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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

David Mark

Lynne Patrick talks with David Mark

David Mark was a journalist on the Yorkshire Post for fifteen years, covering the area in which his books are set. 
He was a crime reporter for part of that time, and saw the effects and consequences of violent crime first-hand.
He lives in North Lincolnshire with his partner, kids and dogs, and gets his inspiration from... well, let’s ask him.

Lynne:  Where does it all come from, David? The plots, the characters, the atmosphere? Apart from the need to pay the bills, of course?
David:  Some people’s minds just work in a specific way. Musicians hear music, artists see the sublime and writers hear voices. We probably get the worst end of the deal. I suppose I’m guilty of never seeing life as a linear experience to be enjoyed for its own sake. I see reality as material. It’s a canvas upon which to write the stories that excite me. I think I’m just lucky to understand a little bit of what people are really like, once you strip a lot of the layers away. I don’t like to examine it all too closely in case the magic evaporates. It’s like asking a footballer what makes them good at kicking a ball. In my case, it’s not my right foot but my left brain that pays the bills.

Lynne:  In your previous life as a journalist, did you ever meet a murderer, in a more meaningful way than eyes across a crowded courtroom?
David:  Yes, several. In some cases there is a bit of a gap between somebody going missing and a body being found, and in that time a journalist gets pretty much carte blanche to go their own way. As such, I often interviewed people who would later be charged with horrible crimes. It’s kind of par for the course. I was often wrong about people though. Sometimes I’d see some grieving boyfriend and feel really sorry for him, only to find out he was still wearing his bloodstained shoes during our interview and was guilty as hell. You can get very cynical if you’re not careful.

Lynne:  Journalism is very structured; you work to tight deadlines and word budgets, surrounded by other people, and there’s hell to pay if you don’t deliver. Being a novelist you’re on your own most of the time, and if you don’t deliver the publisher just moves on to the next big thing. Or have I got it completely wrong? Tell us what it’s really like on both sides of that fence.
David:  Journalism is much more frantic, or at least it was back in the good old days. You’ll never see a newspaper that apologises for having no news. Quite simply, you have to fill the space. Being a full-time novelist means your  obviously in a different world but I try and maintain the same kind of working day as I used to have on newspapers. I try and be at my desk for nine and I don’t have a whisky before lunch and I put my final full-stop at 2pm and then go talk to the voices in my head for a while. Actually, that sounds a lot like my old working life…

Lynne:  Authors have to work hard to market their books these days, attending conventions and visiting bookshops. Do you find that part of the job easy? Enjoyable? Relaxing? Or none of the above?
David:  I like all that stuff. I enjoy talking about books and it’s impossible to be nervous talking about a subject that is basically oneself and one’s own creations. I just open my mouth and see what comes out. It’s great fun. I pride myself on answering any question honestly, which is why I can never become a politician, banker, lawyer or tax accountant.

Lynne:  Do you have a regular writing routine? Take us through a typical day while you’re in mid-novel.
David:  Yep, after a walk with the dogs I head to my office and resist the temptation to look at any websites. I open up the document I’m working on and then kick off with the line that has been running around in my head demanding to be written since packing up yesterday. Then I keep writing until something or somebody forces me to stop, and spend the rest of the day in anguish that all the great lines rolling around in my skull will evaporate before I get them safely pinned down on a page.

Lynne: How do you go about it? Detailed synopsis first? Just plunge in? Do you know how it’s going to end before you begin?
David:  I can’t write until I know how the book will pan out. I need a beginning, a middle and an end. I need motivations and believable psychological arcs. I work all that out in my head over the course of a few mind-destroying days then lay out a basic structure and carry on from there. It can develop organically during the writing process but I can’t set off on a journey until I know where I’m heading.

Lynne:  More specifically, how did Sorrow Bound start in your mind?
David:  I was listening to The Moral Maze on Radio 4 and there was some question about whether a life should be saved and that got me thinking about consequences and the old notion that when you save a life you are responsible for it. Because there’s something wrong with me, that got me thinking about how one would feel if one saved a life that was rotten to the core. Then it all sort of exploded in my frontal lobes and I had to tell my agent I wanted to change the sequence of books we were contracted for because I simply had to write this one next!

Lynne:  Apart from the novelist’s desire to tell a good story, what are you aiming for in a novel? Do you set out to open eyes and minds? Or just to entertain?
David:  I don’t think I have some lofty aspiration to change people’s world view but it would be rewarding if I were giving people an authentic window into a world they don’t know much about and which, hopefully, they’ll never experience. In my wildest dreams, I’d like to think I’m doing my bit to show crime fiction can be ‘real’ fiction, though those distinctions annoy me. I don’t know why ‘entertainment’ is such a dirty word. It delights me that even in this world of more types of entertainment than we can handle, a huge chunk of the population takes the time to go and read words on a page and make pictures in their heads.

Lynne:  OK, that’s the what, the how and to some extent the why. We’ll come to the who in a minute. Meanwhile, let’s look at where you choose to locate your books: Hull. Twenty years ago I heard it described, not very affectionately, as the armpit of England; now it’s going to be the European City of Culture. You obviously love it. Tell us about Hull.
David:  It was also described as a railway siding at the end of the M62, but that was unkind as well. I don’t know how I feel about Hull. It’s just got something. There’s a beauty and an earthiness and a reality and it also has every kind of community within its tentacles. Whatever story I want to write, I can find a place for it within ten miles of the city centre. If it was good enough for Philip Larkin it’s certainly good enough for me. 

Lynne:  The who takes us back to journalism. Is that where the characters in your books come from? Or are they pure imagination? Or something else entirely? I’m particularly intrigued by Aector McAvoy, a man who shines like a good deed in a naughty world.
David:  Nice description! I’ll have that for the next blurb. Aector is my amalgam of all my ideas of goodness and decency. He’s a man utterly consumed by a need to do the right thing but who has no real sense of what that might be. We live in such a consuming time. Is it right to punch somebody because they said something to your kids? Is it right to drive off after you’ve knocked somebody’s wheelie-bin over with your car? Should you respond to a bully or turn the other cheek? In times gone by there was a chivalric code or at least some commandments to inform our actions. Now we don’t know what we’re supposed to be. I like the thought of McAvoy as a Braveheart or a Rob Roy or even a Marshal Dillon, living in a modern era.

Lynne:  Another who: who do you write for? Who was the reader in your mind when you first embarked on a novel?
David:  I don’t like to think about it too closely. I guess I write for people who like words. Not just stories or gunshots or bodies covered in gore but actual words and poetry that wind around a story like clematis. Basically, somebody who would switch off Geordie Shore in favour of a documentary on BBC4. 

Lynne: Is there
anything you wouldn’t write, any line you wouldn’t cross?
David:  There’s no line I wouldn’t cross, though it has taken some time to consider writing a book in which a child could be a victim. That’s just because I would hate sending my mind there. I wouldn’t write a misery memoir because they’re bloody ghastly and should be consigned to history in a big tin with ‘publishing’s shame’ written on it.

Lynne:  What’s next? Are you working on a new novel at the moment?
I’m neck-deep in a Kindle Single that will come out after the next hardback and ahead of the release of the fifth McAvoy book, which should be in January. I’ve got two more books to write after that, and my first historical mystery is now put to bed.  I don’t sleep much.

David Mark’s crime series features Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy. Books in the series are:
The Dark Winter, Original Skin, Sorrow Bound.


Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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