Thursday, June 21, 2018

Author Spotlight: Matt Leyshon

It has been a few weeks since I have done one of my author spotlights and this week I am pleased to introduce you all to ex-pat Matt Leyshon. Matt recently wrote an amazing book Jack the Ripper: Live and Uncut that he will tell us a little about in a moment, but first I must let you all know that the book is currently unavailable as he has some HUUUUUUUGE news coming soon about an update and a wider audience reach. So WATCH THIS SPACE! 

Tell us about yourself and your books!
I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, in a suburb called Liverpool. I had always enjoyed writing from an early age but had never extended that passion to the level of a completed novel. 

I moved to the USA in 2004 and have been here since. I have lived in Florida the whole time, (Tampa now), and have a lovely wife and two gorgeous children. I often refer to them as “the greatest story I have”.

My one book at this point, Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut, is a thriller. My books, (yes a series is being developed), tell of a concept of using time travel to solve cold cases. The book was written with both sides of the fence in mind. Jack the Ripper fans, even the hard core ones, will enjoy the level of historical detail and its accuracy, but it will also entertain readers that are new to the case. I basically wanted to write a decent Jack the Ripper tale but at its core is a fast paced thriller. A whole lot going on, both inside and outside of Whitechapel.

How long have you been writing, and how did you become involved in writing?
I guess the first time I wrote a story and received encouragement to tell stories was when I was six years old. My first grade teacher liked a story I wrote about someone who eats chicken sandwiches with ghosts in a haunted house. Writing has always been a passion I have harboured but never fully embraced. My efforts on this novel, and to become a proper author, are approaching the two and a half year mark, so I would say that is how long I have been writing.

The catalyst for committing to writing was an online tutorial I did called “Masterclass”, a website that has celebrities teach in their given specialty. Mine was conducted by James Patterson and the topic was thriller writing. It was very educational and it was also the kick up the ass that I needed. Another huge incentive was that Patterson was running a competition for his class members; submit a hook, synopsis and sample chapter for a potential novel. The winner got to write their book with James Patterson. I came up with three submissions, one of which was the book I wrote. So that was the original source of inspiration. I didn’t submit it however as it was something I really wanted for myself. The day I heard I did not win his competition was one of the happiest days of my life. I immediately began working on my book, “Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut”.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently one hundred pages deep into the next Carl Axford adventure. It’s working title is “Cult Following: A Carl Axford Mystery”. I have 90% of the story outlined and am finalizing the plot and continuing my research. This book will suggest that several deaths of famous musicians, that were deemed accidental or unsolved, will be linked to a common cause. There is also a present day target. This will also see a lot of expansion on the original concepts in the first book and I am already taking them to new potential, which is always exciting as an author. There are also some sub plots that more or less play out over an arc in the series, so some subplots that were begun in the first instalment will see progress in the next.

I can also say I already broke my promise to write the book in proper sequence, and have written the last chapter of the book. I couldn’t help it. The inspiration came and I had to put it into words while the moment was there. What I can say is that anyone who reads Jack the Ripper: Live and UnCut is going to be grinning from ear to ear when they finish Cult Following.

I have also been thinking about writing a book that is autobiographical. My son was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum at two and a half , and I wanted to document our journey from birth, to diagnosis, through to where we are today. The working title is Spectrumhood and I really want to tell our story, especially from a father’s perspective. The most valuable information we have been given is from people who walk in our shoes. I wanted to pay that forward. Mrs Leyshon wants me to continue with the Axford series though, so I’m working on that primarily, but Spectrumhood will see publication one day.

Did you have any goals with writing, and if so, how well do you feel you’ve achieved them?  What do you hope to achieve in the future?
As a first time author I think my goals would be consistent with others like me. Some of it is a balance of low expectations, combined with the pipedreams of being a NYT Best Seller.
When I wrote it I simply wanted a book that people would enjoy to read. I hadn’t expected any traction within the Ripper Community as I know how much they like to discuss books with facts and that Ripper fiction has not always represented the case, or Jack, well. As a first time author I had some doubts that my book would be liked but I was proud of what I had written.

The response has been truly overwhelming so far. While sales are nowhere near the “best seller” range, the critical reception has been off the charts. Across the Amazon sites I have nearly 30 reviews to date and only one of them was not a 5 star review. That reader still enjoyed the book. What was even more encouraging is that Ripper publication were unanimous with their praise. They didn’t just like it, they loved it! Naturally I was happy to update my cover and include some quotes from them on the back. I was also invited to appear on Rippercast as one of five authors to discuss Jack the Ripper fiction. My book had been out for less than a month when that invitation came. I have also appeared at Rippercon as a panellist to discuss Jack the Ripper in Fiction. The fact my book received such a warm welcome, to the point of embrace, is incredibly satisfying. For me, this is the demographic that is the most likely to criticize my work so I feel confident all readers will enjoy it.

Finding representation from a literary agent has been difficult as my decision to self-publish in order to solicit feedback has cost the book dearly. But, I am proud to say that I beat the self-published hex and have secured a literary agent. I am extremely happy and excited about moving forward with an agent on the next level. In order to do this I now have to remove the book from publication. A shame, as it had gained terrific traction, but this is what I wanted for the book so an action I have no problem following through with. I have appreciated all of the support and great feedback the book has received. It was a big part in peeking my agent’s interest.

How long does it take you to write a book?
From commencing first chapter, to completion of first draft, Live and UnCut took me sixteen months to write, but that did include a three month break. Being immersed in my research and story was something I would often describe as “going down a dark rabbit hole”. Some people love that rabbit hole, many live in it. I didn’t want that for myself nor may family. My wife and children went on a road trip in which I wrote 180 pages in 10 days. I love them dearly, but man…..I get so much done when I’m on my own!

What are the hardest parts of being an author for you?
Finding the time to do it for sure. My books involve a lot of research so getting the time to do it all is tough. I am a stickler for detail though and want therefore shoulder the burden of research with the realistic approach that its for a good cause. This also has to fit in with a life of being a software techie, father and husband.

What do you enjoy most about being an author?
When you complete the plot for a book and it all fits nicely. I outline my books so I know some chapters I will be looking forward to a lot as well, and obviously with Jack the Ripper you kind of know some things that are coming but I love the challenge of making it fresh and making the reader feel like they have been put right there. My book turns the creep factor up to eleven, the intention is to freak the reader out, not gross them out. On balance I don’t sugar coat what he did either.

One evening I wrote a chapter I had been eager to write for 6 months. I wrote through till 1:30am, but could not fall asleep until 5:00am due to being full of so much adrenaline. I thought, if my readers could feel a tenth of how I did, reading this material, then I would be happy. Subsequently I have heard that people who have read the book have had it keep them up some nights. I actually like that. I didn’t want the premise to set a scene that was gory, I wanted it to be eerie. Gory is disposable, creepy remains with you.

Do you have a spot where you like to write?
I write at a desk in my living room. Typically I just like to write where it is quiet and where I have a decent sized monitor. I finished the book while staying, alone, at a beach condo on the water. I could get used to that.

Besides writing, what do you love doing?
I love my kids and try to be a good dad for them as well as try to be a good husband. As for me I am a huge movie buff as well as a sports fanatic….at least for some sports. I miss the accessibility of some Australia sports as American tv doesn’t cover them with the same enthusiasm. I try to watch my beloved Wests Tigers whenever I can though.

What books or authors have had the most influence on you as an author?
I have several, and all for different reasons”

Martin Cruz Smith – Writes so beautifully and with great philosophy. His Arkady Renko novels are all masterpieces and he is so quotable with his description of places or people. Also the way he shows his main character evolves through his various stories but also how Russia changes along with him. He is literary God to me. I can easily pick up a Renko and read it.

James Patterson – James is the ultimate page turner. Usually when you read a Patterson you make short work of it, mostly because you don’t want to put his book down. One thing he said that I loved was when he tells a story he doesn’t want to hear somebody say “that’s great” he would rather hear somebody say “I’d like to read more”. That is Patterson in a nutshell and he is the master of stories that propel forward and at a quick pace.
Ben Elton – I love Elton as I have been a fan of his humour for decades. When he branched out from television and wrote novels I have enjoyed not only every story he writes but also his variety. He has written satires, murder-who dunnits, thrillers and always has great social commentary in every novel. He also has great humour in his books which is expected given what he gave to tv viewers.

Dan Brown – I love the Langdon series. What impresses me so much about Dan Brown, when I first read Angels and Demons, was that this book would make a terrific movie. I have felt that way about all of the Langdons. Needless to say I was very happy to hear that they were doing exactly that, and have done with three of them. When reading Brown you truly picture a scene playing out in your head. What I also like is Brown doesn’t dwell on getting to know the hero. Robert Langdon is a likeable hero but we don’t connect with him necessarily. We do become invested in his adventure though and want to see him succeed and it is through the journey that we learn little bits about Landon. I also appreciate that in those books it is Langdon’s talent that ultimately helps him progress through a mystery. The story is moved forward by what he knows and what he is good at. I like that a lot. I also like that Brown is not afraid of tackling a topic that knows will court controversy. He researches his books well, weaves history into a great story, but one that is ultimately fiction. Brown on his own admission concedes that these are stories……..not preachings to base a belief structure on.

Very honorable mentions are Edgar Allen Poe and William Shakespeare. Both capture the drama of horror or tragedy so profoundly. Their work has been the template for everybody that followed them.

What did you find most useful when you were learning to write and expanding your skills? 
Definitely the importance of having an outline, for me it was massive. There were some chapters that I didn’t get to write for months and I was relieved that I had placed a lot of relevant information in there and not have to research it again.

While writing the story I did develop other characters and device plots that were not in my outline, so I went back and added them in. An outline is a great tool, sometimes your best friend, but its completion should never signify the end of creativity for your story. It should be a balance of structure and spontaneity.

What are your thoughts about ebooks vs. print books?
Always preferred print books myself, but I can definitely relate to why people prefer eBooks. For personal reading I prefer paperback or hard covers, if I’m purchasing books for research I will predominantly go with eBooks mostly on the convenience of the delivery but also I usually buy a lot of books and it’s tough keeping them all on my desk.

What are your thoughts about self-publishing vs traditional publishing?
It’s down to the author. My preference is the traditional route, but the market is so saturated now it’s very hard to break through. As a first timer I wasn’t sure I had a decent book, so I opted to self-publish, in order to seek feedback (validation). Once I saw the reaction was great, especially from professionals in the industry, I sought to query agents. Sadly the phrase “self-published” pretty much condemns your book to instant rejection, at least in the US it does. Thankfully I found an agent that saw past that.

I see benefits of both. Self-publishing does offer you more freedom to promote it, it gives you creative license over the story, but it is all truly down to you. In spite of it all I do prefer the traditional route as I believe it is the route more likely to lead to being an author full time.

How often do you write, and how do you find or make time to write?
I try to put something in every day, whether it’s writing, research or outlining. How much time is subject to different factors, mostly when my kids are asleep. The majority of my book was written between 10:00pm and 2:00am.

Do you plan your whole book out in advance, or just let it flow? What does your writing process look like?
I outline most of it, especially if I have to include research notes, or develop plot lines or twists. Coming back to those months later is very handy. I normally establish “plot beads” which are chunks of the narrative or twists in plot, the major things. I then work on a way of threading them together. Cult Following will have a thread that involves multiple ciphers. I’m glad I locked the details of that away prior to writing it. When it comes to completing those chapters I’ll be golden.

What's a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write?
9:00 - 6:00 Work as a Solutions Architect
6:00 – 8:00 Have dinner, hang with the kids
10:00 – After insomniac daughter finally goes to sleep begin writing.

Do you ever get Writer’s Block? If so, how do you deal with it?
I did, once during Live and UnCut. I had hit one of the most critical parts of the book but realised I had a lot of research to do if I wanted to portray the next few chapters how I wold have wanted. The first chapter I had written in the book was chapter 37, which covered the Eddowes murder. So I picked up from there and wrote through to the end. I then had a 15 chapter gap to fill. Strangely, I didn’t fill the gap from chapter 22 through to 37, but went from 34-37, 31-34 and so on. Writing in the gap was like the movie Memento in a way.

Do you read your own reviews? If so, how do you deal with bad reviews?
Yes I do, because feedback is very important. If it’s positive feedback, you not only learn what you’ve done right but you also feel validated in the effort, research and risk you put into to producing the book. If it’s negative, you learn from that also in order to improve and put out a better product. You’re not going to make everybody happy but sometimes praise or criticism should definitely be noted. You have your own instincts but your readers voices should guide you a little as well.

Fortunately for me the story has received no bad reviews. I have received 5 stars, across the board, with the exception of one 3 star review from a reader, which was still complimentary. I did however receive criticism for the original cover. It seemed like a good idea at the time as I wanted something that got a reader’s attention but it was too confrontational and did not represent the story inside. The cover was doing the book a disservice and there was no lack of people willing to let me now. I owned all of it though and sought out a new cover that represented a mainstream thriller, still included Jack to a minor extent and show my main character’s purpose. I think the new cover got it right this time. 

The feedback is a lot more positive.

It was not my artist’s fault, he delivered what I had asked and in hindsight I did not make the best call there.

I guess this all leads to an answer of I do listen to both criticism and praise.

Other than reviews, do you hear from your readers? What kinds of things do they say?
Yes! I LOVE talking to my readers. A: I love hearing their feedback and discussing what they loved about the story. What plot twists they enjoyed the most. I also like to impart some stories behind the book. There are some cool research stories to be told along with some others that may give up spoilers.

I make myself completely available to readers and encourage them to reach out. Whether that is somebody who knew me before reading it and was surprised by what they read, or a sceptic who doesn’t like Ripper Fiction or time travel fiction but loved the book. A convert is my favourite reader as I know they did not approach the book with enthusiasm but came out on the other side a fan is terrific. I recently had somebody, I had never met, post on Facebook “Better be good, just purchased.” Later that first day they had added to their post that they had done nothing all morning except read my book. She is now a FB Friend, we talk regularly, and she recently described the book as her “favourite read of 2018”. As an author you have to love hearing that your work won somebody over like that.

The big thing for me is I want to hear why people came across the book and where that has progressed to. Some readers knew me personally, some love reading Jack the Ripper books. What I enjoy hearing after the book has been read is that they love the characters, the ideas, and that they will be back for more. They are saying they enjoyed your story and want to hear more. The sense of obligation is gone. I need to get Cult Following completed as there are a many readers wanting to see what happens next. Unfortunately, now that I am beginning along the traditional route, it will be difficult to gain any new readers/fans, but readers are now encouraged to lend their copy out to their family and friends.

What are some ways in which you promote your books?  What have you found most or least effective?
Various ways. I have done a couple of book signings in stores and intend to get that going again. I use Social Media but I am yet to see the influence it can be. It can translate to presence but not necessarily sales. Maybe that does come later, we’ll see. A good example is I ran a Facebook Promo and accidentally selected it to run on Instagram instead. I received nearly 2,000 likes for my picture but If there were sales from it I don’t think it would have been more than 2-3 books. I have a lot to learn in this area though and am trying to educate myself better.

I was invited on Rippercast, the main Jack the Ripper related podcast as a guest panellist to discuss Jack the Ripper Fiction. I was also invited to Rippercon, the Jack the Ripper Conference in the US. Again, I appeared as a panellist to discuss Jack the Ripper in fiction. I will also be appearing at a few more conventions, speaking on panels and trying to promote the book and myself further. My book has been nominated for several awards. Fingers crossed I do well in one or two of those as being an “award winner” suggests distinction from the pack.

I have created a website and am starting to channel everything through there. At first I didn’t have enough happening to create a decent amount of content. Now I think I do and with the website will also come a newsletter. The website also played a critical part in escalating intrigue from my agent.

How easy or hard do you think it is it to make a living as an author?
Speaking for myself, it’s hard. I think that would apply to any Indie Author. Attracting a reader base is one thing but another issue is that promoting your book comes at a cost most of the time. People charge ridiculous fees to simply review your book. A review should never cost more than the price of the book and the expense to ship it to them. Others charge money to promote it, critique it, proof-read it. If you want to enter your book into an awards contest, there is typically a fee, if you want it to progress through various channels you pay membership fees. For an Indie Author there are a lot of overheads. We’ll see what the future holds now that all of that is about to change.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be an author?
Do it! Being an author is all about wanting to tell the stories you have inside you and if you feel you have a story to share then get typing. The most important thing is if you believe in your story then believe in yourself.

What I will say as well is it’s a long road, with hard work. Very few authors strike jackpot with their first book and seeking representation is a battle you need to prepare for. If you want this, there are thousands, millions even, that feel it as well. You have to think about what makes you different, what makes your story better, and fight the good fight using that arsenal. If you wish to find an agent I have had many people tell me it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and that’s true. I ran the sprint and wished I had taken the path with greater resistance. Finding an agent takes time. Authors who find an agent in less than 30 rejections are the exception, not the rule. Many of the great authors were rejected many times. Even when you find an agent, they take the same fight you fought to publishers, so finding an agent is getting to first base, it’s not running into home plate.

For all the work and frustrations there is so much good stuff. Hearing from somebody that they loved your book is a beautiful thing. Being an author is like golf basically….there are a lot of times the shots don’t go your way and you become frustrated to the pointed you want to break a club in half. Then you have a couple of moments that make up for all of that. In the end you say to yourself, “maybe I’ll come back for another round”.

Tell us a random fact about yourself
Random eh…….ok. I eat price tags. I love eating price tags, and I love how they taste. A lot of new ones have holograms and other shit, but the old fashion peel away ones! Yeah….I love those. It’s a habit I never grew out of :)

 How can readers find out more about you: (Fb, Goodreads, website links and such)

Twitter:  @mleyshonauth
YouTube (Promotions Clips)
Trailer Clip -
Critical Reception Promo Clip

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