Author Interview: Matt Leyshon Jack the Ripper; Live and Uncut
JMR- Welcome, Matt, to the Books Delight, tell us where you live, what you do for fun and what a perfect day looks like.
ML- It’s a pleasure, and thanks for inviting me. I live in Tampa, Florida, and have for the last sixteen years since moving over to the U.S. Prior to that I was born and raised in Australia.
Regarding what I do for fun, well, not a lot at the moment. These turbulent times make it very difficult to get out there and paint the town red, especially when our family has been living by strict rules to ensure we stay safe. Right now . . . a trip to Walmart is ace, and brings me great joy.
In all seriousness I am a huge sports and movie fan, so I’m set in that aspect. My agency has been great during these times of isolation. We have Zoom Meetings for Movie Nights once a week and we also have Open Mic Nights once a week, where my colleagues and I read samples of our work to the group. It’s currently one of my favorite parts of the week.
A perfect day? Well, there’s two kinds for a writer. There’s the writing perfect day where I have nothing but my laptop, a fridge full of coke and celery, a pantry filled with chocolate chip cookies. Oh, did I say celery? Oops, I meant chocolate. Basically, having the time and fuel to write all day, is a gift. Notice I said “write” that does not involve editing whatsoever.
A Matt Leyshon perfect day would be something involving my wife, Susan, and my children, Reece and Charlotte. Going out somewhere and having the greatest time. Monster Jam comes close but my wife uses that as downtime for herself. Maybe that is collectively our perfect day! I always refer to my family as “the greatest story I have”.
JMR- What was your route to writing? Was it a lifelong goal? Spur of the moment? How does writing fit into your life?
Four years ago, nearly five now, I entered a contest and the prize was to collaborate with James Patterson. It motivated me, along with his tutorial on the Masterclass website, that it was time to pack in any excuses and work out if I wanted to be a writer or not. I had three entry ideas (needed to submit a one sentence hook, a brief synopsis, and a sample chapter), but could only enter one. The first novel I ever wrote, Live and UnCut, was one of those ideas, which I held back from entering. A: Patterson doesn’t really do real life events or people, and B: I wanted this one for myself because I believe so much in the premise. The day I found out I did not win Patterson’s competition was the happiest day of my life, and I began working on Live and UnCut, having already started with six weeks of research (a drop in a bucket). So I guess you could say it’s been a lifelong goal, but it was a switch of spontaneity that committed me to it.
Since then I’ve always made it fit somehow. I try to be a decent solutions engineer for my employer, the best husband and dad I can be for my wife and two children, (both diagnosed with ASD), and when the hours are there, the best writer I can be as well. Over 90% of Live and UnCut was written between 10:00pm and 2:00am. If you want to tell stories, you must find the time to get them down, there are no excuses.
JMR- Who is your favorite historical figure? Why? If you had one burning question to ask them, what would it be? (I bet I can guess this one.)
ML- LOL, well I know who jumps out as an obvious answer!! Of course, the Jack the Ripper case is something I have been fascinated with for a long time, but that was what made for a great tale. Jack, (whoever they are), is a great candidate, but my choice would be Captain Arthur Phillip, the head of the First Fleet that sailed and settled in Australia. If anything I would just love to sail through the Sydney Heads, into the harbor and see what one of the most spectacular cities on earth (I may be biased), looked like, before anything was built. I would point to Bennelong Point and ask him “I think an Opera House would be great right there. What do you think?”
JMR- What’s is your favorite historical era? Why? Have you visited any cities/ sites to see that history close up? Where have you felt closest to a historical figure?
ML- A favorite era in history is so hard to choose on account there is so much of it, but globally, each country is fascinating. I love medieval, renaissance and Victorian history in England, the early colonization of Australia and the Rum Rebellion, Russia in the early 20th century, America during times of the gold rush and Civil War….and I haven’t even mentioned Spain, Greece, Italy or 50 other countries yet. To be honest, I don’t think there is a wrong choice for favorite. I would gladly incorporate any into my stories.
It surprises people when I mention I’ve never been to London, which is where the historical elements of my first story is set. When The Whitechapel Society and Ripperologist Magazine assumed you live in London or have spent months there I take that as great flattery, and bless the fact we have an internet.
As a writer, I have visited locations in my second story, Cult Following, which is a sequel. For that I went to Yasgur’s Farm, where Woodstock took place. It was incredible, looking around, imagining the crowd, the mass of cars parked, everywhere, and of course the stage. I’ve also been to Chicago, where my main character, Carl Axford, is from, but ironically, I haven’t visited since I began writing. I have also been to Dealey Plaza, and the Book Depository Building, where the JFK Assassination took place. It was extremely somber, but I also found it cool, given the chapter I wrote that was set there.
Without a doubt, the location where I have felt closest to a historical figure was Central Park and W 72nd Street in New York City. John Lennon has featured in both stories, (yes, both Jack the Ripper and The Beatles are in the one book!), and I have always been a huge Beatles fan. Standing in Strawberry Fields, and crossing the road to walk to the Dakota, I felt this weight, walking around that area. When I stopped at the Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields, I cried, hard. The mosaic had been decorated by fans, wit flowers, in the pattern of a peace sign. It was just a terrible sense of grief and loss. Lennon was more than just a singer or artist even, he was a messenger, a strong theme in the second book. I find that lacking in our culture today, then again, somebody like John Lennon only comes along once in a lifetime. Yet this was before I became a writer, but it was very easy to draw from those emotions of that day when I did put John’s greatness into words. If I went back there now, given the research I have done since, I would be a mess.
JMR- You have written your first book which was originally self-published. You now have an agent. How did that work? The word on Writing Street is that this never happens! What is your ultimate goal for your book(s)?
ML- Yes, it never happens, or should never happen, and my journey is a decent example of that. I originally wanted to pursue the traditional route but received rejections which I think were justifiable. I had a lot to learn regarding the querying process and I have improved, technically, as a writer since those times. Feeling impostor syndrome, I opted to self-publish. I did have an offer from a publisher, but due to early feedback I received about my book I felt it was meant for more. Self-publishing had its gifts, but it did me no favors. As I always say, “I’m a better story-teller than a story seller”. Live and UnCut didn’t sell many copies, despite the overwhelmingly positive feedback and recognition from the Ripper Community. That input drove me back towards the traditional route again, knowing my book should go this path.
I found out very quickly that the phrase “briefly self-published” was like a trap door for any query I submitted. It was like not having a college degree when I applied for work when I moved here. A simple phrase can exclude you in a second, or remove you remove from a radar you’re trying to appear on. I never made it past first base with an agent so I went back to being committed to going my own way. I had reviews and reader opinion that made me feel like this story was good enough.
I could say the self-published months were a mistake, but as a result of that choice I have met some amazing people on that part of the journey. Fellow writers that are now dear friends, readers who I had never met prior to this, folk in the Ripper Community that were so supportive, to the point my book was awarded “Jack the Ripper: Book of the Year – Fiction”, even though it had been out of publication for over six months. Does that make it posthumous? In a way I guess it does. It sits where I can clearly see it in my house, reminding me that if I can please my harshest demographic then my story will make it as the right people simply read it.
Because of the book being slightly out there, it was enough to meet my agent. She is a member of several True Crime Groups on Facebook and my book was recommended to her. Apparently she finished it in less than 24 hours, and reached out to me via Twitter. She immediately struck me as somebody that looked outside the box, which is what I felt I needed in order to have a shot. She was very approachable to writers, which is rare in this industry. We chatted, in which I told her why I knew my book had been subject to exclusion without any consideration. Shannon offered representation, saying she wanted to represent this story and anything else I wrote in the future. To go with her I needed to pull Live and UnCut from publishing, which I was glad to do. It was the end of an era, but I looked to fighting on the next level with extreme optimism. I have my agent and her belief to thank for a lot of that. It’s a great feeling to say “I have an agent”, and am represented by Shannon Orso at Victress Literary.
I hope this does encourage some indie authors to take the traditional route on. If you believe you have a good story, then put it out there, and fight for it! It could just be a case of having the right person finally read it like it was for me. People could say I got lucky, but that would not have come from not taking no for an answer. A writer’s work should never be judged by a two-word trigger phrase, but it happens to indie authors more than they deserve. Being indie does not make you less of a storyteller. There are people who see past that and they are just waiting to see what you’ve got.
My goal is very basic and is unmoved since I began. My wife once asked me what my goal was and it was to be able to walk into a bookstore, head to the thriller section, and find my book(s) on the shelf there. That’s it, everything else is just gravy. While I wouldn’t shy away from anything great that comes from being a successful writer, I am setting my bar at a level that fills me with immense pride and let’s go from there.
JMR- Matt tell us about your book, Jack the Ripper, Live and Uncut.
ML- My main character, Carl Axford, is an investigative reporter. He is offered recruitment from a covert group called Limbo, who use a unique form of time travel, called “projection”, to solve cold cases. In recruiting Axford they offer him a shot at their first famous, and most ambitious mission to date; the Jack the Ripper murders. While this opportunity appears too good to be true, Axford does harbor some doubts, and enlists his best friend, Gen, to help formulate a rescue plan if this goes south.
Axford is sent back to Whitechapel, with the ability to go observe anything he wants. His presence is like a ghost, being able to walk through walls and doors, and get as close to the crimes as possible. A front row seat to the murders does bring answers, but also more questions.
Ultimately, Axford comes to a realization that so much more is on the line than just solving this mystery. With Gen, fighting for him in the present day, they need to out-maneuver a dangerous adversary and in both cases, survive this mission, which has now turned into a game of chess, across centuries, with lives at stake.
It’s like a Philip K Dick thriller mixed with Dan Brown intrigue and puzzles.
JMR- I’m very interested in time travel. How does your main character go back in time? I love to hear of new and inventive methods.
ML- When I sat down to write this story, I thought a lot about the time travel aspect of it and wondered how I could make it unique. I wanted to deliver on the idea that my main character could get as close as he wanted to the crimes, without detection. The thought of getting that close to Jack the Ripper was terrifying, and I thought, well….if I could fulfill that promise then my reader will feel the same way. If Axford had employed standard time travel (if that exists) he would have been seen and heard, which didn’t work well enough for me. I also wanted to keep to one fundamental rule of time travel and that is whatever the technology is, regardless of its sophistication, there is a simplicity or even an analog backbone that makes it all possible and therefore identifiable to a reader/viewer. Marty McFly uses a car, Bill and Ted use a phone booth, Ethan Hawke uses a briefcase in Predestination. Even H.G Well’s time machine was a seat with a lever for forward or back, with a disc spinning at the rear. These aren’t complicated devices and I feel that has always been deliberate.
Thus, Projection was born.
Projection sends Axford back to any point in time, obviously the main mission is to Whitechapel, 1888. When he is projected he is in a spiritual form. It’s referred to as Separative Mode. Imagine Patrick Swayze’s Sam Wheat and how he can go anywhere, without being noticed. It’s like that, but there are limitations. Axford has to adapt to what rules and boundaries were laid out before him and what he also discovers on his own.
I thought Projection would be a great tool to get under my reader’s skin. I’m a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe, whose greatest gift was unsettling his readers without being gory or bloody. Projection allows you to be literally beside all of this horror, but my intention is to freak people out, not gross them (but there is a bit of that too). Having said that Axford doesn’t merely go back and witness five murders. There is a whole lot of fun that takes place.
JMR- I was surprised to see that there is an amazing amount of people who are interested in Jack the Ripper. Tell us about RipperCon and RipperCast.
ML- Yes, I’ve learned it from over 30 years invested in this case. Most of it as an amateur sleuth level, Jack’s very popular in Australia, and here too. There were many nights and months of research for the book, before I even wrote anything. I wanted to write a Ripper tale that somebody new could learn from and become more aware of the case, but also be appreciated by Ripperologists and the hardcore aficionados who would appreciate every detail. I wanted to weave the fact and fiction so tight it was hard to determine what was historically real, and what was not. The murders have a massive global following. I feel a part of it is because it’s not solved and also there are many suspects and theories already brought to public light. It’s a fascinating case to anybody who loves true crime. I remember when I wrote the book I found keeping facts in there was easy. I got creative, but didn’t have to when it came to a lot of details because the truth was a compelling story in its own right.
There are two Jack the Ripper conventions in the UK, which I hope to attend someday. In the US, Rippercon is held every few years where people attend to discuss the case and its many fascinating aspects. It’s a convention dedicated to Jack the Ripper, with some other presentations that are relevant. I appeared on a panel in 2018 with two amazing colleagues to discuss Jack the Ripper in Fiction. Next year they are hoping to host it at The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, and I have already been invited to be a guest speaker. I’m psyched because this stuff is right in my wheelhouse, and I’ve always wanted to go to The Mutter.
Rippercast is the foremost podcast on all things Ripperology. It’s not just about Jack, it can be about the victims, the law enforcement at the time, conditions in the East End….so many things are covered, typically with a dedicated topic each episode. This podcast also gets the most prominent experts on the topic in. My appearance, in late 2017, was surreal. Live and UnCut had been released for only two weeks. Following the early reviews from The Whitechapel Society and Ripperologist Magazine, I was invited to take part in an episode dedicated to Ripper Fiction. I was one of only five authors chosen, which was a huge honor, given the amount of Ripper books out there. I have already met two of the other four, who are now dear friends for life, and I hope to meet a third next year at Rippercon. Being on Rippercast was an amazing experience and it, like other recognition from the Ripper Community, has meant the world to me, and is truly cherished. It’s an area where Fiction authors are harder to embrace but I feel proud to be a part of a wave of current authors that write great stories, but want to represent the case properly in literature. It just sucks because I have a lot of people ask about my book and I have to tell them it’s been out of publication for two and a half years, but hopefully coming out again at some stage. It’s day will come again.
JMR- What are you working on next, a second Carl Axford novel?
ML- I did write a sequel, or second Carl Axford novel. It’s title is Cult Following. The case in this story involves the deaths of musicians that were deemed accidental or suspicious (Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Elvis, Cobain, Tupac and of course Lennon). I LOVED writing this story primarily for two reasons. 1; I had a chance to build out the world I established with more ideas, new characters and new paths Writing the sequel definitely had a “getting the band back together” vibe about it. 2; I spent nearly eighteen months, buried in Ripper books, websites, maps, shows and other forms of research material. It was a very dark rabbit-hole to go down and I am astounded how many are able to stay in it. My research brought me to tears many times. It was extremely taxing. For this book, I got to research famous musicians and the main time travel hop this time was to Woodstock. There are few certainties in life, but I can guarantee my research for Cult Following was a lot more fun than Live and UnCut.
Live and UnCut has evolved, over its two years since removal from publication, and has a new title of “Crime Warp”. I did begin a third Axford and for reasons below, I stopped. I have five stories planned and mostly mapped out, right down to my having already conceived the last chapter that’s going to end it all. My agent wants seven stories, and I may cave in on that eventually, but the last story is moveable and will remain the last tale. The third Axford will feature The Somerton Man and The Black Dahlia.
I came to a point where I wanted to write something else, a departure from the Axford series.
As you can tell, I love a good mashup, so I wanted to explore two genres that have never gone together before and see if I could tackle the challenge. My latest WIP, Murder Between Realms, is a whodunit murder mystery, set in fantasy. A kind of Knives Out mixed in with Game of Thrones type of story.
Murder Between Realms follows many conventions or ground rules synonymous with whodunit mysteries like an Agatha Christie. It also branches out into a whole world that has been built, featuring two kingdoms, monarchs, Gods and a whole lot of fun in between. There are some traditional fantasy creatures and there are new ones as well. I had a lot of fun with this project, and I was excited about bringing a fantasy type scope to a murder mystery, while maintaining a lot of the claustrophobic closed house mystery that ratchets up suspense.
I’m wrapping up edits hopefully this month and plan to hand it back to Victress for review. There is definitely an anticipation of getting this one out. Axford went out to editors for the first time four months ago and we are waiting to hear responses. It’s an exciting time and hoping for a big 2021.
At some point I would also like to write a book about my journey with my son through the world of Autism, and his early years as we prepared him for school and all that goes with it. A father and son autobiographical account, from the dad’s perspective, which is so important. The working title for that is Spectrumhood.
JMR- Matt, tell our readers how to follow you on social media and the internet.
Facebook – Matt Leyshon https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100018687133566
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Instagram (not a lot going on there): mattleyshonauth9
My Agent: Shannon@victressliterary.com
Or you can check out my website: www.matt-leyshon.com
JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?
ML- I could answer questions all day, you can see I’m not short of a word. There are so many questions you can ask a writer, but this set of questions has been amazing. Thank you much for inviting me here and I have enjoyed this immensely.
JMR- Thank you Matt for a fun and informative interview. Come back and let us know when your book goes on sale!