Here's the interview that ran last week in Portobello Book Blog. My thanks to Joanne for being a great host and asking some wonderful questions.
Today I’m very pleased to welcome Martin Lee, author of Death in Shanghai which was published on 10th September 2015.
First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?
I’ve spent most of my adult life writing in one form or another. As a University researcher in history, I wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, I wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, I’ve written print and press ads, tv commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.
I’ve spent 25 years of my life working outside the North of England. In London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and London Festivals, and the United Nations.
When I’m not writing, I split my time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with my daughter, practicing downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing I were George Clooney.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always written. There are three unpublished novels in my desk at home. For me, it was both a form of relaxation and an annoyance. Relaxation in that I could write what I wanted rather than working within the confines of a client’s brief. An annoyance in that there were these characters and people in my head that demanded to be placed on paper, to be brought to life on the page.
‘Death in Shanghai’ came about when I was working in that amazing city. Quite often, I just used to walk around the old city, looking at the art deco buildings and imagining what it was like to have lived there in the twenties and thirties.
Tell me about your journey to publication
Lots of the usual rejections from agents and then I approached a publisher, Carina. Within one week they had said yes, and a couple of months later the book was published. I think the default position of most agents is no. They are taking a risk with their time and energy. I received a lot of the ‘loved the book but can’t see a market for it right now’ sort of replies. With a publisher, it’s a quick yes or no, depending where the publisher sees their business developing. Carina were looking to build a stronger crime list, and my book appealed to them. I think publishing is a business like any other, maybe more than any other.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
1920s Shanghai, where decadence and death stalk the art deco streets. The body of a blonde is found on the ‘Beach of Dead Babies’ and Inspector Danilov, a White Russian in the Shanghai Police, is called in to investigate is the starting point of the novel. But it really asks the question: How far would you go to catch a killer?
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I’ve just finished the second novel in the Danilov series, City of Shadows’. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon and will be launched on March 13th, 2016.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read so far this year? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
Too many books, too little time. It’s got to be three;
- In crime, I loved Sarah Hilary’s ‘Somebody Else’s Skin’. She’s got that rare quality which is an original voice. too many crime novels are reading the same now. She’s unique and I love her for it.
- I recently re-read, ‘The Scots Quair’, a trilogy by Lewis Grassic Gibbon written in the thirties. I’m not a scot so the dialect was difficult but once I’d got over that, the books are amazing. Beautifully written with such a strong sense of place. Chris Guthrie has to be one of the best female characters ever written.
- I love great historical novels. Anything by Julian Rathbone is always worth reading. I just finished ‘Birth of a Nation’. Very funny, with a wonderful protagonist.
What are you reading just now?
Janet Gleeson ‘The Thief Taker’. Beautifully written but I feel there are too many characters and differing viewpoints so far. We’ll see how it develops.
Tell me about your reading habits: book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?
Anytime and anywhere. Both. Both. Both.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I can be contacted at writermjlee.com, on Facebook at writermjlee, and on twitter at, you guessed it, writermjlee. I’m nothing if not original with my internet domain names.
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
Difficult. I’d have to be a woman character to see how it feels from a female perspective. Miss Marple maybe, what a mind to have.
You can read the full interview at http://portobellobookblog.com/2015/12/19/death-in-shanghai-by-m-j-lee/
My thanks once again to Joanne.