Recently, I was given the opportunity to not only read/review Nana and Hope Wharf by Mark Towse, but also to interview the talented author himself! If you haven’t read my spoiler-free reviews yet, click here and here to check them out. I want to say a huge thank you to Mark for taking the time to answer my questions and provide so much insight into his life, writing process and wonderful novels. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
1.) All of your books are so different from one another. Where do your story ideas come from?
Good question. Before even attempting longer fiction, I’d written over 120 short stories. Trying to keep them different from each other and original was often a challenge, but it helps to be a methodical pantster! My ideas stem from something so simple as location, smell, or a conversation with a client or friend. The good ones stay in my head, and I let them run and see what happens.
The idea for Nana came from assisting my son Adam, then twelve, with his first paper round. It was so interesting observing the interactions between him and the elder folk down the street—the awkward stand-offs and body language as though they were a different species trying to figure each other out. I knew I could have a lot of fun with the premise. And boy, did I! As a segue way, watch out for my second installment of old-folk horror comedy set for release early April, ‘One Last Shindig.’ It’s a crackerjack! A bus tour to remember, and I believe it to be even funnier than Nana.
Hope Wharf’s setting mixes the aesthetic of my beautiful current home town in Australia and a seaside resort near where I lived in the UK. The idea came to me as I was queuing behind tourists doing the weekly shop. I got excited about it. What if the residents could never leave? If something bad were to happen if they tried. Prisoners in this idyllic paradise at the mercy of… well, I won’t spoil it, but needless to say, you’re in for a hell of a ride, if you are in the least bit claustrophobic.
On the face of it, my stories are just that, stories, but I like to test the moral compass. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than thoughts of people laughing at things they shouldn’t be—the twinge of guilt afterwards. I like to ask questions. What would you do? Would you sell your soul for x, y, and z? Where do you draw your line? What is your price?
2.) Tell me about your writing process. Do you like to work in a certain room? Do you like to listen to music while you write?
This is going to sound odd. I hate noise, but I also hate complete quiet. There has to be something—white noise of some sort. Unless the kids are at home and the noise-cancelling earplugs go in quicker than you could say: ‘Whose idea was that anyway?’ My preference is to write at the kitchen table, as it’s a nice open space and there’s a good amount of light. If I’m shut in a room somewhere, it feels as though I’m forcing myself to write. I get edgy, claustrophobic, grumpy, and none of that is conducive to being creative. I like to get up, walk around, make endless cups of coffee. Then I’m happy as a pig in the mud. I often listen to classical music while editing; I find it helps with sanity.
3.) Which writers have influenced you on your journey?
I consumed as much King as I could in my early teens. Cujo was the first book I read as soon as I got my first library card. I read a lot of James Herbert, too. Anything by Cormac McCarthy is a winner in my book. I love the work of M. Night Shyamalan, but I’ve always been a sucker for old-school stories with a sucker punch. All that being said, I much prefer building my own worlds. I’m just a hack, so please don’t take that as arrogance, but writing is cathartic, euphoric for me, and I feel blessed that I get to spend time in these fantastical environments. There’ll never be enough time to explore all the places I’d like to. Other influences will inevitably be in there for sure, but during the process, I’m digging deep within my own psyche when dragging these characters through the various shit storms they endure.
4.) What are some of your favourite books? Can you recommend anything?
The Road – Cormac McCarthy.
All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy
The Ballad of Lee Cotton – Christopher Wilson
Honestly, I wish I had more time for reading. My time is rationed to the minute between work, family, and writing, and anything else is a bonus. Any free time I get, I’m more likely to be building my own worlds. Lockdown was an excellent opportunity for me, and that’s when I knocked out a lot of novellas. Finding time now, even to write a short, is a struggle. But woe is me and all that. I get to write, and I love it!
5.) What was it like for you creating and working during a pandemic?
It was easy peasy, pudding and pie. Honestly, I thrived! I threw myself into it as I knew I’d never get the same chunk of time again that I could devote purely to writing. I was a madman, possessed, rocking in my chair, maniacally giggling, lost in these bizarre worlds, and not wanting to return to reality. It was dangerous. My wife and kids had to keep dragging me back into the real world. Left to my own devices, I’d likely be living on crunchy nut cornflakes with a bloodstream made up of ninety percent caffeine. I’ve never been so productive. Likely never will again.
6.) Do you have plans to branch off into other genres, or do you feel most comfortable in the world of horror writing?
I always come back to horror. It’s therapy for me, a way of letting go of the darkness. Horror can be subtle, psychological, a test of the moral compass. I love dragging characters from A to B and putting them through the wringer, seeing what effect it has on them and the collateral damage from the journey. We all deal with our own horrors in whatever form they take, and quite often, writing horror is a way for me to escape life’s often much scarier realities.
I’ve enjoyed writing dark comedies (Nana, One Last Shindig, The Generation Games). I love making people laugh. It’s a great way of creating an extra dimension to characters’ relationships and extending that towards the reader, taking them on a high, but then suddenly taking the floor away, leaving them disoriented and wondering what the hell just happened. Oh, the joys of being a pantster!
I really feel like I’ve found my groove with horror-comedy, and I cannot wait to see what people think of ‘One Last Shindig.’ There’s also an already written final installment of elder horror, ‘The Generation Games,’ likely to be released in 2023.
7.) What is some advice you can give to aspiring writers?
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Don’t go into this thinking you can write a book after doing nothing remotely creative for x years. Start with short stories. It took me two and a half years before I felt comfortable enough to move to longer fiction. I look back on my early work and cringe, but that’s inevitable and part of the journey. Be prepared to put in hard yakka. Experiment. Find your own style (becomes habitual after hundreds of thousands of words) and stick with it until you make it work. Get rid of the bile and use it as therapy. Bleed onto the page. Use the senses—smell is so often underused. A good story is key, but it falls apart without solid characters. Submit to journals, starting at amateur rates. When you get a few hits, move to semi-pro and then to higher-paying markets. Get used to rejection. Harden up. Open up. Spill it all. There’s no room for ego, shame, or paranoia in horror. Have fun.
8.) What do you hope readers take away from your stories?
I want to take them on an adventure, give them a chance to escape reality. If they laugh, wince, care, throw the book in anger at the end, my job is done. I want to provide as much originality as possible, let my personality feed through with the hope that we connect. Most of all, I want them to come back for more!
9.) How do you deal with writing slumps and low motivation?
Write through it. I’m taking a break for the first time since I started, but only as I feel burnt out, what with the day job and all. Most of the time, I’ve been able to get my head down and work. It doesn’t take long to find the groove, but it gets harder and harder the longer you leave it. Once you are through the wall, you’re away.
10.) Can you give us some insight into your new, upcoming novella: Crows?
Crows, a novella, published by D&T Publishing. Available via Godless on 27th November and Amazon on 10th December.
The blurb for this one is intentionally very vague. I think readers know what they are going to get with Towsey—something peculiar and memorable. Just take my hand; I know a shortcut through the woods.
Blurb: Tapping at his window, perching atop his daughter’s grave, why will the crow not let Patrick mourn in peace? According to superstition, a single crow is an omen of bad things to come, so why does Patrick feel compelled to leave his already broken life behind and follow his stubborn uninvited guest into the deep woods. And what delights await?
I like my readers to go in relatively blind. I’m not going to say anything more about this one, and you’ll just have to find out for yourself.
Other imminent releases:
Nature’s Perfume – Journalstone Publishing – March 2022
One Last Shindig (so excited for this one) – D&T Publishing – April 2022
I will also be making an appearance in a few cool anthologies over the coming months.
Feel free to let me know down below if his books sound like something you might want to check out. I really want to get more people talking about them. Thanks for reading.
Peace & Love xoxo