Bio and News

The Lathrop boys in Australia, c. 1962

Thomas Patrick on the left, John Paul on the right, c. 1962

My brother and I in our Chanel College school uniforms on our front lawn at 4 Thorne Street, Manifold Heights, Geelong, Australia.  About 1962.  Our school was named after St. Peter Chanel, a French missionary of the Marist (Society of Mary) order, who was martyred on Futuna island in French Polynesia in 1841, and canonized in 1954.  The school emblem adorns our blazers in the photograph.  The motto ran: ‘Chanel, through Mary.  The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail.’

I seldom now wear suits, but when I do, I prefer the ties tightly notted, and although neither Thomas nor I remain aligned in any way with the Marists, who can jettison completely their childhood influences?

Parents and childhood

My father, Archibald Lathrop, was born on a dirt farm in Illinois the same year that Johannes Brahms died: 1897.  He served in World War I in the American Expeditionary Force, repairing Sopwith Camel biplanes on airfields in the UK.  Photographs from this era survive, showing a tall, skinny young Yank, standing and grinning next to spectacularly crashed aircraft.

After the war he went to work for Ford Motor at a dollar a day.  During the next two decades he earned an engineering degree and worked himself up from the shop floor to management.  During the Second World War he moved to GM and worked in military production.  At the war’s end, Ford lured him back as an executive in quality control.

That’s when he met my mother, Leta Smith.  Dad and mom c. 1950Born in Trenton, Missouri, in 1918, Leta took a secretarial certificate after High School and high-tailed it to Chicago.  She was working as the executive secretary to the Time Magazine bureau chief when she met my father.  They married in 1950 and my brother and I were born in 1951. 

As small children we shuttled between Chicago and Detroit—my father still climbing the executive ladder at Ford.  Two films from this period made an indelible impression on my mind.  One was The Bridges of Toko-Ri, which, since it was released in 1954, is difficult to believe, but true.  The other was in 1960: George Pal’s film of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  Later that year we moved to Geelong, Australia, where dad was in charge of quality control for Ford Australia.  Anglesea

There I became a reader, first of Wells, then of Dickens–and, of course, of Blyton.  In 1963 Ford prepared us to move to South Africa, but my father suffered a heart attack, and the company doctor forced him into retirement.

We moved to Fresno, California, where he died in 1966.

Military service and university

As a teenager in Fresno I moved gradually through the late Victorian and Edwardian periods: Ibsen, Wilde, Strindberg, Shaw, Bennet and the later Wells.  Does anyone read these authors today? I still have Tono Bungay on the bedside table of my guest room, but in ten years it’s never been opened.  After High School I followed my father’s example and enlisted in the US Air Force.  It was the closing years of the Vietnam War.  I worked in meteorology—weather forecasting—for four years.  I never made it to Asia, instead serving on several bases in the lower 48 and Alaska.  This was the high point of the 70s feminist movement, and I tried to read Virginia Woolf.  By accident, at the old Merced Public Library, I discovered that her husband, Leonard, was the better writer.  I devoured his five volume autobiography.

At the end of my enlistment I left the Service and enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles, earning a BA in English.

In university I became interested in classical music, and began to learn to play the piano.  I gravitated first to the English Virginalist school, then to Bach, becoming absorbed in the burgeoning early music and authentic instrument movement, and built my first instrument, an Italian harpsichord.  At the same time I discovered Maugham, reaching the immediate postwar period.

Expat life

Upon graduating I worked briefly in book publishing in LA, before joining the US Peace Corps as a rural banking volunteer in the southern Philippines.  I spent a year in a village on the edge of the jungle, without electricity or running water, in a province with exactly two Americans.  It was the most difficult and the most formative year of my adult life.  The experience convinced me to pursue a career overseas.

Back in LA I worked for a time with the American Red Cross, then with a hospital training company with a contract in Riyadh.  When it came time to send a representative to the Saudi contractor, I was the only one out of over 400 employees to volunteer.

Needing a portable keyboard, I built a copy of a late 17th century fretted clavichord, and took it with me—possibly the only clavichord ever to have been played in the Arabian peninsula.  I have it still.

I worked in Riyadh in administration for two years, then moved to another training contractor in Jubail, and then for several years to the Saudi Air Base in Dhahran.  Working with the British, I discovered L.P. Hartley and Graham Greene.

In 1989 I moved back to the States and enrolled in graduate school in Glendale, Arizona.  In 1991 I returned to Dhahran during the First Gulf War.  Four years later I met a Canadian manager at the ARAMCO hospital: my future wife, Mariann Befus.  She was a native Albertan: born in Drumheller and raised in Edmonton, with her career in hospital administration in Calgary.  We fell in love.

Canada

We moved to Edmonton in 1998 and to Calgary the next year, and married in 2000.  I became first a landed immigrant, then a Canadian citizen.


Although a literary type, I’ve always been attracted to engineering, and I developed a career as a Linux specialist, writing two books on the subject.  I started a strong line in Linux documentation, and was working, mostly from Calgary, for a San Francisco-based Linux company when my wife fell ill with cancer in late 2005.

She died in 2006.

Novelist

I’d been writing during my spare time for years, and finished my first published novel shortly after my wife’s death.  The Desert Contract, a political thriller, was picked up by my agent in January, 2007, and he sold it, first to John Murray in London, then to Scribner in New York and Canada.

Every writer has literary influences.  Some have suggested a comparison to Le Carré, but I haven’t read him since the 80s.  Greene, Hartley and Ambler were my main influences during the period I wrote and rewrote my first published novel.

In 2007, in the grip of an obsession, I built my second clavichord, a large 1765 model, then immediately moved to Cambodia until April 2008 to gather copy for the next book.  I wanted to write another thriller, but was also influenced by my wife’s death, and the Buddhist environment in Phnom Penh.  Late last year I finished The End of the Monsoon.  It’s now published in the UK.The Lathrop boys, John Paul now on the left, with Eva Dog Befus, at Water Valley, Alberta, Canada, 2010

Above, the Lathrop boys, John Paul now on the left, with Eva Dog Befus, at Water Valley, Alberta, Canada, 2010.  The white specks are snow–in mid-March.

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