Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Author Interview! Mark Charan Newton

After finishing 'The Reef' (review below) I found that I was left with loads of questions that I wanted to ask Mark. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology (and Mark's willingness to be interviewed, thanks Mark!) I got to ask these questions and the answers can be found below...

Hi Mark, thanks for agreeing to do this interview.

You work for Solaris Books, what’s it like working on the ‘other side of the fence’
as a writer?

I was writing before I worked at Solaris, back when I used to work in bookselling, so it was really editing work that was the 'other side' for me. Combining the two jobs isn't easy -- I can spend all day reading, an hour or two writing in the evenings, and then to relax... reading! But I think working as a writer helps me understand writers, from a publishing perspective. A heck of a lot of effort goes in to writing a book, a lot of emotions, blood, sweat and tears. And it also means that when I'm writing, I know what editors go through too... But it means that the industry is my life. And that's not a bad thing at all. I get to meet some great people!

While it may be early days, can you ever see yourself scaling down your career in publishing to pursue your writing full time?

As soon as I can afford the beach house... We always get worried when we hear, at Solaris, that writers are giving up the day job. It's a very fragile career, and a rare few individuals can succeed enough to get by. At the moment, I love doing both. They're a nice compliment to each other.

What gave you the initial idea for ‘The Reef’? I’m going to assume that it didn’t come about through your watching a TV show on marine life…

Not quite! I studied Environmental Science at university, back before everyone became eco-fashionable. A lot of scientific philosophy was the starting point—I can bore you about ecological systems and emergent properties, or about the differences between natural systems and human influenced ones. The natural world can be just as bizarre as any imagined one. So I had a lot of theory kicking around in my head, which needed an outlet. Plus islands are a great literary tool—traditionally, things clash when a group of people are alone, issues brought into the foreground. And I like cool creatures. I wanted to write about them. I wrote this when I was about 23/23 (just turned 27 now...), so all this stuff was still fresh in my head.

‘The Reef’ has been compared to both China Mieville’s work as well as Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. How does it feel having your work compared to these authors? Were they a source of inspiration for your work?

China MiƩville is the reason I started writing. I read THE SCAR and something was awakened within... He's a massive influence. If I could approach half of what he's done, I'll be chuffed. At the time of THE REEF, Hemingway was a big thing for me. Conrad wasn't a major influence, but more indirectly through Hemingway etc. I wanted to write about absolutely strange things, but with a clipped and precise style. It's not like how I write my current work, but I wanted the challenge, at the time, of combining the two.

‘The Reef’ is a ‘stand-alone’ work but there is also a lot of content that hints at wider struggles and issues. For example, why was there a rebellion against science? Will ‘The Reef’ be a springboard for more books set on the continent of Has-Jahn?

Perhaps one day. There is a lot of background that I know about, but like to have left as a mystery for now. I in fact wrote a novel in this world before THE REEF -- which got me my agent, John Jarrold, but it was in that curse-word category, the New Weird, which no publisher anywhere in the world wants to touch. The New Weird is dead. It was barely alive to begin with. So after this, I concerned myself with more traditional settings, and assiduously set about building something much bigger and more widescreen. There are going to be subtle links between this book and the next projects, but very small threads indeed. I'd like to revisit one day, but now I've sold the deal to Macmillan / Tor, it's not going to be any time soon.

‘The Reef’ seems to primarily concern itself with the moral, spiritual and ideological journeys of its characters. Was it difficult to strike a balance between this and giving your readers some grounding re. the world that the story is set in (bearing in mind that ‘The Reef’ isn’t a long book)?

Incredibly so. Primarily, books have to have a good story, else people will bore themselves to death reading it. Not what you want. If a writer starts getting too much into philosophy, and abandoning characterisation, plot etc., it is basically, excuse my French, masturbating on the page. No one wants to see that. So you have to work these things in gently around the plot, in my opinion.

I noticed that there are no maps in ‘The Reef’. Was this a publishing consideration or are you a person who has something against maps?

None of the above really. I didn't draw one (even though I know where everything is), and one wasn't asked for. I do like a good map, though. I'm not against them!

You’ve just seen someone, in a book shop, debating whether to buy a copy of ‘The Reef’. Tell them what they will be getting for their money!

Something very different from any other fantasy book they've ever read!

2008 is set to be a busy year for you with Tor UK publishing your next novel ‘Nights of Villjamur’. What can you tell us about this and why should we be rushing out to buy it?

Tor are publishing it in early 09, and I'm really excited to be working with them; especially the editor, Peter Lavery, who published authors I admire greatly. NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR is a noir fantasy, if we're loving the whole classification game like I do. Noir not simply meaning dark, although it is dark, but because it has a vicious streak of proper crime noir, which is a genre with its own conventions to play with. That's reflected in the title choice: Nights with an N, not a K. It's got refugees fleeing to escape an ice age. A few controversial characters, morally, sexually and otherwise. It's got garudas, Backstabbing? You bet. There's some some different magic in the form of remnants from some other era. The dead are walking across the tundra. And there are banshees, too. I wanted to turn the flame up on fantasy. I wanted it to be big, bad, pushing different buttons, and giving readers a thrill. Serious but fun too. It's really inspired by M John Harrison's VIRICONIUM books, and Steven Erikson's Malazan Empire novels. Two great writers. I think it'll appeal to Scott Lynch / George R R Martin readers too. Certainly that end of things.

Thanks again for your time Mark, I really appreciate it.

For those of you who want to find out more about Mark, his site is over Here

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