Raven Crime Reads Exclusive: An Interview With M. P. Wright – All Through The Night (J T Ellington Trilogy)

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083It’s an absolute pleasure to host an exclusive Q&A with M.P. Wright on the release of All Through The Night- the second book to feature the charismatic J T Ellington, and the atmospheric setting of 1960’s Bristol. With his first book, Heartman, longlisted for a CWA Dagger and having attracted widespread praise from reviewers and readers alike, there’s also the mouthwatering prospect of a forthcoming TV adaptation too. Today, Wright shares with us not only his thoughts on writing, the journey from page to screen and his influences, but also the lowdown on the world of the Mr J T Ellington himself…

heartmanHeartman was your debut novel introducing us to the world of Joseph Tremaine ‘JT’ Ellington. Can you give us a quick synopsis of the plot to introduce readers to the atmosphere and setting of the book?

Bristol, 1965. Joseph Tremaine “JT” Ellington, an ex police colonial police officer with a tragic past and a broken heart, has left his native Barbados in search of a better life in the Mother Country. But Bristol in the Sixties is far from the Promised Land and JT faces hostility from both the weather and the people. Then local mogul Earl Linney approaches him. He needs JT’s help finding Stella Hopkins, a young deaf and mute West Indian woman who has gone missing, and who the police aren’t interested in searching for. With rent due, and no job, JT has little option than to accept.

=_utf-8_B_I0FsbFRocm91Z2hUaGVOaWdodCAg4oCmLmpwZw==_=With the release of the second in the trilogy All Through The Night what is the indefatigable JT Ellington up to now, and which wrongs will he be attempting to right?

It’s the summer of 1966 and Ellington has set himself up in his Cousin Vic’s gymnasium and is eeking out a shabby living as an enquiry agent, debt collecting, divorce partitions and insurance work. He hates the work but does know what he really wants to do or what the future holds for him. Nursing a nasty hang-over he is approached by a shady administrator from a local orphanage to seek out a Jamaican GP and back street abortionist called Fowler who has stolen a number of death certificates of children previously in the care of the Walter Wilkins Children’s Home. JT is asked to find Fowler, retrieve the stolen documents and ask a simple question. “Where can the Truth be found?” It’s this strange question that leads Ellington on a journey across Bristol, the backwaters of Somerset and into the heart of darkness. Its essentially a chase story which expands on both the Heartman story and Joseph Ellington’s character.

Your characterisation is incredibly well-realised and the life you breathe into them- a real mix of the entertaining, the tormented, the bad to the core, or the heroic. Your main character Joseph in particular is a wonderfully multi-faceted character. From which corner of your imagination or life experience did you conjure him from and others within the piece?

Ellington as a character came to me very easily. I’d mapped out a huge back story and had a moleskine notebook containing his family history, much of it created from my own imagination, some of it garnered from research into family histories on the island of Barbados. I’ve had the luck to travel to the Caribbean and many of the Southern states of the USA, especially Louisiana. I wanted to hang around JT’s persona a strong layer of credibility and a sense of the real whilst giving the readers a feel for an ‘Old Age’ detective, that harks back to the times of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. I say to my daughters that JT is the hero I could never be, but his Cousin Vic, is in some ways (I’m shamefaced to admit) very much me. His humour and no nonsense attitude certainly hark back to my own rather irascible personality.

bristol It’s always a brave authorial decision to set a book outside of the present era. What focused your attention on this era in particular and how did the idea to use Bristol (instead of the much favoured setting of 1960‘s London) present itself?

Of all the questions I’ve been asked about Heartman, ‘Why Bristol?’ is the one that is sprung on me most. Originally I’d tried to set the book here in my home town of Leicester, but logistically and on scale, it simply didn’t work. Bristol is a big and beautiful city. Its also strong connected to the West Indies in a commercial and commerce sense, most certainly historically for all the wrong reasons; slavery being the foremost. Heartman is set in St Pauls which sits just outside of Bristol city centre. It was ghettoised early on by greedy, white landlords who packed in new immigrants from the West Indies who had travelled thousands of miles to the mother country seeking work and the promise of ‘Streets That Were Paved with Gold’. What they got was far from the truth. Cramped tenement homes, badly paid jobs nobody else wanted and not always the warm welcome that the British political state had promised them either. Bristol was the right place for JT to make his new home. I wanted to put him in a world that was both familiar and alien. Ellington understands how British society works to some degree, he’s witnessed firsthand the White ‘Officer Class’ of the Barbadian Police Force in which he used to serve but at the same time is knocked for six by a country that is far removed from the Caribbean life he has led.

Obviously the subject matter and setting of the book required a degree of research on your behalf. How did you go about this and did you have anyone in your immediate circle whose experience of this period you could draw on directly?

Firstly, lots of first hand interviews, speaking to the residents of St Pauls today, especially those who lived there in the 1960’s. Their insight was invaluable. I spent time in the pubs that both JT & Vic frequent in Heartman, talking to locals, getting a feel for a specific time and place, the patois, the food and drink. St Pauls is a very special place, I love it. My partner and her family are from Bristol, their lilting Somerset accents helped when I was writing about West Country characters. I’ve been lucky to travel across Somerset which is a beautiful county. There such a lot of scope for the future novels in respect of plot and setting that can be drawn from the region.

With the very visual and textured quality of your writing I was delighted to hear that Heartman has been optioned for TV. What has been your personal experience of the journey from page to screen and your involvement in bringing Ellington to a whole new medium?

Heartman has been option by World Productions, makers of BBC’s Line of Duty & The Great Train Robbery and ITV’s The Bletchley Circle. It’s been adapted by the BAFTA award winning playwright and dramatist, Tony Marchant for the BBC. Everything is looking fantastic. TV takes its time to get things on the money with a production like Heartman, and rightly so. The script, now in its third draft, is spot on and everyone involved has worked so very hard on bringing the book to life. It’s just a matter of time before we hopefully have good news for the TV guys, but it’s a patience game you have to play and you simply have to sit back and put your trust in the professionals. I have every faith that World will bring a fabulous drama. The script is, if I say so myself. Stunning!

It’s great to see the huge influence on and the respect you have of, James Lee Burke, and also your mention of Walter Mosley. What is it about these two writers that really strikes a chord with you, and is it relevant in any way that they are both American?

Both James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley have influenced my own writing immensely. I could waffle on endlessly about the reasons, but to be concise, both writers offer up to the reader an important quality in their main characters of Robicheaux and Rawlins – and that’s integrity. Yes, both men are flawed but they are very real on the page and I wanted to emulate that in my own characters, flaws and all. Burke and Mosley’s characters are not heroic and JT Ellington is far from being a hero, but there is a heroic nature that develops in the man which is unfurled by his strong moral compass. He’s a man who is forced into a job he really doesn’t want. Desperation and necessity are what dictates his decisions as Heartman’s story develops. The relevancy of the American author angle is that I wanted to bring some of the ‘Man Alone’ feel to the current British Crime Fiction arena. Not in the ‘Maverick’ detective sense of the police procedural but as in the Hammett/Chandler/MacDonald world weary and cynical feel. I hope I’ve created that kind of vibe in my books.

 If you can put it into words how would you describe the journey through embarking on the first sentence of the book to the brink of publication?

A long, hard slog… And I’ve been very lucky. Publishing is a glacially slow process at times. Any writer out there expecting to find success overnight is going to be in for a real shock. There are a lot of knockbacks at first and nothing good happens overnight. As a writer you have to believe in your material, hone down the prose and have great characters that readers will want to fall in love with. I was also blessed to meet my literary agent; Philip Patterson of the Marjacq Agency in London. Phil has guided me through the good and bad. I’ve also been aided by some great writers who have been so supportive to my work; Peter James, Emyln Rees, Mari Hannah, Anne Zouroudi, Stav Sherez, Stuart Neville, Ken Bruen and Luca Veste. They all deserve a mention and a big drink!

RestlessCoffins-A-page-001 And so The Restless Coffins– the third of the trilogy beckons. Any teasers for us, and will this really be the final outing for this wonderful character?

I’d created the story arc of the Ellington series as a Trilogy. (As known as the Child Trilogy) The third book is called The Restless Coffins and sees JT return to his Barbados home to settle ‘family affairs’ and face both the organised crime lords and the array of corrupt police colleagues he’d once worked with. Since drafting that original trilogy, I am pleased to say that there will be a fourth book, The Rivers of Blood set in 1971 which I’ll start writing this autumn. I would not have return to JT’s world unless I thought the story was tight and I had something different to say with the characters. That’s certainly the case with The Rivers of Blood. I hope fans of the series will be pleased that my wily Bajan is getting a fourth outing. He’ll be a little older but still walking into the kind of unwelcome trouble he wished would leave him well along.

Life as an author in three words?

Bloody Hard Work!

Big thanks to Mark for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions!

Mark 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 twenty 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. Follow the author on Twitter @EllingtonWright

 

 

 

M. P. Wright- All Through The Night- Review

=_utf-8_B_I0FsbFRocm91Z2hUaGVOaWdodCAg4oCmLmpwZw==_=“It’s quite simple Mr Ellington. When you find Fowler, just ask where we can find the truth.”
With these words, private detective JT Ellington embarks on a seemingly simple case of tracking down a local GP with a dubious reputation and retrieving a set of stolen documents from him. For Ellington, however, things are rarely straightforward. Dr Fowler is hiding a terrible secret and when he is gunned down outside a Bristol pub, his dying words send JT in pursuit of a truth more disturbing and deadly than he could possibly have imagined…

Having been so singularly impressed with Wright’s debut outing Heartman there was a certain frisson of excitement in the Raven’s nest with the appearance of the second instalment All Through The Night, and the return of our harried private investigator J T Ellington. It’s 1966 and World Cup fever is spreading throughout the land, but Ellington once again has weightier troubles on his mind, not least the less than honourable goings on at a local childrens’ home, and the dark deeds of those connected with it. Consequently, Ellington finds himself on the run, protecting the life of a young child, and drawing on a network of acquaintances to ensure their safety, endeavouring to bring to justice the perpetrators of some very nasty crimes indeed…

Again, Wright is faultless in not only the characterisation of his central character, former Barbadian police officer, and now Bristol based private investigator, J T Ellington, and the feel of the 1960’s period in which the books are set. Ellington is a man defined by his integrity and stout heart, and his involvement in this particularly pernicious case does nothing to dispel these two essential parts of his character. Our empathy for him and his young charge is central to the enjoyment of this book, and Ellington unfailingly, despite his own personal demons, acts in a way that tugs at our heartstrings, and fosters our respect for him. Despite the best intentions of the bad guys, corrupt police officers and others who would thwart his investigation, Ellington proves himself to be not only a man encompassing a kind of everyman morality, but proves himself a brave knight in an investigation that begins to appear very similar to a ‘quest’ tale from days of yore. He is not infallible of course, and the rare moments of emotional or physical weakness that Wright so sensitively adds provide some real heart-in -the- mouth moments for the reader.

Another strength of the book is the surrounding cast, including the reappearance of Ellington’s profligate and ducking and diving cousin Vic, and  the outwardly tough as nails Loretta, along with a band of others on Ellington’s ‘underground railroad’ journey throughout England. Each character is rounded, vibrant and utterly believable, and boosted by Wright’s innate skill at reproducing the West Indian cadence and rhythm of speech ring with authenticity throughout. The book resonates with sharp dialogue and taut writing, which is underscored by an easy humour and counterbalanced with emotional depth as we look in on the world of Ellington- his personal relationships and professional difficulties. Hence, the characterisation proves itself lively and colourful throughout, and swimming against the tide of much mainstream crime fiction, each character works perfectly within the general narrative, without resorting to stereotypes.

For a contemporary audience, the crux of the plot is still reverberating in the present day with the recent exposures of decades of historic cases of abuse coming to light. In common with Heartman and its tough subject matter, I was impressed by Wright’s unflinching gaze on the criminal deeds of those supposedly in positions of trust or power within the Bristol community, and the depiction of the very non-PC and at times downright racist actions of the local constabulary, which inspires a certain degree of wrath in the reader, and a whole heap of trouble for our hero Ellington. The end result of this is a realistic, at times brutal, and utterly compelling plot throughout.

Obviously, I was very taken with this one, but in the interests of fair reviewing, and avoiding plot spoilers, I did have a little doubt at one aspect of the final denouement in terms of what happens to one of the main characters. It was a tad unconvincing, but in terms of the continuation of the trilogy, I can see why Wright choose this particular path to ensure the continuity of the series. In the grand scheme of things it was of little consequence, and my enthusiasm for this series to date cannot be dinted so easily. Highly recommended. With an extra ‘highly’. Roll on book three!

(With thanks to BW publishing for the ARC)

Programme Announced: CrimeFest – 19-22 May 2016- International Crime Fiction Convention

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PETER JAMES, IAN RANKIN, ANNE HOLT, HUGH FRASER  HEAD UP STELLAR CRIMEFEST LINE-UP

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Peter James, Anne Holt, Ian Rankin and Hugh Fraser are among the top names set to speak at this year’s CrimeFest in Bristol, 19th – 22nd May. CrimeFest will once again host a stellar line-up of award-winning, bestselling crime fiction authors, as well as hundreds of publishers, agents and lovers of crime fiction over four days of exciting panel discussions and author talks. Since its launch in 2008 CrimeFest has become the standout event of the year for crime fiction aficionados from around the world.

International bestselling author of the Roy Grace series Peter James will be interviewed by Andrew Taylor about receiving the Crime Writer’s Association Diamond Dagger Award for excellence in crime writing. Anne Holt, who has spearheaded the Norwegian crime-thriller trend, becoming Norway’s bestselling female crime writer, will be interviewed by Barry Forshaw and award-winning crime author Ian Rankin will be interviewed by Jake Kerridge. This year Hugh Fraser, best known for playing Captain Hastings in Agatha Christie’s Poirot, will be the Gala Dinner Toastmaster, having recently released his debut novel Harm.

 Andrew Sisman, bestselling author of the biography that unearthed the enigma behind John le Carré, will be in conversation with BBC icon James Naughtie to discuss the compelling espionage that led le Carré to write classic crime thrillers like The Night Manager, now a hit BBC series.

The hotly contested trial of Steven Avery in the unmissable Netflix documentary Making A Murderer will be debated in a mock-trial hosted by Crime Scene Magazine. Neil White, criminal lawyer and bestselling author of Cold Kill, will be battling head to head for Avery’s conviction against Steven Cavanagh, author of the Eddie Flynn thrillers. Sophie Hannah will be making a special appearance as the Judge.

CrimeFest host and co-founder Adrian Muller said: “This has been a fantastic year for crime fiction, with TV adaptations of real cases like Making A Murderer and The Jinx and adaptions of crime classics like The Night Manager and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None boosting crime fiction’s popularity and reaching a new audience. From discussing contemporary issues of everything from cyber-terrorism to sexism within the police force to debating corruption in the criminal justice system, CrimeFest will present an array of exciting panels from the best crime fiction authors from around the world.”

 Also appearing at the UK’s biggest crime convention are a number of fantastic panel events and discussions including:

  • ‘Deadly Dames: Women As Killers, Investigators And Victims’ with culinary-crime writers Janet Laurence and Anna Mazzola
  • ‘What’s So Funny? Humour In Crime Fiction’ with James Runcie (Grantchester) and Dead Ringers writer Nev Fountain
  • ‘Crimes Against Humanity: Terrorism, War And International Intrigue’ with Yusuf Toropov, author of Jihadi: A Love Story
  • ‘When is Enough Too Much?: Violence Against Women In Crime Fiction’ with Shetland author Ann Cleeves and author of the bestselling Thora Gudmundsdottir series Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, moderated by James Runcie

A full programme is available at: http://www.crimefest.com/programme-cf/

www.crimefest.com

 

M. P. Wright- Heartman

 

HEARTMAN-final-170x260Bristol in the early 1960s: Joseph Tremaine Ellington is a Barbadian expoliceman who, like many of his generation in the West Indies, has come to the UK to make a new life in the mother country. But the land of opportunity is not all it is cut out to be. It is not just the weather that is cold: so is the welcome. Facing hostility and prejudice at every turn, Ellington struggles to make ends meet. But then he meets community bigwig, Earl Linney, a man with a finger in every pie, who has made good in the white man’s world. Earl needs help in finding Stella Hopkins, a young West Indian woman who has disappeared. Earl does not want go to the police, so he asks Ellington to track her down. With few allies other than his not-so-honest cousin, Victor, Ellington has to keep his wits about him.  Devil in a Blue Dress meets Chinatown set in the rough world of Bristol nightlife, in the pubs, shebeens and nightclubs that are the haunts of prostitutes and criminals, places where danger lurks around every corner…

Always keen to bang the drum for debut crime authors, I was more than intrigued by the premise of this one by M. P. Wright. Mentally riffling through my crime knowledge, I failed to think of a single book that had used the backdrop of 1960’s Bristol, and equally that focused on the significant changes on its demographic following the influx of immigrants to Britain in this period. My curiosity was piqued and, like many other reviewers, I was more than pleasantly surprised by Heartman. Heralded as the crime debut of the year , Heartman certainly brings something new and fresh to the British crime writing scene. Set in Bristol 1965, Wright has created not only a compelling and thought-provoking thriller, but introduces the world to Joseph Jermaine ‘JT’ Ellington, an ex-cop with a tragic past and a broken heart.

The absolute stand out feature of this book is the characterisation of not only the highly credible and empathetic JT Ellington, whose investigative services are called upon when a vulnerable young woman disappears, but unusually every character no matter how large or small their part in the book. With Wright’s pitch perfect descriptions of their appearance, speech, temperament, humour and their interaction with others, every character reaches out from the page with clarity and most importantly believability. Ellington is a masterful creation, and although I did doubt the weighty comparison to Mosley’s Easy Rawlins, he is revealed as a man of contrary mood, a strong moral core, yet haunted by the tragic events of his past. I loved the interplay between him and his cohorts, in particular his colourful and avuncular cousin Vic, a loveable rogue and a bon vivant of the highest order, all too keen to get sucked into Ellington’s investigation and to get a piece of whatever action follows. Equally, the slow-witted but faithful friend Carnell and his sassy wife Loretta, provide another source of comic relief, in what is, all told, a dark and sordid narrative. The balance between the lighter moments and the seedy nature of Ellington’s investigation is perfectly weighted throughout, and there are some moments in the story that do cause you to take a breath with the intensity of emotion that accompanies the gradual reveals and heightened violence of the plot.

The resonance and realisation of this cultural and social period is first class, with Wright effortlessly recreating the sights, sounds and atmosphere of not only the 60’s but of a harsh Bristolian winter. I loved the cranky responses of the main characters to the inclement weather, compared to the balmy tropical climates that they have left far behind them. The specific references to the time period are spot on and the responses and frustrations of immigration from both sides of the fence are balanced throughout. Supported by the flowing cadence of his character’s speech that rhythmically carries you along, as well as an utterly gripping plot, suffused with vile characters, sordid goings-on and a good smattering of violence, Heartman does not disappoint on any level. A strong contender for a place in my Top 5 of the year and a remarkable debut.

(With thanks to Black & White Publishing for the ARC)