Falling in love with books for Mark Newton was probably inevitable. From an early age he was hooked and when he got his first hit of Mieville’s The Scar, he knew that something in the world had changed. He sought out other books in a similar vein and then decided to write his own. Now working within the publishing industry, Mark has now released his first novel, Nights of Villjamur and after being blown away with not only the writing style but with the book as a whole we decided we just had to interview him…
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is you opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
Mark Charan Newton: I’d say there’s a truth there. Many people assume that writing is this bed of roses, a dream job. But it can be stressful and causes masses of anxiety, and you never leave a project alone because you carry it around in your head constantly. But it’s also one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve done, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
MCN: I never made a conscious decision as such. I remember reading China Miéville’s The Scar, and being totally in awe of what was going on. It was like nothing else on the shelf, and I couldn’t find that hit again – so I thought I’d give this writing lark a go myself… and here I am, at the same publisher. It crept up on me.
FT: Its often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves your POV?
MCN: They’re different art forms – the same difference between running a sprint race and a marathon. Some writers work better just writing a novel, some work best in short form and never stray from that. It’s whatever works for the individual. I’ve had a couple of short pieces published, but I’ve found them a little harder than a novel to be honest.
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else’s and how would you define it?
MCN: I don’t like to be all competitive about this sort of thing – but if someone wanted a fantasy that mixes genres, doesn’t shy away from deeper issues at times, has properly messed-up characters, no prophecies, no wish-fulfillment, no heroes – then this might just be your thing. In terms of defining it… it’s a weird fantasy. That’s as good as I can manage!
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
MCN: I don’t think I could. I’ve tried in my head to summarize it, but I think it’s too mad and sprawling to contain in a sales pitch. (And hopefully that’s my crafty way of trying to lure folk into buying it…)
FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and who's latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
MCN: China Miéville and M John Harrison are pretty much the main two genre writers. Out of genre, Don DeLillo.
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?
MCN: There’s a loose outline – more like scaffolding holding the plot up, but I prefer to fill in many of the gaps as I go along. Characters seem more organic that way for me – they do odd things, act in different ways. They surprise. And when I’m at certain points during the novel, I’ll recap the plot to see if it’s okay in terms of pacing and direction, and sticking to the master plan. Characters seem to grow as I write them, and more so after the first draft. Once the bones are there, I can layer on the things that make them a bit more real-world.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
MCN: Reading, running, playing the guitar, going out (although writing puts a massive hold on the social life!), going to gigs, heading out in the car to random places. Vegetating in coffee shops with a book. Recently, I’ve finished a proof copy of China Miéville’s The City and The City (one of the perks of being at Tor / Pan Macmillan is blagging free proofs!).
FT: What's your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
MCN: Hmm… good one. I’m not sure I have time for guilty pleasures these days… is that a cop-out? Or rather, I tend not to be guilty of any of my pleasures – I just enjoy them all, and try not to worry what people think.
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets (mainly cats.) What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
MCN: I’m afraid I don’t have any pets. I would get a cat – low maintenance, huge character – but there are too many on my street, and you can hear them getting into scraps late at night…
FT: Which character within the book is the most fun to write and why?
MCN: Anyone with a streak of evil is usually fun, but I enjoyed most the investigator, who’s based on Detective Wallander from the Henning Mankell crime novels. He’s wonderfully morose, and cynical, and hopefully charming with it. A reluctant sort of hero, but not in an anti-hero kind of way. Just world-weary.
FT: How similar to your principle protagonist(s) are you?
MCN: There are several leads in the book, and to an extent, I think I can see bits of my psyche in all of them in what they say or how they act. Perhaps it’s something that’s unavoidable, even when you’re writing someone who is detestable, you’ll leak some of your personality – or a side of it – in to him or her.
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
MCN: Probably reading is the only thing that influences my work consciously. I’m always looking for a challenging read, and trying to find an author that’s doing something different.
Subconsciously, I’m sure so many things will have an effect to a lesser degree.
FT: Where do you get your idea's from?
MCN: Everywhere really. The real world is pretty good – it has rich cultures, odd characters, and represents the human condition in all its forms. Everything you need is out there. As for the weird stuff, that’s from a dark corner in my mind… J
FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?
MCN: Not really – I don’t have time to. My problem is containing the ideas rather than coming up with them. That, and my short attention span.
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times? When do you do write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
By uncivilized times, I take it you mean the hour of the day, not the epoch we’re in! Well, when I get back from the day job, that’s when I write. That way, it might leave me some of the evening free. And I live alone, which is lucky really – since I don’t get disturbed, I can just concentrate on the writing. I find it easy to have a routine, since it helps with my discipline.
FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to madly influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
MCN: I’ve got a massive playlist of songs that I’ve used when writing, mainly full of indie bands, some electronic stuff, the odd piece of hip-hop or folk or jazz… I’ve massively eclectic tastes. And soundtracks are good, too; they seem to inspire a sense of mood without being too obstructive to the processes.
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?
MCN: That things happened quickly… Aside from that, I was in bookselling early on in my working life, so had a pretty well-informed idea of how things happened. But I never realised just how much work and effort went into things – and I think many people don’t know how many hours go into a book, let alone the editorial input etc.
FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and explain your answer?
MCN: Hmm… I like the Lawrence Durrell quote “Music is only love looking for words”. So moving on from that, writing is merely something that gets in the way of explaining the world. You have to be careful about saying too much, and sometimes merely guide someone to think about something.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
MCN: It carries on the main story arcs, although I like for each novel to stand alone as well as possible. But I don’t like to talk too much about the content, because so much can change really… Especially with the mad crap I put down on paper.
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
MCN: Okay, honestly: Facebook (I know, I know…); my own blog – how solipsistic! Although, a quick plug: blog.markcnewton.com; sffworld.com; nme.com; and socialistunity.com
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instruction to learn the craft of writing a novel?
MCN: None whatsoever. Although I have had the guidance and advice from my agent, John Jarrold, who has been immensely helpful in pointing out errors, and steering the craft.
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
MCN: It’s not easy, but you can do nothing else but dust yourself down and get right back at it. You will get rejected as a writer – just accept it, and don’t take it to heart. Get used to it, and try once again. Publishing is a very subjective world, and can be a matter of timing as much as talent.
FT: What are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living, in your opinion?
MCN: Well, it’s not a full time job for me, so it’s not exactly my living. But the best thing about writing in general is… well, I can point people towards things I’m thinking about. If I have an idea or a concern, I can share that, and it really appeals.
The worst thing… probably the angst. Without running the risk of becoming some bohemian cliché, I can’t help but worry about everything word put to paper, and think too hard about it all. Relaxing seems more and more difficult.