It’s great to see authors out and about doing events at our public libraries, isn’t it? The libraries of Newport, Gwent have been organising some great events during the past year or so, attracting some big names, and last week was no exception. Matthew Hall, who writes his legal thrillers under the name of M R Hall has a new book out, the third in his Jenny Cooper series, The Redeemed. He gave a splendidly informative talk about this engaging series and the background to it, to a gathering of interested readers at the Malpas Library.
They say write about what you know and it also helps if you have a passion for your subject. Matthew’s career started in the legal profession and it’s not a surprise that this background and his own passion for justice feed into his novels and the character of coroner, Jenny Cooper in particular. Growing up, he had an interest in justice and injustice so he thought he’d become a lawyer. Following time served training in a barristers’ chambers under a pupillage, he first worked in civil law but moved on after realising and owning up to some not quite perfect legal advice. Then came time at a chambers specialising in criminal law and what he described as a ‘life changing experience’. Matthew gave more than one example of his exposures to people who contributed to his loss of innocence; the saddest for me was the one of a woman who had assaulted a young girl, explaining herself thus ‘… read so much in the papers, I thought there’d be something in it.’
Time in this criminal law hotbed also exposed the author to enlightenment on organised crime and the fact that informants lead to convictions for the police. Those convictions come at a price: information and tip-offs may lead to blind eyes and, effectively a sort of legal licence to continue where smaller fry informants lead to bigger fry convictions. This is something I have often pondered on, but to Matthew his frontline experience feeds into his writing.
Without the need for political posturing and without the attendant media, Matthew Hall probably ‘hugged a hoodie’ before the media coined the phrase (Or was it Dave?). His time in criminal law led him to meet many young people, teenagers, in whom he saw lives misdirected by adults. Locked up, they sought and often secured means of escape, leading to results of impressive ingenuity. These children had intelligence and energy, but adults failed to present the right opportunities and they were not understood. Inspired and wishing to inform, Matthew wrote a script on this subject but it was not made for TV, his first port of call in writing.
But once Matthew had settled on a writing career over law, TV producers soon took notice. He has written for many successful TV series/productions, of which most of us are aware: Kavanagh QC; Dalziel and Pascoe; The Scarlet Pimpernel; Loving You; Blue Murder; New Street Law. He is most proud of ‘Loving You’ based on a book called ‘Trust’, which was completed in six weeks. Loving You starred Niamh Cusack and Douglas Henshall, with Cusack’s character devotedly in love until her partner (Henshall) is accused of abusing a young girl.
Matthew’s thoughts and recollections on TV machinations struck a note with me given recent airings and decisions (the BBC’s decision not to recommission Zen for example). He had reached the stage of wondering if his true voice might be heard in the world of TV or if it might be the time to go back to practising law. For us, dear readers, Matthew’s pivotal moment is our gain. He took six months out to write the first Jenny Cooper novel, The Coroner.
Set with Cooper living in the country on the Welsh side of the Severn Bridge, but working on the other side in the city of Bristol, Matthew believes what he calls the countryside/city life sacred/profane divide for Cooper is one of the appeals to his readers. Also, Matthew cited Cooper’s search for justice, doing everything she can to dig it up as another factor. He then considered the history of the office of coroner and gave examples of real life cases that show us how the delivery of justice can exist on a knife edge and how simple politics can intervene, at the same time as providing a very fertile ground for his imagination. He even asserted that he has to ‘temper reality a bit’ for his fiction. He closed his talk with the quote at the start above.
I have deliberately left out a good few of Matthew’s examples because I want to give you a taster only. If you have the opportunity, then do catch him at an event near you. You’ll find him both entertaining and informative. Having read the first two Cooper novels, I look forward to reading the third as soon as I can and thoroughly recommend the series.
Lastly, this was a local library event. Huge thanks and many congratulations on a job very well done to the staff at the Malpas branch. (Some are pictured above with Matthew.) These ladies know how to run a show. (I even saw men clearing the cups and saucers…)