Interview with Martin Knight, author of ‘Justice Killer’

An interview with Martin Knight, author of ‘Justice Killer’

Martin Knight is the Sunday Times best-selling biographer of several ’60s and ’70s superstar footballers, including George Best and Peter Osgood. He also ghosted the memoirs of Gypsy Joe Smith, the bare-knuckle boxer turned pro golfer, which was selected as Observer “Sports Book of the Year”. Martin also wrote Justice For Joan about an unsolved 1948 murder and an autobiography of the founder member of the Bay City Rollers pop band among many other books. Martin had a long career in the media monitoring industry and is co-owner of niche publisher London Books. He is married with five children and lives in Surrey.

Who is your favourite dragon in literature?

I have to confess I cannot bring to mind any actual dragons in books I have read. I guess they would have been in childhood and now distant memories. I did gobble up the C.S. Lewis books and I think a dragon or two figured there. However, I was greatly impacted by the film Enter The Dragon back in the mid-1970s about the time I left school. It was a vehicle for martial arts supremo Bruce Lee and I assume he was the “dragon” of the title. Hero worship of Bruce spread like a wildfire among teenage boys of the era. Kung Fu Fighting a song by Carl Douglas was top of the pop charts and kids couldn’t engage with each other without spinning around and jump kicking the air above the other boy’s head. I remember vividly seeing the film and leaving the cinema full of adrenaline after. When my bus pulled up and the doors opened I leapt on emitting a high-pitched war cry like Bruce and raised my hands karate style. The driver looked at me and unflustered said: “Where to, mate?”

I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite? 

My favourite previous novel is Battersea Girl written some twenty years ago. It was a lightly fictionalised account of my grandmother’s 100 year life. She was born in the year Jack The Ripper committed his murders and endured two world wars and grinding poverty. Her first husband perished in the so-called Great War. Her sister and niece were killed in the second world war bombardment of London. While I tried to stick to the broad facts and the characters were real people, of course, I had to imagine conversations, feelings and some events. Much of the content was based on stories told to me by my Grandma in the last years of her long life. I was comforted to discover as the years went by and ancestry web sites burgeoned that most of those stories – some incredible – could be confirmed.

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

My first novel was probably Justice Killer which is my latest novel just being released. It started off when I put pen to paper twenty or more years ago about a real-life local murder that happened by my school, while I was there in the 1970s. A young milkman, whose siblings were in school with me, was shot dead in the course of an armed robbery. The execution had a big impact on me and was a big part of the curtains drawing on my childhood. It was a truly shocking affair. The Man From Uncle or The Avengers it was not.  I didn’t know where to go with it and the development of the book got regularly parked as different projects came my way. Then the notion of an ordinary man who felt he didn’t have much to live for seeking justice for victims of crime and finding purpose again formed in my mind and Justice Killer started to motor forward. The premise of an everyday person with no previous disposition to violence drifting into serial murder fascinated me.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

I would hope my writing has acquired some wisdom and insight that comes with age. But that has to be balanced against perhaps more energy and passion in the earlier writing.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

Most of my books have been non-fiction so a novel every seven years is more applicable. I’d love to write a novel a year, especially as at my age (65) I am becoming increasingly reminded that you cannot take the years for granted. I am often referred to as a “ghost writer” which is a term I dislike. I was in the offices of a large publisher one day when I was writing the autobiography of footballing legend George Best and a publishing executive welcomed me to his office by saying “Are you the ghost?” It stripped away any creative illusions I had about myself and suggested I was just a cog in a publishing machine. Which, of course, I was.

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?

I write in Microsoft Word on a PC. I write mainly at home in outer London and am lucky enough to have requisitioned a room as my study. However, being a busy family hub my day is subject to regular interruptions, so when I really need solitude to bash out words in big numbers I visit a cottage in the countryside where I can get up to 5,000 words a day if my writing juices are really flowing and I can go for salubrious, bracing walks to empty my head when I need to.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

I occasionally have the benefit of a trained editor when one of my books is being published by the big companies but mostly my friend John King will review and provide honest feedback. He is a very successful novelist and I do the same for him. It works well. I used to try and read my books as they formed to my wife and children but when I looked up and saw them buried in their smart phones or their eyes glazing over, I gave up.

I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

I love bookshops. They are sanctuaries of peace and contentment in an urgent, frantic and often scary world. When in central London I like to visit Foyles which is a palace of books. My parents were both librarians in public libraries and met in one. Books are in my DNA. Before I was ten I was reading three or four books a day and had by then had exhausted the canons of Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Denis Wheatley and had moved on to the gritty working class novels of Alan Sillitoe. I don’t like ebooks as much as physical books and rarely read one online. The smell, look and feel of books is a pleasure I won’t lose but sadly the next generation/s will not have that attachment.

I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

I started by only reading novels but after working through almost every established/famous writer in wide circulation in the 1960s and 1970s I moved into non-fiction and especially true crime. In my twenties and thirties I became almost snobbish about fiction taking the view why waste time reading about made up things when there is so much true material out there. When I reached my forties I rediscovered my love of fiction and now I’m in place where I read 50% non-fiction, 50% fiction.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

I have mixed feelings about social media and technology generally. I resent my mobile phone. I resent the fact that people expect you to answer immediately. I remember when we had a telephone at home (eventually) as a kid when the phone rang in the hall (never in the sitting room) we would decide whether to answer it or not. If we were watching a good programme on the television we ignored it. Technology and phones have gone from being servant to master in a few decades. I have dabbled in social media but again have mixed feelings. I dropped Facebook early on – just didn’t like it. The whole concept of collecting friends or being collected turned me off. Never did Instagram but I have embraced Twitter. You do get some sensible debate on there and it gives you alternatives to a homogenous news media. I have been on ten years now and do promote my books there. It helps.  I spend too much time on Twitter and am consciously trying to reduce on line time. Probably spend 2 hours a day, which is too much.

Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next? 

Inevitably sometimes you asked the same question and then you will be repeating yourself but as a rule, no. Your questions have been different from many of the stock ones I get asked which is nice. Thank you.

About Justice Killer

Not a whodunnit but a hedunnit, told from the perspective of its central character, Justice Killer marks the crime fiction debut of the best-selling biographer of George Best and other cultural icons. It takes you inside the mind of an ordinary man who finds an extraordinary new purpose after the death of his beloved wife. Disgusted by the injustice of the world, he strives to bring justice to his small corner of England. A murderer and an elderly former child abuser, both of whom think they’ve got away with their crimes, soon find themselves in his crosshairs…

Purchase the novel here on Amazon

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