Matt Johnson, a former solider and policeman who has since turned his hand to writing engaging and exciting thrillers, talks me through his work and the process he uses to create it.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and thriller writing?
I describe myself as something of an accidental author. I say that as becoming a writer had never been an ambition of mine and I came to it almost by accident. Many years ago, I received counselling as part of a therapy treating PTSD. Included in that therapy was writing about my experiences, emotions etc. I found I enjoyed it and the counsellor was moved to comment on how much she liked the result. One day, I sat at my PC and started to weave my notes into a work of fiction. That it became Wicked Game, a crime thriller, is almost certainly a product of my working life.
Please tell me about your books. What key narrative tropes do you draw on?
With two books now published, I’m about half way through my third. I haven’t had the benefit of any formal training as a writer so what I generate comes very much from the heart. I just let the words flow as the story grows. Tropes – the use of words for artistic effect – are something that may or may not result. I describe what I see, and use words in the best way I can to do so. If that may be described by those better qualified than me to say as a ‘trope’ then so be it.
How do you draw on your past as a former solider and policeman when writing fiction?
It never fails to surprise me how much I recall as I write. Ask me, face to face, about something and I may not be able to access the memory. But, once I start writing that changes. Something happens as I ‘get into the groove’ and it all comes flooding back.
How do your various hobbies (beekeeping, motorbike riding etc) influence your work? I’m intrigued!
They don’t really! In fact they are a terrible distraction. I’m the world’s worst at committing myself to the work in progress. So, it might be said that those hobbies slow me down. But, all the hobbies give me time to think. Some of my most creative ideas occur when I’m walking the dogs, out in the fresh air on the mountains near my home in Wales. For the reason, I try to remember to carry a digital recorder as, so often, by the time I’m back at the PC, I forget what the idea was!
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
One thing I have learned is ‘just write’. So often we want to get that sentence, that chapter beginning, that point in the plot right, and first time. We forget that the first writing is just that and that it’s going to change. It really doesn’t matter if we get it right first time. So now, I just write and mostly, but certainly not always, the words will flow. And if I get a block, I walk the dogs and just unwind. Ideas often come when you least expect them.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
Oh goodness, that’s a tough one. I think it would be Peter James. Peter writes very well and is really thorough with his research. I’d quite like to have my protagonist, Robert Finlay, work on an enquiry with Roy Grace.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I do, but for now I’m keeping them close to my chest. One thing I have learned since my introduction to publishing as that the real competition between writers is not for sales – there are lots of readers who read many different authors – it is for ideas, especially that real gem that will become a best-seller.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
Three spring to mind. One is a chap called John Sutherland. John is a Chief Superintendent in the Met and is just about to retire following a serious issue with depression. John’s first book, an autobiographical account of his battle with mental illness is called Blue and is an incredible read. I’ve followed John’s blog – Police Commander – for a long time and I was so impressed with it I suggested he should write a book. I’m pleased he did, because Blue’is quite incredible’
My second choice would be Amanda Jennings, one of last years WH Smiths’ Fresh Talent authors. I loved her book In her Wake.
Finally, I recently met a young man called Matt Wesolowski whose debut is a crime story called Six Stories. The book is very original in both style and content. It’s also very good. Matt is, to my mind, a real talent and one to watch.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just to say thanks for the opportunity, and for getting me writing again! I’ve just returned from a break abroad and was finding it a little challenging getting back to the coalface. Completing this interview has kick-started the grey matter!
Thanks to Matt for taking the time, it was really great to hear from you.