The first three - Heartman, All Through the Night and Restless Coffins - I hope to backtrack on and get to.
Here we go ....
Is the book writing full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
A): I’m a full-time writer. Traditionally represented by my literary agent, Phil Patterson over at Marjacq Scripts. I’ve been writing for over twenty years, and ‘professionally’ since 2013. Previously I’d worked in both the mental health nursing sector, for the probation service and in youth offending.
*I’m about to start A Traitor to His Blood, the fifth (and final?) book in your JT Ellington series. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less? (*now finished and enjoyed)
St Pauls, Bristol. 1980. Barbadian, disgraced former police officer, Joseph Tremaine 'JT' Ellington, fast approaching retirement, with a long-abandoned career as a private investigator, is drawn back toward the dark side in search of a missing woman, the wife of a local, influential pastor. Bloodshed, treachery and the shadow of the Obeah/Voodoo ensues.I really enjoyed the previous entry, A Sinner's Prayer a few years ago, but
unfortunately haven't yet caught up on the earlier series entries - Heartman, All Through the Night and Restless Coffins (too many books, not enough time syndrome). Do you have a favourite of the bunch? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?
I wrote the original first three books as a trilogy: Heartman, All through The Night & Restless Coffins. However, by the end of Restless it was clear there was more to tell, and readers clamoured for further stories. (which was very kind of them) The books all work as standout tales, but to get the best of them, to fall in love or not with the characters I’d recommend starting at the beginning with Heartman.
My debut was written with a sense of, I’m writing this for me. It was, in fact a joy to write and I loved every minute of the process, which seems like a million years ago. The sequel, All Through The Night was great fun and is my favourite of the Windrush Quintet.
Where did the
inspiration for your main character JT Ellington spring from?
He’s a composite of people I know and my imagination. The surname Ellington is a tribute to the great Jazz musician, Duke Ellington. I also wanted a name that would stand out from the crowd, and easily remembered. The character harks back to the Noir greats, Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer.
How long from conception to completion did the A Traitor to His Blood take to write?
I had the story mapped out in a Moleskin journal, as all the previous four novels have been. Like Stephen King, I believe a book should take no longer than a season to write; four months max, if not the characters start to become lifeless on the page and the story starts to lag. Traitor’s took four months to write. Two drafts. Then two professional edits before publication. Around six months of hard work and late nights.
Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined? Were there many bumps in the road along the way?
Good question: The end result was exactly as I mapped it out. I knew it would be a ‘Tough Write’ – Traitor’s is certainly the very last in the series. Knowing this, saying farewell to characters I love was difficult. Sad. By the time this is Q&A is published I’m guessing you’ll have finished the book and the denouement will offer some idea of where I’m coming from …
I see the tagline #WindrushNoir attributed to the latest book, has the book been shaped at all by events concerning the horrendous government treatment of those affected by the Windrush scandal?
My debut, Heartman was written in 2013, published in 2014 and sadly the media/press were not at all interested in BLM, the issues surrounding the gallant Windrush generation or for that matter was the publishing industry interested in publishing a novel with a central black protagonist and a story that highlighted endemic racism in Britain in the 1960’s. The first book was, to say the least, a very tough sell. In fact, TV bought the rights to Heartman long before I had a publishing deal. Most UK publishers rejected the book outright. The termed ‘Windrush Noir’ was coined by the BBC/X Factor presenter, Dermot O’ Leary who has long championed my work and the books. The man’s an utter gent, and I owe him for coming up with the moniker.When you have an idea, and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
To a great degree, I make it up as I go along. I’m of the belief, ‘If I don’t know what’s coming, then the reader is going to second-guess. Plotting is all well and good initially, but to much outlining detracts from the creative process. A writer needs to be free of such constraints. I’m a go with the flow type of guy. Once I start a book, it’s the character to tells the tale. I’m just typing out the words on to a PC.
Are there any subjects off limits?
For me, no. I’m a staunch supporter of free speech and the need for a writer to be free to express themselves. That’s not to say I want to write a work/book to offend or upset. I have no interest in hurting anyone’s feelings. But I’m a firm believer that ‘the truth needs a soldier’ – Yes, my books are fictional, but there is a very strong thread of historical fact peppered through them.
I think there are things I’d prefer to steer clear of. I have no interest in writing about ‘real’ people who have hurt others. No desire to write about serial killers. In the past I’ve worked with men and women who have taken multiple life. There is nothing glamourous about a murderer. Nothing fascinating about their terrible crimes. Killers generally have sordid, miserable pasts, filled with depravities and abuse. I’ve met more than my fair share of those kinds of people, but never a ‘Hannibal Lecter’ type.
Just sad, tormented souls who have committed unforgiveable crimes against the innocent.
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
Yes. It’s a strict discipline. I start at 8;30am and finish around 5pm. Monday to Friday. As the book nears its end, I will work into the wee-small hours until it’s in the bag.
My mantra is, if you want to write a book, you need to write. If you what to write a book in a season, you must switch off from the outside world. No TV, no unnecessary phone calls, no social media.
Just good food. Plenty of decent sleep in between chapters, and beer … lots of beer.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
Not really. Perhaps just little snippets of individual traits. It’s mainly my crafty ability to people watch that goes into a character’s make-up on the page. I’m drawn toward ‘characters’ especially in pubs. Being a good listener, in my humble opinion makes for a good writer. What comes out of most peoples mouths when stood at a public bar or sat chatting to friends in a pub is, for me, literary gold. Listening to people is the one major thing I missed during the ongoing pandemic and lockdown.
I heard a corker from an old friend the other day; a great observation made whilst the speaker was under the influence of one malt whisky to many.
“Mark, you can’t play a ukulele when you’ve got asthma!”
Brilliant, utterly brilliant.
Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
I have long wanted to bring the 1960’s TV spy drama, CALLAN back to the screen, that’s still in my sights. ‘Any Other Home’ is a script I wrote about working with young people at risk and I have a unpublished novel called Five Days Dark which I love and would one day like to return to.
What’s the current project in progress?
Yes, almost in the bag. It’s called Coal Black Soul. My literary agent is just reading it, and early word is that he likes it very much. It’s the first in a new crime fiction trilogy set in Greece in the 1970’s just after the infamous ‘General’s Junta’ regime. Coal Black Soul ‘s is centred around the ancient port city of Thessalonica and features my new character, Major Mikhail Remis. I’m very excited for readers to dip in.
What’s the best thing about writing?
For me, it’s my dream job. My agent Phil summed up my job perfectly.
“M P, your just making shit up!”
How very true. It’s a privilege to be in the position I find myself today; to be writing full-time, professionally.
I’m a full-time grump.My wife, Jen is an absolute saint. She puts up with grouchy, sweary, real ale supping Mark; ranting and chuntering, who in the winter months sits out in his writing room, still wearing his pyjamas, living in a fantasy world of his own making.
Jen sees Mark like that.
The readers see M P Wright. Scrubbed up and gleaming in his finest suit, on his very best behaviour at book launches and festivals.
The reality is very different.
In truth I’m very much like the Viz character ‘8 Ace’ only sat at a PC.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
Rory Stewart The Places In Between.
Edgar Froese, Tangerine Dream – Force Majeure.
James Ellroy – Widespread Panic.
Xenophon - The Expedition of Cyrus.
Charles Bukowski - Notes of a Dirty Old Man.
Who do you read and enjoy?
I rarely, if ever read crime fiction. Ellroy is an exception, and I am a huge fan of the American Noir master’s, Hammett, Chandler, MacDonald. I adore Ian Fleming, John Le Carre and Eric Ambler and the great Ted Lewis – who in my opinion was the master of British crime fiction. I love to read biographies, anything about music, food & drink, and ancient history. I indulge myself in monthly film and music magazines and I also take a yearly subscription for Viz comic which I always read whist luxuriating in a deep, hot bubble bath.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Casino Royale. Nuff said!
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
I really shouldn’t admit it’s drinking beer, should I?
Okay, it’s drinking beer. Followed by cooking a nice meal for my wife, Jen.
I also love listening to music. It’s an obsession.
I’m an avid collector of music, both CD and digitally.
I’ve collected film soundtracks for over forty years and lectured about the history of film music for a good while.
Then there’s all the other wonderful stuff: family and friends, being close to those you love and have missed seeing these past 16-18 months during the pandemic.
And the pub, oh, how I’ve missed the pub!
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
I loved the Australian director Robert Connolly’s recent adaptation of The Dry,
And was impressed with Judas and the Black Messiah. The standout for me in 2021 however has been ‘The Father’ - Anthony Hopkins is magisterially brilliant in Florian Zeller’s dementia drama, superbly evoking the confusions, mysteries and terrors of the condition.
I am also eagerly awaiting the new Bond movie, No Time To Die and the new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Wright household?
Sadly not. I’m not a huge TV fan – certainly not the kind of stuff that passes for
entertainment these days. I’m not a binge watcher of the latest Netflix series or into much of popular drama, basically because I’m fussy and critical.
I’m a massive fan of Shane Meadows. I love Ken Loach. Those guys are benchmarks. You’ve got to be good to reach those heights.
If I had to list what impressed me over the last few years drama wise and I look forward to viewing; Kevin Costner’s action-packed, beautifully scripted, Yellowstone – little viewed here in the UK. Steven Knight’s sublime Peaky Blinder’s, and I was very impressed with HBO’s brilliant, gripping character study that was Mare of Easttown earlier this year.
I was truly underwhelmed by Line of Duty (excepted for the legendary first season) and frankly I can’t stand most of the ITV and the BBC’s limp crime dramas, an utter waste of time most of ‘em, and nearly all of which are over-hyped by the UK media.
Moribund at best most of it.
Endeavor is the one true exception. It’s glorious. Beautifully scripted thanks to the great Russ Lewis; the sets and costumes are first rate, the scoring pitch perfect and there are some fantastic performances from Shaun Evans, Roger Allam and the splendid Anton Lesser. It’s a Sunday night treat.
What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?
I’m currently listening to Hans Zimmer’s new Bond score to No Time To Die and I’m sadly underwhelmed. A real disappointment after such a long wait. On the other hand, the German composer has written the score for Dune, and it’s fantastic.
Away from film
music, the new Strangler’s album, Dark Matters is excellent. Vangelis’ Juno To
Jupiter is a joy, Robert Fripp & The Grid’s Leviathan is a stunner, Max
Richter’s Exile’s is achingly beautiful and the recent reissue of Ry Cooder’s
Cuban-music classic, the Buena Vista Social Club is bewitching.
You see, you get me talking about music, and I just can’t stop.
I need to go pour myself a pint and lie down in a dark room …
And maybe listen to some music.
Many thanks to M.P. Wright for his time.
Check out his latest - A Traitor to His Blood
HOTLY ANTICIPATED HISTORICAL CRIME FICTION NOVEL BY M.P. WRIGHT TO BE PUBLISHED
A Traitor to His Blood is the fifth in the Windrush noir series
Gritty, tender and moving, A Traitor to His Blood follows the adventures of reluctant Bajan private eye JT Ellington as he returns to 1980’s Bristol. Published on September 16th by Black & White Publishing, this is the fifth novel in the critically acclaimed historical crime fiction series by M.P. Wright.
Set in St Pauls, Bristol in 1980, Joseph Tremaine Ellington, now 57 years old, has long abandoned his former career as an enquiry agent for the safety of teaching. But his old life draws him back. When the wife of a locally respected Baptist minister vanishes into a seamy, dead-end world of users and abusers, leaving behind both her family and a critically fragile premature infant daughter, Ellington is asked if he can help find the woman…
Described by Dermot O’Leary as ‘Page-turning historical detective fiction at its finest, picks you up and puts you right in 80s Britain and its underbelly’, the TV rights to the series have been bought by award-winning production company, Wilson Worldwide.
Best-selling crime novelist, Mark Billingham, describes the Windrush noir series as ‘terrific crime fiction – evocative, socially aware and gripping – and JT Ellington is a compelling protagonist’.
Talking about the publication of A Traitor to His Blood, M.P. Wright said, “My debut novel, Heartman, was longlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and I am thrilled to be publishing the fifth book in the series. What I thought was just going to be a trilogy has grown so much in popularity, so the publication of the fifth book, A Traitor to His Blood, is an absolute pleasure. Readers have genuinely embraced my Bajan detective and I cant wait to share the latest exploits of JT Ellington with them.”
A Traitor to His Blood is published on September 16 2021 by Black & White Publishing and is available from all good bookshops.
M.P. Wright was born in Leicestershire in 1965. He was employed in various roles within the music industry before working as a private investigator. He retrained in 1989 and spent the next 20 years in the mental health and probation services in the UK, specialising in risk assessment. A self-confessed aficionado of film, music and real ale, and father of two beautiful daughters, Mark lives with his partner and their two Rottweiler dogs, Tiff and Dylan. His first novel, Heartman, was longlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger in 2015.