The Writing Life of: M J Lee
M J Lee
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author M J Lee (Martin). Martin will be sharing with us detail of his writing life, telling us all about his latest book ‘Where The Dead Fall‘, which was released today and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Martin (M J Lee) has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a University researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, tv commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.
He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the North of England. In London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and London Festivals, and the United Nations.
When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, researching his family history, practicing downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing he were George Clooney.
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
I did, and it wasn’t to be writer. I remember sitting up in bed aged about six or so and reading a book about the Kings and Queens of England (despite coming from a very Irish family). It was one of the few books we had in the house. From that moment on, history fascinated me. I went on to study it at University and do a MPhil (which I never finished). Funnily, my dream at this time was to be lecturer in History.
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
I’m sorry to say I didn’t read much as a kid. We weren’t a reading or book oriented family at all. My love of reading kicked in when I was about fourteen and discovered the library. I went mad in my own little way. Tolkien and C S Lewis were my favourites.
Then I went on a binge of reading impossibly long books. War and Peace and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I was a very strange reader. The longer the book the better. That’s why the closure of so many libraries annoys me so much. They were my introduction to reading. Without them, and their vast stores of knowledge, I would have been lost.
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
No is the short answer. I became an advertising copywriter almost by accident, realising very quickly that I was quite good at learning about products and writing short pieces of copy. I suppose it was after about ten years of doing this that I decided to write longer pieces. I wrote a couple of novels in my spare time. They are still in my spare drawer and I doubt they will ever see the light of day.
I worked in advertising for twenty-five years loving the creativity of it. But it’s not a profession forever, so gradually the desire to write grew stronger and stronger. I decided to give it a go and wrote the first Danilov novel. Luckily this was accepted pretty quickly by HQ, a division of Harper Collins, and I’ve never looked back.
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
I’m definitely a morning person. I tend to start work about 7.30 and write until noon time. I have lunch and then work till about 3 pm till my daughter comes from home from school. I actually work everywhere, wherever the mood takes me. Sometimes at my desk, sometimes at the kitchen table, on the sofa, in the bedroom. It annoys the hell out of my wife…
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
As I said, my first two books are still in my bottom drawer and will remain so. They are really not good enough to be published, but they were useful in that they taught me about the one trait I believe all novelists need in spades. Perseverance.
I’ve now written twelve books in total with another two to be published in the next three months. I love the actual process of writing but it does take a long time. There are so many ideas to write and so little time to write them.
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Probably a pantser in that I start with a definite idea, usually an image and then have a couple of weigh points I know I want to hit in the book. But how I get there is very much by the seat of my pants. I constantly ask my characters what would they do next? This question gives me the narrative drive I need for the book.
Concerning your latest book:
DI Ridpath Crime Thriller Book Two
Publisher – Canelo
Pages – 344
Release Date – 11th April 2019
Format – ebook
One chance encounter, one street side murder, will change everything. The extraordinary new Ridpath crime thriller.
DI Ridpath is in the process of getting his life back together when everything goes wrong.
Driving to meet his daughter, he is caught in a gruesome motorway accident, in which a near-naked man is rundown by a lorry, while fleeing from a lone gunman. As Ridpath closes Manchester’s road network in search of the assailant, one question remains: why did nobody else see him?
Ridpath’s investigations soon unearth a number of inconsistencies, which pulls the police force itself into question, and hint at something sinister to come.
For Manchester is on the brink of a fresh surge of violence unlike anything it has seen in decades, and Ridpath must battle this unprecedented conflict along with his own demons. One thing is for sure. There will be blood on the streets…
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
The latest book, Where the Dead Fall, is set in Manchester. I wanted it to be about gangs and gang warfare but with a different take. I researched their activities in the city over the last twenty years, starting from the late 1990s and the period of the Madchester wars. I talked to ex-policemen who had served during the period and I even talked to a former gang member who I knew through a family friend. A fascinating man, he spent a lot of time on the periphery of that world though his job as a bouncer in the night clubs.
I love research it’s my favourite part of the writing process. For me, it’s when the book comes alive.
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
Pretty quick. I didn’t want the idea to go stale. I researched this book for about three months and then went straight into the writing. The first incident came from a short article in the local newspaper and the book just developed from there.
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
This was a collaborative process with my publisher and editor. I wrote a few and so did my publisher. I ended up preferring his title over my own. The series has a style so that enables us to explore a variety of different choices while remaining in one general area.
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
The main character, Detective Inspector Ridpath, has just returned to the Greater Manchester Police after six months on sick leave. He is in remission from cancer. Rather than place him on active duty, they have assigned him to a local coroner to help her as a coroner’s officer. He has no desire to just accept a sinecure however. He wants to prove he’s still a good cop and, as a coroner’s office is in a unique position to look at cases that otherwise would slip through the net.
He is supported by the coroner herself, Mrs Challinor. A woman haunted by the failure of her office to prevent or even see, the murders of Dr Harold Shipman. She is coming to the end of her career and is determined that no such mistakes will ever happen again on her watch. Together they make a formidable team.
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
It was relatively easy. I pitched an idea to Michael Bhaskar at Canelo and he loved it. From then, it it was just a question of getting the words down on paper. I am now contracted to write three DI Ridpath books for Canelo, who are a wonderfully supportive publisher.
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
I also am an Indie writer as well as working with publishers. I have a series of Genealogical Mysteries with the main character being a family history investigator called Jayne Sinclair. Her next book, The Sinclair Betrayal, will come out on May 18th. I’m now researching the next DI Ridpath and half way through writing the next Jayne Sinclair. I love writing novels with two such diverse characters as the leads.
The Fun Section
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
To magically turn ideas into finished books. I have so many ideas for novels but too little time to write them all. 48 hour days would help too…
2) Do you have any pets?
No. My dog passed away about three years ago and I’ve avoided getting another. The ending was just too painful.
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
He came. He saw. He conked out.
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
I would probably choose DCI Cartwright, a grumpy old cop who’s seen it all but still has a desire to put the bad guys away.
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Bali. I’m been there many times and it never ceases to amaze and astound me. In Europe, probably Siena. A town where history lurks around every corner.
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
‘What’s up doc?’
I would like to say a big thank you to M J Lee for sharing with us details of his writing life and for a wonderful interview.