Author Interviews

* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com), including author spotlights, guest posts, book reviews, flash fiction or poetry - new items posted 6am UK time Monday to Saturday and writing exercises at 6pm very weekday.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Author interview no.86: Matt Hilton (revisited)


Welcome to the eighty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, short story authors, poets, bloggers, scriptwriters, autobiographers and more. Today's is with crime / action thriller novelist (who dips into horror) Matt Hilton. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hi Matt. Thank you for joining me. Can you please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Matt: Like many other authors I started young. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a book, a pen or pencils in hand, and as early as eight years old I was drawing comic strips, and movie storyboards with a view for when I set up my own movie making business. Sadly that idea didn’t come to pass, but I’d got the writing bug and continued jotting down stories, attempting my first “novel” at around ten or eleven years old. Back then I was a huge fan of Willard Price, whose globe-trotting brothers Hal and Roger Hunt would bring animals back alive – for conservation purposes only. When Price died and I realised there’d be no more books in the series, I took it on myself to write the next one. I called it ‘Antarctic Adventure’ and was very proud of it. It was dreadful: I had polar bears and penguins sharing the ice-flows, but to a ten year old it didn’t really matter. I progressed to writing a teenage coming-of-age novel at about thirteen years old, called “Aggro”, and still have the original hand-written novel to this day. When I look back at it now I realise it was actually the ‘ideal world’ seen through the eyes of my thirteen-year-old self and not the most realistic of tales. Still, I look back on it with affection, as it was my first attempt at a serious book. From then on I switched to writing heroic fantasy and horror tales, before finding my bailiwick in crime / action thrillers. Six complete, but unpublished novels sat on my computer before I managed to hook a publishing deal. My first published novel was Dead Men’s Dust – the first in my Joe Hunter thriller series, and since then I’ve completed another seven in the series. The sixth book, called Dead Men’s Harvest is due for publication in mid-August 2011.
Morgen: “I took it upon myself” – I love that. :) And you were so young (I was late 30s when I returned to writing properly but guess I have a wiser brain now). :) What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Matt: I’m contracted to write crime / action thrillers but I really can’t deny my roots and often dip into horror and weird stories for my own entertainment. Recently I’ve had a gritty crime short as well as a zombie short story published in different anthologies. I also enjoy writing humorous crime shorts, spooky stories, ironic tales and slice of life stories. I have an idea, then I have to get it down on paper (or the computer screen as it happens). Between the Joe Hunter books, I like to clear my head, and often work on other novels in progress. I’ve a YA horror book, an adult horror / adventure novel set against the Fall of France, and an apocalyptical horror / thriller all on the boil at the same time. When I go back to writing my latest contracted book, it is with a fresh outlook and a new enthusiasm.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Matt: I’ve a number of short stories – usually under pen names – dotted around the various sites on the internet, and a few articles in magazines, but discounting them I have five books in my Joe Hunter series on the shelves to date, with more due for release. I’ve a short called ‘The Skin We’re In’ in Even More Tonto Short Stories (Tonto Books) - which will also appear in next year’s Mammoth Book of Best British Crime -, a short called ‘Apocalypse Noo’ in Holiday of the Dead (Wild Wolf Publishing), and also a short called ‘Splitting Heirs’ in ‘S- Magazine’. I’m incredibly lucky to have two huge publishing houses handling my Joe Hunter series. Hodder and Stoughton publish the British editions, while Harper Collins publish them in the US.
Morgen: Yep, they’re huge.
Matt: Some of the books have been translated into German, Italian, Romanian and Bulgarian, so there are various editions of the books out there in the world. The first time I saw a copy on the bookshelves was in my home town branch of Waterstone’s. They supported me massively and I launched the book there. It was a very surreal and humbling moment and I still get a thrill any time I see the latest book on the shelves.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Matt: Marketing is a very important aspect of the modern author’s working day. Unless you’re already a massive bestselling star, it is incredibly difficult to win ‘shelf space’ in any of the major retail outlets, even with huge publishing houses behind you. So it’s an uphill struggle to establish your brand, and have your name recognised by the book purchasing public. Both my major publishers put a lot of work into getting my books into the shops, but it’s equally important that I do all the marketing I possibly can do to spread the word. I do all the usual stuff; blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, guest blogging etc, as well as attending various crime fiction festivals like Thrillerfest, Bouchercon, Crimefest and Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate. Then there are library events, book shop events, radio and TV interviews – and answering loads of personal emails from fans. I feel it’s incredibly important to engage with my readers, and in my opinion, there’s no publicity as good as word of mouth. I probably spend as much time on the marketing as I do the writing of the books.
Morgen: I'm spending more at the moment... note to self: spend more time writing. :) Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Matt: Before I was published, I entered a ‘Have your novel published’ competition through Writers’ Forum magazine, and was placed in the shortlist, though I didn’t win. Then I was shortlisted in another novel writing competition through the Eden Arts Project (a local authority scheme to help promote artists and writers in the north west of England), though I didn’t win. My first published novel – Dead Men’s Dust – was shortlisted for the ITW Best New Novel 2009 Award, though I didn’t win. There’s a bit of a pattern there if you look closely!
Morgen: Inspiration to those starting out, although you did begin early so had a head start. :)
Matt: I think awards are important, and can help an author’s career – but they’re not imperative. There are many amazing books and writers out there who will never win awards, but they do win legions of readers. In my case, the entering and being shortlisted was as much a boost to my career. It told me I was doing something right, but also something wrong. I’ve tried to take this on board as a philosophy of my writing, in order to take something positive away from losing three times on the trot.
Morgen: Or coming a close second (or so)? :) Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Matt: I was fortunate to grab the interest of Luigi Bonomi of Luigi Bonomi Associates, who did sign me up. I’m indebted to Luigi, who secured deals for me that were beyond my wildest dreams. So yes, I believe agents are vital to an author’s success. Without his input I’d probably still be unpublished. Sadly, these days, publishing houses do not accept unsolicited submissions, and do not have in-house readers any more to go through submissions and rely on agents to send them only the best (read as most commercial). Agents act as clearing houses, so without an agent’s representation you’re highly unlikely to get a publishing deal following the traditional publishing formats. However, you don’t need to be agented to succeed in other ways. Some authors are forgoing the agent / author partnership these days to do it alone through print on demand or e-books. If pushed for an answer, I’d say try to get an agent first.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Matt: First off, I’m a Luddite in some respects. I still have CDs instead of MP3s and Ipods, DVDs instead of Blu-ray, and loathe the idea of e-book readers. However, I’m also astute enough to recognise that it’s the way of the future and to be left behind by advances in technology would be very unwise. Thankfully my books are published in e-books and are available through the usual avenues. I’ve even thought about placing some of my short stories and previously unpublished novels out as Kindle downloads, but as yet haven’t taken the plunge. I’m a traditionalist in more ways than one, and prefer paper books over plastic books any time. But if this new technology gets more people reading, which I believe it has, then I’m all for it.
Morgen: I agree although I have an eReader that I hardly use (because I travel little) which I suspected would be the case so bought the cheapest one going. Hopefully this’ll change but with so many pBooks (as paperbacks are now being called) to read at home already it may be a while. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Matt: My first ‘real’ acceptance was with my first Joe Hunter thriller. Personally I still feel a thrill when I think back on it. At the time I was still working as a policeman in Cumbria, and unbeknown to me, my agent had put the book to auction and a bidding deal was under way between five publishing houses. I got home after a hard shift to many missed phone calls from my agent, desperate for an answer. I won’t go into details, but it was for big money and five books. It was unreal, unbelievable, but also the most exciting time of my life. I more or less decided to give up my career as a police officer on the spot. Acceptance is still a thrill. But it’s also frightening. When I complete a novel and send it to the publishers, it’s still a nerve-racking wait to find out if they’re happy with the latest book. There are never any guarantees. Each book must stand on its own merits, and it’s like submitting for the first time all over again. Since completing the five-book contract, I’ve been back to the same situation again – twice – but have been fortunate to snag deals up to book nine in the series. But it goes on. When book nine’s written, I’m back to wondering, hoping and praying for another deal – like everyone else. It’s scary, and the fear doesn’t lessen.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Matt: Dozens! Prior to getting a deal I completed seven crime / thriller novels, all of which remain unpublished. I have been turned down on more occasions than I can truly recall. But I just forged on. I looked at rejections as being one person’s opinion only. Being shortlisted in those competitions I mentioned earlier helped push me. I also took on board any comments or criticisms I received back from the agents and publishers I approached, and tried to put their concerns right in my next book. Rejection is part of the business, and you can’t get hung up on it or take things personally. You just have to keep on keeping on.
Morgen: Absolutely and you’re a great example. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Matt: I have a strange writing routine. Because two different houses, with different publication schedules, publish me it’s not unusual for me to be working on various books at the same time. For instance, as I write this, I’m also working on a re-write of Joe Hunter eight (See: even published authors get rejected. My editor wants a major re-write of the book after disliking my first and second efforts), thinking about Joe Hunter nine, while editing and proofing book seven for the British market, and editing and proofing book four for the US market. It can get a little confusing. Add to that the fact I’m also writing the aforementioned horror / thriller Apocalypse novel, as well as having two Joe Hunter short stories to pen for an upcoming e-book collection and you can imagine I’m kind of busy at the present. But I love it. Even if / when I’m not contracted I can’t foresee a day when I won’t be writing (God willing).
Morgen: Hopefully all serious writers are like that, published or otherwise. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Matt: I try to write something every day. It’s not always possible due to the marketing we talked about earlier, but I guess you’d call me compulsive. I have to write, or I feel I haven’t lived. When I am working, I try to get to the computer in the early morning and work to about mid-day, before taking a couple hours off to spend with my wife and family. But in the late afternoon I come back to the computer again and it’s not unusual for me to be still there late in the evening. I write furiously, and aim to write at least one to two chapters at each sitting. I’m in the fortunate position that I do not have to hold down a full-time job, and my children are now grown and independent, so I do have more time to commit to my writing than many other authors.
Morgen: I'm luckier than many that I only work part-time and 99% of the rest is spent writing-related but not as much time as I should to the actual writing (see earlier note to self) although I seem to manage it when I have a deadline or things like NaNoWriMo or StoryADayMay roll around. :) What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Matt: There are times when I struggle for ideas or for the right words, but what I do in those instances is step away from my current project and go and write one of the others. I am usually able to bash on, and then subliminally work on the problem with the first project. When I return to it, my ‘block’ has disappeared and off I go again. The worst thing any author can do is sit looking at a blank screen or book. Even if what you write is a load of old rubbish, just get it down. It will keep you moving and your mind working, and re-enthuse you.
Morgen: Because you can’t edit a blank screen / page. :) Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Matt: You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m pretty much a “write by the seat of the pants” type of guy. I’m quite visual and play scenes through my mind’s eye and go with the direction my imagination takes me. I often have a germ of an idea, a phrase, a scene, and run with it. I find plotting and structuring to be far too stifling for my imagination and prepare to go with it. I think of my writing style as being “organic” and it’s like a wild shoot that grows finding its own way to the sunlight (or the end of the book). I’ve tried planning in the past but find that the spontaneity has been lost and find that I’m then writing by numbers. I prefer to begin at the beginning and write to the end, then I go back (a number of times) to flesh out the story, cull the rubbish and tie up any hanging plot threads. There’s no right or wrong way to write; it’s more a case of what suits you as an individual. The downside of my style of writing is that sometimes you can find you’ve written yourself into a blind alley, and you have no idea where to go from there. Then it’s about backtracking a few pages to a place where a new angle will take you.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Matt: I don’t have a method per se: the characters just come to me usually. Sometimes it’s from a name or an image…or I steal names from the telephone directory. I did once see a photo of a vagrant with pale skin and lank hair and floppy hat. From that one glance I had a demented contract killer who suffered from the skin complaint vitiligo, who fancied himself a fallen angel – or Duke of hell – called Dantalion. In the action-oriented style of book I write I do rely a bit on suspension of disbelief, and the characters can be seen as a little exaggerated (the way they are in action thriller movies), but I do try to ground my hero and his close associates in the real world. I think that a larger than life villain is necessary, without falling into parody, so I do tend to big up their ‘bad traits’.
Morgen: Normality would be dull. :) Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Matt: My wife doesn’t necessarily read my books first, but hers is the ear that my writing falls on constantly as I’m writing a book. She helps me with ideas and critiques when she thinks I’ve got something totally wrong. So I guess, without having read the books, she knows all there is to know about them and can probably recite them from memory. Next though, my agent and his wife (also an in-house reader at LBA for the record) are the next people to see my rough drafts. Their advice is invaluable and I will always follow their hints to get the book to a more than acceptable standard before sending it on to my publisher. When I receive the books back in a proof copy form, my father is always the first to grab the book and read it. He’s become a big Joe Hunter fan.
Morgen: LBA? Ah yes, your agency. I have a boss who is a voracious reader and has given me some feedback on one of my books (the big chick lit despite preferring historical thrillers!). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Matt: I edit a lot. The book goes through various stages of editing at my end, then my agent’s reader does a line edit, and after that it goes to my editor at the publishing house. Another line edit then happens (sometimes with suggestions for a re-write here and there), then it goes to the copy editor, before final proofs are made – which again has to be edited and checked for printing errors and final typos. With the best will in the world, some glitches do creep in. By the time I’ve read the book around twenty times, I think I’ve hit a stage where I see what I expect to see rather than what is actually there. Extra or fresh sets of eyes can help here. But, to backtrack a little: Yes, I’ve learned a lot now that I’m writing the eighth book in the series and have come to recognise what my publisher requires, as well as better understanding the house style etc., so there are less problems these days when I deliver a manuscript.
Morgen: Twenty? Wow. I’d had enough (of mine, I hasten to add) by full edit number four. You’re bound to be more practiced now. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Matt: Three mugs of coffee, two or three cigarettes. A quick check for urgent emails, and then off I go.
Morgen: I’m more of a tea person and not such a quick check (I’m rubbish at turning it off). Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Matt: These days I write directly on to computer. I tried laptops, but they were awkward when holding a mug of coffee in one hand and a ciggie in the other, so I’ve gone back to a desk with a Mac computer.
Morgen: Yay! I’m a Mac owner too and would never go back to a PC. I love Apple's adverts and could watch (actually have done) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QseVo71qYKY over and over (and over) again. :)
Matt: Once over though it was always pen and paper.
Morgen: Me too. And I can’t use a pencil. The only time I do is when I draw something (and it’s been too long since I’ve done any of that) – could be something to do with thinking that it’ll rub out too easily and I’ll lose my precious ideas.
Matt: I still have reams of short stories lying around the house in various jotters and A4 pads and ring binders. These days I believe it’s necessary to write on a computer though, as it certainly helps with the process of sending alterations to manuscripts to my publishers etc. I now do all my line edits for my US publisher via email. I very rarely even print a doc these days. A sign of the times? Certainly better for the rain forests.
Morgen: Ah, I make up for it (loads of ring binders). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Matt: I apparently have an odd writing style. I use first person past tense to narrate from Joe Hunter’s point of view, but use third person past tense to show the villain’s. I love first person in that it can be used to encourage pace and urgency, but it does also have its downside in that it sometimes comes across a little “me, myself and I”. Also, first person has the inherent problem of only being able to show what the narrator sees, hears’ or does.
Morgen: I’ve heard a few times (from podcasts, chatting with agents and other authors at the recent Winchester Writers’ Festival) that first person has been popular but is becoming overused (certainly present tense).
Matt: I think the mix of first and third person POV works well for me, and it has become somewhat of a trademark of my style. I did try writing one Hunter book completely in third person, but it just didn’t ring true to me. The voice was off. So, basically, I rewrote the Hunter chapters in first and it was much better.
Morgen: I think it’s a great formula (it’s working in your ‘Cut and run’ that I’m reading at the moment and am really enjoying - I'm even reading it while walking the dog / to & from work :)). One of my former tutor’s novels (Judith Allnatt’s A Mile of River - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mile-River-Judith-Allnatt/dp/0385613067) is alternate first and third person and it works really well. Third person gives you an overview then first person gets inside one of the character’s head and you see what’s really going on.
Matt: For my other books, that is the horror books I am working on, these are both third person past tense, but I’m OK with them as they are different voices than Hunter’s, and with larger casts of characters. Second person, and present tense are both styles I struggle with. Funnily, I struggle to read them as well.
Morgen: I’m not really surprised. I love the second person but it’s really a short piece point of view. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Matt: Oh, yes! Hundreds. Many of my jottings are vignettes, or anecdotal comments and would never see publication. I’ve also a couple of novels that I now know are sub par, but I do have some that might require only a quick tidy up and modernisation to bring them up to speed. I’ve two crime novels, a supernatural thriller, and a horror thriller set against WWII that I hope to one day see on the shelves or – Damnit! – published as e-books. Dozens of short stories too.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Matt: My favourite is the creative aspects, that feeling you get when you’re in full flow and the words are charging from your fingertips with such pace that you can hardly keep up. I also love meeting and engaging with my readers, though I am modest and shy when doing so. But it’s a great sensation when you’ve touched someone enough for them to take time out to come and tell you they enjoyed reading your work. The part I hate most is when you are held to ransom by the major chains and supermarkets, and not given the best chance of succeeding, when they’d rather stock the latest z-celebrity autobiography (now there’s a misnomer if ever I heard one) over work that authors have truly grafted over. One major retailer – who will remain nameless – said “We won’t support Matt Hilton until we see how he does”. Where is the logic in that? Sadly it is an aspect of ‘the writing game’ and something I’ve just to grin and bear with. Oh, and nasty, for the sake of it, reviewers who try their hardest to be personal about an author’s writing: what purpose do they serve? We all need constructive criticism, it’s how we grow and get better. But when people ‘trash talk’ it does not help the author, the reader or anyone else. It simply swells their little empire of hate that growing in their own heads. I don’t like them. I’m all for supporting authors. Even if I positively did not like their books, I’d only ever try to give positive, constructive feedback to help them grow.
Morgen: Absolutely. It’s how much writing group works. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Matt: The friendship, camaraderie and support I’ve received from fellow authors. I admit that I thought it would be a world of guarded secrets and backstabbing, but it’s quite the opposite. I’ve made many firm friends; who’d have thought that crime writers would turn out to be about the nicest, most open and friendly people you’re likely to meet? (Possibly ever genre writer says the same thing about theirs).
Morgen: That surprised me too (not sure why). I recently interviewed crime novelist Adrian Magson and he said that in his wealth of experience, business industries would never be like that. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Matt: Never give up. It took me the best part of thirty years to crack the rejection cycle.
Morgen: I’ve got c. 25 years to go then. :)
Matt: But if your writing is good, sooner or later someone will notice. I would also like to tell people that I am not educated beyond secondary school level, have no formal writing qualifications, did not know anyone in publishing, and live in one of the most remote areas of England, about as far away from London as you can get: so please use me as an inspiration. If I can do it, then anyone can.
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Matt: I read all sorts. I’ve even been known to read the ingredients on a tube of toothpaste when nothing else has been to hand.
Morgen: Two other interviewees and I have mentioned cereal boxes. :)
Matt: But I guess you’re referring to genres. I read mainly American style crime thrillers, suspense and mystery. But at the moment I’m also reading quite a lot of horror. Being a published author, I receive books from publishers for quote or review, so I tend to read a lot of debut novels. But I like that. I discover new authors to follow all the time. Plus, there’s a sense of supporting your colleagues, so I also read lots of books by my contemporaries.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related books that you find useful and would recommend?
Matt: Stephen Kings’ On Writing is one of the finest books penned on the writing game.
Morgen: This book has been the most mentioned guide in these interviews. I’ve owned it for months and have never done more than dipping. The last person to mention it was Shaun Allan and that got it from the bookcase to my bedside – hopefully this nudge will get me to start reading it. :) And writing-related websites?
Matt: I tend not to go to websites these days, but there are some great ones available. There are many genre related sites in the web and blogosphere that publish / post aspiring authors’ work, and these are a massive leap towards publication these days. Many anthologies cull the sites for gems, and I know that some literary agents are now taking note, reading the sites, and contacting authors they’ve read there. There are so many it would be unfair of me to mention just a few. I even co-edit a blog-zine called Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers, and if anyone would like to take a nosey it can be found at http://thrillskillsnchills.blogspot.com were there are also links to many other writing and fiction related sites.
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Matt: As I mentioned, I’m based in the north of England. Because I’m fortunate to be published internationally, I am well represented most places. However, when I look at the traffic coming to my website and various on-line presences, it does mainly come from the UK, USA and Australia. It’s a big, big world, out there and still a lot of it to be conquered, I guess.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Matt: I blog, Wordpress, Facebook, Tweet, and have a website. But I’m also a member of other forums on the net as well. It can sometimes be time consuming to update all the networking sites all the time, but it is very helpful in engaging with readers and fellow authors and such. I’ve made many ‘digital’ friends over the last few years, and their support has been unprecedented.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Matt: http://www.matthiltonbooks.com is my website, while I blog at http://matthiltonbooks.blogspot.com , and can be found on Facebook here http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1418086006 and here http://www.facebook.com/pages/Joe-Hunter-Crime-Thrillers/153735557978125 and Joe Hunter has his blog here http://joehunterbooks.wordpress.com  while my Twitter account can be found under @MHiltonauthor
I even have a site for my horror alter ego here http://vallonjacksonbooks.wordpress.com.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Matt: For writers it’s the same as ever. We’ll keep on writing. But for published authors, I believe we’re on the cusp of a revolution. E-books, love them or hate them, will shape the way forward, as will other new forms of technology. There is now a generation of readers who have grown up reading from hand-held devices, so its apparent that they are going to be most comfortable with this medium. If anything, texting, tweeting etc. has probably done more to lower illiteracy than anything else in history (education notwithstanding), where people who would never before have picked up a pen and paper to willingly write about their lives, dreams, desires, do so on their mobile devices. OK, the spelling’s shocking for the most part, but at least they’re learning to read and write.
Morgen: Yes, a mixed bag alright. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Matt: I’d like to thank you for your kindness and interest, and for the opportunity to speak to and engage with your readers. And thanks for those readers who stuck with my rambling. Hope I helped answer a couple of things that you’ve been wondering about.
Morgen: Thank you, I know how busy you must be so am so grateful for you taking part.
Matt then returned on 10th August for part 2:

Morgen: Matt, as you know I’m reading ‘Cut and run’, and am about half-way through (started last weekend but the likes of work keeps getting in the way :) ), so I’d like to ask you a few questions based on what I’ve read so far, if you don’t mind, and without giving too much away…‘Cut and run’ isn’t a term I’d really heard of before but Wikipedia tells me it’s a war / battle term. For me it also describes the main antagonist’s brutal tactics. Was it a title you chose or did your agent / publisher have an influence? How involved are you with your titles / covers?
Matt: Titles are always the most difficult part of writing the book for me. Something I have to consider is house style and brand. For each of my books I set a standard with a three-word title, and it has become expected of me to continue in the same vein. So basically I look for something that is short, concise and easily recalled and – forgive the cliché – but says exactly what’s in the tin.
Morgen: Absolutely forgiven, I use that one myself. :)
Matt: With Cut and Run I did choose it for its military connotation, but also for the act of cutting your losses and then disappearing, which is what Luke Rickard attempts to do. I’ve stayed with the three-word title for the other books in the series but have broken the something AND something mould with book six. I was in danger of having Joe Hunter in Fish and Chips, or Salt and Vinegar if I wasn’t careful.
Morgen: There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s… sorry, couldn’t resist, although I wouldn’t mind having Joe at my local chippy. :)
Matt: My agent and editors all have in put to the titles, but we always choose one that keeps everyone happy (usually that means THE PUBLISHER).
Morgen: :) You live in Britain and yet this seems to be really realistic America (although I must admit I’ve never been over the ‘pond’) – how do you make it authentic? Are all the Joe Hunter books set in the US?
Matt: With the exception of Dead Men’s Dust, Cut and Run and in a small part of the upcoming Dead Men’s Harvest, the action does take place in the USA. I chose to send Joe off to America because of the huge and diverse landscape on offer, plus the opportunities for action and adventure were much better than if I set the books here in the UK. We all accept a Hollywood idea of America (in the UK) where we can believe that incidents like those in the Joe Hunter books could happen. The suspension of disbelief factor is easier to overcome, when the books are set in a fantastical version of the USA. Much of the humour in the books comes from the fact that Joe is an Englishman abroad. So any mistakes there in are his and not mine.
Morgen: That’s true, I like that. :)
Matt: Seriously, though, I do research as I go and use Google Earth quite a lot. I like to add local flavour and idiosyncrasies and these can only be found by researching much deeper or by talking to the American people themselves. I have been to the US on a number of occasions now, and funnily enough find it to be very much a home from home. I do sometimes get into a muddle with my US editor who doesn’t always understand Joe’s British ways or his slang. I often have a chuckle to myself when receiving queries from America asking what exactly I mean by such terms as ‘Wind your neck in,’ and such like.
Morgen: I email a fellow Litopian Thomas Tyler (hi TT!) and every now and then he asks me what I mean by something – the latest was ‘jacket potato’ (potato cooked with its skin on – best done in the oven rather than microwave so the skin’s crispier… it’s only 8.30am but I could eat one now… sour cream, hot butter… mmm… Sorry, you were saying.
Matt: We both speak English, but it’s a totally different language that doesn’t always translate. I write Joe in a very ironic way, a bit tongue in cheek and self-deprecating, but to my American readers, they hear egotism. Odd.
Morgen: I think however you right two people will get different interpretation, I guess you know your character best so have to be true to him. Your book is packed with technicalities (without being too overwhelming), how much research did you have to do (do you do ongoing)? Which leads me perhaps to a dreaded question: have you ever received feedback from your readers pointing out inaccuracies – and was he/she right? :)
Matt: I research as I go and try to lift technical details from the official websites and such. But sometimes you can slip up. I did have a guy tell me words to the effect of “It’s a Ninety-Two Hyphen F, not a Ninety Hyphen Two F,’ and another who told me a helicopter couldn’t actually perform a loop. He was referring to performing a full circle on a vertical plane – a loop-the-loop – whereas I was only referring to the helicopter making a half circle round an object and then returning to its starting point. But I’m happy with this, as it means that the reader is taking note, and what more can I ask?
Morgen: Absolutely. I can’t wait for mine. :)
Matt: I’ve made the old faux pas of having my character ‘flick the safety off their Glock’, which aggravates gun aficionados because the Glock has an internal double-action trigger type safety (try saying that three times quickly)…
Morgen: internal double-action trigger type safety… internal double-action trigger type safety… internal double-action trigger type safety… sorry you did ask, and yes, I cheated by copying / pasting. :)
Matt: …but is often mentioned in books. I probably read the same somewhere and trusted that the author got it right. I don’t try to go heavy-handed with the technical stuff, but for some thriller readers they kind of expect to read about the weaponry and stuff, so I only pepper the books with such detail where necessary.
Morgen: ‘Pepper’, that’s funny. You dedicate this book to your mother Valerie – has she read it and if so, did she like it? My mum hates my ‘darker’ stuff (she’s a Pam Ayres light and fluffy reader :) ).
Matt: My mam has read it and said she liked it. But then again, she would, wouldn’t she?
Morgen: :) And I wonder if she got half-way (as I am now) and wondered if Joe and Imogen would get together.:) I love the Sophocles quote at the beginning (which is repeated later within the story – page 122 to be exactly; did I say in part 1 that I’m a nerd? – I do have a habit of writing down bits I like, as I’m sure other writers do) along with another quote from Ghandi – are there any rules, that you’re aware of, for using quotations in novels?
Matt: You have to be careful because some quotes are copyrighted. Particularly if you are quoting words from a song or from another person’s work you should check for rights or ask for permission to use the quote. I try to only use quotes that are copyright free or are in common usage and freely available (or that the quote is from someone dead for many years who won’t sue me).
Morgen: I’m pretty sure you’re safe them with Sophocles. :) Was it fun having your characters do martial arts moves (according to the back cover of ‘Cut and Run’ you’re a 4th Dan black-belt at ju-jitsu)? Are there other autobiographical aspects of you in your books?
Matt: Yeah, I practice all the moves he does in the books on my long-suffering wife, looking for the most impactive and devastating moves in my arsenal. Only kidding. I have a vast knowledge of martial arts and unarmed combat to draw on, but I try to keep Joe’s skills to the brutal and effective end of the spectrum. I envisage the moves in my mind as I’m writing them, ensuring that they would be feasible under the circumstances.
Morgen: I’m the same. If a character is doing something I can always write it better / easier if I do the moves, although I have to say none of them have been martial yet. :)
Matt: A ‘real’ fight isn’t always what you imagine it to be, or as it’s often shown in movies. Most fights last seconds and involve a lot of grunting, swearing, hanging on and rolling around on the floor.
Morgen: :)
Matt: These wouldn’t be attractive in a book, so I fancy them up a bit, but always with correct application and effectiveness in mind. I’m not a tough guy, but I’ve been in many scrapes over the years while working as a cop and in security, and also fighting in full contact martial arts tournaments, so I do know what it’s like to hit or be hit. The latter hurts much more! The other thing I share with Joe is his love of coffee, his allegiance and love of family, and his interest in old forms of music. Joe likes the original Rhythm and Blues, while I lean more to Rockabilly and Rock’n'Roll, but sometimes those styles intermix.
Morgen: Joe Hunter is a killer with a conscience. How important was it for you for him to be like that? It is one of the things I find really endearing about him and I notice is highlighted in your You Tube video for ‘Dead Man’s Dust’.
Matt: He had to be given a conscience otherwise he would have been no better than those he goes up against. I think it’s important to show that he has staunch morals and a sense of right and wrong, and also lines which he won’t step over. It’s another thing that I share with him. But, for the record, I’ve never carried out any vigilante action “Joe style”!
Morgen: I’ll resist making reference to the shameful riots that are currently going on in this country. Is the Joe from your book covers and You Tube video how you envisaged him when you were writing him? And the voice?
Matt: I try not to describe what Joe looks like and prefer to leave it to the reader’s imagination. Because of the job he was in (Spec Ops) it was imperative that he was just the ‘Everyman’ so that he could blend in. I have a hazy image of him in my mind’s eye that might not fit with another reader’s idea. It’s funny how some readers often ask who I’d like to play Joe if there was ever a movie and I turn the question back on them. Suggestions of many different and diverse looking actors come through. In regards Joe’s voice: I say he comes from Manchester, but he also spent most of his adult life in the strict rigidity of the military, not to mention spending the last four years or so in the US. So he’ll have a cosmopolitan accent. In some audio versions I’ve heard they have Joe speaking with a quasi-Liam or -Noel Gallagher accent, while in others he is your typical ‘Voice Over Man’, neither of which is the voice I have in my head. I certainly don’t think of Joe as ‘Probably the best vigilante in the world’ (if you get the Carlsberg reference?).
Morgen: I live in Carlsberg’s UK head office town so I do, very much. :) Sorry Liam and Noel but they’re voices have always seemed a ‘soft’ to me… not Joe Hunter at all. TV presenter (of ‘Top Gear’ amongst others) Richard Hammond and Chris Ryan have both recommended your book – how did you find out that they’d read it? Can you recommend how an author can seek to get reviews like this?
Matt: The first I knew that either had read and subsequently blurbed my books was when my Editor / agent told me. I was over the moon at both. Other great authors have also offered blurbs, such as Peter James, Simon Kernick, Adrian Magson and Christopher Reich for which I’m also very grateful.
Morgen: Ah, Adrian. He’s great isn’t he (as the others are of course) but it was Adrian who put me in touch with you. :)
Matt: As an author you get to meet many of your peers and literary heroes. It’s a case of ask and ye may receive in this case. If anyone is looking for a quote, a polite approach by email or letter is generally the norm. Then wait, and don’t be pushy, and most authors are very generous and often will be happy to help.
Morgen: I have heard that so am writing a list of mine. :) This is the fourth of a published series of five how many do you have planned for the series? And how do you keep all the threads going (one thing I struggled with when writing novels)?
Matt: Following ‘Cut and Run’ is ‘Blood and Ashes’, which has recently been published in paperback…
Morgen: I saw it in the library last week. :)
Matt: …and next week on 18th August the sixth in the series is out in hardback. This is a loose sequel to ‘Dead Men’s Dust’ in which one of Joe’s greatest and deadliest enemies makes a return. It’s called ‘Dead Men’s Harvest’ and there’s a clue in the title for anyone who’s been following the series. ‘No Going Back’ – book seven – follows next Spring, with the as yet untitled book eight coming later in the year. I’ve finished writing book eight now and am about to make a start on book nine. I’m currently contracted to book nine in the series, but hopefully if the readers get behind Joe’s adventures there’ll be many more.
Morgen: …to use your earlier quote: “and why wouldn’t they?” :)
Matt: As long as people keep liking them I’ll keep on writing further Joe Hunter books. Also coming in the spring of 2012 will be a collection of Joe Hunter short short stories called Six of the Best.
Morgen: Yay! I love short stories. Yay!
Matt: At the moment the plan is to make them available as ebooks on Kindle etc, but there might be a paper version at some time. Perhaps I’ll do a longer collection further down the line as well.
Morgen: Double yay! :)
Matt: I’d also like to do a couple stand-alone books, and maybe one with Jared ‘Rink’ Rington (Joe’s pal from the series) in the spotlight.
Morgen: Oh I love Rink! :)
Matt: Keeping all the threads on the go isn’t as difficult as it seems, but I do have to occasionally go back and check what I said in previous books.
Morgen: All my novels have been different (I say “all” there have only been four) so it must be easier (or maybe not) writing with the same characters in each one.
Matt: I’m pretty sure Joe had blue eyes in the first book, brown eyes in the second, and now has blue/brown eyes dependent on his mood – but I’d have to check.
Morgen: uh oh.
Matt: I try to keep to the same details as I’ve added along the way, but of course also like to see characters change and develop along the way. Life experiences can have a big impact on the living and it should be the same for fictional characters.
Morgen: Spoiler alert…
Matt: Losing Kate in ‘Slash and Burn’ and then meeting up with Imogen in ‘Cut and Run’ was a natural progression, and also the events that occur at the end of ‘Cut and Run’ impact on Joe’s response in ‘Blood and Ashes’. In the next book, I had to refer back to the first in the series quite a lot to ensure continuity for ‘Dead Men’s Harvest’. Thankfully I live with Joe in my head most of the time, so I’m intimate with his back story now, so most things I need to reference are right there in my mind most of the time…I just need to rattle my skull a few times to knock them loose.
Morgen: A great friend to have with you, I’d say. :) For me, you have lovely short chapters in your book. Is that your standard form? It works like James Patterson, although sometimes his are ridiculously short. Is it hard work keeping the chapter short, i.e. having so many cliffhangers (although sometimes less significant ones) or conclusions. I met crime / thriller writer Graham Hurley in autumn 2009 and started reading his first novel Nocturne. Like your book ‘Cut and Run’ (which I’m really enjoying by the way – have I said that already?) I was hooked in from the start, but with Graham’s (and this isn’t a criticism) there was one chapter per c. 100 pages and the only natural breaks were when I fell asleep or arrived at work (I’ve mastered the art of reading while I walk to / from work). I’m a short attention span reader whereas some people like my German friend like the bigger the book, the longer the chapters, the better – she’s also read Graham’s and he kindly dedicated my copy of The Take to her (she was thrilled, I’ve since replaced mine :) ) – but then she’s a readaholic with a demanding job; I don’t read as much as I’d like to with a low-taxing job. :) I think there was a question in there somewhere…
Matt: I enjoy the immediacy that a short chapter offers, plus it gives me more scope for moving a scene on rapidly, adding to the pace and urgency of the narrative. When I hit a point where I need to rein myself back a little, I tend to go for a slightly longer chapter that also serves to slow the pace a tad, before beginning to ramp it up again to the next major action scene. I’ve read different styles, and different lengths of chapters serve to build a plot in different ways. You mention Patterson’s ludicrously short chapters, and I have to agree that sometimes they’re more a single thought or paragraph than a genuine chapter. But it’s a great foil, because instead of putting down the book, you skip immediately to the next. There’s rarely a good point where you are happy to put the book down, and are always tempted to read the next very short chapter, so maybe JP has got it right. Whether that or it explains why he can turn out so many books in a year (regardless of the troop of authors working with him) because much of what the reader is paying for is white space. I read a lot of Stephen Leather’s Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd books and though he has breaks in the narrative of a single white line there are no traditionally headed chapters or white space. It still works for me, although at first I found the style unusual, but have come to expect it now. I see it as his distinctive style, the same as my alternating first person / third person narrative is mine. In regards the difficulty of keeping the chapters short, no, I don’t have a major problem. I only try to show what is important to the scene and then move on. I’d probably struggle if I had keep the narrative flowing over many pages without jeopardising the pace.
Morgen: Thank you so much, again, Matt for doing this interview with me… not only once but twice!
Matt Hilton quit his career as a police officer with Cumbria Constabulary in order to pursue his love of writing tight, cinematic American-style crime thrillers. He is the author of the Joe Hunter thriller series. His first novel – Dead Men’s Dust – was released in May 2009 by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and by William Morrow & Company (Harper Collins) in the USA. Dead Men’s Dust has been translated into four foreign languages, and shortlisted for the ITW debut thriller ward of 2009. Judgement and Wrath, Slash and Burn, Cut and Run and Blood and Ashes are all now published, with Dead Men’s Harvest due for publication in mid-August 2011. Married and living in Cumbria, Matt is a high-ranking martial artist and has been a detective and private security specialist, all of which lend an authenticity to the action scenes in his books.
I mentioned earlier that I'm currently reading Matt's book 'Cut and run' and devised more questions to put to him which I posted on Wednesday 10th August - you can read those here. Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day I can't normally review books (I spotted 'Cut and run' when shopping the other day) but I'd gladly accept a (2,000-word max) short story to either mention aspects of in our interview or critique in a dedicated 'red pen' podcast episode - see below.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.
Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

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