Monday, 9 February 2009

As Promised: An Interview With Thriller Author, Matt Hilton...

Ex-cop and Martial Arts expert, Matt Hilton, hit the headlines earlier last year, earning himself a substantial five-book deal from Hodder after years of endeavouring to fulfil a lifetime ambition of becoming a published author. Matt's first novel, Dead Men's Dust, featuring the dynamic, no nonsense vigilante, Joe Hunter, (C) NIALL MCDERMID is out in May 2009 and the other four in the series are planned to follow at six-monthly intervals (so no pressure then, Matt!).

I managed to catch up with Matt during his busy schedule, and I do hope you find the following Q & A session as fascinating and inspiring as I...

How old were you when you started writing and when did you know it’s what you wanted to do for a living?

I’ve been writing and drawing, designing my own comic strips, from a very young age. I loved the old King Kong and Sinbad movies and wanted to be a fantasy/monster film maker and wrote a story boarded script for a film called Prehistoric Island. It was probably laughable, but at the time I thought it was great. With my writing there are two times I can pin-point as being pivotal to my future desire to be a writer. As a child I read ‘adventure’ books by Willard Price, where two brothers, Hal and Roger Hunt, travelled the world collecting endangered animals. I read all the books in the series and was devastated to find that the writer had died and there’d be no more. So I set out to write my own pastiche called Antarctic Adventure – there were glaring problems with it: no less the fact I had polar bears sharing the ice with the penguins – which was my first attempt at writing a novel. The second time was when I wrote a violent western story that a teacher read out to the class. It got rave reviews from my schoolmates, and it was this that gave me the push to want to be a published author. My first real attempt at writing a novel was when I was thirteen. ‘AGGRO’ was about coming of age, sex and gang fights and partying – all the stuff important to a thirteen year old boy. It was handwritten into a book and I still have the original somewhere. I wanted to be a published author and write for a living since then.

Who’s been the biggest influence on your writing?

Various writers have influenced me over the years and they’re a pretty diverse bunch. The aforementioned Willard Price set me off. My next great influences, who are probably responsible for my desire for strong, action oriented plots are Robert E. Howard and Lin Carter. Next, I started reading Don Pendleton and Warren Murphy and other such writers and was influenced by The Destroyer, The Executioner: all macho blokes with guns. For crime and thrillers, I probably got the bug when reading Brotherhood of the Rose, by David Morrell (which I’ve heard has just been optioned for a movie). Current must read writers, whose books I always pick up are – in no particular order – David Morrell, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Jack (J.A.) Kerley, Michael Marshall, Jeff Abbot, James Patterson, Jeffrey Deaver, Lee Child, and Simon Kernick. I love the Charlie Parker books by John Connolly, as well as the Elivis Cole and Joe Pike books by Robert Crais, and I’d say both of these latter writers are my biggest influences at present.

What’s your typical writing day?

I write on a laptop at a desk in my living room. I start early, usually going over what I wrote the day before, then continue from there. I usually take a break mid-day to late afternoon and then go back to my writing in the evening. I usually have two or three projects on the go at the same time, either writing the next book or short story, editing previous work, or updating my blogs and answering emails. I’m quite prolific (that’s not always a good thing), and tend to bash out a rough draft, then go back over my work fine tuning and tidying the book up afterwards. I have a great team of editors in Sue Fletcher at Hodder and David Highfill at William Morrow whose editorial advice and guidance is invaluable to me. My agent, Luigi Bonomi and his wife, Alison, who is an editor, help me greatly when I’m writing the drafts for the books and I always seek their advice and guidance before submitting the finished book.
I work seven days a week, probably for around ten to twelve hours, so despite what people think, I’m working very hard to produce the books.

Have you suffered much rejection in your writing career and, if so, how did you cope?

Like all writers I’ve suffered the dreaded rejection slip on so many occasions I can’t remember. Between writing Aggro, and my deal for Dead Men’s Dust coming to fruition, everything I ever wrote – apart from a few articles for magazines - was rejected for one reason or another. I came very close on a few occasions, and it was the advice that I was given that spurred me to keep on writing. Rejection can be depressing, but you have to look beyond the ‘thanks but no thanks’ message and pick up on any advice contained in the rejection letter. I took each rejection as a step along the road to publication, and after each I’d go back to my work and see what it was that wasn’t acceptable to the publisher and try to put it right next time round. Expect rejection and you won’t be disappointed, so when the acceptance comes it is a great surprise. If you lay all your hopes in one place – or one step of the process – it can pull you down if you’re knocked back. But don’t give up, keep trying. If you’ve got the drive and the talent, someone will pick you up.

How did your book deal come to fruition?

After all the aforementioned rejections, I analysed where I was going wrong. Up until that point I realised that what I was producing were stand alone books that weren’t very marketable. I looked at the writers who influenced me and saw that they all write books with continuing series characters – or an overriding story arch – so set out to come up with a strong character that could carry a number of books. I didn’t want to write about a detective as there are other writers who do that far better than me, so I came up with a character who does things his own way. I decided for him to be able to get into dangerous situations all the time, and to have the tools and skills to deal with them, then he had to have a background in the military or law enforcement. Because I didn’t want the books to be tied down with current politics, I decided to make my character retired, but still young and vibrant enough to get the job done. I came up with Joe Hunter, an ex-counterterrorism soldier, who is now a bit of a vigilante. I realised that to make him viable in the market, then Joe should have a larger arena than the UK to move through, so have set most of the action in the Joe Hunter books in the USA. This gives more scope, landscape and scenery to set his adventures in.
After coming up with the character, I started to look for representation. Nowadays - I feel - a writer without an agent is at a distinct disadvantage, so I began to research agents. I’d noted how successful Simon Kernick had been and read that he was represented by LBA. I googled LBA and found that Luigi Bonomi had been nominated as agent of the year, so thought, Why not start at the top. I sent an enquiry letter to LBA, with a synopsis and sample chapters and waited. I was overjoyed when Luigi asked to see the entire book. From there until acceptance in March 2008, I spent months sending my work back and forward. I guess that I had to show that I had a strong work ethic and desire to write before Luigi would take me on. When Luigi and I finally exchanged contracts I was overjoyed. But that paled in comparison when Luigi sent my book out and it became the focus of a bidding war between three top publishing houses. My success was well recorded in the media so I won’t go over it again, but you can imagine how exciting and terrifying it was at the same time. I gave up my job as a police constable almost immediately and haven’t looked back.

Do you feel the book deal has changed you in any way?

I don’t think it has changed me personally, but it has given me freedom to do what I’ve always wanted to do – which is to write. I’m quite a private person by nature, and I’ve had to become another ‘name’ in the public arena, so this has changed dramatically, but it’s something I’ve got used to now. It has also given me the opportunity to help others. Clichéd as it sounds; I became a cop to help others less fortunate than myself. Now I want to do that with other writers who are trying to get published. When I can I try to encourage writers to write and to not give up. I set up my blogs for this very reason and have recently set up Thrillers, Killers and Chillers, a blog spot to showcase new unpublished short stories and flash fiction by budding authors.

What advice would you give any budding authors?

Don’t give up; write, read, research, accept rejections for what they are but move on, and take on board any advice or guidance – even if it seems like a kick in the guts at the time. Oh, and send your work out there. It’s no good languishing in a drawer or on your hard drive. People have to read your work for them to take it on.
While you are waiting for a reply from a agent, editor or publisher, get on with your next project. Don’t, as I’ve already said, lay all your hopes on one body of work. It might just be the next one that finds you success. Or the next. Or the next.

Matt, may I take this opportunity to thank you for this inspiring insight into your writing life. I trust you’ll be back to update us when the first two Joe Hunter thrillers are out in May and October of this year?

It would be my pleasure.

for more news, advice and support.


Matt Hilton said...

Hi Col, the new lay out looks great.

Susie said...

Enjoyable interview and interesting insight into the the road to publication.

Col Bury said...

Cheers, Matt. I like it, too!

Susie, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's always interesting to dig a little deeper into the writer's psyche.

Tracy said...

Great interview ColB and Matt - always good to hear a writer's success story that can inspire us wannabes.
Good luck with the book launch, Matt.

Sandra Patterson said...

Good interview, Col. Well done!

Col Bury said...

Tracy and Sandra.
I wonder if one day I'll be interviewed!!!

Dream on, Col.....

Chris Picton said...

Great insight Col, very interesting, really enjoyed the interview. Like the new layout very much too

Col Bury said...

Thanks, Chris. Why don't you get another Musician for a Q&A on your blog?

Thommo said...

Matt, I'm still stunned that you managed to keep your life as an author a secret during all of those days in Maryport!

Nice Q and A both of you.

Matt Hilton said...

Thanks to Col for posting this, and to everyone for your good wishes. To encourage you all, I was in exactly the same boat as you were a year ago. I didn't have a shoe in like a lot of celebrities or have any connections in publishing. I'm just a working class lad, brought up on a tough estate in Carlisle, with a secondary school education. You just need the drive and passion (and probably a little luck - but it's the drive and passion that makes our luck, remember, so there's nothing stopping any of you realising your ambition.
best wishes to you all.

Tommo, it's the hidden depths. people thought I was just a quiet lad, but my mind was always working feverishly.


R1X said...

Thanks for the comment, Col, and: nice interview.

Good luck with your writing.

Col Bury said...

You're more than welcome, R1X.
And thanks for the link.

Clare said...

Great interview Col and Matt - informative and encouraging.
It's always nice when authors come across as real, genuine people who got where they are through sheer hard graft rather than celebrity or connections.(Means there's hope for the rest of us!)
Matt sounds hard-working, down-to-earth and caring - deserves the success he is now attaining.
Like the new blog layout Col - definitely more user-friendly.

Col Bury said...

Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words. I agree that it's great for a salt-of-the-earth bloke like Matt to be rewarded for his hard graft: an example to us all.

Clare said...

Proposition Col - you publish your novel and I'll start a blog with an interview with you?

Col Bury said...