a ‘'thriller with a tightly interwoven love story,' but this time set in Cambodia.

R:

Do you have any tips or tricks for aspiring writers?

JL:

Three tips:
1) Don’t start writing until you are certain you have something to say.
2) Read a lot, and read critically. Anyone can read for fun — most of us do. But a writer should read critically.
3) Treat writing like a job. That’s what it is.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad