'When you wish upon a star', the Prosecution rests

An interview with

Mark Holmes

Senior Crown Prosecutor
at the CPS

Apparently, a large numbers of lawyers aspire to write a novel. Few succeed. Of those who have made a success of it and are better known as writers than lawyers include Robert Louis Stevenson and John Grisham. Of those who are to look out for include Mark Holmes, whose first novel 'Wishing on Venus' was published earlier this year. Holmes is a lawyer with the Crown Prosecution Service and earlier in May I was intrigued to read an article by him on how to write a novel in the Law Society's very own Gazette. Feeling slightly curious, I bought his novel. A rivetting tale. I completed it in two sittings. In this interview Mark Holmes talks about his twin passions, law and writing.

TheLawMap: What inspired you to be a lawyer?

I became a lawyer quite late in life. It was always a profession I admired and I had watched some friends go through law school. I ran a successful business for a period after graduating in science. In the late 1990’s I came to a point whereby I had to significantly alter the business I was running or retrain. After a lot of thought I decide to follow my heart and retrain as a lawyer, which I immensely enjoyed. 

I also have to say that watching the film “A Few Good Men” the same week I had to make my decision probably swayed me too! The law always appealed to my sense of fairness and my love of conflict within a set of rules. I am very competitive. I dislike personal conflict in my life but I adore legal conflict and really thrive upon it.
TheLawMap: Who or what inspired you to be a writer?

I had longed to be a writer. I think I had my heart set on the idea since I read “The Mayor of Casterbridge” by Thomas Hardy in the early 1980’s. I had spent a long time trying to think of a plot that I really liked. I had a few aborted attempts at writing a book but I didn’t like the first few chapters I had written. About 8 years ago I decided it was a now or never time for me. I had two young children and I spent my hour between eating dinner and going to bed flopped on the sofa watching TV. I decided that I could spend that hour more constructively and also doing something more worthwhile. The ideas for “Wishing on Venus” all came together at the same time and I made myself sit down in as much of the spare time I had and wrote the book. It took me 5 years. Sometimes the sofa won.
TheLawMap: There is an immense discipline to being a novelist. Has your day job as a lawyer helped you with sheer graft and mental discipline of writing a novel?

I have found being a lawyer and being a writer very different. I am a litigation lawyer and it is all about controlled conflict. There is certainly a need to keep order with your files and structure your work but such has to be done or everything would spin out of control. I like neatness and order so that appeals to me anyway. Writing was far more organic and escapist. I had a plot outline and I had several key points I knew I had to hit along the way. Other than that I just sat down at the computer and typed what flowed into my head. It was very therapeutic but nothing like my work as a lawyer.
TheLawMap: The protagonist of your latest novel 'Wishing on Venus' is a young lawyer named Matt Greed. Having just finished the novel, I find Matt Greed to be remarkably courageous. Your exploration of the human condition in portraying the mind of a lawyer feels almost uncannily accurate. If you hadn't been a lawyer, would you have chosen the central character to be from the legal profession?
I don’t know if he is that courageous. He is just very loyal. I suspect he may not always act in such a brave manner. But he is a fighter and he doesn’t like unfairness. His courage flows from his love for his wife and I think we all act differently to protect those we care about. If I wasn’t a lawyer I don’t think Matt would have been. I think you should try to write about what you know. It was good to make him a lawyer as there is lots of humour that stems from it (although one lawyer who read the book on her holidays castigated me for maligning lawyers too much – I am sure they can take it!).
TheLawMap: You seem to write about life after death with such relaxed humour that I wonder what interested you in the first place to write about such a theme?
My initial ideas were about the frailty of life and the idea of losing your soul in a moment of weakness etc sprang from that. It was initially going to be about dreams and nightmares but it didn’t work, and I couldn’t find a definitive ending. I much prefer the Heaven and Hell backdrop. I never really lose a character no matter what happens to them and it has made readers think about their own mortality and their own beliefs.
TheLawMap: Are you working on another novel as we speak?

Yes, I am working on the sequel. I have had a lot of requests to do so. I am also working on the outline of a crime thriller but don’t tell my wife as she thinks I spend far too long writing!

TheLawMap: What was the last novel you read?
I am currently re-reading Catch 22 which is one of my favourite books. The book before that was “The Wind Though the Keyhole” by Stephen King, which was excellent. I try to alternate between classic literature and something modern & fun.
TheLawMap: If you had one wish to change something within the legal profession, what would it be?

Lawyers should do more pro-bono work. I think it is very important to help represent those around you who may otherwise be precluded from high quality legal advice. There should be a rule that every lawyer who procrastinates about the rights of their clients etc should have to donate a day of their time!

With special thanks to Mark Holmes for his valuable time.

Mark & Mewsli the cat. He has 6 cats!
Mark Holmes says that while he enjoy litigating, pro bono work allows him to keep up his civil litigation skills. Pro bono work has been the most satisfying legal work he has been involved in. He added, 'I hope that doesn’t make me someone too self righteous – I am quite shallow and spend too much time watching Liverpool FC!'

Wishing on Venus is available in 'kindle edition' from Amazon for £0.77. The blurb accompanying the novel reads, 'Wishing on Venus is a novel with the majority of the story divided between Heaven and 21st century Earth. It is a tale based on love and redemption, but the story’s central elements are fast paced adventure coupled with well placed humour. A strong backdrop of characters, a journey through Hell, an unusual serial killer and a well worked vision of the after life add to the book, holding the reader’s interest throughout.'