Now that his first book has been published, we interviewed D.A. Holdsworth to find out more about How To Buy A Planet and what inspired him to write it.
What was your inspiration for writing this novel?
Quitting finance. The sheer relief I felt when I threw in my fund management job was so overwhelming, it released a creative drive in me, which I didn’t know I had. Before then, I’d had no interest in writing - in fact, creative writing was one of the things I’d found hardest as a youngster. And then all of a sudden, these strange and wonderful plots started tumbling into my imagination, uninvited. Some ideas - including the one behind this novel - were about finance and were a direct reaction to the miserable world I’d just left, but many of them were unrelated.
It would still be some years, though, before I started to believe I could become a writer - before I started to want to become a writer. The credit crunch of 2008/09 was one catalyst. In the years following, the core idea behind How to Buy a Planet developed in my mind into a much more complete plot. I guess I was inspired - or spurred on - by the sheer madness of what had happened and the sheer injustice in the way that the people who had created the mess (the bankers) seemed to be the ones who ultimately profited most. That was one key development; the other was a growing belief that I could actually write and, perhaps, should actually write.
A separate, but related inspiration, has been a lifelong interest in environmental issues. My interest in this was first ignited by my mother (to whom the novel is dedicated). She discovered environmentalism long before it became mainstream, and some of my earliest memories are of her lamenting humans’ relationship with the natural world. So a sort of consciousness of the planet was embedded into my thinking from the start, and I don’t think I could ever write something that didn’t in some way embrace environmental understanding.
Who’s your favourite character in the novel?
This is easy to answer: the Professor. Every time.
He’s the wise old man, the Merlin character, in this quest adventure - that’s obvious enough. What wasn’t obvious was how to create an original character, who didn’t end up in some way a pastiche of Gandalf or Dumbledore. The Professor is different: less action-oriented, more elusive, slightly fey. He has a deep faith in a higher Providence, that things will work out - which gives his character its lightness. There’s almost nothing that he can’t chuckle at. He’s as close to the Buddha as I think any of my characters will ever get. I’ll be exploring the Professor’s character a lot more in the later books in the series, and I’m already looking forward to it :)
The novel seems to treat weighty issues with apparent levity - why? Is this an appropriate approach?
There’s a great quote by GK Chesterton: “Humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle.”
That’s been my watchword. It’s much easier to engage people on an issue if you can make them laugh than if you harangue them. Humour is more attractive than anger, and laughter can tear something down quicker than earnest debate. The truth is, the global financial system is a joke, and it’s time we laughed at it.
What do you hope people take from the novel?
No.1: I hope readers are entertained. I hope they laugh, I hope they delight in the characters, and I hope the plot sweeps them along to the final page with a feeling of both excitement and fun. Entertainment was always my top priority as the author.
No.2: I hope readers reach the end with a sense of catharsis. I hope they feel some satisfaction at the way the underdog triumphs in this novel, and the bankers get a bashing. Recent financial crises have followed the same pattern: the financiers emerge unscathed and – on the whole – enriched. The latest crisis is looking no different. Governments have been trained by the finance industry to look after the finance industry and, sure enough, trillions of dollars have been poured in to support it. The result is plain to see: Wall Street has been on a roll, even while the rest of the world is locked down in the worst peacetime crisis in history. As ordinary citizens and taxpayers, we feel powerless in the face of these forces.
But novels and films are where we can live out our fantasy of how the world should be. So I hope readers close the final page feeling some pleasure – some catharsis – at watching the little guy outsmart the masters of the universe, and set the world back on its correct axis.
What are you planning to write about next?
I’m currently drafting book two in the series – which is actually a prequel. It goes back to 1977 and the arrival of the famous Wow! radio signal from outer space. The plot follows the story of Earth’s first contact with alien intelligence, exploring at the same time the backstory of the Professor and Mrs B: how they met, the jobs they used to have, and how they started to become the characters that we meet in How to Buy a Planet. Some fun new characters enter the cast. Principally the redoubtable botanist, Sir Claude Danziger (the ‘Great Uncle Claude’ that the Professor refers to in book one), and his equally formidable wife, Adelaide. His anthropologist colleague, Dr Setiawan, has plenty of interesting light to shed on the character of the alien civilisations they encounter, while his butler, Juckes, turns out to have a skill set that goes – shall we say – way beyond butlering. It’s hopefully another cocktail of thoughtful fun, all of it set against the backdrop of Britain in the 1970s.
How To Buy A Planet is available now at Amazon