Matt Carrell was born in Brighton, England more than half a century ago. The son of Irish immigrants, he graduated from London University and then trained as an accountant. Matt’s work involved a great deal of international travel including long stints in Hong Kong and Thailand.
Matt’s first published work was a series of short stories entitled Thai Lottery… and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand. The idea for the book emerged while watching tickets being sold by a Bangkok street vendor, and hearing from a friend about the perils of getting involved in the parallel underworld lottery. After receiving positive feedback from readers he started work on Thai Kiss, his first full length novel, this was published in May 2013.
His second novel, Vortex, is also largely set in Thailand and draws on Matt’s extensive experience of the investment industry. Vortex was released in January of 2014.
In June 2014, A Matter of Life and Death, a novel with a football (soccer) theme was published.
Breaking the Thai theme, Matt has also written a short story, Something Must Be Done, about a High School shooting, set in the USA, which takes on the issue of gun control or more accurately lack of control and the USA’s crazy gun culture.
Vortex was very well received by critics and the public alike. As a result Matt wrote, Vortex – The End Game, which was launched in November of 2014.
Matt and his wife divide their time between England and the French Alps, with frequent trips to Asia. Matt Carrell is a nom de plume. In today’s interview Matt explains, among other things, the game of soccer better than anyone ever has, in my opinion. I am pleased to welcome Matt Carrell here today.
KC: Let’s talk football. A game you call beautiful on your side of the pond and we Americans call Super, once a year. Tell me what is beautiful about the The Beautiful Game? I’m having a hard time figuring it out on my own. More people watch and cheer the game of soccer than any other. I’ll leave out the word, root, for now.
MC: Kevin, I think there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. I’d never call “soccer” a beautiful game, I’m just addicted to the spectacle. Humans are essentially tribal and if footballers didn’t play out our proxy wars for us, I’m pretty sure we’d be back to invading each other’s towns, burning houses and trying to kidnap the women folk. Fans vent their frustrations from a carefully segregated section of the stadium and trash-talk each other on web forums. If they couldn’t do that, they’d be killing each other. It’s not a sport so much as a cunning method of maintaining law and order amongst those who don’t buy into religion. The government loves it because it’s a neat distraction. They may be running the country into the ground but their incompetence pales into insignificance compared with that referee who denied your team a goal on Saturday afternoon.
The “beautiful game” is not in my heart, it just speaks to the dark side of my head.
American football is much simpler, it’s something for you guys to watch between the commercials!
KC: Your writing in Thai Kiss won me over in the first paragraph. Tell me the first paragraph or sentence from two of your favorite books or stories you have written and then tell me your favorite opening line from any of your favorite works of fiction?
MC: The hardest thing to achieve in any story is to keep the reader hooked, to make them want to know what happens next. If you want to upset an author here’s a foolproof method. When they ask if you’ve read their latest book you reply, “Well I started it.” There’s nothing worse than to hear that someone read a few pages and didn‘t feel compelled to stay up all night to finish it. The sooner you get your reader’s attention the better, but you’ve got to maintain that momentum through the story. One of my favorite reviews of Thai Lottery was a single word and I’m not even sure it’s a word. “Unputdownable!”
I don’t consciously try to deliver an attention grabbing first line but I’m sure it helps. Thai Kiss starts with:
“When your best mate gets washed up on the beach with a hole in the back of his head, it’s time to reflect. I turned it over and over in my mind but there was only one conclusion. If I stuck around, I’d be next.”
I hope this gives the reader a pretty fair impression of what will happen next. The narrator has good reason to believe he is in danger and is going to have to abandon the life he has built for himself. I’m also trying to convey that the story is pacey and action packed.
My latest novel is called Vortex… the Endgame, the second book in the Vortex series. Chapter one starts with:
“On one side of the sectarian divide, it was the brutal slaying of an heroic freedom fighter, on the other; the clinical execution of a ruthless terrorist. To an over-worked, underpaid Inspector in the Royal Ulster Constabulary it was just another ton of paperwork…”
Again I hope it gives a flavour of what follows, violent death is an expected consequence of war. These days it happens all too often when the rest of the world is just trying to go about its business. The story is about the lengths some will go to, to further their business and political aims when others are just struggling to get by.
To answer the second part of your question I went to dig out all the books I possess which would make me look well read and quietly intellectual. Then I realised I don’t have any. I can’t say they are the very best opening lines but these two did grab me:
From Brighton Rock by Grahame Greene – “Hale knew before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell that he didn’t belong…” This is a great opening line, you get the sense of danger and the particular vulnerability of the character that’s being introduced. The smart money is not on Hale to survive.
From The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth – “It is cold at six-forty in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.” Again I think this is a great hook. The first time I read this I actually shivered.
For any writer who is worried that their first line isn’t sufficiently catchy to deliver them a best seller, I’ll offer you this, “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair – it just won’t behave…” I’m bored already that’s all I read, but it’s from 50 Shades of Grey, which I understand has been quite successful.
KC: Let’s shift gears away from sport in the interest of international harmony and away from 50 Shades of Grey, for this question at least. Thailand is a mixed bag when it comes to the fiction authors. The general consensus is a lot of books produced by Thailand authors are sub-par as a group. In real estate the good properties pull up the value of the bad ones in the same neighborhood. But with authors in Thailand a case could be made that all the bad authors pull down the value of the good ones. Would you agree with that? Without naming any authors, at all, give me your impressions of the books written by Thailand based authors or books with Thailand themes? What is the upside of being an author in general if there is one, and what is the downside of being an author who writes fiction with a Thailand setting?
MC: I’m an avid consumer of books set in Thailand and they certainly span the full range of the quality spectrum. Thailand is the perfect setting for a thriller. It offers a wonderful backdrop for the plot and the opportunity to introduce characters that don’t fit the usual stereotypes. The best writers seize that with both hands and offer an insight into a culture that will be completely new to many readers. When I had the initial idea for Vortex, a novel that takes financial crime as a central theme, I intended to set it in London. Switching it to Bangkok and Hong Kong gave the story an extra dimension.
The disappointing books fall into two categories. The first being those that really could be set anywhere in the world. “Got drunk, met a girl, made a dick of myself.” You don’t have to leave home to do that. The second is where the writer forgets that someone is paying cash for their book and the editing is poor and slipshod. Thai based books seem to have more than there fair share of bad grammar and random typos. When you get one of those that falls into the first category as well, it’s time to ask Amazon for a refund. Thailand is an extraordinary, complex country and the writers who help you to see what lies beyond the veneer, are giving their readers far more than those who write about their own back yard. There are plenty out there that deliver but, as you said, I’m not allowed to name names.
The upside of being an author is definitely the interaction with the people who’ve read my books. I often get messages asking me to bring back characters from previous books in whatever I write next. It’s a real kick to know that something I created has had that impact.
The downside is definitely that many people have a tendency to prejudge anyone who displays any sort of detailed knowledge of Thailand. My first two books focused on the bar scene and there’s an assumption that I couldn’t possibly know so much about it without being an enthusiastic participant. I’ve also written a short story about a high school shooting but, oddly enough, no-one thinks I’ve killed anyone.
KC: I want to talk about progress. I do not read Stephen King novels but I like, very much, what King writes on the subject of writing. What are you better at, now, than you were when you wrote your first book? How does one become a better writer other than writing a lot? Is it possible, given the opening salvo you’ve shared with us about Fifty Shades of Grey to define what a bad writer is? And finally what is easier to recognize, good writing or bad writing?
MC: I was incredibly lucky, my first book was taken up by a small boutique publisher called Aardwolfe Books. The editor for Thai Lottery was only interested in making it as good as it could possibly be and he didn’t spare my feelings. I’m still scarred by a note he put on one of my chapter endings, it said, “You probably think this is dramatic, it’s not.” He was right of course. I’d like to think my writing has always been strong on plot and in delivering plenty of twists and a good ending. With a lot of help from others I think I’m better now at creating a picture of what I want the reader to see in each scene and in fleshing out the characters so they feel like real people you can relate to. I’ve also learned to keep the story tight, eliminating the extraneous waffle that you might want to write but which isn’t key to the storyline.
If you want to improve as a writer I think you have to put your ego on one side. Encourage constructive criticism and try to get other experienced writers/editors to go through your books with a fine tooth-comb. You might not agree with everything they say but you’ll have learned something from the debate.
I wasn’t inspired by the first line of 50 Shades of Grey, and although I’ve read only a few lines from the rest of the book, it’s not for me. That’s not to say that EL James is a bad writer, quite the contrary. Anyone who has created something that people enjoy reading is a good writer. It’s rare to find an author who appeals to everyone, so as long as your books work for people outside your immediate circle, you pass the test. Excluding friends and family, if everyone else reading your stuff says it sucks, then you’re a bad writer.
An author’s task is to transport readers to another place, to make them eager to read the next page yet not want the book to end. I get irritated if I’m reading a book where the author fails to pull that off because of implausible plot lines, clumsy dialogue, bad grammar or multiple typos. I’d hesitate before calling that author a bad writer, however. If they are selling books and getting genuine positive reviews then their stuff is working for some people, just not for me.
I think bad writing is much easier to spot than good, you may not like classical music but you’ll know if the guy playing the piano is a novice. The same applies to novelists.
KC: Have you set any goals for yourself as a novelist?
MC: I don’t see writing as a career, I had one of those and it left me somewhat disillusioned. I got into this because a story popped into my head that I thought would entertain people. Feedback from the publisher and from readers of my first book was better than I could ever have hoped and encouraged me to write more. As long as I think I can produce a good story and the positive reviews keep coming, I’ll keep writing. Obviously I’d like to see my books in every bookstore and most writers dream that one day they’ll get the call from a movie producer, but I’m realistic enough to know that is a distant dream. The biggest pay off I’ve had from writing has been the contacts I’ve made with other writers and readers of my books and everything I’ve learned whilst researching my stories. As long as I’m reaping those rewards, I’ll be happy.
KC: What makes you angry?
MC: I just turned 55 and you don’t have time for me to tell you everything that makes me angry. I’m sure it’s an age thing. At the top of a very long list would be modern politics. I’m staggered at how venal and self-serving our leaders have been in recent years and appalled by the consequences of their poorly conceived actions. So many of our politicians have squandered the opportunity to make a real difference, choosing instead to ride the gravy train for as long as possible, with eye-catching short-term gimmicks rather than genuine long term solutions. I don’t see much chance of this trend reversing in the near future either. My second favourite bug bear is the media, which long ago stopped holding politicians to account and can now only be relied on to push its own agenda in a desperate rush for ratings and ad revenue. A good step forward would be if Mr Blair was to stand trial for his abuse of power. That would make me laugh.
KC: Thanks Matt for doing this interview long distance. I look forward to catching up with you the next time you are back in Bangkok.
MC: Thank-you, Kevin.
For more information regarding Matt and his novels go to: www.mattcarrellbooks.com
200th Post at Thailand Footprint