I’m delighted to introduce Matt Johnson, author of Wicked Game. It’s the tale of an ex-soldier and policeman whose past comes back to haunt him.
Tell us about your background and how it influenced your writing of Wicked Game
I served for a little under twenty-five years in the Army and then in the Metropolitan Police working in a number of specialisms and departments. In terms of exposure, my career spanned a time that saw my involvement in a number of high profile incidents. For example, I attended the Regents Park bombing in 1982 and, in 1984, I escorted my mortally wounded colleague, WPC Yvonne Fletcher to hospital.
Unfortunately, my career came to an abrupt end when I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was referred for counselling and initially found expressing myself very difficult - I would be overcome by emotion. To help my progress, my counsellor suggested I try recording my experiences, emotions and feelings in writing, and then bring my notes to be discussed at sessions. One day, many months later, she commented how much she enjoyed my writing and ‘had I ever considered writing a book?’
I hadn’t, and at the time had no desire to do so. But, several years later, with my police career over and my personal circumstances having changed, I pulled those notes from a drawer and started to weave them into a novel. Wicked Game was the result.
How did you go about getting your book endorsed by Peter James and Sir Ranulph Fiennes?
Peter and Ran were connections beforehand, and both are extremely grounded and generous men. That said, neither was minded to simply do me a favour. Both asked for the manuscript and only sent their quotes after reading it.
What are the main differences between self-publishing and your current experience with Orenda?
I often read comments by self-published author regarding the more satisfactory level of control they have over the whole process concerning the production, the design and the marketing of their book. I respect that, but for me, I have found that signing with a highly motivated and skilled publisher has brought huge dividends. I was given the opportunity to work with an editing team who were very instrumental in developing me as a writer. I have learned a great deal from them. The jacket design for the book was incredible and had no input from me, and that is a good thing, as I now realise just how creative are the people that produced such work. In terms of marketing, the book has reached vendors, readers and places that I would have never thought possible and which I could have never achieved when self-published. Also, I’ve been interviewed on radio and television, invited to speak at numerous literary events and festivals, and had a launch at Waterstones flagship store with over a hundred people in attendance. All this has only been possible because of the professionalism and experience of Orenda.
What plans do you have for future books?
The rights to the sequel to Wicked Game have just been acquired by Orenda. The book is called Deadly Game. Following an exciting auction of rights, I have now just signed contracts for the audio versions of both Wicked Game and Deadly Game. In the pipeline, I have the skeletons of several novels sketched out and the possibility of one or two non-fiction books.
Is there anything about being an author that you particularly enjoy?
Many things. I’ve always been very self-motivated and have been equally happy working as a member of a team or as an individual. But, I now find that I do like working on my own, setting my own deadlines and managing my own time. I enjoy research, learning about new things and brushing up on gaps in my knowledge. I enjoy the moment the words start to flow, that realisation that you are ‘in the groove’ and the story is unfolding, sometimes faster than I can type. I often lose track of time, forget to eat and have been known to write into the early hours.
All that said, what I most enjoy is the eventual interaction with readers that the book produces, particularly when it comes to meeting and having the chance to chat.
If you could take three books to a desert island, what would they be?
Now that’s a tough one. I’m not a very fast reader so, whatever I take, I would hope to get plenty of enjoyment from it. I’ve never read a book twice, so I wouldn’t be inclined to take an old favourite, so I think I would choose two books that I always meant to read but never found the time. Both would need to be very long books as, once read, their pages would likely become kindling to help create fire, an essential step in maintaining morale. The third book would be a blank journal, which I would use to write thoughts, experiences and stories, to help me while away the time as I built the ship that I would sail back to civilisation.
How do you handle negative reviews?
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and the open review system means that anyone with internet access can write theirs. I do read them, and if they contain constructive criticism then I learn from them. It was critical review of Wicked Game, written shortly after I first self-published, that resulted in my having it properly proof-read. That improvement in the standard of the book eventually lead to me being signed by an agent and securing a publisher, so I’m eternally grateful to that reviewer.
What I have less time for is the critics who are clearly writing for other reasons than genuine feedback. For example, some use reviews as a forum to promote another book (often their own) or to feed their ego in some way. It also perplexes me when someone who, for example only likes romance, says critical things of a crime thriller, simply because it wasn’t to their taste.
What I never do is get upset by a review… but, like many fiction writers before me, I might get even!
Do you have an agent? If you do, what are the major benefits?
Yes, I’m fortunate to be represented by James Wills from Watson-Little. Agents are unfairly maligned in my opinion as, to the in-experienced , having someone like James on my team has been of huge benefit. Publishing is a whole new world to me, one that uses its own language, has its own protocols and systems. James has been incredibly patient explaining to me how things work, how the industry operates. He found me a publisher and, when it came to negotiating contracts, he was invaluable in explaining to me the significance of contractual terms, rights allocations and many other facets to reaching an agreement. I recently read an article in the Society of Authors magazine on how non-agented authors can lose out for want of such in-depth understanding and knowledge. I don’t have those skills, my agent does, and I am extremely grateful to him for that.
Where can we find your books?
In e-book form, Wicked Game is available on Amazon, Kobo, Ibookstore, Nook etc. In paperback it’s available in Waterstones, WH Smith, Hive, Amazon and through many independent book shops.
For signed copies, I’m supporting Book-ish of Crickhowell who were the winner of the Wales and west independent book shop of the year 2016. Order from Bookish and they will call me in to sign a personalised copy for you.
Deadly Game is scheduled for publication Spring 2017.
You will also find Wicked Game on sale at a number of literary events this year. I’m at Crickhowell and Berwick Literary Festivals, Tenby Book Fair and Bristol CrimeFest. I will also be touring with the Orenda Author Roadshow.
Many thanks for the opportunity to chat, Alan.