Name – Matt Hilton
Age – 45
Where are you from? I was born in Scotland but grew up in England, currently living in Cumbria on the Solway Coast.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc. – I’m the author of the Joe Hunter thriller series. I am married, with a grown up son, and spent most of my adult life either working in the Private Security Industry or as a police officer with Cumbria Constabulary. I was fortunate to be able to retire from the police force to work full-time as an author, and have been doing so now for a little over three and a half years. I’ve no formal education beyond secondary school, but do have an enquiring mind and self teach myself through reading and experience. I love to read, write and paint, and am also a practicing martial artist. Recently I purchased a double bass which I intend learning how to play, but you might have to stand by on that one.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Matt: I’ve a few things on the go at present, concerning my Joe Hunter thriller series, with a few related projects imminent. My latest Hunter hardback book is called ‘Dead Men’s Harvest’, and will soon be published in paperback, alongside the next in the series, called ‘No Going Back’. I’ve also an eBook collection of short Joe Hunter stories called ‘Six of the Best’ coming out in January 2012. As well as that, books 3 and 4 in the series – ‘Slash and Burn’ and ‘Cut and Run’ respectively – have just been released in the USA. So you can pretty much imagine I’m doing a lot of marketing, publicity and social networking to spread the word. I’ve also got my fingers firmly crossed that a publisher will soon pick up a standalone horror/thriller that is with my agent.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Matt: I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t either writing or drawing, or combining the two in comic book or storyboard fashion. As a child I always dreamed of making stop-motion animated movies, and was always dreaming up story lines for the movies I’d one day direct. I never achieved that dream, but it led me to the creative process of writing novels. At around ten years old I tried to write a pastiche of a Willard Price ‘Adventure’ book having read all of the series only to find there’d be no more as Price had died. My first genuine attempt at novel writing was at thirteen years old when I completed a book called ‘AGGRO’ which was a teenage coming of age story. The bug had bit me then and I continued to write novels and short stories for a long time before I got my first publishing contract in 2008, at age 42.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Matt: I always fancied myself an aspiring writer, but I guess it was when I first saw an actual printed copy of my first book, Dead Men’s Dust, at my local Waterstone’s. Prior to that I’d had a couple articles printed in magazines and such, but to me my mark of personal success was to see my book on a bookshop shelf. Seven books in I still get a thrill when I see my books in the shops or libraries.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Matt: If I may, I’ll answer this in relation to my first published book if that’s OK? I mentioned that I wrote Dead Men’s Dust, but this was my eighth completed novel. All the others were either gothic horrors or crime thrillers, and each was a stand-alone story with no commercial scope. Although I had some medium success at getting them placed with a publisher, they were always turned down at the last step, and it was because they weren’t commercially viable. As a result of this I began to look at the market and wich books were selling in my chosen genre. In most cases, the authors’ books featured recurring series characters, so it was a case of going back to the drawing board and coming up with a protagonist I thought could carry a few different adventures. I always had a love of the American style thriller, which I found pacier than most British crime books, so decided to go with that style, and thought that I’d need a character capable of getting in trouble all over the world, but have the necessary skill set to survive. I came up with Joe Hunter, an ex Special Forces assassin, now retired who is out in the world with all these skills and no clear direction, other than to help those unable to help themselves. I based him on the idea of the wandering knight errant searching for dragons to slay, or the Wild West marshal who rides into Dodge to clear out the bad guys, but placed him in contemporary America. Although I’m British, and Hunter is British, I chose America because it is such a diverse country, a massive arena, in which I could set his adventures. It also helped snag me a part of the international market!
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Matt: I’m told I have an odd style, in that I write the Hunter chapters in first person, whereas the chapters involving other characters are told in the third person. This is a regular style in America, but not so familiar here in the UK. My books are never going to win literary prizes (although my debut was shortlisted for the Best New Book Award through the International Thriller Writers’ Organisation 2009), but that’s OK by me: I write pacey, action-packed thrillers, so the writing is lean and often plot driven, and relies somewhat on suspension of disbelief. I love to read books in this genre, and regular advice is for readers to write what they know.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Matt: ‘Dead Men’s Dust’ was lifted from a passage in the book where Hunter is pursuing a serial killer in the Mojave Desert. He fancies the sand is the ground down bones of the killer’s victims and pulls his shirt over his nose to avoid inhaling dead men’s dust.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Matt: Not really. I write books for entertainment rather than pass on any of my own philosophy or politics. I think if there is an overriding message though it’s an anti-bullying one. Hunter hates bullying and injustice in any form, and so do I. But my main message is “Enjoy the Ride!”
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Matt: I mentioned earlier that I hope for a little suspension of disbelief, because Hunter’s adventures are action-packed and fast moving, but I also like to ground the facts in the real world. I’ve been a cop, and a security expert, a martial arts instructor, and have experienced countless stressful and violent incidents in my life. I try to bring my experience of violence to the page, while showing it up for what it is really is: an ugly and dirty thing.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Matt: Having experienced many incidents of conflict, I try to bring the emotion of these to the page, but I haven’t set any incidents in the books on any of my own adventures. I do base Hunter’s military style of combat on my own skill set though, and employ the same tactics I’d go for if placed in a similar situation. I just don’t think I’d be as successful as Hunter is – he’s much tougher than I am. He is an amalgamation of a number of soldiers and police officers I’ve met over the years, but is based on nobody real in particular. If anything he’s based on literary influences, that are as far ranging as Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan (The Executioner), George G Gillman’s Joshua Hedges (The Edge series), and David Morrell’s Saul Grisman (Brotherhood of the Rose).
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life?
Matt: I should say The Bible or something equally as contrite, but it simply isn’t true. I love fiction, and read in various genres, mainly thriller and horror. My main influences in life – particularly my writing life – have been, in order of discovery, Willard Price, Robert E Howard, George G Gillman, Don Pendleton, David Morrell, Robert Crais and John Connolly. If I had to choose one book I’m glad I read it would be Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Matt: Adrian Magson. He’s a great author who should be a mega-seller. He is the author of a number of crime thrillers, but has recently launched a new spy-thriller series (Harry Tate) and a historical crime series set in 1960s France (Lucas Rocco). He has done a lot to inspire and motivate me, either through his articles in Writing Magazine before we met, or as a good friend since I had the fortune of bumping into him in Baltimore of all places. I’ve also many close author friends these days, primarily Sheila Quigley, Col Bury and Lee Hughes. Sheila Quigley’s already a well-known crime author, but I predict you’ll be hearing of the other two before long.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Matt: This might sound a little too handy after what I just said, but I’m reading Adrian Magson’s ‘Death on the Rive Nord’, the second in his Lucas Rocco series. I must say that it’s superb and I’m not a little jealous at his skill as an author.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Matt: When I got my publishing contract from Hodder and Stoughton it was for a record breaking five-book deal that made the news. I don’t say that to sound bigheaded, only to explain what happened next. Because my story went out in all the newspapers and Internet sites I was contacted by dozens of aspiring authors and well-wishers who were asking for my advice on securing a similar deal. With the best will in the world I couldn’t answer everybody, but wanted to help them achieve their dreams. To give something back to the writing community, I set up a site called Thrillers, Killers ‘N’ Chillers, where authors could showcase their short fiction in the genres of horror, thriller and crime and from there I have been fortunate in reading and publishing the work of some superb up and comers. Earlier I mentioned Col Bury and Lee Hughes, both of whom were early contributors to the site, and subsequently co-editors, and I foresee that their stars are set to shine. By the strength of his writing on the site, Col has secured himself representation from a New York agent and is touting around his first two novels at the present. Other authors I admire and met through the site are Lily Childs (also now a co-editor at TKnC), Paul D Brazill, Chris Allinote, Jim Hilton, James C Clar, Sue Harding, and dozens of others. I’ve just mentioned a few, but there are so many names I could have gone on with, but then I fear I’d leave someone important out. One of your previous interviewees, Graham Smith, has recently debuted at the site, and I’m glad that he did. He’s another talent to watch for in future.
On the bookshelves, I’ve also a few published authors I’d like to mention, particularly if you enjoy a good thriller. Matthew Dunne, Jeremy Duns, Sean Black, Dean Crawford, Tom Wood, JJ Cooper and Grant McKenzie are all relatively new names on the thriller scene that you might like to try out. And someone who is not a household name but should be is Zoe Sharp.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Matt: Currently I’m writing the ninth book in my Joe Hunter series, and I’m also editing and fine-tuning the aforementioned horror/thriller novel. I’ve recently had a short horror story published under the pen name of Vallon Jackson in Wild Wolf Publishing’s ‘Holiday of the Dead’ and an upcoming short crime story in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 9 (2012), as well as all the Joe Hunter stuff I mentioned at the beginning, so I’ve pretty much got my hands full.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Matt: As far as writing goes, my agent Luigi Bonomi of LBA has become a staunch supporter, mentor and friend. I owe him much.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Matt: I’m in that fortunate position where I can loudly state yes. But there are no guarantees. I’m contracted up to book nine in my Joe Hunter series, and am currently writing it: hopefully there’ll be many more to come. But I’m one of those writers where –even if I weren’t being paid – I’d still be writing furiously. I can’t help myself.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Matt: I’d certainly change things in my first published book. I’ve learned a lot since then and now look back and see glaring faults (to my current writer’s eye) that make me cringe a little. The main thing I’d do is NOT give my character a birth date. It ages him, and I now wish I’d left his age a mystery. I wonder if in ten years time he’ll be too old to continue his action-packed ways and still retain credibility.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Matt: My father was a consummate storyteller and at a very early age I believe this is what ignited my passion for telling a tale or two of my own.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Matt: The book that’s due out in February 2012 is called ‘No Going Back’, and here’s a brief blurb for it: Jameson Walker approaches Joe Hunter when his daughter Jay and her friend Nicole go missing at a gas station in the Arizona desert while on a cross-country trek across the North American interior. He mentions that a robbery/homicide at the gas station as worrying as the girls were due to be in the vicinity at that time. Joe accepts the job of locating the girls, though not at first convinced there’s much to worry about. As Joe picks up the girls’ trail he discovers that other young women have also disappeared in the area, and comes across the brutish Logan family.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Matt: Coming up with an original plot line. There are only so many ways to pitch a character like Hunter into the fray without repeating myself. But as long as I stay with the standard thriller plots of revenge, chase, ticking bomb and imminent danger then I can usually come up with something satisfying.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Matt: My favourite author is John Connolly who writes the Charlie Parker books. I think it’s the mix of crime thriller and supernatural ghost story that grips me. He is a wonderfully poetic writer who also has the knack of writing a pacey, action-packed thriller. And if it’s OK, I’ll also mention Robert Crais, who writes the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series who runs a close second to John. Often people compare my books to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, but I think they’re more akin to Crais’ books.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Matt: I do. I travel extensively both here and in the USA. It’s a factor of the modern author’s day job that they must market and publicise their works. I also do a lot of social networking and blogging and such. Much of my time is now spent on publicity, probably more time than in the writing of the actual books. I do a lot of library, bookshop and crime reading conventions. But really I don’t mind it. I love to meet readers, without whom I wouldn’t have a paying job.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Matt: In-house designers at my publishers design the covers. I don’t have much say in their design, and only see them once they’ve been completed. I think that they look excellent though so I’m not complaining.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Matt: Coming up with a snappy title. I write the books in around three to five months, and then agonize for weeks over a title. It’s not unknown for my wife and me to come up with a long list of titles that we then go over together weighing the pros and cons, and whittle down to a shortlist. I then send this off to my publishing editor who will then often suggest others, and together we come to final agreement. I find that stressful, whereas the writing is usually a joyful experience.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Matt: I’ve learned that you can’t please everyone. I’m a bit of a Marmite writer where people either love or hate my books. But I’ve learned that I’m not writing for those who don’t like my books but the ones that do. They tend to like what I like to write, so it’s a win/win situation.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Matt: Never give up on your dream. A few years ago I was exactly where you are now. I was living about as far away from the major publishing houses as you could get, with no support network, no mentor (at that time), no contacts in the publishing world, no special education, no agent, and with no special writing credits to my name, but I believed in myself and didn’t give up – even after dozens of rejections. My message is that if it could happen to me, then it could happen to you too. Keep writing. Keep submitting your work.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Matt: Yes, I’d like to say a huge thank you for all your support. Without readers a book is simply a stack of paper and ink. Writers need readers to make us whole.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Matt: I think if I wasn’t writing I’d be painting, drawing or making music. All are different ways of telling a story, and at my base that’s what I am, a storyteller, just the same as my dad.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? if so what is it?
Matt: Yes, my website can be found here http://www.matthiltonbooks.com, my blog here http://matthiltonbooks.blogspot.com and TKnC here http://thrillskillsnchills.blogspot.com. I’m also on Twitter as @MHiltonauthor and can be found on Facebook.