Name Mark West
Where are you from
I’m a Northamptonshire boy, born in Kettering and I grew up in Rothwell where I now live.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I’m married (to the long-suffering Alison), we have a son called Matthew (who’s often referred to as Dude) and I work as a Finance Manager for a company in Milton Keynes. I’ve been writing short stories since I was eight, was first published in the small press in 1999 and haven’t looked back since.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Pendragon Press is launching “The Lost Film” at FantasyCon, a collaboration (that isn’t) between Stephen Bacon and myself. The book is two novellas – mine is called “The Lost Film”, Steve’s is “Lantern Rock” – linked by a common theme and with nods to each other, but very much independent works. He & I were emailing each other a few years back and we were thinking of collaborating and it all kicked off from there. I also have a few short stories coming out and a novella (which I haven’t started yet) will be coming out from Hersham Horror Books next year.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
As I mentioned above, I started writing short stories when I was eight, in the late 70s. “Star Wars” had just come out and my friends and I played it a lot and I wanted to keep the adventures going, so I wrote stories incorporating us as the characters. Around this time, I was a big fan of The Six Million Dollar Man and in the annuals then (unlike now), they had both comic strip and prose stories so I’d read them and try to duplicate the experience.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
With my first acceptance. I’d been writing for a long time by then, all of my friends knew I wrote but it wasn’t until that first editor – the lovely Sian Ross-Martin, at Sci-Fright – said she’d publish “As Quiet As It Gets” that it really struck me.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first novel, other than the “novels” I wrote in my teens, was a crime thriller called “To Save The Moon”. I’d been reading a lot of crime fiction – getting into Chandler and Robert B. Parker – and I already had a character who’d been in a few short stories so it all seemed to fit. I haven’t read that book in over twenty years, it was never submitted and I moved on to contemporary fiction after that. Ironically, the character was Gabriel Bird, who is my hero in “The Lost Film”.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I suppose I must have, though I’m not sure I can see it. I try to adapt my writing style to the story, to be honest – if I’m writing something nostalgic (or a strong relationship piece), I’ll go for a more flowing, longer sentence structure. If I’m writing something harsh or more crime based, I’ll use a clipped, short sentence structure. I wrote a novella earlier this year, set in the war and decided early on that I would only use one viewpoint (for twenty-thousand-words, talk about making a rod for your own back), which was an interesting challenge.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Back when Steve & I were discussing the collaboration, we compared themes we found interesting and both locked onto ‘lost film’. That was the seed of my idea and was always my working title though I could, I suppose, call it “Terrafly” (you’ll understand why, when you read it). In the end, it was Nicholas Royle who made my mind up – I mentioned it on Facebook and he said “well why not use ‘The Lost Film’?” and that was good enough for me.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I certainly didn’t set out to include a message but I never really do – most stories, I find, have an underlying theme and it tends to come out as you write, almost sub-consciously. I think if you go in with the idea of “this is what I want the novel to say”, it either won’t be there at all or it’ll be so blatant, you might as well hit the reader over the head with a shovel.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
As much of it as is possible, to be honest. It’s set in the present day and almost all of the locations are real (Gaffney, my fictional town where it’s set, uses Kettering and Northampton as a source for locations). I researched 1970s exploitation cinema thoroughly, so I’ve used as many real names and situations as was possible and to get the right feel for London and Great Yarmouth (which my seaside town of Heyton is based on), I used photographs from 1976 to portray the people, fashions, shops, streets and cars accurately. In fact, this is probably my most “researched” piece of work and it was great fun, spending hours going through Google and Flickr, looking at all these cool images I knew I’d be able to use. In fact, I did so much research, I wrote another 70s set story (“The Glamour Girl Murders”, published in “Anatomy Of Death” in 2013) using the bits I couldn’t fit into this.
As a general rule, I always try to root my stories very much into real-life and use real locations as much as possible (even if I end up calling them something different).
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Some of the relationship stuff is based on events in my own life, or those of my friends. The private detective stuff is all either from books or out of the ether.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
The first books that really hooked me were the Alfred Hitchcock And The Three Investigators series, originated by Robert Arthur in the 1960s. I’ve written about them extensively on my blog and still love them – they weren’t written ‘down’ to kids, they still stand up and some of them are wonderfully spooky. They led me towards mysteries, then I discovered Stephen King and through him (and more specifically his “Danse Macabre”) the horror field opened up to me. I’m very lucky now to have as friends a lot of very good writers and they continue to inspire me to produce better work all the time.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
As I write this, I’m just finishing a Three Investigators book – “The Mystery Of The Deadly Double” – and then I’m going into an ARC of “Dead Leaves” by Andrew David Barker and then I think I’m going for “Albion Fay” by Mark Morris.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
There are but I won’t name them, for fear of leaving people out.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
As I write this, I’ve just finished a short story for an anthology which is the third adventure for my recurring character Mike Decker, a man who describes himself as ‘an acquirer’ and isn’t generally very nice. I love writing him – in my head, he looks like a Bond-era Timothy Dalton and he says and does exactly what he wants. My next project is a short for Stormblade Productions, which will be in print and audio, then I’m writing a novella for Hersham Horror Books.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I joined a writing group in 1999, at the suggestion of my wife and in the first meeting, met a wonderful writer called Sue Moorcroft. We hit it off immediately, we’re critiquing buddies and our friendship is still going strong – she’s a great source of support. As I mentioned before, I’m lucky to be involved in the British horror genre and it’s a very good, close-knit group and very encouraging and supportive. Again, too many people to name, but they know who they are.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I would love to, I really would and I certainly approach it that seriously but the genre I’ve chosen to work within – horror and the supernatural – just don’t seem to sell. If I’d started twenty years before and caught the 80s boom, then maybe. I live in hope though.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Of course. Someone once said that stories aren’t finished, they escape and that’s very true – I go back to look at stuff and think ‘oh, I’d do that differently’ but the me at the time, the one who got the idea and planned it and plotted it and took the time to write it, he was doing his best at the time. So yes, I would change stuff but sometimes you have to hold yourself back and say “no, take it away, I’ve done everything I can.”
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It was basically eight-year-old me wondering what happened to the “Star Wars” gang after the medal ceremony. Where did they go, what did they do, what adventures did they have?
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Of course. This is from the opening chapter of “The Lost Film”:
The man who was sitting in front of me, nervously picking at his fingers and looking out of my office window as if he expected to see someone peering in, looked so shifty he’d have empty seats on either side of him in a rush hour tube train.
“Thank you for seeing me at such short notice, Mr Bird.”
I leaned back in my chair, moving it slightly so the window was behind me. At least that way we might get some eye contract. “No problem, Mr Eve.” I watched his hands. “You seem nervous.”
“Eh?” He looked directly at me, as if searching my eyes for something, then looked at his fingers, fighting each other in his lap. “No. Well, yes, a little bit.”
“And is that why you’ve come to see me?”
Sorrell Eve, somewhere in his mid-sixties, had come into my office without an appointment. Luckily for both of us, Rosie had been in the outer office picking up the books, so at least ‘Gabriel Bird Investigations’ looked halfway professional. Apart from his nervous twitch, he looked every inch the sophisticated businessman. His grey hair was well cut and perfectly styled and his suit hadn’t come off the rack at Burtons. It fitted his frame, not too stocky, not too lean, perfectly.
He paused, looked out of the window again. “This isn’t easy, Mr Bird.”
It never was and it didn’t matter how much I told people to relax, they still sat across from me in that ridiculously expensive guest chair and quivered with fear and nerves and who knew what else. But then, to have come to the office of a private investigator, there has to be something in your life making you nervous. It’s kind of a given.
“I’m sure it’s not, Mr Eve. Would you like a coffee, a glass of water perhaps?”
“No, I’m fine,” he said and waved his hand. He needn’t have done, I wasn’t going to ask him twice.
“Is it a question of discretion?” I suggested.
“Oh no, everyone assures me of your discretion. Though, I suppose, in your line, it pays to be.”
“Yes,” I said, “so why come to me rather than one of the bigger agencies in town?”
“It was a recommendation.”
“I was recommended by a friend who was involved, however indirectly, with the Anselmo business.”
I felt the twitch in my left eyelid and cheek and hoped that nothing showed in my eyes. I always try really hard, whenever I hear that word, to let it roll over me without any effect but it never works. The fucking Anselmo businses. Terrific.
“That was a while ago now, Mr Eve.”
“But it was handled well.”
“It was covered up,” I said, thinking of Ingrid Priestman in that horrible, stinking room with the bare floorboards, most of which were rotten. And the beast, that I couldn’t quite see but could certainly hear as it advanced on her. “It wasn’t anything to do with me.”
“But my friend remembered you and that’s good enough for me.”
I bit my lip and looked out of the window. The people of Gaffney went about their business, completely oblivious to me. I took a deep breath, trying to push thoughts of Ingrid to the back of my mind where they could do precious little damage. Succeeding, I looked back at Eve and smiled.
“I need you to find someone for me.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Mostly it’s that I over-write to a quite ridiculous degree – I sometimes write chunks that I know won’t make it into the next draft, but I need them to understand why a character does a certain thing. Then there are the challenges I set for myself, as I mentioned with the war novella, to spice things up a bit.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
A writer who has been a mainstay for me, for over 30 years, is Stephen King and even when we fall out (I didn’t read anything of his from “Bag Of Bones” until “Joyland”), he’s still there. I love Robert B. Parker’s work, Robert McCammon, Sue Moorcroft, Michael Marshall Smith, Sarah Dunant. The thing that they all have is a wonderful sense of craft, that draws you into the story and carries you along.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Sadly not, though it was driving to Luton airport at 3am to go to Paris for work that inspired me to write “Drive”, which is up for a British Fantasy Award this year.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I designed the cover for “The Lost Film” – Chris Teague knew I worked cheaply.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Keeping the overall arc – “The Lost Film” starts as a straight crime thriller and then takes a couple of twists and turns, but everything rested on the believability of the first section.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
You can never research enough but you also need to know when to leave the research alone and make something up.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t try to take short cuts – learn your craft and try to improve with everything you write. Read widely, read across genres and absorb what other people do. And remember that it’s the stories that count – it’s no good having 100 likes on your Facebook author page if you only have one short story available.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I have always said that my stories are about the importance of love and friendship and I still believe that’s true. As I’ve got older, my concerns have changed – when I started out publishing, for example, I wasn’t a dad – and so my stories have shifted to accommodate that but my basic belief has always remained.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not specifically in terms of chronology, but my earliest memories are reading “The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang”, “Spy Stories For Boys” and my beloved Three Investigator series.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My son makes me laugh every day. Thinking about him growing up makes me cry.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
I am a big fan of Sir Roger Moore and was lucky enough to meet him briefly last year, but I would love to go to dinner with him and have the opportunity to chat for longer. I’d like to meet Stephen King, to thank him for steering me a course into horror and I would have loved to have dinner with Alfred Hitchcock, which I think would have been an amazing experience.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
Here lies Mark West – he gave it a good go.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I like spending time with my family, reading, playing football with Dude, watching films and walking.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
It varies, depending on my mood – the only thing I will switch off is anything reality based and full of wannabes, can’t stand it.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Food – pizza, my wife’s homemade chicken pie, bangers & mash, steak
Colours – Black and red
Music – some current, INXS, 80s and instrumental for when I’m walking (I’m on a Bond soundtrack kick at the moment)
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I’d like to have been a film-maker
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
You can find me online at www.markwest.org.uk , where I seem to blog more about films (especially behind-the-scenes stuff) and books than I do my own writing.
Amazon Authors Page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mark-West/e/B004RFZRI4/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1