I first heard about Mark West‘s books when my partner read one of them and said what a gripping read it was, so it was great to meet him at Louise Jensen‘s latest book launch. There, he agreed to let me interview him and find out more about his books, ideas, current work in progress, writing talks and more.
Q. Your latest book, Drive, was published last year. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
A. “Drive” was a strange project for me. At that time, I’d been writing and publishing horror fiction in the small press for about ten years and I found myself on the M1 at 3am and realised I was all alone. I was going to Paris for a business meeting and by the time the plane took off I’d got the basic idea for the story and by the time I got home, most of it had plotted itself out in my head. I wrote it and realised that a) I had a new novella and b) it wasn’t even slightly horror. But it was dark and it seemed to go down well and ended up being nominated for a British Fantasy Society award (I lost to Stephen Volk, the TV writer who created “Ghostwatch” and “Afterlife”, so I can’t complain).
Q. You write in the thriller and ghostly horror genres. Which do you prefer and why?
A. It depends on the story I’m trying to tell. I’ve loved horror for a long time and I was a teenager in the 80s when the Splatterpunk movement started, so I really enjoyed that. My fiction reflected that interest until we had a family loss and then, although I stayed in the supernatural field, I moved right away from overt blood and gore. This resulted in my novelette “The Mill”, which was me trying to work through the grief I was experiencing but it seemed to strike a chord in other people.
Q. You’ve written numerous short stories and you clearly have a passion for short story writing. What do you enjoy most about writing them? How do they compare to writing a novella/novel?
A. I used to love short stories because, on the whole, you could have them written within a week or two. When I first discovered the small press, in 1999, most of the markets were all short fiction and I threw myself into it. Once I decided to start writing longer form stuff, I found most of the ideas I had went longer too. Nowadays, sadly, the only time I write a short story is if anyone asks me to, for an anthology.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. All over the place. As I mentioned above, “Drive” came from being on the M1 at 3am and the idea that if anyone were to chase me, nobody else would know. “The Mill” was me working through grief and using locations around Rothwell to help me ground it. The novel I’m working on now is a thriller and it came out of a conversation I was having with a friend of mine, this idea of someone waiting fifteen years to get their revenge.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you find about being a writer?
A. Finding the time and the inclination. I have a full-time job, a 2+ hour daily commute and family life, so it’s trying to find the gaps in there. I try to do something every day but it doesn’t always work. Other than that – which is perhaps more about my time management than anything else – I’m not sure there’s a downside to writing.
Q. Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
A. I’ve been writing fiction since I was eight, when I decided to try and expand on “Star Wars” for the amusement of my friends. I kept writing (mostly homages to things, like “The A-Team” or “Grange Hill”) and moved towards horror in my teens, as I was discovering Stephen King and Clive Barker (and, later, the Splatterpunks). I wrote some contemporary drama novels in my early twenties, then did some comedy sketch writing and then, when I found the small press, dove into horror again. The small press, this is around 1998/99, was superb then – virtually no internet but printed and bound copies (my ego shelf looks lovely from this period). I’ve been publishing in the small press ever since.
I’d had this grand idea that I would be published by the time I was thirty – I’d originally assumed that would be with the Great British Novel, but it turned out to be a short called “As Quiet As It Gets” about people who’ve survived a nuclear incident and were very, very hungry. I wish I’d been published earlier, I wish someone would take one of my thriller novels, but in reality, everything I’ve done has been a learning process and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way!
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. My third thriller novel. The first two received some agency interest but not enough to take me on, so hopefully it’s third time lucky. This involves a woman called Beth who is called back to her home town (a seaside resort on the east coast) for the funeral of her best friend from fifteen years ago. The novel shows their story – as teenagers enjoying their last summer holiday before heading to University and a terrible thing that rips their friendship apart – and also the present day, when Beth realises someone wants revenge.
Q. You’ve given talks on writing. How did this first come about?
A. I was asked. I’m good friends with Sue Moorcroft and she’s a natural when it comes to talking about writing and I enjoyed listening to her speak. When I got asked, I tried to use the lessons I’d learned from her – be passionate about your subject but level-headed too. I’m not always the most outgoing of people and it is daunting, at first, to stand up and witter on but after that first terror filled minute, it gets easier. Especially if you can get a laugh out of the audience – deliberately, I hasten to add – as it puts them on your side fairly quickly.
Q. Do you get time to read yourself and if you do, what books do you read?
A. Oh yes, I read a lot – at least 70 books a year generally, spread between novels (I prefer thrillers, horror and crime, though I do read some ‘literary’ works and romance), non-fiction and the occasional graphic novel (or Snoopy collection).
Q. Finally, what advice can you give to writers who haven’t yet had the break they’re looking for?
A. Keep going. It sounds trite, I know, but there’s a lot of people around – take a look at Facebook, you’ll see them all there – who talk a good talk about the novel or short story they’re planning but they never actually get down to writing it.
Think of your tale, work it around in your head, don’t rush to start it but once you have, keep going. If it takes you a year to write, it takes you a year to write. Get the story down in first draft, don’t worry about tarting stuff up, that’s what second/third/fourth and more drafts are for – it’s much, much easier to revise something that’s written rather than something that’s in your head.
If you’re still not satisfied, look at your goals. If you’re new to writing and your perceived “break” is to get nominated for a Booker, be realistic. Start small, develop your talent, get your name known, go to conventions and BE NICE to people (online and in real life) because your chosen genre is never too big a field that crappy behaviour will go unnoticed. Listen to advice – take what you think is relevant to it – and learn what you can from reading books in your chosen genre (but recent publications – if you want to publish a horror novel, seeing how it was done in the 70s won’t stand you in good stead now).
Write what you’re interested in, enjoy the process as much as you can and keep going.
To find out more about Mark’s books, click here.