Matthew Hall’s first career was as a criminal barrister. He then made the move to screenwriting, followed by also writing novels. Matthew’s novels include the Jenny Cooper series which have been adapted into a hit TV series, Coroner, made for CBC and NBC Universal. His latest, The Black Art of Killing, was published by Penguin in April 2020.
We were intrigued how and why Matthew made that step. Here is an exclusive look at his response, from behind the scenes of the #AdventureSociety.
WNSF: You started your writing career as a screenwriter and initially pitched The Black Art of Killing for TV, did you ever start writing it as a screenplay?
Matthew: No, I didn’t with this. I decided quite early on that I wanted to be quite uncompromising.
In my writing journey, I started out as quite a young man but I had a wife and children and a mortgage, so I had to write for a living constantly over that time. The first ten years of my writing career I was being blown about quite a lot by television and I was writing a lot of episodes of shows that were already up and running. I wasn’t necessarily getting my own writing voice out there. I was earning a decent living in television but I felt I was in showbusiness, not the writing business.
"I felt I was in showbusiness, not the writing business."
It was only really when I got to writing books that I felt I was really truly finding the proper voice. I’ve become a little more uncompromising as I got older but you earn that right.
WNSF: Can you pinpoint the moment you decided to try writing your first novel?
Matthew: In 2005, I got a show commissioned called New Street Law with BBC1, which I’d been trying to get off the ground for three or four years with BBC. I wanted to do a really intelligent, morally complex, 9 o’clock show about the law. Something a little bit like what the show Silk was that eventually made it to the screen.
They commissioned it eventually, and I think I’d written the first script then the executives changed. And the executives had all been making Doctor Who. And I kept getting notes that said ‘Can we make this a bit more noisy? A bit more buzzy? Can we have a bit more love interest?’ Then the show got dropped from a 9 o’clock slot to an 8 o’clock slot and the characters got changed.
I did two seasons of it but for me that was a defining experience. I realised that I was being pushed all over the place in TV and I almost went back to the law at that point.
That was 2007. But I thought to myself, proper writers write books, and I’d never got around to doing it. I was nearly 40 so I thought I’d better do it now. I spent about five or six very frantic months writing my first novel. It was a variation of a story I’d been trying to tell for many years and it finally crystallised. That was such a liberating experience because I had no one telling me what they expected or telling me how a character should be formed.
"I had no one telling me what they expected or telling me how a character should be formed."
I got a publisher very quickly and they wanted a series of three books, so I had to commit to a series of three. I became a novelist by default really and it was the best thing that ever happened!
WNSF: I bet that felt good! Five to six months for a first draft feels incredibly fast…
Matthew: It was fast and it was fairly relentless. I didn’t do anything else. I didn’t go anywhere. I sent the family off on holiday and I remember writing about 100 pages while they were away on holiday.
I’ve had two experiences like that in my life. The first was the very first television commission I had. I had a new-born baby at the time, and I would be up all night with the baby but writing at the same time, just so determined that it was going to work. And it was like that with the first novel as well. It’s like your life depends on it. I think you need those moments – you can’t keep it up but you need those moments a few times in your career.
This is a behind-the-scenes outtake from Matthew's interview on the #AdventureSociety. Watch the full interview here.