Author Interview: John Milton Langdon, Author of Against All Odds
John Milton Langdon is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and has a master’s degree in maritime civil engineering. Langdon retired and became a professional writer after an active and rewarding engineering career. Langdon lives in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt, which has a history stretching back to mediaeval times. Langdon has three children and five grandchildren from his first marriage and two step-sons from the second. John’s latest book is an historical novel titled Against All Odds: Jason Smiley Stewart-My Life Story. We'll talk to him about his childhood, his writing, and what the future holds.
Welcome to The Book Connection, John. It's great to have you here. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers in London and I have a master's degree in maritime civil engineering. I was born in Britain and initially worked there but from 1972 until 2006, I was involved with project development in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria. After an active and rewarding engineering career, I retired and became a professional writer. I have many interests including travel, the British canals, music and literature but hiking in the foothills of the Alps near my home is a preferred activity.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Britain in the small coastal town of Barry in South Wales during the second world war.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
As a very small boy I remember sitting on a carpet in front of the living room fire on a cold winter evening and hearing the wind rampaging around the house. My father, mother, elder brother and my elder and younger sisters were also there in front of the fire. On the hearth was a big plate of sliced bread, a pot of home made beef drippen and the salt celler. We took turns to put a slice of bread on the toasting fork and when the bread was nice and brown we spread a layer of drippen on it, sprinkled it with salt and ate it with great delight. The taste was outstanding but in retrospect it was probably very unhealthy.
When did you begin writing?
I started writing shortly before I retired and effectively writing replaced engineering as my day job.
Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?
Normally I write during the day and in the evening, but it isn't a totally exclusive activity.
What is this book about?
Based loosely on fact, Against All Odds describes the early years of a young man born into humble circumstances during the reign of Queen Victoria. He shows how a combination of intelligence and perserverance, aided by a little good fortune, can help any child overcome the disadvantages of poor education and lowly birth status in an era when status is all important. In Against All Odds, the first volume of a four-part series, you can read how Jason Smiley Stewart is transformed from callow village youth into a ship's officer.
What inspired you to write it?
In 2004 when I was working in Abu Dhabi, my wife and I visited a small Omani town called Khasab, which is located near to the Straits of Hormuz. One of the attractions there is an area known as the Fjords because of its similarity to Norwegian scenery. In English it is known as the Elphinston Inlet or transliterated from the Arabic, Khor As Sham. We sailed along Khor As Sham in an Arab dhow and anchored at Telegraph Island. I learnt from the dhow captain that a small team of British men had lived on the island during the 1850's in order to operate the repeater station on the newly constructed electric telegraph to India - this was at the very beginning of electronic communication. When I sat on that small, barren lump of rock in the heat of the midday sun, I could only marvel at the fortitude of men who could live and work under such appalling conditions. I believed there was a story to be written about the men and the island.
Who is your biggest supporter?
Until she lost a long battle with cancer, my wife.
Are you a member of a critique group? If no, who provides feedback on your work?
No, I haven't joined a critique group. Until she died my wife critiqued my writing and I was always amazed by her ability to provide cogent advice when her first language was German and not English.
Who is your favorite author?
There are many, but I think Nevil Shute would be top of the list.
Do you have an agent or are you looking for one?
I don't have an agent and have ceased looking for one.
Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?
Before I discovered Tate Publishing it was an exceptioally frustrating experience, but afterwards everything worked as it should.
If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?