M.P Wright is one of my all time favourite writers. As a voracious reader, I knew from only 50 pages in, of the authors debut novel Heartman, that JT as a series, was pure 5* genius! I have since been extremely lucky to have sneak peaks into the authors future releases The Restless Coffins and Holy Bones Blues. I was super excited when the author agreed to feature in a Q&A with my blog and also offer exclusive content!
Welcome to part one of the JT Ellington blog posts!
Longlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2015
Bristol, 1965. In the dead of winter, a young deaf and dumb woman goes missing without a trace. But the police just don’t care about a West Indian immigrant who is nowhere to be found.
Enter Joseph Tremaine ‘JT’ Ellington: a Barbadian ex-cop not long off the boat, a man with a tragic past and a broken heart. When local mogul Earl Linney hires him to track down the missing girl, JT soon finds himself adrift in a murky world of prostitution and kidnapping where each clue reveals yet more mysteries. What is Linney’s connection to the girl? Have more women gone missing? And what exactly is the Erotica Negro Club.
Facing hostility and prejudice as well as the demons he left home to escape, JT must unravel a deadly conspiracy in a dangerous and unfamiliar world.
All Through The Night
“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.
Q) I am a huge fan of the JT Ellington series & have shouted loud about it on social media a fair few times. Can you explain to the readers the JT Ellington series, from their roots to publication?
A) Heartman is set in Bristol in 1965. Joseph Tremaine Ellington is a former Barbadian police sergeant who has left the island under a very dark cloud and made his home in the UK. Ellington falls into the mould of the loner detective, created by my crime fiction literary heroes, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. It’s very much at the ‘Noir’ end of the crime fiction scale. Dark and labyrinthian in tone. It’s fair to say that the book is influence greatly by the works of the above writers. I’m greatly indebted to those who have gone before me, they led the way for Ellington to become a fully-fledge character in my head. By the time I came to write the story, I had every facet of the man’s life written in a ’Bible’ I’d created for him, family history, Police service record, the whole nine yards.
Heartman was a joy to write, but a devil to get into print. My literary agent, Phil Patterson of the Marjacq agency in London got the Noir feel of the book from the off, and offered me representation a good 12 months before we got a publisher to bite. In fact, we sold the option rights to Heartman to television and World Productions at least six months before we got a publishing deal with Edinburgh based, Black and White Publishing. Like Phil, my publisher, Campbell Brown enjoyed the Noir aspects of the novel, and noted that there was nothing quite like it in UK crime fiction.
Heartman was originally called Rock a Bye Baby Blues and the novel was always intended to be the first of three. By the time it came to editing the book with my wonderful editor, Karyn Millar we had a new title and I was a quarter of the way through writing the sequel, All Through The Night.
Q) One thing I absolutely love about the JT Ellington series, is the characterisation, the whole cast is so unique and so descriptively written, you really grow to love them. What is the process of creating each character & what is their inspiration?
A) First off, and perhaps rather controversially I have to admit that I become angered easily at modern crime fiction writing that lacks character depth.
It’s all well and good creating a ‘Time-worn, loner detective’, but a writer has to put flesh on the bones for that to be believable on the page. The old masters I’ve already mention could get away with being ‘slight’ in their characterisations, modern crime writers, in my opinion shouldn’t fall into that trap. I believe readers like to have as much detail as possible in regards the characters they are reading about. This belief has been borne out by the great response I’ve had from fans of Heartman and the subsequent follow up, you have commented on how much they enjoy becoming part of the characters’ lives. For me it’s a golden rule to impart as much background information about my characters as possible. That includes the villains.
In regards inspiration for the creation of the characters; there’s a great deal of research that goes into every character. I interview a lot. There’s nothing better than for a writer to hear facts and details straight from the ‘Horse’s Mouth’ as it were. Heartman would not have been possible without the generosity of many. I owe a great debt to the Caribbean communities here in Leicester and Bristol. The experiences of many first-generation immigrants from the West Indies was invaluable in my creating rounded and real characters.
Q) In Heartman you reference the Bristol bus boycott, the UK’s version of Rosa Parks. Where one man Paul Stephenson stood up for the rights of black workers, which ultimately led to the race relations act 1965 which made it unlawful to racially discriminate in a public place. What was the inspiration behind featuring this in the backdrop of the novel? Did you always intend to weave facts with fiction?
A) In a word, yes. A book like Heartman would never have worked unless it was strongly factually based. Yes, its crime fiction, but the subject matter, racism, segregation, bigotry are ones that I could not sweep under the proverbial carpet. I wanted to address attitudes to race and racism in the UK in the 1960’s head on. It’s a large part of the book, but it’s not it’s the sum of the novel. At its heart (pardon the pun), Heartman is about family, and the lies and secrets many of us perhaps tell and keep.
Q) JT develops a huge amount between books 1-3. Having read The Restless Coffins, myself, I know what a huge treat is in store for fans of the series. Fans will see changes in JT & learn more about his background. Is it the intention with a character like JT that there will be revelations in each novel?
A) I like to unfurl another layer of the ‘character onion’ in each of the books. As I said, I created a ‘Bible’ for the character and knew the complex world he came from and the importance of passing on that background information to the reader gradually. I wanted the reader to fall in love with the characters as much as I did, to do that successfully you have to offer up personal tit-bits, incrementally. That way it offers a great impact and resonance on the reader.
Q) One thing I really love is the elements of Voodoo, in each novel. Voodoo is something that fascinates most people & I have seen many Fb status regarding the mild hints of Voodoo in the TV series Taboo. Is this something that will remain in every novel? What made you include it in the debut Heartman?
A) The ‘Supernatural’ elements, for want of a better term, are the most enjoyable sections of the books for me when I am writing them. Personally, I’m not a believer in the dark arts, but I am very aware that religions, such as Voodoo have massive followings in the West Indies, and not to have reflected that fact in the books would have been very remiss. I look upon the inclusion of folklore and the ‘spiritual’ elements in all three stories to be vital, and should be considered as respectful nods towards other’s belief systems and the religions that many people embrace across the Caribbean.
I can say that The Restless Coffins see’s Ellington returning home to the island of Barbados, there he encounters superstition and the shadows of the voodoo religion. The title of the book is taken from an incident that occurred in a crypt on the island back in the 1940’s and even earlier, which saw coffins that were kept locked underground in a mausoleum which seemed to move across the ground and change positions. All very odd, and a just a little creepy.
The fourth Ellington novel, The Rivers Of Blood, which I start writing in late August sees J T Ellington back on Bristol turf and will include a splash of the superstition elements that readers found so popular in Heartman.
Q) Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself & your background?
A) The writer’s nightmare, talking about oneself …
I’d written for twenty years. Told no one. Not parents, Friends, Nobody.
I had previously worked in mental health, the probation service, youth offending and with young people at risk, and for over 20 years. During that time, I wrote. Screenplays, poetry, song lyrics, prose; you name it … I scribbled it down. It wasn’t until I took early retirement and started a creative writing course at the Demontfort university here in Leicester that I started to take my writing seriously.
A wonderful chap, and my former tutor, Damien G Walter, a Guardian columnist and writer himself read a portion of the original Heartman/Rock A Bye Blues draft and advised that I make it into a novel form (It was a TV script), he also advised that I let a literary agent see it upon completion and get myself seen at Crime Fiction Literary Festivals. That’s what I did …
From there a fantastic writer called Emlyn Rees picked up the book and ran with it. He in turn raved about Heartman and should it to my agent, Phil. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q) Within the Heartman series, Racism is a central theme, yet I know that you live in the very multicultural city of Leicester. Do you think there are changes in public opinion? Do novels like yours raise awareness of Britain’s past history of racism, for the younger readers?
A) It would be nice to think so. It was never my intention to get on a soap box and rant about the injustices I saw in the world, but in truth that’s what happened. Heartman is riddled with my own anger, a rage I cannot contain when I see any kind of intolerance and bigotry to my fellow human.
I wanted to impart that sense of anger into the book without it sounding as if I had a personal axe to grind. I wanted the characters to voice my fears and my concerns without it seeming forced and to highlight a time in our history in which we should rightly, not be proud.
I’m very proud to live in Leicester. Proud of its multi-culturalism, I’m also very much in love with the city of Bristol and its people. It’s such a fantastic place to write about.
Q) Do you have any ideas for new series? I know you can’t give too much away, but will you possibly feature other cultures? Will you always write Historical crime novels?
A) I’ve never considered myself to me an historical crime writer. A Reader yes.
I’m a history nut, always have been and I devour historical works and biographies. I ought to come clean and admit I very rarely read modern crime fiction. It’s just not my thing. Working with real criminals for such a long time took the edge of any personal interest I had in reading about serial killers and the likes. I find those kinds of books far-fetched and can never get into the vibe of the narrative.
The exceptions to that rule of thumb are the genius American writers, James Lee Burke and Walter Mosely, who write about crime as a secondary
Whilst concentrating almost on the realities of the world and what’s going on around them. I find that kind of writing has a massive impact on me in the same way that a writer like, William Faulkner did when I was younger.
As for what comes next; I am half way through writing a contemporary novel set here in Leicester. The Holy Bones Blues is my love letter to the city as it is in 2017. It’s a crime novel that reflects on the city’s diverse multi-culturalism. I’m not aware that a modern crime novel has depicted the city in such a way and I’m excited to see the reaction from readers.
I also have a fourth, Ellington novel, The Rivers of Blood to complete by the end of next January. Then there is a collection of short stories featuring my Bajan detective which I hope will be out for Christmas this year. More news to follow on that shortly.
Heartman & All Through The Night are available in paperback & are currently on #Kindle #Ebook for just £1.89.
Heartman has been released in hardback on 28th June 2017 &
All through The Night is set for hardback release on 28th July 2017 from Ulverscroft
The novels will also be available in audio format from Bolinda Audio @Bolindaaudio on the following dates: Heatman 30th June and All Through The Night 28th August.
Vocals by Narrator
Ben Onwukwe is a British film, radio, television, theatre and voice actor. He is perhaps best known for appearing as Stuart ‘Recall’ MacKenzie in London’s Burning, a dramatic television series first aired on the British television network ITV.
You can listen to an excerpt here:http://www.bolinda.co.uk/
*Huge thanks to the author for agreeing to be on my blog and stay tuned for part two of the #JTEllington blog posts planned today, for an exclusive look at The Restless Coffins 🙂