Author Interview: Peter Holland / Benjamin Squirrell and the Hadleigh Workhouse



JMR-Welcome to the Books Delight, Peter. Tell our readers where you live, what you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?

PH- Hello and thank you for interviewing me. I have lived in Hadleigh, Suffolk, for four years, having been born and lived most of my life in London. I did live for almost a year in Chicago in the early 1980s, but that’s another story…Five years ago I stopped doing ‘normal’ work after 30 years as a high school teacher and eight years in business. It may not always be ‘fun’ but I like to keep fit and healthy, so exercise with a short jog and some gym work once or twice a week, but mostly walking our 20 months-old border collie, Hunter. He will happily cover 7-8 miles a day, so visiting strategically placed cafes enhances these excursions, adding an element of fun and enjoyment.

JMR-What’s your favorite historical time period? Why?

PH- Early modern (1500-1800). Although medieval and some 20th century as well. I loved teaching early modern to students aged 12-14. There are so many great elements; the Tudors and Reformation, English Civil War, Industrial Revolution, to name but a few. After finishing teaching history at high school, I indulged myself by doing an MA in the early modern history, which led to me attempting to write historical fiction.

JMR-Who is your favorite historical figure? Why? If you could ask them one question, what would it be?

PH- Hmm, so many, but probably either of the Cromwells (Thomas or Oliver). Question: Did you regret…?

JMR- How did you come to be a writer of historical fiction?

PH- I’ve touched on that above when I did an MA and thought about something I learnt making a good story. It was also inspired by a short holiday to Istanbul four years ago. As part of the MA we did a unit about the struggle for power in the Mediterranean, and I became curious to learn more about the Ottoman Empire. Standing inside the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine Cathedral built in the 7th century, took my breath away. I became more and more interested, and it inspired my first two novels about the white slave trade.

JMR- Did you visit anyone of the places in your book? Where did you feel closest to your characters?

PH- My latest novel, Benjamin Squirrell and the Hadleigh Workhouse, it is set here in the small town in which I live, so many of the places are evocative of what happens in the novel. I particularly like the large willow tree by the River Brett, where I begin chapter one. The Guildhall that accommodated the town’s workhouse is in the centre of the town and I walk past it most days. Along one side the tiny windows are about ten feet from the ground and still have the bars that would have prevented inmates from escaping.

JMR- Peter, tell us about your new book, Benjamin Squirrell and the Hadleigh Workhouse.

PH- Unlike my first three novels, which are set in the 17th century, Ben Squirrell is set at the end of the 18th in 1793. My MA dissertation was about the town workhouse and how it was distinct. In February 2020 I gave a talk about the subject at the local library, at which several people suggested my next novel should be set in the town’s workhouse. A month later Covid arrived and I set about planning and writing. I was time-rich and completed the first draft in November. My fictional account of what could happen if the workhouse master was corrupt and immoral was inspired by the real case of the Andover Workhouse Scandal in 1840, which led to changes in the law regarding the management of workhouses.

JMR-What projects do you have in the pipeline?

PH- Right now, I’m trying to explore ways of promoting Ben Squirrell, so thank you again for this interview. I have started a sequel, set twelve years later in 1805, so some of the characters from Ben Squirrell can be included. A new development is the inclusion of a young Jewish boy who escapes from the Russian Pale Settlement with his parents. They hope to get to London’s East End, where they have family, or even New York. But having got to Kalingrad and then Amsterdam, they reach Harwich, Essex, on England’s east coast. The young boy, Abie, becomes orphaned on the road to London, and is taken  to Hadleigh’s workhouse, after a spell in the town’s Pest House. Early days and there’s no hurry… 

I also spend quite a bit of time helping others with getting their novels ship-shape, with proof reading and editing.

JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on social media and the web.

PH- I am on FB, Twitter and Instagram, although I don’t use them as much as I should. My books are all to be found on the publisher website,, as well as ebooks through Amazon/Kindle

JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?

PH- “Do you mind if I recommend your novel to the CEO of Netflix as a must for a blockbuster movie?”

JMR- Best Answer! Thanks for a great chat Peter and good luck with your writing. Readers, I've included a link to Peter's Book on Amazon. I have not yet read Benjamin Squirrell but I did read Peter's book, Susan Bounty which I thought was really good! I will post a review soon!


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