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Writer Wednesday: Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson is an ex-soldier and cop from the UK. He is the author of the 2016 John Creasey CWA Dagger listed novel Wicked Game which was listed by Amazon UK as the highest-rated rising star novel of 2016 and topped the best seller lists for both the Kindle and Kobo e-readers. Originally a self-published work, in 2015, the rights to Wicked Game were acquired by London based publishers Orenda Books.

Matt served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for twenty-five years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1992, one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent's Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People's Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital. Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whilst undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism.

One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition. He has used his detailed knowledge and memory to create what has been described by many readers as a fast paced, exciting and authentic tale of modern day policing. Matt Johnson is living proof that PTSD is a condition that can be controlled and overcome with the right help and support. He has been described by many fans as an inspiration to fellow sufferers.

A keen biker, Matt rides a '99 Harley Davidson Fatboy and is patron to the UK based 'Armed Forces Bikers' charity. He is also patron to a newly-formed charity, 'Shoeboxes for our Heroes'. In his spare time Matt keeps honey bees and produces his own honey. He scuba dives, collects unusual hats and enjoys hill-walking with his three dogs at his home in Wales near the Brecon Beacons.

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I describe myself as an accidental writer in that I came into this new world quite by chance. I started writing as part of a programme of treatment for PTSD and only discovered an ability when my counsellor commented on how much she enjoyed reading the material I had produced. Once I had made the decision to write, I was then on a mission. I wanted to use fiction to attempt to explain to people exactly how PTSD affects people, their families and friends. I realised that a non-fiction book would end up gathering dust on a shelf but fiction has the power to inform through entertainment. The incredible way my debut novel Wicked Game has been received has, to my mind, endorsed that decision.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?

The editing re-write. Going back to the story, changing and developing. That said, the hard work is always worthwhile and editors are very professional and don't suggest changes without justification. And, I have to admit, the results are worth the effort.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
I love writing, but I particularly enjoy having written. After that, getting out and meeting readers is very rewarding. There's no better motivation to facing having to shut yourself away again and get going with the next one.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
Well, that's a tough one. I don't read a large number of books and I tend to prefer non-fiction. That said, there are some that have had a lasting effect on me. I loved Seb Faulks - Birdsong, but if there were one book I would always remember it would be Paulo Coelho - The Alchemist, just brilliant.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
My main protagonist, Robert Finlay, is a former army officer, now in the Met Police. His sidekick, Kevin Jones is a rough diamond, a tough Welshman who, I suspect, is going to find himself in deep trouble sooner or later. I like Kevin, and so do readers, so I think that whatever calamity he faces, he will need to overcome it.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do?

I don't really have a favourite fictional character but one thing I might like to do is to take Jack Reacher out onto the Welsh hills and show him that there is more to life than getting into life-threatening scrapes!

7. What can we expect next from you?
The sequel to my debut will be published by Orenda Books in e-book format at the end of January 2017 and will hit the bookshop shelves in March. It's called Deadly Game and is about slave trafficking and the sex trade.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
To someone starting out I would say 'do your research'. Not just with regards to your writing, but on the ways to securing that elusive publishing deal. There are many more routes to achieving success nowadays than there were a few years ago,

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
First things first, a brew. I always start my day with tea. Then, out onto the hills with the dogs. I have three and we tend to walk a lot. I take a dictafone with me to record ideas and thoughts and, if I'm stuck then I always walk to clear my thoughts. It's amazing what comes to you when you relax. I start at my desk at about 10am, do emails, social-media etc and then try to write about 1000 words per working day. I don't work at weekends but, if I have things to do in the day - yes, including the washing - I may write into the evening. Some days I do no work at all, others I have been known to write 5000 words and work late into the night following an exciting thread. I like the variety but have come to realise that this is no life if you lack self-discipline.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
I recently went to a funeral of a mate who had written a book about his time in the army. His name is Pete Scholey and the book is called The Joker. I'd never read Pete's book and, at the moment, I'm putting that omission right. It's a damn good read, I wish I'd had the chance to tell him that before it was too late.
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Reeling from the attempts on his life and that of his family, Police Inspector Robert Finlay returns to work to discover that any hope of a peaceful existence has been dashed. Assigned to investigate the Eastern European sex-slave industry just as a key witness is murdered, Finlay, along with his new partner Nina Brasov, finds himself facing a ruthless criminal gang, determined to keep control of the traffic of people into the UK. On the home front, Finlay’s efforts to protect his wife and child may have been in vain, as an MI5 protection officer uncovers a covert secret service operation that threatens them all...

Picking up where the bestselling Wicked Game left off, Deadly Game sees Matt Johnson’s damaged hero fighting on two fronts. Aided by new allies, he must not only protect his family but save a colleague from an unseen enemy... and a shocking fate. 

Follow Matt on Twitter | Buy Deadly Game on Amazon |
Like him on Facebook | Visit his website

Writer Wednesday: Toni Jenkins

Toni Jenkins was born in New Zealand in 1970. After graduating with a BA Honours degree in Education, she bought a one-way ticket to the UK and so began her love affair with the northern hemisphere. She has been writing all her life, beginning with poetry, short stories and quotes and later moving into novels. Toni wrote her first novel in her early thirties, with her second being penned in an Italian village during her ‘mature gap year’. The Sender is her third and the first to be published. She is currently working on two further novels – The Gift is at editing stage and Benevolence is under development.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
It’s been part of my life since I was in single figures. I’ve always written – poetry, short stories and quotes. I love playing around with language. In my dreams I’m a novelist producing a book every other year. When I turned 30 I decided it was time to see if I could actually write a novel. That first book took me 3 years to write and will never see the light of day but it was a great training ground. The second and third books were written over a matter of months. I am as much in love with the writing process as with the finished product. There’s nothing better than immersing yourself in a world of your own making for hours at a time and making sure the good guy wins!

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Finding the time to write when working full-time and marketing my published novel. There are only so many hours in the day and being creative requires the right frame of mind, good energy levels and total focus. I sometimes find it hard to squeeze it all in but I usually devote my Sundays to writing where I can. A lot of my annual leave is devoted to writing the next book.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
Total immersion in an imaginary world. It sounds like I write fantasy – I don’t. I mean that writing fiction allows you to create new characters and situations with outcomes that you can control (if the characters don’t do it for you!). There is something really magical about the whole writing process. Sometimes a character will appear out of nowhere and become critical to the story. Their presence isn’t planned but they jump out onto the page and inhabit it. It’s as if your subconscious mind has forced them into the story because your conscious mind hasn’t got there yet. I find that fascinating. Steven, a crucial character in The Sender, just appeared on my laptop screen and he is such an important element in the story. I adore him and the book wouldn’t be the same without him.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. That book came to me at just the right time in my life and it had an empowering effect on the decisions I made shortly after reading it. Plus, look at how that book propelled her to the huge success she now has as a writer! I love the impetus behind it – taking control of your life and turning negatives into positives. Her writing always inspires me and also makes me laugh out loud. 

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?  
Patti Jarvis from my novel, The Sender. I have a real soft spot for her. Life has dealt her a hard blow but she is such a determined person and forging ahead despite her heartache. She lost her brother in tragic circumstances and her parents coped by turning to their own vices, neglecting her in the process. Things are definitely looking up when we leave her in The Sender but I’m contemplating a sequel so I can find out what happens to her! 

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
Elly from When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman. This book remains as one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve ever read. Elly is one of those people who has bad things happen to her despite the fact she’s a good person. Of course, this is what happens in the real world but I’d like to become Elly’s friend and let her know that she’s loved, as is her quirkiness. Her unusual view of the world is endearing.

7. What can we expect next from you?
I’m currently wearing two hats for my upcoming novels - an editing hat for The Gift and a research hat for Benevolence. The Gift was written in 2009 and needs a fairly extensive re-write. It’s a story about the revelation of a long-held secret that creates a major fallout for two families on opposite sides of the world. It’s about how the only person we ever truly know is ourselves. Benevolence is about the gift of life and has a unique concept that I need to craft very carefully to convince the reader to believe in it. There’s a lot of research to do before writing this one!

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself as a writer. It’s very easy to look around and feel like plankton in the writing pool. But every writer starts at the bottom rung of the ladder and has a unique voice with a right to be heard. Confidence can be hard to capture, let alone sustain, but making friends with other writers is essential for support, feedback and encouragement. And always, always call yourself a writer as soon as you’ve written. In moments of doubt, telling yourself you’re a writer is hugely inspiring.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
I treat it like a day in the office. My alarm goes early, I get a good breakfast under my belt, and the entire day is spent drinking copious amounts of green tea. I’m at my desk for around 8 hours with my resources spread out around me. Unfortunately, I need silence to write (I wish I was one of those writers who could do it in a busy cafĂ© but I’m not) so if I need to use earplugs, I do. I have an hour for lunch, sitting outside if possible (I don’t want to get rickets!). Then it’s back to it. There’s nothing better than feeling mentally exhausted after a day writing your novel. I usually write between 5000-8000 words over 8 hours which, of course, needs editing later. 

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I’ve just started A Fine House in Trinity by Lesley Kelly. It’s very early on in the book but she has a unique voice and the black humour is hilarious. I have no idea what’s going to happen but I’m excited to find out. I’ve also just finished the most beautiful memoir from Rosalind Gibb called Show Me Colour which is a touching account of the loss of a loved one. Somehow she has managed to write in a way that is both heart wrenching and uplifting. I’m continually grateful for the enormous amount of incredible books we as readers have at our fingertips.

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The Sender follows the journey of a mysterious and inspiring unsigned card, linking the lives of four women from different backgrounds and cities who are all facing unique adversities. The card instructs each woman to hold it in their possession for six months before choosing another woman in need of its empowering quality to send it to, and invites them all to meet in Edinburgh two years from the date of its inception. The card seems to hold an extraordinary quality that helps the women face their challenges head-on, though none of them can imagine who the anonymous sender is or why they were the chosen ones.


Follow Toni on Twitter | Buy The Sender on Amazon |
Like her on Facebook | Visit her website

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