While some authors are lucky enough to find their writing `voice’ and an audience almost as soon as they have started, others have to plug away for years .
Matt Brolly, author of the unsettling futuristic crime novel Zero started off hoping for a legal career after opting to study law at Swansea University.
“I was sort of inspired by Rumpole of the Bailey”, admitted Matt, “but I soon realised I was not that great at public speaking. I enjoyed the degree but what I had envisaged as a law career was quite different to what it would have ended up as being.”
Even while studying law, he felt compelled to write.
“About halfway through the law degree I regretted not doing English. I’d done English A level and had friends who did English. It would have made much more sense. I was reading so many books that weren’t law books at the time!
“I was reading a lot of horror stuff, by authors like Clive Barker, Peter Straub and Stephen King. I had dreams of being the next Clive Barker and started writing short stories. I had a couple published in small magazines. Then I managed to get an agent and had my first novel published, a dark fantasy. It was a Clive Barker-type fantasy but nothing much came of it.”
Eventually a Masters in Creative Writing at Glasgow University got Matt’s writing back on track, but in the meantime he paid the bills firstly as a recruitment consultant and later as a tennis coach.
“I’ve been doing that for ten years now. I have my own coaching business and I am head coach at a couple of clubs which gives me quite a bit of flexibility to carry on writing.”
As his own reading tastes have changed, Matt has moved away from writing horror and fantasy to the crime thrillers he produces now.
“I was experimenting to see the kind of writing I was most suited to. I tried a literary novel which got some minor interest, but crime appeals to me because of the structure..
Crime fiction is a popular genre, with plenty of successful authors competing for readers, so has he found it daunting, trying to stand out from the crowd?
“My goal was just to get published. I just wanted to get out there and make writing part of my life, so I didn’t really think about that. If I wanted to be the next literary novelist that would be even more unlikely!”
His latest book Zero, which he actually wrote before the previously-published Dead Eyed and Dead Lucky, is set in a grim but not too distant future where death is the punishment for all crime. It marks the debut of a new lead character, Detective Kate Swanson, who will appear in a series of books.
“With Zero I was interested in creating that world of zero tolerance, so I didn’t have to rely on the hackneyed old characters. The society itself is a character.
Looking at characters like Rebus from Ian Rankin or Jack Reacher from Lee Childs I was thinking that they work, but perhaps I needed to steer away from them.
“It’s half police procedural and half him working on his own, which makes it a little bit different, but there are so many thousands of books and there are not thousands of different ideas you can come up with.”