Phil Martin | Gritty Mancunian Crime

Phil Martin

British author Phil Martin is hoping to put Manchester on the crime, fiction map with an international trilogy, available for download on smart, phone, computer and on Kindle, in Amazon’s Kindle store. Martin has launched a moving story involving an abducted girl’s path of self discovery. Overflowing with ex members of the SAS, exiled Chechen warlords, Eastern European gangs, and enough murders to fill a season of CSI, The Amy Walker Series cuts though a soft underbelly with a tear-jerking story of human compassion.

Tell us a little bit about your Series.

The Amy Walker Series, comprising The One They Couldn’t Steal, The One They Couldn’t Silence and The One They Couldn’t Bury begins in Manchester but takes in the sights of Morocco, London, Barcelona, Monza, Zurich, Como, Moscow, Brighton, Chechnya, Batumi and Buenos Aires. I’ve visited all but one of these places in my work as a journalist so have a decent knowledge of all but one of them. The One They Couldn’t Steal tells the story of a Mancunian girl’s journey of finding out who she is, having realised that all she knows about her origins are written on a fading birth certificate. The main character Amy Walker grew up believing she was orphaned in a coach crash but her relentless research tells her one thing, she was never on that coach. She uncovers lie after lie told by her foster parents, both of whom are now dead, leading her to the shanty towns and palaces of Morocco. More clues lead her back to London and a dark Chechen underworld that her adopted parents could never have been a part of. Half way through the story, Amy realises her quest is about so much more than just her and that she has to stop the gang from striking again; in Barcelona. But as the gang learn of her re-emergence they will stop at nothing to silence her and they send their assassins in. It’s a fast-paced, thriller open to all demographics.

Why did you launch as an ebook?

The book industry is at a crossroads with ebooks at the moment, similarly to where the music industry was when faced with downloadable music. Books are still selling but launching new authors is less frequent as they’re seen as too much of a gamble in a struggling economy. I’m excited to be offering content on a platform that will increasingly become the norm, not that I think this means the end for paperbacks. Ebooks sell a lot cheaper but a few self-published authors, most notably John Locke and Amanda Hocking in the States, have both sold over a million copies in the virtual world. More and more authors are demonstrating their worth first using technology such as Kindle where it’s free to launch and cheap to buy so people are more willing to gamble on a new name. It’s a way of building up an army of readers and then being taken on by a renowned publishing house. That’s the ultimate aim. Kindle has software applications for PC, MAC, Apple’s iPhone and iPad, and Android so it’s not like readership is limited to Kindle owners. Aside from that I was just bored of them gathering virtual dust on my hard drive.

The One They Couldn’t Steal has got a fairly gruesome start where a cold sore on Amy’s lip is linked to bacteria only found on dead people, kick-starting the whole idea of necrophilia. Where did that come from?

Amy’s ‘cold sore’ is slightly hardcore in the shockability stakes but it has an element of truth. I have a friend of a friend to thank for fuelling my imagination. She had a horrible experience in Amsterdam where a man she’d been kissing in a nightclub was worryingly over keen for her to come back to his apartment. She declined but days later developed a cold sore which her doctor said displayed certain bacteria only found in decomposing bodies. My take is slightly different as Amy is bitten on her lip which is how the strange infection starts. Everyone on this planet is a story teller in some capacity. My advice is keep your ears open and let your imagination flow.

You’ve written another three novels. Are they all of the same genre?

They all focus on normal, everyday people whose lives are turned upside down by chance encounters with gangsters or criminals. I’ve not wanted them to be serious, heavy to read, gangster books in anyway though. They’re meant to be humorous as well as entertaining. Even the most gruesome of activities can be carried out to a backdrop of black comedy. Three of these are demanding sequels whilst I’m currently writing my next two.

Talk us through the other storylines.

Stripped Bare follows a Mancunian wedding party to Las Vegas and involves strippers, stolen passports, kidnapped six year olds, sector targeting (a way to cheat on roulette) ID thieves and rape charges. Unfortunately when I tried to get this one published, The Hangover came out and cleared up! My second book Killing Doves features a hairdresser and his girlfriend caught up in the drugs gangs of Manchester around the time of the infamous Hacienda night club. This is probably the book that is most Manchester. It’s actually a love story lived out alongside a psychological breakdown but has a twist the size of Fight Club at the end. The Attached meanwhile is the darkest manuscript I’ve written. It focuses on a girl rescued from a secret brothel for the rich and famous in a Cheshire mansion and the dark secrets that surround her. This one is also very Manchester, overflowing with the gangsters and guns that once plagued the city. Once again a love story is at its beating heart as boy meets girl, falls for girl, realises girl isn’t normal and tries to do everything humanely possible to fix her. I’m planning to launch all four on Amazon Kindle in quick succession.

And you’ve written a collection of Manchester-based poems too.

That’s right I’m hoping to drive traffic to my blog, my website and the sales page on Amazon Kindle by posting quirky poems about Manchester. I don’t think the publishing world would agree with a hard, crime author, writing poems, most of my mates at the football won’t get it either but through the powers of social media I’m hoping people will start to follow me. Most people like funny poems about something they know. They’re quick to read and might raise a smile or make people think. I’ve written poems about all walks of city life; the people, the unsung heroes, buildings, experiences in Manchester, all quirky things like how Manchester is named after the shape of a woman’s boob, things people might know about the city in which they live or things they will be able to relate to. I’ve written forty nine and there are still plenty of topics to cover.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Nah, as a child I dreamed of being the next Bryan Robson but once I realised I was nowhere near good enough I decided the next best thing would be to write about it and embarked on a career in journalism. My implausible plan was to replace David Meek as United’s correspondent at The Manchester Evening News. I made it as a journalist but of course careers often have the habit of taking you down completely different paths to the one envisaged. Still, it means I can enjoy United without having to file copy!

Do all your books relate to Manchester?

Yeah, pretty much. I love the city and I think that’s apparent in my writing. They certainly dip into local culture at every opportunity although The One They Couldn’t Steal moves from Manchester to Morocco to London and then finishes off in Barcelona via Milton Keynes. I grew up in the nineties and as such writing Killing Doves, which is set in nineties Manchester, was a thrilling experience, The Attached too is focused solely in Salford and Manchester whilst Stripped Bare is set in Las Vegas but is full of Mancunian humour.

Who should read your books?

They’re open to a wide demographic to be honest. I’d say anyone that likes reading crime or thrillers and anyone that likes Manchester should give them a go.

What advice would you give to any budding authors?

There are lots of guides on how to write a blockbuster but really you have to teach yourself. The first book can be gruelling. Aside from that just keep plugging away, don’t give up the day job and be in it for the enjoyment of writing rather than the money. I think once you’ve completed your book and its various edits, that’s where the fun starts. The days of sending bundles of paper to the slush piles of agents have long gone. You need to be far more proactive in getting noticed these days and that means websites, social media and self-generated publicity. Once you have self-published, you are one of millions of authors on a virtual book shelf. People won’t even know you there so you need to build a database and do some direct marketing. I have spent as much time designing book covers, website and advertisements, devising campaigns and building databases as I have writing. If you self-publish you really need to do all the duties of a publishing house.

Where do you get your ideas from?

As far as plot generators go, I have ideas sparked from all over the place; friends, snippets of conversation, the media, all along the premise of what would happen if I just twisted that bit and changed this bit and made this bit slightly more shocking. I also like to eat a lot of cheese before bed time which helps.

From a writing perspective, what has the journey been like so far?

For me personally getting as far as launching Child Number Three has been incredible. My first manuscript, Stripped Bare, taught me how to write, my second, Killing Doves, was the book I’d always wanted to read. It wasn’t until half way through Killing Doves that I realised what a new author needed to break into the market. I feel The Girl They Couldn’t Steal ticks every box required of a new author, most notably a proven, human interest story cutting across all demographics which is instantly and easily marketable.

Lots of people think they have a book in them. What was it that made your force your first one out?

Something happened to me on a works trip to Las Vegas where it felt like I’d been sucked into an American movie script. I was amazed at how quickly my day could go from being normal to being held to ransom over my passport by the Nevada underworld. The only way to cleanse myself was to write down what had happened and what might have happened if I had acted differently and things had spiraled further out of control and Stripped Bare was born.

What was writing that first book like?

Horrendous! My writing style at first was abysmal. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but found myself really enjoying it despite it being such an unnatural process. I rewrote and rewrote every sentence until eventually I’d completed my first attempt at a manuscript. It’s taken me four books really to find my style. After finishing The Attached four years after starting Stripped Bare, I had to go back again and completely rewrite the first three. I certainly wasn’t born being able to write books and would have struggled and probably given up in the age of the typewriter..or the quill!

What was the best advice you’ve been given?

With the publishing industry being so closed off for wannabe authors, it’s difficult to get advice. You’ve either written a classic or you haven’t. Feedback is difficult to come by. I’ll be eternally grateful for a lovely lady called Betty, a feeder for an agent, who stuck with me throughout Stripped Bare. She gave me the only advice I’ve really been given, which was to show the reader the story as it is happening rather than tell them. Even that advice takes some getting your head round but I think I understood it in the end!

And what have you got in the pipeline?

I’m currently writing two books at the same time; one a sequel to Killing Doves and the other a pretty twisted take on motherhood meeting Stephen King’s book Misery! I’m writing about one a year at the moment but the day job as a journalist keeps getting in the way, but that’s the one that pays the bills.

Who were your inspirations?

I always liked reading books by Merseyside author Kevin Sampson who wrote Away Days, which related to growing up alongside football violence in Birkenhead. One of the best gangster films in recent years in my eyes was Sampson’s The Crew, a must see Liverpool gang flick adapted from one of his earlier novels. I also always liked reading anything by Irvine Welsh with Marabou Stork Nightmares being my all time favourite of his. Aside from this, my inspiration has come from film with the writing and directing of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie inspiring many a story in my head.

How difficult is it to get published?

If I’d known how difficult it would prove to get published, I would have worked harder on the Bryan Robson dream. Seriously, it’s incredibly difficult to break in. I liken it to someone who wants to win X-Factor when Simon Cowell has banned all auditions. It feels like nobody wants to listen to you or more importantly read your work. It’s understandable though as agents receive over three hundred manuscripts a week. No matter how anyone builds up how tough the market is to break, wannabe authors should prepare themselves for it to be even tougher. Rejection follows rejection.

How does it feel when you finish writing a book?

It’s a strange feeling probably because sleep deprivation plays with your head! Imagine finishing reading a book with strong characters, a good plot and a spectacular ending. There’s always a slight sadness that you’ve finished it as all those characters that have dominated your head have suddenly gone. It’s the same with writing. You feel close to your characters and then they’re gone, which usually provokes me to start the next one. Of course it is difficult to say when you’ve actually finished a book with rewrite following rewrite but for me there is still that quintessential, sparking a cigarette moment, having typed those once elusive words, The End. It is of course just another beginning, just a slightly more boring one of constant editing rather than creating.

Do you have the whole story in your head when you start a new book?

I wish! I tend to write in quarters of roughly 25,000 words knowing the word count will spill over to the desired length by completion. Each quarter acts as a mini story within a story with a beginning, a middle and a climatic conclusion. That’s the only framework I use. Whilst I roughly know where the plot is going, I complete one quarter and then empty my brain of the detail in readiness for the next quarter. It’s amazing what detail can come out. There’s always a bit in your head where everything comes together. Once you’ve finished a story you’ve got to give it a few weeks/months/years before letting anyone read it as there will be so much you want to change. There’s a mental obstacle course to clear where the manuscript goes from being the best thing anyone has ever written surely… to the worst, literally overnight. Eventually after weeks of editing you reach a compromise and you’re happy for someone else to read it.

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