CRIMETIMEPREVIEW talks to writer MP Wright, who turns 50 next month and has just had his first crime novel, Heartman, published to wide acclaim. Not only is it in the running for four CWA Awards, but the BBC and World Productions are adapting his evocative, dark story – about a Barbadian former police sergeant turned private detective in 1960s Bristol – into a series.
The hero of Heartman is JT Ellington, who we meet in the book when he’s virtually down and out during a bitter 1960s winter. He is approached by a wealthy Jamaican businessman in Bristol to find a missing girl, and embarks on a perilous search that takes him into privileged circles, where sexual depravity rides hand in hand with corruption.
Having previously worked as a roadie for the likes of Duran Duran, as a private investigator and in the youth offending and probation services, Mark harboured dreams of becoming a writer for many years. Now, famine has turned to feast and he is in demand, writing more Heartman stories, working on a reboot of classic late-1960s series Callan and even talking to Channel 4 about adapting a story set during the Spanish Civil War.
He lives in Leicestershire with his partner, a school teacher, and their two children.
Can you tell us a bit about Heartman and JT Ellington?
I’ve never been into police procedurals. A lot of my crime-writer friends write them, but I’ve never been into them. But because I’ve worked in that field [probation, youth offending], procedurals always felt dull and unreal to me. I’m looking at my bookshelves now and I can see Ross Macdonald and Raymond Chandler, and I’ve always loved those kinds of writers. Jim Burke and Walter Mosley. I love stories about the downtrodden and downbeat. When you meet Ellington he’s a broken man, and when you leave him, he’s doubly broken, but there is hope. The hope comes from Vic [his cousin, a budding criminal but loyal friend].
You are working on your next Heartman book, All Through the Night. What happens in that?
I was desperate to use real events, so All Through the Night involves corrupt orphanages, which was actually happening in the Sixties in Bristol, and the sale of children to members of US Air Force in based in Somerset. The children were moved out to wealthy childless couples in the US.
I liked the idea of Ellington going on the run with a white child in 1960s Bristol. And the only to do that is all through the night. The TV company loved it. The opening is that Ellington is asked to find a Jamaican doctor who is also an illegal abortionist. He’s run off with a number of death certificates for children who’ve apparently died at orphanages. The certificates are false and the doctor knows this. He’s agreed to sign the certificates for children that have been sold. The doctor takes the next child that is to be shipped out. I take the story to places like the Cheddar Gorge, and TV dictated that we’d end the next book at the Clifton Suspension Bridge.