May 16

Author Interview – John DolanA Poison Tree

As promised in my last post, today I’m interviewing one of my favorite people, John Dolan, author of the great Time, Blood, and Karma series. He’s just released the 3rd book in the series, A Poison Tree, which I reviewed here recently. If you missed the review, take a few minutes to read it here on the site. If you aren’t familiar with his work, do yourself a favor and grab a copy. And if you have read John’s books, I’m sure you agree with me when I say; “The man can write.”

So let’s welcome galericulate author, world traveler, and all around good guy, John Dolan.


A Poison Tree (Time, Blood and Karma)

BR – Hi, John. Where on the planet are you these days?

JD – Hi, Bernie, and thanks for inviting me over. These days I’m living on the island of Samui, Thailand, so I can keep an eye on my characters who are based here. Make sure they are behaving themselves, or not, as the case may be. However, as you know, I’m a bit of a gypsy so I might be living somewhere else next week. This also helps me stay one step ahead of the tax authorities and anyone I might have defamed in my books. Allegedly.

BR – I understand completely. And since Big Brother is watching regardless, you might as well keep moving around just to help them stay sharp. Since you move around a lot, do you find yourself able to write anywhere or are you someone who likes to be in a specific place?

JD – Well, I prefer to be in a bar drinking Chang beer, but I don’t get a lot of writing done that way. Sometimes I sit in my sala (Thai pavilion) looking over the coconut fields, sometimes I hang around in Starbucks, sometimes I’ll be on an aeroplane bound for wherever. Last year when I was living in Dubai, I did all my writing in my apartment. It was too damned hot to do anything else. So no, I don’t have a special place to write.

BR – I’m more of an “office-writer” but concur completely about the inverse correlation between alcohol consumption and word count. But enough about us and our fondness for cold beer. Could you give us some background about the genesis of the series and your main character, David Braddock?

JD – Hmmn. That’s a tricky one. I always get fidgety when people ask me where I get my ideas from, because the honest answer is that I have no idea. I’m vaguely aware that the action takes place in locations where I’ve lived or visited, and I’m a complete anal retentive when it comes to planning out a story. I suppose over the years I’ve read quite widely and I guess all those ideas marinate somewhere until they are ready to come out. What really happens is that I have a little man who lives inside my head who makes up stories, and I just type them out for him. But if you tell folks that, they think you’re a barking loon. Which, of course, I am.

BR – What can you do? We sit by ourselves, dream up some goofy stuff, and then write it down. But I know you love the process as much as I do. I love all your books and I think that A Poison Tree is your best yet. It’s interesting that it’s the 3rd book in the series, but it actually reads as a prequel to the first two. From a marketing strategy it’s brilliant in that new readers will be able to start with your newest book and then continue the series from there rather than feel the need to read the first two before picking up the new one. Was that your primary motive or did you feel the need to provide us with some of the backstory before Braddock found himself in Thailand?

JD – OK, now you’ll think I’m a total obsessive, but it was always the plan to have Book #3 as a backstory. In fact, in the seven book series, the action flips about in time. Books #1 and #2 (‘Everyone Burns’ and ‘Hungry Ghosts’) are in 2005, Book #3 ((‘A Poison Tree’) is 1999-2001, and Book #4 ((‘Running on Emptiness’), which comes out next year, is set in 2006. The next three books after that … well, I won’t give the game away now, but suffice to say, they jump back and forth too. That’s why I gave the series the title ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ – time and karma go together, and the ‘blood’ refers not only to the deaths that tend to happen, but also to family ties. In answer to your question on marketing strategy, I don’t know whether it’s brilliant, but it does give a reader two possible entry points into the series. Sheesh, that was a long answer. Do you have any beer around here?

BR – I’m out of Chang but could probably dig up a couple of cold Shiner. When in Rome, right…? I thought your choice to use cold, rainy England as the setting and the impending Millennium perfect for A Poison Tree themes. Could you talk a bit about the primary thematic elements you incorporated so beautifully into the narrative and your cast of characters?

JD – The impending Millennium was a time of great uncertainty for many people, a time when folks across the planet reflected on the questions of, “Why am I here? What’s it all about? Is the End of the World nigh?” When you ask these types of questions, you are inclined to step back and look at other things too, like relationships and what you are doing with your life. It seemed to me an ideal point in time for the characters, already feeling uncertain about their place in the world, to be reassessing their priorities and loyalties. As the book opens, many of them are stuck in a rut – as events unfold, they are levered out of that rut; sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. The atmosphere of the rainy, depressing Midlands (where I lived for a time, by the way) was intended to invoke an atmosphere of boredom, dissatisfaction and introspection. English rain does that to you after a while. It also gives you webbed feet, if you’re not careful.

I chose a tree as the central image of the story; weathered, damaged, with parasite liana stems tangled around its trunk, and creatures gnawing at its roots. I drew on some of the gloomy myths of Norse legend, especially the great tree Yggdrasil which holds up the universe. When that falls, everything falls, the world ends, reality collapses into the void. In the same way, the characters’ supports, the assumptions on which they have based their being, are being eroded by uncertainty and mistrust. There are a ton of allusions to branches, growth, nature’s life cycle and so on, peppered through the book. This is intended to pave the way for the themes of the series – the Buddhist ideas of impermanence and interconnection.
Phew, that reads a bit heavy, doesn’t it? Lucky I put some jokes in the book too, otherwise we’d all be slitting our wrists.

BR – All your choices worked beautifully. The book had a terrific sense of time and place. And that can be very tricky to pull off without some of your narrative sounding like a travel brochure. Your protagonist, David Braddock, is such an interesting character. How do you see him?

JD – He’s a damaged man, and a far from perfect human being. But like all of us, he has redeeming features, and his own peculiar set of ethics to which he adheres. He is also a guy who doesn’t surrender – knock him down and he keeps getting up. In a sense, you could regard him as something of an Everyman. I hope his reflections will ring a chord in people, or at least some of them. He shares with me a rather black sense of humour. That bit of him is definitely me.

BR – He’s definitely damaged. And if there is one thing I do know; it’s damaged people. He continues to resonate with me and I really enjoy the fact that he isn’t an over the top kind of character. So I would definitely agree with your Everyman comment. Where do you see him heading in subsequent books?

JD – Into more trouble. He collects trouble the way some people collect stamps. No spoilers here, Bernie!

BR – Well, I gave it my best shot. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the next book. Thanks for stopping by John. Congratulations again on A Poison Tree. Well done, mate. Well done indeed!


  1. eden baylee

    Great interview Bernie,

    You asked some wonderful questions and I really enjoyed learning more about the barking loon, i mean, the author, John Dolan.

    I loved A Poison Tree , and the series keeps getting better. 😉


  2. B.R. Snow

    thanks, eden. john is truly one of my favorite authors. and he probably takes the barking loon moniker as a compliment. 🙂

    be well.

  3. John Dolan

    Yup. I do 🙂

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