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Mark Long Author Interview

We asked author Mark Long a series of insightful questions so to reveal the man behind the words. Read on.

Mark Long - Author

We asked author Mark Long a series of insightful questions so to reveal the man behind the words. Read on.

Q: You have written three books to date. Clarify that pivotal moment when you first felt the urge to write.

A: Ah, I see that we are starting with difficult questions. When I was at primary school, I would make up stories about my imaginary friend, Rollo, who lived in East Anglia, an impossible exotic-sounding place in the mind of a 5-year-old. Whenever I was asked to write anything, it would become a story. I wrote short stories on a range of topics but I generally come back to speculative fiction in some regard. Much as I loved writing short stories and flash fiction, two things were quite apparent: 1. There was no market for short stories; 2. I wanted more room to develop ideas and characters.

Please don’t think that I am speaking against short stories. A short story has to discard anything that is not essential. It will typically be told from a single point of view. It has room for maybe one big idea or a couple of smaller ones. It is, at its best, a perfectly crafted Belgian chocolate with a single flavour and it is consumed in a moment. A novel gives room for many tastes and textures and it can develop as it is consumed, much like a three-course meal.

I also ran tabletop roleplaying games for years and they are….. essentially exercises in collaborative storytelling. Of course, the players don’t always do what you would expect but the same is true of characters in a novel. If they are clear enough in your mind, they will rebel when you try to make them do something out of character.

Q: Often, those new to writing find it difficult to generate ideas or, they have too many ideas and struggle to write and focus their mindset. Which category do you fit into? How do you organise your thoughts and where do you get your inspiration from?

A: Ok, these really are the difficult questions! Where does inspiration come from? The ancient Greeks believed that ideas came from a Genius but the word meant something very different to what it means today. A Genius was not a person but a spirit that put ideas into the minds of men. Now, I am not a genius of either kind but I find it easier to have ideas than to not have them, and I gather that this is a fairly common issue. A frequent occurrence is that I will have an idea for a scene or a character that I would love to work with but which doesn’t fit anything that I am currently working on. I am a very active dreamer and I have woken with screenplays in my mind which I have dashed onto paper once I have remembered where I left my glasses. Admittedly, they don’t always make a lot of sense in the light of day.

So, ideas are easy but sorting out which ones fit and should be pursued is trickier. I find that it helps to talk out the ideas with someone and improvements or necessary consequences come out in the discussion. It is true what they say; if you want to understand something, try to explain it to someone else. It does require some patience in the other party though.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you personally?

A: Overcoming self doubt.

Q: What made you write these books to-date? MIsjump, Z-Day UK and In the Image of Man? If readers are to gain from reading your books, what would you most like them to feel or to understand as a result?

A: Each of the books had a different reason to exist.

The book that I started first was In the image of Man. Well, no, that is not wholly true. Of the books that were completed, the first was In the image of Man. I started off trying to write teen fantasy which was a bad idea. At the time, I was a 40 year old man and didn’t know any teens. You know that they say that you should write what you know? I think that there are a lot of exceptions to that rule but you do need to understand the audience that the book is intended for.

I was stuck on a scene transition in the book that I was working on at the time and I decided to do a free writing exercise. In case you are not familiar with those, I will explain as briefly as I can. You take a sheet or, paper or a nice empty Word document. You do not let it intimidate you. You write whatever comes into your head, aware that it will be nonsense, all filters set aside. I started to write random things and found that I had written “Bob was a god”. I went back to correct the lower case ”g” and realised that the idea was much more interesting with the small “g”. A little god. What would a little god want? I think I answered that question in the novel.

Z-day UK was my first published book and it was written in about two months and twenty-five years of research. I have always been a fan of “What-if” questions and I work in a security-related role that I am going to be unspecific about. Like most writers, I can’t make a living from writing. As part of my day job, I spend a lot of time thinking about worst-case scenarios and in many ways, a Zombie apocalypse is the best worst-case scenario. No help is coming. There are no longer any rules. You have what you have and what you can get. How are you going to deal with the situation? I had thought about the topic for many years and someone suggested that I should write it down. I did.

The concept for In the Image of Man is an odd one. It chronicles the ascension of the small god of computers and vending machine repair and the effect that he had on the good people of Slough. It was not if you will excuse the industry term, easy to place with a publisher. I asked another writer for feedback on In the Image of Man and he loathed it, hated it, despised it with every fibre of his body. He suggested a complete rewrite with a dark, tense, gritty feel with a different cast of characters and moving the setting to somewhere more international than Berkshire. I didn’t want to do that because it was not at all what I had in mind for the book. It did however, get me thinking about something with a bit of grit and a very different location.

Misjump has been my most popular book so far and as mentioned, it exists because of another writer. I have always loved golden age Sci-Fi but a lot of the concepts seem very dated now. I wanted something that had a tight-knit group of characters, conflict and danger and that seemed like a good fit. The original intention was to write about a starship crew that were not heroes. They were just doing their jobs but were made extraordinary by circumstances. Well, it turned out that they were not quite as ordinary as I had expected but they were forced to step up to the plate and do their best. So, I started with a cargo hauler in distress and let the story come from there.

Q: When you start thinking about writing a book, what comes first? The plot or the characters? What is the process for the preparation of writing and also, character creation?

A: I had never really thought about it before you asked but characters come first and the plot often evolves because of them. I have a pencil sketch outline of the plot when I start that lists the main blocks of the story and the basic reasons but I often find myself adding a subplot or just a scene because it is something that the character would do. They haven’t led me wrong yet. So, the characters lead but what changes the characters, what gives them their character arcs is what happens to them and how they react to it. Sometimes a pencil sketch plot will have an area that just says “Magic happens here”, If the characters are working, they will often step up and provide the magic.

I know that some writers detail their characters before they start work on the writing but I prefer to let the characters tell me who they are. That can involve a bit of revision but it has worked for me so far.

Q: If you could have written any books in history, which ones would you most have loved to have been creatively involved in or had published in your name?

A: A piece of advice that is often given is “write what you would like to read”. This is not bad advice in at least one important way. Writing should be enjoyable. If you are writing a book that you wouldn’t want to read, it is unlikely that you will enjoy it or that your readers will. So, is the answer that I would choose to have written the book that I most enjoyed reading? I think that I am going to have to say that the books that I would have liked to write were the books that I have written. I would like them to be better than they are but I have had some very kind reviews. I don’t think that any book is ever quite what the writer hoped it would be. There are many books and authors that I admire but I am glad that they wrote their books and that I got to read them.

Q: If we could take a peek at your bookcase, what might we find lurking on those shelves?

A: Not as much as you might think! I love to read but books are bulky. E-readers and audiobooks have given me access to many more books than I would ever have room for in my mancave, If you looked at my devices, you will find a lot of SF, Fantasy and a fair few crime novels with a bias towards forensic murder mysteries.

Q: What is your favourite genre of books to read? List your absolute favourite book and why

A: Only one favourite? That seems excessively harsh. However, you are in charge. I will take the Unwin Press single volume of Lord of the Rings, all 1083 pages of it. First of all, it would be a splendid value since it would take me a solid 12 hours to read it. Secondly, it is a book that influenced a great many writers and gave us effectively a new genre. It is not a perfect book and there are areas where it fails but it is the rock on which many thousands of other stories have been built.

Q: What advice would you give your younger self?

A: Sell Microsoft stock at $119. Do not hold it waiting for $120. It will not recover.

Q: You write science fiction…..do you believe there is life on other planets?

A: The Drake equation notwithstanding, it seems that there would have to be. We know that there are other planets in the habitable zone of other stars and some of them have been around longer than dear old Terra. Given that life has found a way to survive in the icecaps, in the boiling springs and deep underground where there is never a ray of light, it is hard to believe that it would not have found a toehold or more on another world. Whether there is intelligent life is another question. We tend to think that intelligence is an asset for survival. The evidence is all around us. People cover the planet. However, this is an impossibly recent thing in the history of the planet. We have been around for an eyeblink in geological time and we may wipe ourselves out at any time. Perhaps this is a characteristic of intelligent life. If we ever find evidence of intelligent life, we may want to reply as soon as possible. Neither of us might be around for long.

Q: If we could talk to your former schoolteachers, what do you think they would say about you?

A: We don’t have to ask. I have my year 9 report right here. “Mark has no aptitude for computers and should avoid them in later life.” Thanks for the advice, Ms Woosnam. I didn’t follow it but I did listen.

Q: Outside of your writing, what other interests do you have and why?

A: I have hardly any interests apart from writing. Well, except for reading, teaching people to play the ukulele, learning saxophone and harp, delivering first aid training, recording and editing video, Olympic archery, metal detecting, my archaeology course and yoga. I also have a full-time job. There are never enough hours in the day.

Q: When can we expect another book?

A: I have another book underway and it is developing nicely if perhaps a little less rapidly than I would like. It is the second book in the Godling series, another book partially about Bob. One question that was deliberately not answered in the first book is what happened to people when they died. This book is called The Afterlife.

I am also working on a sequel to Misjump. We left the crew of the Sarafina at a tipping point where the fate of the human race was  not entirely without hope but still very much endangered. There are questions that need to be answered. I hope to start that book next year.

Q: Thank you, Mark, for a fantastic insight into your life and for giving us a glimpse of the creativity behind your books. If you have any ideas for others, please feel free to say.

A: I have several bits of advice which I find helpful and would like to offer to others.

1. Perfect is the enemy of good. There will always be one more error.

2. A first draft is you telling the story to yourself and every first draft is better than the best blank page.

3. When faced with a setback, always ask yourself if it will still matter in five years, Some will. Most won’t. Apply effort appropriately.

4. Everything that you do has value, even if it only as an example of what not to do.

5. Do not allow others to define your worth but if they are all saying the same thing, consider that they may have a point.

6. Sometimes it is better to be kind than right.

7. Activity and progress are different things and learning to recognise both is important.

8. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a real thing. Having doubts about your ability is good.

9. Know when to stop giving advice.

Mark Long’s books can be found on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Would you like to be interviewed? Contact us: admin@bookbubblepro.com Please mark the subject line – author interview. You can also find out a little more information here.

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