By Jeremy Burns
For many thriller fans, author Matt Hilton is synonymous with his action hero and ex-counterterrorism soldier, Joe Hunter. Now, Hilton dials up the intrigue with the first in a new mystery series starring Tess Grey and “Po” Villere.
BLOOD TRACKS, which hit shelves in the UK in November and makes its global debut February 2016, forces an unlikely partnership in an action-packed quest to solve not only a staggering cross-country mystery, but also the ghosts of their own pasts.
This month, Hilton answered a few questions for The Big Thrill, giving readers a peek into his new book.
Tell us about BLOOD TRACKS.
BLOOD TRACKS is the first in a new series featuring investigator Tess Grey and renegade ex-con Nicolas “Po” Villere. The two are an unusual pairing of ex-cop and ex-con, thrown together in the search for a witness that takes them from Maine to Louisiana and back again, while trying to stay alive. Initially the two don’t like each other, but they come to realize that sometimes opposites really do attract. The book is action-packed, but it’s also more of a mystery than my readers might expect from me.
What was your initial inspiration for BLOOD TRACKS?
Joe Hunter thrillers are full of action and feature tough guys caught in tough scenarios, and when I sat down to write a new series, I wanted to challenge readers’ expectations, so I chose a woman’s POV. I hoped to develop a character that was recuperating from a severe injury and carrying the baggage of a failed law enforcement career, then throw her into the kind of desperate situations Hunter usually finds himself, and see how she fared. Because I’d set up a backstory for Tess, the writing of the novel came from the need to get her back in the saddle so to speak, and I had the idea of throwing her in at the deep end to do just that.
How did you research locations, subjects, and other elements for BLOOD TRACKS? Any interesting stories there?
I’ve visited the United States on a number of occasions, but there are two locations that have continued to evade me in Maine and Louisiana, so I decided to set the books there to visit them in my imagination. I’m a fan of John Connolly, whose books are set in Maine, and of James Lee Burke and J.A. (Jack) Kerley, whose books are set in the bayous, and wanted to pay homage to my favorite writers with BLOOD TRACKS. I also did a lot of reading, Googling, mapping, watching and listening to ensure my writing felt authentic.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in BLOOD TRACKS do you most identify?
Having been a cop myself, I guess a lot of my experiences have gone into the development of Tess Grey, but then in nature, I’m probably more akin to Po. Although he’s a time-served killer, he’s not a bad guy, and he shares some of the same character traits that I find important in life, such as loyalty, honor, love, and respect of family and friends. He’s old-fashioned with respect to his manners and mannerisms, and I think I probably am too. Another character is Pinky LeClerc. Pinky is gay, black, seriously obese, and a minor criminal, and even though you might not expect it of me, I think I share many character traits with him, primarily his social awkwardness and use of self-deprecating humor.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
I’d have to say the aforementioned Pinky LeClerc. He’s an oddly endearing guy, despite being a gunrunner, and I had great fun writing about his interactions with Tess— who he adores—and Po—who he loves—and was able to have some great fun with the dialogue. Pinky has a strange speech pattern, and I had fun with it. Some beta readers have fallen in love with “Pinky Me,” and I am equally fond of him.
After writing ten Joe Hunter novels, how was your writing process different in starting a whole new series?
The biggest change for me was in writing from a woman’s POV, but not only that, there’s a distinct change of style from the Hunter books. Hunter is the narrator of his adventures, told in first person past tense, as if he’s entertaining his listeners with a good ol’ war story around the campfire. With Tess and Po, I decided to write in third person past tense, so it affected my story-telling style somewhat. Also, the Hunter books tend to be action-oriented, and they are usually written by the seat of my pants, whereas with BLOOD TRACKS, I had to rein myself in a little and actually set out a brief outline so I didn’t get lost along the way. Writing to an outline was a challenge to me—my creativity tends to send me in wild tangents. But it was also a good exercise in discipline.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
I love mountains, lakes, forests, and rivers, and my favorite travel destinations happen to be almost on my own doorstep. I regularly take trips to Scotland, and can be found lounging about in a log cabin at the side of a loch. In fact, I’ve just returned from a trip to Scotland, where I visited the cave of a cannibalistic (Sawney Bean) clan and also spent time on the seashore watching a colony of seals up close and personal. I also love to be on boats and enjoy cruising, and have been fortunate enough to visit many ports in Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.
If you could have dinner with any one person, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you talk about?
It would have to be Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Cimmerian, whose writing was a huge inspiration to my younger self, and still is. Howard fully created his own pre-historical cultures to add background and depth to his fantastical tales, and I found the breadth of his worlds stunning. I find it difficult to accept that modern human beings have existed for hundreds of thousands of years, and yet have only done something about organizing ourselves in the last ten thousand years. Howard was on to something. I’d love to hear if he had some insider knowledge that he could share with me. The recent discoveries of ancient structures like Gobekli Tepi in Turkey tell me I might be on the right track.
What is your favorite period/place in history? If given the opportunity to time travel, would you go?
As crazy as it sounds, I’d love to travel back to before the last ice age to check on my theory that many pre-historic cultures were wiped out when the seas rose after the glacial melt. I think that many sites of historic significance are currently submerged beneath the world’s oceans, and would love to be able to go back and pinpoint where exactly they were.
If you had the opportunity to freely explore any secure location from anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?
I’d love to poke around Gobekli Tepi, or Puma Punku in South America. Both ancient sites fascinate me, as there is nothing else like either of those sites anywhere else on the planet. The sheer sophistication of Puma Punku smacks of advanced skill and tools and is unlike any of the other ancient sites nearby. I think it pre-dates most ancient ruins currently known by tens of thousands of years, and I would love to go there simply to soak in the ancient atmosphere. Alternatively, give me any old ruin, a spooky dungeon, or crumbling castle, and I’d be in geek heaven.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
I love the process of writing, and am a storyteller at heart. If I wasn’t writing I’d be drawing comic strips, or filming a movie, or even singing songs, as I can’t help myself. But the thing I enjoy most about the process is when readers enjoy my tales and take the time to tell me so. Some of the best feedback is when I’m told I’ve got someone reading or writing again, or that I’ve inspired them to write their own stories. It’s a great thrill knowing that I’ve touched someone in a positive way and inspired them to follow their own dreams.
What is one thing that would surprise your readers about you or your writing process?
I’m self-taught. Before I was published I wrote seven novels and countless short stories over a period of about twenty-five years, so my overnight success was a long time coming. I wrote in seclusion and didn’t know another author, had never attended a writing class or writing group, and had no ins to the publishing industry. Everything I’ve achieved through my writing has been through the process of reading and then trying to emulate my favorite authors, who have proven to be my best teachers.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors?
Keep on following your dream. If I can do it, then so can you. Read a lot, write a lot, then repeat, and don’t stop. I don’t have a magical formula for writing, you just have to stick in, have a strong work ethic, stay disciplined and true to yourself, and never give in to the naysayers.
What can we expect next from you, and where can readers go to hear the latest news?
I’m currently writing the second book in the Tess and Po series, and Joe Hunter eleven is already in the bag, so you can expect to see both on the shelves in the next year or so. I’m also working on a couple of standalone projects and short tales I hope to see in print before long.
Matt Hilton quit his career as a police officer to pursue his love of writing tight, cinematic action thrillers. He is the author of the high-octane Joe Hunter thriller series, including his most recent novel The Devil’s Anvil – Joe Hunter 10 – published in June 2015 by Hodder and Stoughton. 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 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. Also, he has a brand new thriller series featuring Tess Grey and Nicolas “Po’boy” Villere debuting in November 2015, with Blood Tracks from Severn House Publishers. He is currently working on the next Joe Hunter novel, as well as a stand-alone thriller novel.
To learn more about Matt, please visit his website.