Playing a Deadly Game with Matt Johnson

It seems like only yesterday that author Matt Johnson exploded onto the scene with his debut novel, Wicked Game, quickly establishing himself as one to watch in the thriller genre and wowing readers with his action-packed writing.  With the second in the Robert Finlay series out now, Deadly Game, I’m delighted to welcome Matt to the blog today.

Matt, it’s great to have you as a guest on the blog. For readers who aren’t familiar with your writing, please could you tell us a bit about you?

Many thanks for having me as your guest, Rachel. Not many will have heard of me as I came to writing late in life and quite by accident. Although I have always enjoyed reading and had written several magazine articles, I was a career cop with no ambition to enter the world of publishing.

That all changed when my career came to abrupt end following my diagnosis many years ago with PTSD. I struggled during my therapy until, one day, my counsellor decided to ask me to write about my career, my experiences and symptoms. I found the process cathartic and when that counsellor suggested I might consider writing a book, a seed was planted. Some years later, I took notes from that time and started to weave them into a work of fiction.
Wicked Game was born, a novel that saw me enter the world of self-publishing and as a result come to the attention of a literary agent who secured my deal with Orenda Books. Since then, it’s been something of a roller coaster ride with the book topping the Kobo chart, peaking at #5 in the Amazon UK charts for all books and becoming their highest-rated debut book for 2016.


Wicked Game, the first in the series featuring Robert Finlay, was long listed for the CWA’s John Creasey New Blood Dagger – how did the story evolve from your initial idea?

I remember the day the listing was announced at Crimefest 2016. I was standing chatting to someone, not even aware I had been nominated. Next moment, I hear my name being announced and a few moments later my phone started beeping. It was Peter James – news had travelled fast. As a newcomer to the writing world, I really had little idea of the significance; I soon learned.

Wicked Game began as a fictional story to link events in my life and my own experiences. I wanted to write about PTSD in a way that would reach new readers so as to help promulgate understanding. I didn’t outline the story to a plan, I simply wrote and allowed my imagination to flow. I ploughed a lot of me into Robert Finlay but he isn’t me, and I’m grateful that I have never faced some of the challenges he has to deal with.

You first published Wicked Game as an indie author before signing up with Orenda Books – what major differences have there been between going solo and having the support of a publisher?

A major factor sacrificed when signing is control. You lose having the final say, on all manner of things from jacket design through to font choice. That said, I have learned a very important lesson during my first year as a member of the Orenda stable, and that is about teamwork. It’s very easy for an author to think of a book as theirs and theirs alone. You dream up the idea, create it, mould it and plough your soul into it. To then hand it over to others is, for a novice, a tremendous leap of faith. But, thanks to an incredibly patient and talented editing team I have learned how to develop my writing to a point where it is ready to meet the exacting standards of the professional world. Wicked Game was re-planned, re-written, polished up and made ready with a lot of help and guidance. The story I wrote, although well received in its self-published form was put in the hands of professionals who improved it considerably. The jacket design came as a complete surprise to me and was way beyond my imagination – again, as a result of a team member, the talented and creative designer.

Since publication, I’ve had the opportunity to attend literary events, festivals and signings, and to meet the people who have read and enjoyed my work. I’ve met others, potential readers, who have listened to me and then gone on to buy the book. All this has been tremendously exciting and would not have occurred had I remained a self-published author.

And so, I have no regrets in handing over control. I’m now a member of a team which gives me access to a group of skilful professionals who, come publication day, are all as excited to see the book do well as I am. I’m just relieved that their faith in me has been rewarded.

“My hobbies – motorcycling, scuba diving, bee-keeping, hill walking, etc – are all of the kind that involve distraction and relaxation”

Without wishing to dwell on it, your experience during a twenty-five year career with the Army and Metropolitan Police took its toll on you and has been documented elsewhere. How does writing and your other hobbies help you manage your PTSD?

My hobbies – motorcycling, scuba diving, bee-keeping, hill walking, etc – are all of the kind that involve distraction and relaxation. I live in the countryside, and for good reason, I find cities very uncomfortable. I’ve learned to avoid PTSD ‘triggers’, to control the condition rather than letting it control me. Writing also helped a great deal, and at a time when I particularly needed it. It’s a form of treatment that is becoming more popular now that others like me have seen similar positive results.

That said, I’ve always been of the resigned attitude that PTSD was something I had to manage as it couldn’t really be cured. I’ve recently learned otherwise. Last month, I did a talk to the National Centre for Mental Health where I met a clinician who is the lead on PTSD for Veterans Wales. I’ve now signed up to begin a course of treatment that might prove to be a key to a cure for me. I remain hopeful.

The second in the Robert Finlay series, Deadly Game is out now – what can readers expect?

In Wicked Game, Finlay faces a nightmare situation that threatens not only him but also his friends and family. In the sequel, Deadly Game, he discovers that a return to normal policing will not be easy. Posted to a new team formed to tackle a growing problem of slave trafficking in London, Finlay soon becomes involved in investigating the murder of a key witness.

And on the home front, Finlay’s attempts to protect his family may have been in vain as Toni Fellowes, an MI5 officer tasked with investigating the attacks on them, discovers a covert secret-service operation that threatens them all.

Deadly Game transports the reader into the overlapping worlds of the Police, Intelligence and Security Services. Once again, it is fiction, but I have drawn on my experience of those worlds to produce something that will, hopefully, both entertain and inform.

Finally, where can we find out more about you and your books?

First things first, I owe a great deal to Orenda Books.

​Their website is where you will find many new and exciting new authors to read.

My website is I maintain a blog, publish details of events and now have a newsletter you can sign up for.

I also have a new YouTube channel where you can see a trailer for Deadly Game. It’s at

Matt, thanks for being such a great guest on the blog, and all the best with the new novel, Deadly Game!

You can also find Matt here:


You can buy Matt’s books here:

Wicked Game
Deadly Game

Wicked Game
Deadly Game

Wicked Game
Deadly Game

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