Blog interview no.86 part 2 with crime / action thriller novelist (who dips into horror) Matt Hilton

On Saturday (6th August) I posted my interview with UK crime novelist (who’s also dabbling in the horror genre) Matt Hilton. Before this went live I started reading his fourth Joe Hunter novel ‘Cut and run’ and although I’ve not finished it yet (I’m a snatch-time-to-read-when-I-can reader) I asked him some more questions about the book and the process of writing it. If you’ve not read part one part 1 yet you might like to do so first.

Morgen: Matt, as you know I’m reading ‘Cut and run’, and am about half-way through (started last weekend but the likes of work keeps getting in the way :)), so I’d like to ask you a few questions based on what I’ve read so far, if you don’t mind, and without giving too much away…‘Cut and run’ isn’t a term I’d really heard of before but Wikipedia tells me it’s a war / battle term. For me it also describes the main antagonist’s brutal tactics. Was it a title you chose or did your agent / publisher have an influence? How involved are you with your titles / covers?

Matt: Titles are always the most difficult part of writing the book for me. Something I have to consider is house style and brand. For each of my books I set a standard with a three-word title, and it has become expected of me to continue in the same vein. So basically I look for something that is short, concise and easily recalled and – forgive the cliché – but says exactly what’s in the tin.

Morgen: Absolutely forgiven, I use that one myself. 🙂

Matt: With Cut and Run I did choose it for its military connotation, but also for the act of cutting your losses and then disappearing, which is what Luke Rickard attempts to do. I’ve stayed with the three-word title for the other books in the series but have broken the something AND something mould with book six. I was in danger of having Joe Hunter in Fish and Chips, or Salt and Vinegar if I wasn’t careful.

Morgen: There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s… sorry, couldn’t resist, although I wouldn’t mind having Joe at my local chippy. 🙂

Matt: My agent and editors all have in put to the titles, but we always choose one that keeps everyone happy (usually that means THE PUBLISHER).

Morgen: 🙂 You live in Britain and yet this seems to be really realistic America (although I must admit I’ve never been over the ‘pond’) – how do you make it authentic? Are all the Joe Hunter books set in the US?

Matt: With the exception of Dead Men’s Dust, Cut and Run and in a small part of the upcoming Dead Men’s Harvest, the action does take place in the USA. I chose to send Joe off to America because of the huge and diverse landscape on offer, plus the opportunities for action and adventure were much better than if I set the books here in the UK. We all accept a Hollywood idea of America (in the UK) where we can believe that incidents like those in the Joe Hunter books could happen. The suspension of disbelief factor is easier to overcome, when the books are set in a fantastical version of the USA. Much of the humour in the books comes from the fact that Joe is an Englishman abroad. So any mistakes there in are his and not mine.

Morgen: That’s true, I like that. 🙂

Matt: Seriously, though, I do research as I go and use Google Earth quite a lot. I like to add local flavour and idiosyncrasies and these can only be found by researching much deeper or by talking to the American people themselves. I have been to the US on a number of occasions now, and funnily enough find it to be very much a home from home. I do sometimes get into a muddle with my US editor who doesn’t always understand Joe’s British ways or his slang. I often have a chuckle to myself when receiving queries from America asking what exactly I mean by such terms as ‘Wind your neck in,’ and such like.

Morgen: I email a fellow Litopian Thomas Tyler (hi TT!) and every now and then he asks me what I mean by something – the latest was ‘jacket potato’ (potato cooked with its skin on – best done in the oven rather than microwave so the skin’s crispier… it’s only 8.30am but I could eat one now… sour cream, hot butter… mmm… Sorry, you were saying.

Matt: We both speak English, but it’s a totally different language that doesn’t always translate. I write Joe in a very ironic way, a bit tongue in cheek and self-deprecating, but to my American readers, they hear egotism. Odd.

Morgen: I think however you right two people will get different interpretation, I guess you know your character best so have to be true to him. Your book is packed with technicalities (without being too overwhelming), how much research did you have to do (do you do ongoing)? Which leads me perhaps to a dreaded question: have you ever received feedback from your readers pointing out inaccuracies – and was he/she right? 🙂

Matt: I research as I go and try to lift technical details from the official websites and such. But sometimes you can slip up. I did have a guy tell me words to the effect of “It’s a Ninety-Two Hyphen F, not a Ninety Hyphen Two F,’ and another who told me a helicopter couldn’t actually perform a loop. He was referring to performing a full circle on a vertical plane – a loop-the-loop – whereas I was only referring to the helicopter making a half circle round an object and then returning to its starting point. But I’m happy with this, as it means that the reader is taking note, and what more can I ask?

Morgen: Absolutely. I can’t wait for mine. 🙂

Matt: I’ve made the old faux pas of having my character ‘flick the safety off their Glock’, which aggravates gun aficionados because the Glock has an internal double-action trigger type safety (try saying that three times quickly)…

Morgen: internal double-action trigger type safety… internal double-action trigger type safety… internal double-action trigger type safety… sorry you did ask, and yes, I cheated by copying / pasting. 🙂

Matt: …but is often mentioned in books. I probably read the same somewhere and trusted that the author got it right. I don’t try to go heavy-handed with the technical stuff, but for some thriller readers they kind of expect to read about the weaponry and stuff, so I only pepper the books with such detail where necessary.

Morgen: ‘Pepper’, that’s funny. You dedicate this book to your mother Valerie – has she read it and if so, did she like it? My mum hates my ‘darker’ stuff (she’s a Pam Ayres light and fluffy reader :)).

Matt: My mam has read it and said she liked it. But then again, she would, wouldn’t she?

Morgen: 🙂 And I wonder if she got half-way (as I am now) and wondered if Joe and Imogen would get together. 🙂 I love the Sophocles quote at the beginning (which is repeated later within the story – page 122 to be exactly; did I say in part 1 that I’m a nerd? – I do have a habit of writing down bits I like, as I’m sure other writers do) along with another quote from Ghandi – are there any rules, that you’re aware of, for using quotations in novels?

Matt: You have to be careful because some quotes are copyrighted. Particularly if you are quoting words from a song or from another person’s work you should check for rights or ask for permission to use the quote. I try to only use quotes that are copyright free or are in common usage and freely available (or that the quote is from someone dead for many years who won’t sue me).

Morgen: I’m pretty sure you’re safe them with Sophocles. 🙂 Was it fun having your characters do martial arts moves (according to the back cover of ‘Cut and Run’ you’re a 4th Dan black-belt at ju-jitsu)? Are there other autobiographical aspects of you in your books?

Matt: Yeah, I practice all the moves he does in the books on my long-suffering wife, looking for the most impactive and devastating moves in my arsenal. Only kidding. I have a vast knowledge of martial arts and unarmed combat to draw on, but I try to keep Joe’s skills to the brutal and effective end of the spectrum. I envisage the moves in my mind as I’m writing them, ensuring that they would be feasible under the circumstances.

Morgen: I’m the same. If a character is doing something I can always write it better / easier if I do the moves, although I have to say none of them have been martial yet. 🙂

Matt: A ‘real’ fight isn’t always what you imagine it to be, or as it’s often shown in movies. Most fights last seconds and involve a lot of grunting, swearing, hanging on and rolling around on the floor.

Morgen: 🙂

Matt: These wouldn’t be attractive in a book, so I fancy them up a bit, but always with correct application and effectiveness in mind. I’m not a tough guy, but I’ve been in many scrapes over the years while working as a cop and in security, and also fighting in full contact martial arts tournaments, so I do know what it’s like to hit or be hit. The latter hurts much more! The other thing I share with Joe is his love of coffee, his allegiance and love of family, and his interest in old forms of music. Joe likes the original Rhythm and Blues, while I lean more to Rockabilly and Rock’n’Roll, but sometimes those styles intermix.

Morgen: Joe Hunter is a killer with a conscience. How important was it for you for him to be like that? It is one of the things I find really endearing about him and I notice is highlighted in your You Tube video for ‘Dead Man’s Dust’.

Matt: He had to be given a conscience otherwise he would have been no better than those he goes up against. I think it’s important to show that he has staunch morals and a sense of right and wrong, and also lines which he won’t step over. It’s another thing that I share with him. But, for the record, I’ve never carried out any vigilante action “Joe style”!

Morgen: I’ll resist making reference to the shameful riots that are currently going on in this country. Is the Joe from your book covers and You Tube video how you envisaged him when you were writing him? And the voice?

Matt: I try not to describe what Joe looks like and prefer to leave it to the reader’s imagination. Because of the job he was in (Spec Ops) it was imperative that he was just the ‘Everyman’ so that he could blend in. I have a hazy image of him in my mind’s eye that might not fit with another reader’s idea. It’s funny how some readers often ask who I’d like to play Joe if there was ever a movie and I turn the question back on them. Suggestions of many different and diverse looking actors come through. In regards Joe’s voice: I say he comes from Manchester, but he also spent most of his adult life in the strict rigidity of the military, not to mention spending the last four years or so in the US. So he’ll have a cosmopolitan accent. In some audio versions I’ve heard they have Joe speaking with a quasi-Liam or -Noel Gallagher accent, while in others he is your typical ‘Voice Over Man’, neither of which is the voice I have in my head. I certainly don’t think of Joe as ‘Probably the best vigilante in the world’ (if you get the Carlsberg reference?).

Morgen: I live in Carlsberg’s UK head office town so I do, very much. 🙂 Sorry Liam and Noel but they’re voices have always seemed a ‘soft’ to me… not Joe Hunter at all. TV presenter (of ‘Top Gear’ amongst others) Richard Hammond and Chris Ryan have both recommended your book – how did you find out that they’d read it? Can you recommend how an author can seek to get reviews like this?

Matt: The first I knew that either had read and subsequently blurbed my books was when my Editor / agent told me. I was over the moon at both. Other great authors have also offered blurbs, such as Peter James, Simon Kernick, Adrian Magson and Christopher Reich for which I’m also very grateful.

Morgen: Ah, Adrian. He’s great isn’t he (as the others are of course) but it was Adrian who put me in touch with you. 🙂

Matt: As an author you get to meet many of your peers and literary heroes. It’s a case of ask and ye may receive in this case. If anyone is looking for a quote, a polite approach by email or letter is generally the norm. Then wait, and don’t be pushy, and most authors are very generous and often will be happy to help.

Morgen: I have heard that so am writing a list of mine. 🙂 This is the fourth of a published series of five how many do you have planned for the series? And how do you keep all the threads going (one thing I struggled with when writing novels)?

Matt: Following ‘Cut and Run’ is ‘Blood and Ashes’, which has recently been published in paperback…

Morgen: I saw it in the library last week. 🙂

Matt: …and next week on 18th August the sixth in the series is out in hardback. This is a loose sequel to ‘Dead Men’s Dust’ in which one of Joe’s greatest and deadliest enemies makes a return. It’s called ‘Dead Men’s Harvest’ and there’s a clue in the title for anyone who’s been following the series. ‘No Going Back’ – book seven – follows next Spring, with the as yet untitled book eight coming later in the year. I’ve finished writing book eight now and am about to make a start on book nine. I’m currently contracted to book nine in the series, but hopefully if the readers get behind Joe’s adventures there’ll be many more.

Morgen: …to use your earlier quote: “and why wouldn’t they?” 🙂

Matt: As long as people keep liking them I’ll keep on writing further Joe Hunter books. Also coming in the spring of 2012 will be a collection of Joe Hunter short short stories called Six of the Best.

Morgen: Yay! I love short stories. Yay!

Matt: At the moment the plan is to make them available as ebooks on Kindle etc, but there might be a paper version at some time. Perhaps I’ll do a longer collection further down the line as well.

Morgen: Double yay! 🙂

Matt: I’d also like to do a couple stand-alone books, and maybe one with Jared ‘Rink’ Rington (Joe’s pal from the series) in the spotlight.

Morgen: Oh I love Rink! 🙂

Matt: Keeping all the threads on the go isn’t as difficult as it seems, but I do have to occasionally go back and check what I said in previous books.

Morgen: All my novels have been different (I say “all” there have only been four) so it must be easier (or maybe not) writing with the same characters in each one.

Matt: I’m pretty sure Joe had blue eyes in the first book, brown eyes in the second, and now has blue/brown eyes dependent on his mood – but I’d have to check.

Morgen: uh oh.

Matt: I try to keep to the same details as I’ve added along the way, but of course also like to see characters change and develop along the way. Life experiences can have a big impact on the living and it should be the same for fictional characters.

Morgen: Spoiler alert…

Matt: Losing Kate in ‘Slash and Burn’ and then meeting up with Imogen in ‘Cut and Run’ was a natural progression, and also the events that occur at the end of ‘Cut and Run’ impact on Joe’s response in ‘Blood and Ashes’. In the next book, I had to refer back to the first in the series quite a lot to ensure continuity for ‘Dead Men’s Harvest’. Thankfully I live with Joe in my head most of the time, so I’m intimate with his back story now, so most things I need to reference are right there in my mind most of the time…I just need to rattle my skull a few times to knock them loose.

Morgen: A great friend to have with you, I’d say. 🙂 For me, you have lovely short chapters in your book. Is that your standard form? It works like James Patterson, although sometimes his are ridiculously short. Is it hard work keeping the chapter short, i.e. having so many cliffhangers (although sometimes less significant ones) or conclusions. I met crime / thriller writer Graham Hurley in autumn 2009 and started reading his first novel Nocturne. Like your book ‘Cut and Run’ (which I’m really enjoying by the way – have I said that already?) I was hooked in from the start, but with Graham’s (and this isn’t a criticism) there was one chapter per c. 100 pages and the only natural breaks were when I fell asleep or arrived at work (I’ve mastered the art of reading while I walk to / from work). I’m a short attention span reader whereas some people like my German friend like the bigger the book, the longer the chapters, the better – she’s also read Graham’s and he kindly dedicated my copy of The Take to her (she was thrilled, I’ve since replaced mine :)) – but then she’s a readaholic with a demanding job; I don’t read as much as I’d like to with a low-taxing job. 🙂 I think there was a question in there somewhere…

Matt: I enjoy the immediacy that a short chapter offers, plus it gives me more scope for moving a scene on rapidly, adding to the pace and urgency of the narrative. When I hit a point where I need to rein myself back a little, I tend to go for a slightly longer chapter that also serves to slow the pace a tad, before beginning to ramp it up again to the next major action scene. I’ve read different styles, and different lengths of chapters serve to build a plot in different ways. You mention Patterson’s ludicrously short chapters, and I have to agree that sometimes they’re more a single thought or paragraph than a genuine chapter. But it’s a great foil, because instead of putting down the book, you skip immediately to the next. There’s rarely a good point where you are happy to put the book down, and are always tempted to read the next very short chapter, so maybe JP has got it right. Whether that or it explains why he can turn out so many books in a year (regardless of the troop of authors working with him) because much of what the reader is paying for is white space. I read a lot of Stephen Leather’s Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd books and though he has breaks in the narrative of a single white line there are no traditionally headed chapters or white space. It still works for me, although at first I found the style unusual, but have come to expect it now. I see it as his distinctive style, the same as my alternating first person / third person narrative is mine. In regards the difficulty of keeping the chapters short, no, I don’t have a major problem. I only try to show what is important to the scene and then move on. I’d probably struggle if I had keep the narrative flowing over many pages without jeopardising the pace.

Morgen: Thank you so much, again, Matt for doing this interview with me… not only once but twice! Matt’s website is and his books are available at all good bookshops (and libraries :)).

I currrently post one author blog interview a day but today you’ll be getting two for the price of one. As well at Matt part 2 I shall be posting my interview with Mystery author Gerrie Ferris Finger.

If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me at and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know. 🙂

The 100th interview falls on my birthday so I’m going to interview myself! If there’s anything you’d like to find out about me (no skeleton digging please) then feel free to email me a question or three.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. … and follow me on Twitter ( where each new posting is automatically announced.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day I can’t review books but if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract/short chapter (ideally up to 2000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it/talking about it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use them or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast – see – then do email me. I plan to do one a fortnight (my shows are usually Mondays) so it’ll be interweaving red pen and hints/tips episodes.

In the meantime, if you have a moment and like quite dark stuff then you can read one of my ditties at Nathan Weaver’s Thank you. 🙂

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