M.J. Arlidge has worked in television for the last fifteen years, specialising in high end drama production. In the last five years Arlidge has produced a number of prime-time crime serials for ITV, including ‘Torn’, ‘The Little House’ and most recently ‘Undeniable’, broadcast in spring 2014. He has written for ‘Silent Witness’ and is now also piloting original crime series for both UK and US networks.
Thanks so much for letting me interview you especially since you have only just cancelled the restaining order against me from Crime in the Court last September. Can I refer to you as Matt, Matthew, MJ or Mattie Moo Moos?
I leave that burning question in your very capable hands….
I must admit to being a little starstruck when Sarah Hilary (name drop) introduced us, especially as I have read all the Helen Grace books and am a HUGE fan, have you met anyone famous and had a moment when you think “holy sh*t I’m talking to ……?”
I’m not often starstruck, but I have met a lot of famous authors during the last couple of years. I did pinch myself a little when having a one on one with Jeffrey Deaver, an author I really admire. Similarly, I was slightly gobsmacked when Stephen King tweeted to say he was picking up a copy of Eeny Meeny.
We live quite close to each other (20 mins by car, 40 mins by bike and 1hr 28 mins if I walk fast), and I was really shocked when you admitted you hadn’t been to Costco yet. Please tell me you have been and if not, can I take you there as they have a brilliant offer on toilet rolls and kitchen towels this month?
Ha ha! Still haven’t been and don’t feel the need! I have plenty of kitchen roll…!
When we met you told me that you had never actually confirmed Helen Grace’s physical appearance and her hair colour was left up to the reader to determine. In my mind she is Helen Mirren (tall, blonder, athletic) but I know other readers visualise her as a brunette, will you ever confirm her hair colour and put me out my misery please?
No, I’ll never confirm what she looks like. One of the joys of novels is that the reader has to do some of the work. I love the fact that there are thousands of different Helens in the world.
So far you have written 5 novels featuring Helen Grace – how many do you have planned and can you tell us anything about book 6 please?
I’ve actually written seven Helen Grace novels. Hide and Seek, the sixth, is out now in paperback and chronicles Helen’s travails behind bars. The seventh novel, Follow my Leader, is a furious, intense ride – the whole novel takes place over one crazy, blood-soaked day.
Whoops.. bang goes my credibility and professionalism – let me just fire my research team!
All your book titles seem to be based on children’s nursery rhymes or sayings (Eeny Meeny, Pop Goes the Weasel, The Doll’s House, Liar Liar and Little Boy Blue) I have some suggestions for the next few books and wondered what you think: “I’m A Little Teapot, Old McDonald Had a Farm and finally The Wheels on the Bus”. Any chance you could use them?
I’ll certainly consider those, though the working title for the eight book is “I had a little nut tree”.
Tell me more about your specialist skill of punting please?
I’m very glad you asked that as I’m very proud of my punting ability. I studied for three years at Cambridge Uni and worked hard on my technique. It’s quite important to know what you’re doing, as you have to steer your punt adroitly round scores of tourists who have no idea how to punt – the end up blocking the river as they go round and round in circles. There is something rather stylish and cool about a good punting action.
Your early career in television products saw you working at EastEnders, Monarch of the Glen, Mistresses and Cape Wrath, Silent Witness which is so impressive, but I want to know if you can introduce me to Tom Hardy please? And if you can’t can you tell us about your new TV drama “Innocent”?
Tom is quite busy these days… My claim to fame was that whilst casting a show called Cape Wrath, I had to choose between Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender. What a dilemma! We chose Tom, though I wouldn’t say I can introduce you. He’s quite an odd fellow… Innocent is a show I have written with my screenwriting partner Chris Lang (whose show Unforgotten is currently on ITV). It’s a four part drama about a man trying to pick up the pieces of his life after his conviction for murdering his wife is quashed on appeal. It’s partly a whodunnit (who did kill his wife, if it wasn’t him) and partly a family drama as he reintroduces himself to his kids, who he hasn’t seen for eight years. It’s very moving and I’m really proud of it. Should be on ITV in March/April.
Can you tell me the highlights of 2016 for you (apart from meeting me) and what you have planned for 2017?
I visited a lot of great countries in 2016, promoting the books. I particularly loved Holland and hope to return there soon. Germany was also fun, where I got to do a reading in the middle of a circus big top. The highlight of 2017 is going to be researching my stand alone US set novel – the Last Rites – which I’m planning to write his year. I’m thinking a week or two in New Orleans…
Do you read much yourself and if so, what are some of the best books you’ve read this year?
I do read a lot. I’m currently enjoying a bit of John le Carre diet. I would really recommend The Spy who came in from the Cold.
Finally, when are we going out for that Indian round the corner from your house we discussed? I’ve bought a new dress especially! xx
Ha ha! Sounds lovely, though I’m not sure my wife would approve…