The John Milton Book Club: The Cleaner

If you had told me four years ago that the release of The Cleaner would mark the start of my dream career as a novelist I would probably have said that you were crazy, drunk, high or a combination of all three. I was still working in the film industry then, my daughter was coming up to her second birthday and we were thinking about adding to the family. I could see the potential in the new world of indie publishing, but I hadn’t found a way to tap it yet.


And then along came Milton.


Some context: I had just finished The Imposter, the second full length novel in my Soho Noir series, and I wanted to try something different. I love those Soho thrillers, and still think that they contain some of my best writing, but the truth of the matter was that they weren’t really selling. Those books took a long time to write, too; I’m a stickler for authenticity, and I researched extensively to make sure that all the little details were correct. The Black Mile involved me camping out in the National Archive and going through the case file for the real Blackout Ripper and then cross-referencing my research with contemporary newspaper reports from the British Library Newspaper Collection in Colindale, north London. Hours spent photographing sixty year old crime scene photographs and poring over microfiches with the smell of warming plastic in my nostrils were as fun as they sound, but the book took two years to write and did not lend itself to the fast publication schedule that helps indie authors get noticed.


I knew I needed to try something different.


I was commuting between London and Salisbury in those days. It’s a ninety minute trip in either direction, and, since the train started in Salisbury on the way there and Waterloo on the way back I could always be guaranteed a table. I had a work computer that had been loaned to me (old, heavy and slow) and invested in a pair of noise cancelling headphones. And then I started to write.


It was immediately much easier to write Milton, and that meant it was faster, too. My research can be conducted online, the language is contemporary and the books flowed extremely quickly. I wrote The Cleaner in two months, and then went straight onto Saint Death and then The Driver. Both were finished in similar intervals. I wrote faster and faster because, for the first time, I could see decent numbers. I started to sell hundreds of books a month, and then thousands. Amazon, Apple and the other retailers started paying me good money.


Milton made his debut in The Cleaner on 4 January 2014, and, since then, the series titles have been downloaded more than a million times.


Four years later, and I’m doing what I always wanted to do – write, and be able to support my family while I’m doing it. It doesn’t get any better than that.


One of the things I have enjoyed most about building this career has been the interaction that I have been able to foster with my readers – with you! And so I thought it would be fun to read through the Milton series again, with you, just as if we were at a book club. You might find it interesting to hear what I was thinking about when I wrote each book in the series, and you’ll be able to ask me questions about the books as we read through them together. I’ll post a few articles on this blog, and you can ask your questions in the comments below or in the Facebook Group that I have created specifically for The Cleaner. You can find that group here – just click to apply and I’ll add you in.


You’ll need a copy of The Cleaner to read along with the rest of us. You might already have one, but, if you don’t, you can grab here for 99p/99c or, if you are in Kindle Unlimited, you can read it as a part of your subscription. It’s also available on Audible and iTunes as an audiobook and in print.