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The Man Who Came Out of the Cold

July 11, 2019

“Here on Koh Samui, nobody gives a tinker’s cuss whether you’re a writer. They’re more interested in who’s buying the next round –John Dolan

I’ve read every one of John Dolan’s books. If a British noir detective story set in a beachy, glamorous place with a seedy underbelly appeals to you like it does me, then pour yourself a Mai Tai and read on.

Some of you may already know John’s writing, as I’ve featured him here in the Cold before (check out How NOT to write a bestelling thriller here!). Others, especially newbies to Cold, may see him as a shiny new penny. Either way, he’s got a book out in his Time, Blood and Karma series so I invited him to come back on. It’s called Everyone Dies, and as the title suggests, it’s the last in his popular thriller saga.

But that’s not really why I’m featuring him front and center this week. It’s a good excuse, but the truth is John Dolan is quite simply fun to talk to. He’s funny and wry and good natured. He also lives the ultimate writers life. This is a Brit who’s worked all over the world and finally landed on the island of Koh Samui, in Thailand, where he’s penned all of his novels from the comfort of his ocean view bungalow. That’s why, for the sake of our getting to live vicariously through him, at least for the length of this post, I’ve thrown some questions his way.

Thailand free

photo by Paul Morris


ME: John, since you live the ultimate writer’s life – tell me about what your days are like. Don’t leave out hookers and cocaine if relevant.

JOHN: It’s hard to imagine a world where hookers and cocaine wouldn’t be relevant, but if I used them I’d never get any writing done. Well, nothing that would be readable anyway. Plus, divorce is really expensive, and my nostrils are quite big enough already without snorting white powder up them. No, for the most part my days are spent working out at the gym, walking the dog, keeping up with distant family and friends on social media, chilling at home or on the beach with my good lady, and eating in one of the many restaurants on the island. Sometimes, I even write stuff.

ME: ​Expat life and writing often go together like a horse and Russian cavalry officer. Would you agree with that statement? By the way, if your answer is no, this could be a very short interview.

JOHN: In that case, yes, I agree. There are probably more expats around than Russian cavalry officers at present, though both categories of persons are relics of a bellicose past. (I like the term ‘relic’ – it’s like ‘antique’, and implies I might be worth something one day.) But, yeah, there’s nothing quite like slobbing around on a tropical island and telling yourself you are writing a masterpiece. Plus, given that nobody on the island is likely to read your scribblings, your ego is not going to get dented. The Western World on the other hand is full of people with opinions, which probably explains why authors there tend to get in more fist-fights with disgruntled readers. Here on Koh Samui, nobody gives a tinker’s cuss whether you’re a writer. They’re more interested in who’s buying the next round.

ME: Your books take us through both the upmarket and downmarket parts of living in paradise. Tell me about the noir elements you see in a resort island like Koh Samui?

JOHN: However much an expat seeks to integrate into the community, there will always be elements of ‘unseen’ local ways. As a Westerner, you only get a sense of the way things really work here: though you do get the feeling that there are closets so stuffed with skeletons that there is barely room for clothes. Tourists, of course, only get a very superficial glimpse of Thai culture, and their attitudes tend to be conditioned by what marketing blurb they’ve read beforehand. And then there is the cannibalism cults which have been growing in popularity since [the rest of this answer has been redacted in the interest of good taste]

ME: Is that what made you want to move to Thailand, specifically? That it’s not just all beaches and fruity drinks with little umbrellas?

JOHN: Actually, the lack of extradition treaties had a lot to do with it. Also, the weather and cheap coconuts.

ME: Cheap coconuts have always driven my international moves. So have cheap thrills. Had you always planned on becoming a thriller writer once you settled there?

JOHN: I never planned on becoming a thriller writer. I once had hopes of doing something useful with my life. I fell into writing while I was working and living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was one of those sudden rushes of blood to the brain. Some devil with a pitchfork prodded me and said, “Why not write a series of seven novels set in Southeast Asia?” At the time, I couldn’t think of a suitable reason not to, so that’s how it started. Now, of course, I could come up with a gazillion reasons why not. It’s taken eight years of my life to write and publish the seven David Braddock books: eight years I’ll never get back. I could have done two PhDs in that time. Though when I consider it, ‘Dr. Dolan’ sounds pretty crappy, like the name of the baddie in a James Bond movie.

ME: For the record, you’d make an excellent Bond villain – particularly for your taste in hats.


John Dolan: author and hat-wearer

ME AGAIN: How long had the Time Blood and Karma and Karma’s Children series been gestating in that (hatted) head of yours before you endeavored to write a single word? Do you remember your first inspiration for it?

JOHN: It actually happened pretty fast once the mind demon had poked me. The outlines for each of the seven books, and the overall story arc, all came together over a period of a couple of months. I have no idea where the inspiration came from, actually. Maybe I have a brain tumor. An erudite brain tumor who enjoys bad jokes and stories about death.

MEIn January 2014, you and I had a chat on Cold under the title How NOT to Write a Bestselling Thriller, which was one of my most popular posts ever. Are you following your own advice and, if so, how’s that working out for you?

JOHN: I am and it’s working out just fine. Since your post, I’ve only sold three books, and they were all to relatives. Though that hasn’t stopped me topping the Amazon book charts as the number one writer in the category of Thai Noir. See how easy it is to be a best-selling author? Anyone can do it, and usually does.

ME: The publication of Everyone Dies marks the closing of your seven-book cycle. How do you feel about that? (That’s meant with a menacing, Freudian tone, by the way.)

JOHN: Relieved. And it gives me time to read your books now. Just kidding, I’ve already read them, and I’m not going to read them again. Because I won’t get that time back again either.

ME: I suppose you won’t just be riding around in a rickshaw, stopping only to nurse your beers and your ennui now that your Karma books are all wrapped up. Got anything else cooking?


Can you see John in this picture? (photo by Adam Sherez)

JOHN: My next book will be a historical novel set in 1950s Malaya during the time of the Malayan Emergency. However, I still have a ton of research to do for it, and don’t expect it to hit the shelves until next year. Hopefully, Vic, it will be right up your street: lots of Cold War stuff, plus bad jokes and death.

ME: So up my street! And now I won’t have to write any more new Cold War thrillers – I can just plagiarize yours! Any final outrageous self-promotion you want to do here before I cut you off?

JOHN: Well, I’ve just re-vamped my website and started a Newsletter with freebies which your readers can subscribe to if they’ve nothing better to do. And, let’s face it, if they did have something better to do, they wouldn’t be here ploughing through this garbage. They can click on if they’re unsure whether life has no meaning, and I’ll do my best to confirm it for them.

000000 3D Cover ED Reasonable Quality

  1. The interview is fabulous, very John, and I am already intrigued by his new project. I love John’s writing and I’m eagerly waiting for the last book in the series (I’ve pre-ordered it already). Thanks! 🙂

  2. John’s the best!

  3. Reblogged this on T. W. Dittmer and commented:
    Interesting interview of John Dolan by Victoria Dougherty. They’re both great writers… also two of my favorite people.

  4. Loved it! ‘Pressed It’! Delightful and witty! ♥♥♥

  5. Excellent interview.

  6. Brillant interview! Loved the questions, engaged from the first.

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