Catriona writes: I first met Matt Hilton at . . . I want to say San Francisco Bouchercon. It was certainly a Bouchercon somewhere. I heard the warm rumble of a northern English accent and drifted over, sensing a source of teabags and deadpan humour. I got the humour, but had to go to Starbucks for a cup of tea. I don't see Matt nearly enough, but I'm delighted to welcome him to Femmes Fatales today, to talk about a subject I know inside out (see above).
I’m British, and worked for many years in the private security industry, and as a police officer in the UK. Readers are surprised my books aren’t police procedurals, and that I don’t write about my law enforcement experiences. Instead, I write the kind of books I enjoy reading: action-packed crime thrillers. Many British crime novels are cerebral, whereas I aim for visceral with my Joe Hunter thrillers. I enjoy the buzz that comes from a fast-moving thriller, and if I don’t get the sensation when I’m at my keyboard, my writing doesn’t flow. I like my writing to be cinematic, allowing readers to picture the action…hopefully giving them a similar buzz.
To allow the scope for continuous action, and a series of diverse arenas to move through, I chose to send Hunter off to the USA, still a land of mythic proportions in many British readers’ minds, where adventures as large as those Hunter has could possibly happen. I simply didn’t feel that the UK could plausibly contain them.
Although I’ve set the Joe Hunter thrillers in the USA, I aimed to develop a British hero who appealed to an international readership. I’m British, with a British mentality, and part of the fun for me is placing Hunter in situations and places that are totally alien to him. From this ‘an idiot abroad’ mentality, I show the USA through Hunter’s eyes, making for an interesting culture clash at times. To offset Joe’s Britishness, I paired him with Jared ‘Rink’ Rington. Rink is an anomaly: he is part Japanese, part Scottish-Canadian, but all-American. I enjoy the interplay between the two, from which comes the humour necessary to leaven some of the darker aspects of the books.
Prior to writing Dead Men’s Dust, the first in the Hunter series, I’d failed to find a publisher. For twenty-two years I sent my works to agents and publishers, but received the standard rejection slip that most aspiring authors are familiar with. Taking a step back I tried to figure out where I was going wrong. Taking note of the big sellers in my genre – Lee Child, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly – I quickly realised I had to come up with an ongoing series, featuring the same characters, in an international setting. My older works were all standalone, set in the UK, with no scope for follow-ups: they weren’t internationally commercial or marketable. I needed a character that had the background, skills and the opportunities to keep falling into life and death situations. I chose to make Hunter a retired soldier and vigilante. Comparison to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher was inevitable, but unlike Reacher, who is a thinker and tactician, I made Hunter more reckless, who acts first and thinks later.
By amalgamating my reading influences - David Morrell, Don Pendleton, Dean Koontz and Robert E Howard - I penned Dead Men’s Dust and sent it off alongside a plan for further books in the series. On the back of this I was able to secure an agent and the elusive publishing agreement I’d been aiming for. Actually not only did I get picked up by a UK publisher, but also by Harper Collins in the USA. I was stunned. And not a little worried. I was fearful that US readers wouldn’t accept me. Saying that, my editor was great, and helped Americanize my books, although some of the British irony, let alone terminology sometimes caused problems in translation.
I recall having one telephone conversation trying to explain the term ‘wind your neck in’ to my editor – we finally settled on ‘chill out’ – and explaining that ‘I feel like crap’ (I feel awful) doesn’t mean ‘I feel like a shit’ which translated back to UK English as needing to take a dump. Americanizing the books caused some confusion with some US readers: my editor dropped most references that Hunter was British, and gave him a background with the CIA instead of the British Armed Forces, so some readers thought it was my Briticisms slipping in when in fact they were Hunter’s and intentional. [Gahhh - that must be infuriating, - CMcP]
Over the course of writing the series I purposefully wrote the Hunter books with a distinctly Mid-Atlantic flavour, so that less editing was required on both sides of the pond. After a six books run with Harper, I switched US publishers to Down and Out Books, and working with Eric Campbell has been a joy. Eric is all for releasing the books with my original author’s voice intact, so his red pen has been more judicious, and I think the books are better for the leeway Eric has shown. Down and Out Books recently published The Devil’s Anvil, and are soon to publish No Safe Place – book eleven in the Joe Hunter series.
Catriona again: with two questions for readers.
1. when you read a British (or Irish or Aussie or anywhere) book, you want all that stuff, right? Right? All the red buses and royal highnesses. What do you think of editors who water it down?
2. What's the hardest thing to get right /funniest thing you've seen wrong?
Matt Hilton quit his career as a police officer to pursue his love of writing tight, cinematic American-style thrillers. He is the author of the high-octane Joe Hunter thriller series, including ‘The Devil’s Anvil’ – Joe Hunter 10 - published in June 2015 by Hodder and Stoughton and Blood Tracks, the first in a new series from Severn House publishers in November 2015. His first book, ‘Dead Men’s Dust’, was shortlisted for the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Book of 2009 Award, and was a Sunday Times bestseller, also being named as a ‘thriller of the year 2009’ by The Daily Telegraph. Dead Men’s Dust was also a top ten Kindle bestseller in 2013. The Joe Hunter series is widely published by Hodder and Stoughton in UK territories, and by William Morrow and Company (Harper Collins) and Down and Out Books in the USA, and have been translated into German, Italian, Romanian and Bulgarian. As well as the Joe Hunter series, Matt has been published in a number of anthologies and collections, and has published novels in the supernatural/horror genre, namely ‘Preternatural’, ‘Dominion’, ‘Darkest Hour’ and ‘The Shadows Call’. He has recently published the next Joe Hunter novel, No Safe Place, in May 2016, and is gearing up for the release of his next Tess Grey novel, Painted Skins, in August 2016. www.matthiltonbooks.com