Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Guest Blogger - Matt Hilton

I've admired Matt Hilton's writing for some years now, after we met at the Bouchercon convention in Baltimore. And it's not merely his work I like, but his work-rate, as he's one of the hardest-working authors around, and produces the highly successful Joe Hunter series, managing to join the select few British authors with his books firmly and convincingly based in the US.


However, writing about this tough vigilante is not the only thing Matt can do; he has a new pair of characters coming out in November. So I thought I'd ask him to write about... well, anything he liked, and he's come up with an interesting topic which is close to his heart - and mine.

WHAT’S IN A NAME by Matt Hilton
 
What’s in a name? That which we call a round, by any other name would smell as sweet as cordite…

Being a thriller author, and one whose main output has followed a crusading vigilante across the length and breadth of the US, usually led by the barrel of his trusty SIG Sauer P226, I’ve come to expect a little criticism from readers knowledgeable about arms and armament. It seems that if this author gets a tiny detail wrong, then aficionados of weaponry delight in informing me of my lack of technical or tactical knowledge.
 
To be fair, they know their business, and getting something wrong can throw them out of the narrative, so I do sympathise with them and take my subsequent berating on the chin. It is of course right that I get my “spec” correct, otherwise it indicates that I haven't done my research to the nth degree. But shouldn’t a little artistic licence also be permitted?

There are tropes in thriller writing that have been handed down from one author to another, and I’m not infallible; sometimes I’ve fallen foul of some of those tropes. How many times have you either written (if you’re a writer) or read (if you’re a reader) that the hero flicked off the safety on their gun?
 
Quite a few times, I bet.
 
How many times have you wondered if the model of gun they are toting actually comes with a manual safety switch, or if the feature is actually part of the internal trigger mechanism? Probably fewer times. But readers knowledgeable about guns do know, and do think, and if you’ve got it wrong then woe betide you.
 
How many times has the hero “racked the slide” on their gun for dramatic effect, then a few pages on racked it again (without having fired a bullet): in reality this would expend an unused round which is very wasteful of them. As authors we’re using the trope to inform the reader of impending action, and hopefully ramping up the tension, not so much concerned if we’ve got the tactics of gun handling exact.

I’m not saying that as an author I should have free rein to do whatever I want with guns without expecting some negative feedback from those in the know;I’m only wondering why more lassitude isn’t given. In crime fiction the detectives and inspectors that proliferate popular novels and TV shows don’t exactly follow correct procedures either, but as readers we don’t want to sit through endless hours of paperwork and bureaucratic wrangling, we just want to get on with the story so happily suspend disbelief.
 
I think it’s because gun savvy readers are so passionate about their subject that they enjoy pulling down a lowly author when they’ve got it wrong. I was a police officer: if I wanted to I could spend all day, every day emailing crime writers and telling them how wrong they got their procedure. But frankly I don’t care to. If the book’s a good read, I don’t let the little mistakes (and oft wrongly used tropes) that slip into the narrative, bother me. It’s escapist fiction after all. But that’s a personal opinion, and one I understand isn’t for everyone. These days I do try to get my gun lore correct, and I’m not advocating that authors should be blasé about the subject.
 
It’s right that we get it right.

But what about when common word usage gets in the way of technical know how?

As authors we like to mix up our words and phrases so we don’t keep repeating ourselves, and sometimes we’ll mix jargon with slang to describe a scene, and yeah, we sometimes fall into tropes.
We refer to someone being shot and to being hit by a round, and we sometimes have smoke and the smell of cordite hanging in the air.

Technically speaking we’re wrong on all counts. The “round” is the entire cartridge/shell that is loaded into the gun; the bit that gets fired and hits the target is the bullet. Most ammunition these days come primed with smokeless powder. And the term “cordite” hasn’t really been used since the Second World War, so what we’re smelling is black powder or more correctly “propellant”.

The point I’m trying to make is that although the examples above are incorrect, they’ve also become common language, so to me should at least be permissible in a narrative. We say things that are incorrect all the time, and yet because everyone says the same, it’s accepted. How often do you “Hoover” the floor, when you actually mean you vacuum cleaned it; or you had a “Coke”, when in fact it was another brand of cola; or you went to the “garage” for fuel, when in actuality you went to the filling/petrol station?

I guess the best practice of writing about weaponry in a fictional tale is to get the spec and terminology down correctly when in the narrative, and allow turn of phrase and slang where dialogue is concerned: but what about when the story is narrated in first person? (You might have guessed that I do write from a first person point of view). In this case, is a mixture of “correct” and “turn of phrase” permissible, when they are the terms that the narrator would most likely use?

In books, guns blast people backwards, rounds fly, rooms are filled with a blue haze of gun smoke, the hero expends more rounds than his gun could possibly hold and never gets hit by the bad guys’ return fire. And although they are all incorrect descriptions of actual gun play, that’s OK by me. The same occurs in TV, in movies and in video games, but they don’t incur the same wrath as the written word. Thrillers are supposed to thrill, and to me getting bogged down in the detail only gets in the way of the fun, so I’ll use a little artistic licence. But that’s only me; I don’t profess to be right. And I’m sure that if I’m wrong then someone more knowledgeable will be happy to correct me.

I’ve a new series beginning this November, with Blood Tracks being the first featuring investigator Tess Grey and ex-con Nicolas ‘Po” Villere. Unlike my Joe Hunter thrillers, it isn’t as dependent on gunfire to push the action on, but there are some scenes where weapons come into play. I’ve tried hard to get it right, and hope I've done so. But more than that I hope I’ve written an entertaining and thrilling mystery.
 
Corrections on the back of a signed blank cheque please.

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Bio:
Matt Hilton quit his career as a police officer to pursue his love of writing tight, cinematic action thrillers. He is the author of the high-octane Joe Hunter thriller series, including his most recent novel ‘The Devil’s Anvil’ – Joe Hunter 10 - published in June 2015 by Hodder and Stoughton. His first book, ‘Dead Men’s Dust’, was shortlisted for the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Book of 2009 Award, and was a Sunday Times bestseller, also being named as a ‘thriller of the year 2009’ by The Daily Telegraph. Dead Men’s Dust was also a top ten Kindle bestseller in 2013. The Joe Hunter series has been widely published by Hodder and Stoughton in UK territories, and by William Morrow and Company and Down and Out Books in the USA, and have been translated into German, Italian, Romanian and Bulgarian. As well as the Joe Hunter series, Matt has been published in a number of anthologies and collections, and has published novels in the supernatural/horror genre, namely ‘Preternatural’, ‘Dominion’, ‘Darkest Hour’ and ‘The Shadows Call’. Also, he has a brand new thriller series featuring Tess Grey and Nicolas “Po’boy” Villere debuting in November 2015, with ‘Blood Tracks’ from Severn House Publishers. He is currently working on the next Joe Hunter novel, as well as a stand-alone thriller novel.

Matt's website: www.matthiltonbooks.com
Follow him on Twitter: @MHiltonauthor
See him on Facebook: www.facebook/MattHiltonAuthor

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