I’m honored and very pleased to welcome
Author of A PRIDE OF LIONS.
Welcome to Kat’s corner, Mark. The cats welcome you too. As you can see I don’t actually have real cats here, just those two sculptures sitting next to the fireplace. Go head and take your wraps off and come sit by the fire.
You’ll notice my secretary brought us each a cup of Seattle’s Best hot chocolate. It really is the best. Mm, my favorite. Okay, so that’s not Seattle’s Best, just a replica, and I don’t have a secretary. Both are just wishful thinking.
So, now that we’ve both had a good sip of hot chocolate I think we’re ready for the interview.
Kathleen: First question: How’s your hot chocolate?
Mark: I love it! I’d not had any for years but when I found myself unable to sleep recently a friend advised me to try it. Now when I come in from work, rather than tea or coffee, I had a mug of the dark stuff and a slice of toast – then I tend to sleep really well. Oh, and regarding your cats, I have a waist-high stone dragon (named Boris) who sits placidly next to my fire. When the mind goes blank he really inspires me, particularly when I’m writing on my laptop by candlelight.
Kathleen: Boris, what a perfect name for a stone dragon. I think my cats (I’m not set on names yet) and your Boris would get along just fine.
That’s interesting about the hot chocolate since I think it has caffeine in it, doesn’t it? Sounds as if you’re one of the lucky ones. If I can’t sleep I pick up my Kindle. I did the other night and got well into your book, which, let me say first is very good, great stuff. Very smooth writing, exciting plot. I felt as if I were there. My question is along the line of content. I believe in freedom of speech, as long as it’s not hurting anyone, so there’s no condemnation here, just curiosity regarding the R-rated parts. My question is why did you decide to go as far as you did? Did you feel your story needed this to give the whole effect?
Mark: Yes, I understand that hot chocolate does have caffeine in it – but I find it helps me sleep, which is really odd considering.
Having served in the military I wanted to show it as it is, not sugarcoated. Life can be hard and harrowing in the front line and, while the content isn’t all like that, I wanted to depict life in a future combat environment as realistically as possible. I also tried to showcase the grim humor of the armed forces, something you develop to be able to deal with the situations you face.
Kathleen: There is no way I could understand the trauma of being in the front lines. Life can be grim even without being in the war, and when you put it that way I understand your desire to create realism, that’s part of what writing is about.
Before reading Twilight, I’d never read anything paranormal, no Science Fiction, Thrillers, or Vampire stories. So, I’m interested in knowing what gave you the desire to start writing Science Fiction?
Mark: As a child I read all the classics – and I mean all of them. I read everything from Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Last of the Mohicans to What Katy Did and Jayne Eyre. I had a voracious reading appetite and literally devoured everything I came across. We used to go to Cornwall camping, for our holidays back then, and part of it was visiting second-hand bookshops as we used to just sit in our tent and read, when we weren’t down the beach. It was through this that I got interested in science fiction, horror and fantasy. I read everything I could get my hands on.
For my school English exams I was given The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham – and boy was I hooked; what a brilliant author! I’ve read all of his works several times and a lot of them have been made into films or TV series.
Kathleen: Now this is the kind of person we expect will become a writer. It’s as if you were born to write. Did you have the desire to become an author at a young age? Is it something you knew you were going to do? I realize this is more than one question, but when was the first time you picked up a pen to write.
Mark: I tried to write at a very young age but always threw my work away, embarrassed that my parents would see it and take the mick. In my late teens I joined the RN and served on HMS Invincible during the Falklands War. One night I had a nightmare about walking through a village street, I vividly recall that the houses had those old fashioned doors that were so small someone of my stature would have to bend to enter. The street was cobblestoned and you could almost touch the buildings on either side by stretching your arms out. But those houses were on fire; I could feel the heat and hear people screaming inside them. I was told that my grandmother had dreamt of a ship sinking at a young age and then found out that the Titanic had sunk. My father and aunt were spiritualists and that sort of thing seems to run in my family, although I’d never paid much notice of it before. But that day HMS Sheffield was hit by exocet missiles and a lot of lives were lost. I remember looking out from the Invincible and seeing her in flames, and that marked me and many of my friends deeply.
Kathleen: That’s too bad. It must have been a terrible thing to go through. I do believe events effect our lives, be it good or bad. I’m not a follower of paranormal, but I believe minds can sense things that can’t be explained. I had three instances that still give me the chills. Do you think what happened to the ship has an effect on what you write today? Do any of your dreams guide your writing choices?
Mark: On the night of 24th May I had a similar dream and even spoke to my Divisional Officer about it, and it was the next day that the Atlantic Conveyor was hit. I was airborne fire-fighting party and remember looking down from the helicopter through the darkness at the ship on fire below us. People may not believe me but this is all true and certainly not something I’d make up. It was because of those dreams and experiences that I sat down and wrote my first scifi horror short story, called The Yellow: it was about a ball of flame flying through the air (I believe it was published by Back Brain Recluse). Oddly, during the First Gulf War, an Iraqi missile missed the ship I was serving on then by 300 feet, but oddly I didn’t have any nightmares before that event. I’ve written on and off ever since.
Kathleen: What a fascinating life you’ve had, Mark. It has to have an effect on not only your writing, but on your whole life. I can’t imagine what it would feel like seeing a missile pass 300 feet away, especially knowing it was meant to kill me. Hopefully all your dreams don’t come true. Let me ask you what exactly inspired you to write A Pride of Lions?
Mark: Looking back through time, apart from technology, mankind has always faced the same issues – war and crime, among many others. I’ve often wondered how crime might change in the future and how we would deal with it. One bone of contention in the current age is the amount of money it costs to imprison offenders and with the advent of restorative justice – plus my interest in the military – I thought it interesting to create a future regime where criminals repay their debt to society by service in penal regiments. While in the RN I was attached to a commando regiment for a while, and used their training methods, and my life experiences, to add flavor to the tale.
Kathleen: I haven’t finished reading A Pride of Lions yet, but what I have read is riveting. There’s a Star-Warish, Hunger Game kind of feel about it. Was this your intent? If so you did it very well. You have your own style and originality. Having to sit through Star Wars about twenty, thirty times, I really came to like it, and plan to see it/them again, at my own wish. Honestly, after reading your book and others like it, I find it enjoyable to take a side tour now and then.
Mark: Why thank you, that has to be one of the nicest comments on my writing I’ve had. I love Hunger Games and I’m also a great admirer of Kevin J Anderson, who’s writing further Star Wars books. Kevin is a master of space opera and he’s so prolific that I’m astonished that he even manages to get some sleep (he also co-writes the new Dune books along with Brian Herbert, who was the son of Frank Herbert – the author of the original novels). Kevin also helped me with some research during my degree, which also goes to show how truly considerate he is with new writers.
Kathleen: I’m really curious to know what are you working on now?
Mark: I’m writing the sequel to ‘Pride’ – ‘The Cull of Lions’, plus a young adult novel and further short stories.
Kathleen: A sequel, that’s great. I’ll be looking for it to come out. What is your young adult novel, and your short stories about?
Mark: I’m not going to answer that about the YA, because it would give the game away and I’m trying to keep it under my hat. It’s a new concept that I’m playing with and, to be frank, I love it. I’m also working on a short Scifi War story. It’s almost ready to face the BSFA orbiter writing groups, I submit all my work there before sending it off to publishers or editors, and I really cannot emphasize how invaluable this is. Apart from the members of my group I also send it to Geoff Nelder, author of the Aria series. Geoff’s a wonderful writer who’s become a great friend over the years, and he’s also been my mentor.
Kathleen: Keeping your YA under wraps, are you. How mysterious. I like it. I was just wondering, with all you have going on, alongside a full time job you have to take a break ever so often. When you do break, are your interests the same as what you write about? What do you do, catch up on sleep, or just sit back and watch whatever’s on the tube?
Mark: I don’t watch TV much (and never listen to the radio), in fact I’ve only watched it 3 times in the last 3-4 years – but I do watch a lot of DVDs. I enjoy a diverse range of interests from chick-flicks, scifi, a bit of horror (I dislike blood-fests), crime, adventure – just about anything. One of the bad things about being a writer is that I can often tell what’s going to happen, and it kind of spoils it all.
Kathleen: We all have to have our outlets. I love to watch movies, but no horror, can’t even listen to the music from another room.
I know you continue to write in-between your 12-hour shift job (don’t know how you do it). Tell me about any different genre’s you have or are planning to write.
Mark: When I write it’s in absolute silence, which allows my mind to roam free. I’ve written in different genres and I’m currently trying to find a home for a story about a friend of mine who was shot during the Falklands, and the effect it had on him and his family – it’s fiction, based on real life. I also write poetry, which isn’t something I originally set out to do. When I sit down I’ve often no idea what I’m going to write, ideas just come and go. I once wrote a poem (much to my surprise) and liked it enough to send it off to the publisher Piper’s Ash, who replied asking for my best 60 all in theme. I wrote furiously and got to about 48 before I burnt myself out, so I never finished the project – although I do intend going back to complete it. My poetry is also mostly SF, fantasy and horror.
Kathleen: Poetry, I’ll have to check it out. It’s amazing that you wrote 48 so quickly. I’m impressed. I’ll be interested to see where all you writings lead you. It’s been a real pleasure, Mark. I wish you the very best in all your writing endeavors.
Thank you, Kathleen, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Mark works for Southampton University, and also as a freelance writer. His short stories have been published in Back Brain Recluse, Dream, New Moon, Auguries, Haunts, Kalkion, Screaming Dreams, and the anthologies Right To Fight, Escape Velocity and Monk Punk. With an 8th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo he’s also written non-fiction for Combat, Taekwondo & Korean Martial Arts, Fighters, Junk, Martial Arts Illustrated, profwritingacademy.com and calmzone.net.
His first full length work was ‘Kwak’s Competition Taekwondo’, and he also has a short story collection entitled ‘Distant Shores’. ‘A Pride of Lions’ is the first in ‘The Darkening Stars’ series. Having written features and fiction for over 30 years Mark applied to do an MA in Professional Writing. ‘Pride’ had been bouncing around in his head for some time, and he seized the opportunity of the MA to produce this first novel as part of the course. Mark says it’s without doubt the best choice he’s ever made, as it really focused him, and that getting this novel accepted is the perfect conclusion to a wonderook in this series, ‘The Cull of Lions’.
When Selena Dillon is caught in an assassination attempt on her planets ruler, she finds herself sentenced to 25 years servitude in mankind’s most feared military force, the Penal Regiments. Much to her surprise she enjoys the harsh military life and is quickly selected for officer training.But something’s wrong, worlds are falling silent. There’s no cry for help and no warning, just a sudden eerie silence. When a flotilla of ships is despatched to investigate they exit hyperspace to find themselves facing a massive alien armada. Outnumbered and outgunned the flotilla fight a rearguard action, allowing one of their number to slip away and warn mankind.As worlds fall in battle, and man’s fleets are decimated, Selena is selected to lead a team of the Penal Regiments most battle-hardened veterans, in a last ditch attempt to destroy the aliens’ home world. If she fails then mankind is doomed. But little does Selena know what fate has in store for her, that one of her crew is a psychopathic killer and a second the husband of one of his victims.Can she hold her team together, get them to their target and succeed in the attack? Selena knows that if she fails then there will be nothing at all left to go home to.