Mark Patrick Interview
Mark Patrick is the pseudonym of an Englishman, who has lived in Spain for some 40 years.
He studied photography after leaving school and spent some eight years working in London, until he met and married Angela, a Spanish lady and went to live in Spain.
While in Spain he worked as a teacher of English as a foreign language and set up his own academy. Angela and Mark have three children who have ‘flown the nest’.
At present he lives in Chiclana de la Frontera, a coastal town in the province of Cadiz.
His hobbies include reading and listening to music: If you visit, you might hear anything from Bach to the Beatles, Chopin to Sinatra.
At present he is concentrating on his writing, and hopes to complete his seventh fantasy novel, ‘The Summoning’, this year.
Robb: Where are you based, Mark?
Mark: I live in Chiclana de la Frontera, a small town on the south coast of Cadiz province, Spain. The main centre is not quite on the beach, but some six kilometres away. I live between the town and the beach next to a Nature Reserve made up of lagoons and salt marshes. Amazing bird life which includes pink flamingos.
Robb: Sounds beautiful.
Mark: Yes, great place to retire to, but it’s a bit out of the way, and that makes doing book presentations difficult. Mind you, in the present circumstances, it’s difficult everywhere.
Robb: So, tell us something about your books, your genre and themes and, or, characters.
Mark: As far as fiction goes, I write in two basic genres; fantasy and adventure/thriller. My fantasy novels are all based around a medieval order of chivalry; ‘The Order of the White Tower’, and consist of the adventures of a core group of Knights and Ladies of the order. There is also a sub-set, which is a trilogy within The Chronicles of the White Tower’ series. The first book of ‘Throwback’, the name of the trilogy is; ‘Legacy’ and is written and published. ‘Throwback’ mixes modern day life with the medieval Order of the White Tower. It was interesting to develop and write, but complicated. The second novel in the trilogy, ‘The Summoning’, should be published by autumn – I’m running about six months late on it, but it has taken me some four years to write, off and on.
The other genre, adventure/thriller, consists of two books, both published last year. The first is ‘Unsafe Passage’, which is a modern-day thriller, set in Georgia, USA. The other is ‘A Cargo of Dragons’, which is set in 1979 Europe, when I wrote it.
Robb: You wrote it more than forty years ago?
Mark: Yes. It might surprise young people, but I actually wrote it in the days when personal computers were a rarity, and mobile telephones, as we know them now, just didn’t exist. I wrote it on a typewriter. When it was ready, I sent it, several pounds of paper, via the mail to a publisher, or agent, I can’t remember which. It was rejected and, at the time having other things to occupy my mind, shoved it into a drawer and forgot about it. In September last year my wife discovered it when she was tidying up the basement area in the apartment we were living in, brought it upstairs, and asked me what I wanted to do with it. I read it, found it was better than I remembered and published it, just tidying up the grammar and typos, but leaving it firmly in the year it was written; so, it’s sort of a ‘historical novel’, written at the time.
Robb: And your characters?
Mark: Generally, my heroes or heroines are quite strong men, or women. I’ve written eight novels, so far; four are written in the first person, and four in third person close. Surprisingly, one of those in the first person, is from the point of view of a seventeen-year-old girl, which took quite a feat of imagination.
Robb: You mentioned your upcoming release, ‘The Summoning’, what else are you working on?
Mark: The second part of my autobiography, ‘Scenes from a Life’. The first part was called; ‘Something to Remember Me By’, which is a paraphrase of the title of a song by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. The second one has the working title, it might change, of; ‘Yesterday, When I was Young’ which I used with the beautiful song by Charles Aznavour and (English lyrics) Herbert Kretzmer in mind.
“Mark: Yeah! I love Jazz Vocal music, the standards and all good song lyrics. It’s a passion of mine and I’ve even written a couple of short books about them; ‘Versions’, and ‘The Collected Jazz Vocal Blogettes’, which is a collection of short pieces I published on Twitter. I’ll write more about them when I have time.
Robb: Most of your novels are in the fantasy genre. Is there any particular reason why that is? Did you read as lot of this when you were young? Were you, might I say, pretty geeky?
Mark: When I was a teenager, I don’t think the phrase ‘pretty geeky’ existed, but yes, when I come to think about it, my small group of friends and I were not the ‘norm’ of the time. I mean, we were teenagers and all that implies; girls, cars, girls, pop music, girls, sports, girls etc., but we weren’t into organised sport at school; certainly not football (soccer, to American readers) or rugby. We read and talked about books by Heinlein and Asimov and other science fiction writers, but that was really about as geeky as it got, although the original Star Trek television series started airing on the BBC in the mid-sixties when I was seventeen or eighteen.
As far as fantasy books go, my first contact was through Sci-fi; the ‘Pern’ books of Anne McCaffrey. Then, of course, ‘The Lord of the Rings’. after that, many other authors such as; Ursula Le Guin, Terry Pratchett, Piers Anthony, N. K. Jemisin, Raymond Elias Feist and, I must not forget one of the British authors who I enjoyed in my late teens, Jane Gaskell.
As to why I tend to write more fantasy novels than others? I guess it’s because fantasy allows me to expand my thoughts, to get well away from this rather sad and mundane world the politicians have led us into. We all need some way to escape our troubles; writing is one to me, with reading coming a close second.
Robb: Is that why people should read your books? To escape from reality?
Mark: I hope they read them to be entertained, that’s my intention. My books have no particular hidden message. As Moss Hart is reputed to have said, ‘If you have a message, call Western Union,’ and I rather agree with him.
About escaping from reality; well, most of us do that, particularly when reality is kicking us in the ass; some people use video games, others films, then there’s tv and radio, music, and, of course, books. I see nothing wrong in spending a few hours forgetting the worries that surround you by being entertained by something.
Robb: Let’s switch to the actual process of writing. Do you have a process you go through? By that I mean, do you plan, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
Mark: Well, I usually have the main storyline set in my mind when I begin, but it’s pretty loose and certainly not carved in stone. I’m willing to adapt and adopt this vague story as the characters develop. And also, the sub-plots are just seeds of an idea at the time writing starts. Then, I tend to write the last chapter first because it gives me something to aim at. I might change it, in fact, thinking about it, I’ve always changed it. However, it does give me an end point.
Robb: Do you write directly on a word processor, or do you work with a pen and ink?
Mark: At my age, more like quill and parchment.
Mark: Strangely, I usually write in cheap A5 notebooks with a pencil. They’re filled with crossings out, balloon inserts and notes saying; ‘See insert 1 – next page.’ Then I transcribe it over to a computer using ‘Word’. I use it as a first edit, so my first draft is usually quite clean.
Robb: How long does it take you write a fantasy book? You mentioned you’ve been working on your current work-in-progress for longer than four years.
Mark: It depends on the length and complexity; ‘Janette’s Tale’, the shortest of my fantasy books at 70,000 words, and which has a relatively simple plot structure, took about eight months. ‘The Summoning’, my work in progress, is now at nearly 180,000 words, but the plot structure is extremely complex. Also, I’ve started and finished other books in the meantime. I guess on average, you might say a year, a year and a half.
Robb: And out of that year and a half; how much time is planning, how long the actual writing, and editing process?
Mark: Planning, maybe a month; actual writing, eight to ten months, or maybe a little longer. I never learnt to type and only use two fingers; sort of ‘hunt and peck’, much to the amusement of my children. The rest of the time is spent in editing and formatting.
Robb: Have your previous vocations influenced your writing?
Mark: Well, not in my fantasy world; I was never a weapons master, or lived in a castle. Although in ‘Legacy’, the modern-day girl heroine, Marian Fairfax, shares my love of jazz vocal music. And I can’t really say any previous vocation influences me in my adventure/thrillers; I was never a real-life detective like Paul Anthony or Wayne Zurl, whose crime books are well worth reading.
Robb: A number of Fantasy/Sci-Fi authors have been known to use art, music, exercise, alcohol and even drugs as a way to find inspiration, to enter the zone! Do you use any?
Mark: Not really. These days I don’t drink, and I’ve never taken drugs. I would hate to get dependent on something like that and, so I believe, their use invokes the law of diminishing returns; each time, to get the same result, you have to take more. I think I agree with Shakespeare’s King Lear when he says; ‘That way madness lies; let me shun that…’
I suppose the only thing I do use to ‘get into the zone’ is coffee. Without a couple of mugs of good, strong coffee in the morning, I just can’t function.
Robb: And what about music? You say you like jazz vocal; do you play that while you’re working?
Mark: No. I’ve tried with faint classical music in the background; aiming for ‘the Mozart effect’, but it doesn’t work for me. I find myself listening to the music rather than concentrating on my work. And music with lyrics? Impossible!
Robb: You self-publish, don’t you, Mark? Let’s talk about the nitty-gritty of publishing, shall we?
Robb: Describe the road you took to publishing your first novel, and how that has changed.
Mark: Okay; it really was, as Paul McCartney put it, ‘The long and winding road’. I had written my first fantasy book, ‘Legacy’, and was hawking it round agents and publishers, this was around 2007. Well, the chief editor of one American publisher, Lyrical Press, wrote back and said that although she loved the book, it was too long for their editorial guidelines, which had a limit of 100,000 words, but she’d love to read anything else I wrote that was within that limit.
So, I sat down and wrote ‘Janette’s Tale’ and sent it to them. Two weeks later, they offered me a contract.
While the editing process was going on, I wrote the second book in the series, ‘Bennett’, which Lyrical Press also accepted. ‘Janette’s Tale’ was published in 2009, and ‘Bennett’ in 2010. Unfortunately, sales were disappointing and Lyrical Press suggested it might be because they didn’t really specialise in fantasy, and that perhaps I’d be off with a different publisher, although, they would keep the books on their list if I wanted. The decision was mine.
I regained all rights, and, rather than spend another two years seeking a different publisher, decided to self-publish.
Might I say that Lyrical Press treated me well, and I would have no reservations about recommending them to other writers, whose books might fit in better with their listings. One thing I particularly liked was the way they stressed I should have a lawyer look over the first contract they sent me. There are so many sharks in the publishing business that having an editorial insist a writer get an impartial opinion was, and is, refreshing.
Robb: Too true! So, self-publishing is a path you’d recommend to aspiring authors, or would you suggest a more traditional route?
Mark: I think every aspiring author should consider, very carefully, the advantages and disadvantages of both traditional and self-publishing. Neither is easy, and even after self-publishing ten books, I have my doubts that I made the right decision. One thing self-publishing does give you, and that is the freedom to experiment. But the marketing is a pain in the … neck.
Robb: Yes, marketing; it is so important these days. What’s your best advice to fellow authors?
Mark: I don’t know if I’m the best one to give advice on this as I really need to do a course on Internet Marketing myself. Certainly, you need to be active on social media, and use your friends, relations, acquaintances and anyone else you might think of to spread the word. Everyone talks about the importance of reviews, which is strange to me as I don’t read them, preferring to make my own decision on whether a book is good or not. If you can afford it, pay for publicity, it will probably help.
Robb: Any legal advice you can give?
Mark: If you get a contract from a publisher or agent, have a lawyer look it over. Also, make certain you are actually legal to write; I mean, if you’re doing it professionally, make sure you pay social security and declare your earnings for taxes.
Actually, Spain is quite good about writers over retirement age; you don’t have to pay social security, which is logical, as the self-employed social security here in Spain runs to some €400 a month, and most writers don’t even see that income in a year.
Although it might be a hassle, it’s worth being perfectly legal in the long run, especially if you’re lucky and hit the big time. The Revenue Department here in Spain will also allow you to spread your income over a number of years, realising it might have taken three or four years to actually write the book. In practical terms, that means if you sell the film rights for a vast amount of money, you can spread the income out and not have it all assessed in one tax year. I assume other countries have similar provisions for writers.
Robb: So, can you recommend any particular must-read fantasy novels?
Mark: That’s not so easy. I assume you mean apart from the fantasy buff’s bible; ‘The Lord of the Rings’?
Robb: Yes! We’ll take that one as read.
Mark: Well, I can mention some that I have enjoyed. If I look back into the far past, I still feel Jane Gaskell’s ‘Atlan’ saga is, for me personally, one of the key series. The first; ‘The Serpent’ is, I feel the best of the four books.
And certainly, ‘The Earthsea Cycle’, written by Ursula K. Le Guin is also well worth reading, although it is ‘High Fantasy’, which I don’t really write. In fact, anything written by Ursula Le Guin is worth reading.
As I mentioned previously, I also enjoyed Anne McCaffrey’s ‘Pern’ series of books, mainly because the characters ae so well drawn and quite believable. She also wrote an interesting trilogy about crystal singers, which is a cross between sci-fi and fantasy. It’s really difficult to know where to draw the line between the two genres, and each have a multitude of sub-genres.
Finally, one series I’ve read recently which is good, and Indie published; Jonathan Edward Feinstein’s ‘Gaenor’s Quest’. Four fantasy books where the world and magic are extremely well developed. Perhaps a little too long, and maybe a bit repetitive, but I fully recommend reading them.
I don’t know; the best thing is read as much as you can.
Robb: What about non-fantasy or Sci-fi novels?
Mark: Well, I read pretty-well anything I can get my hands on; to me the genre doesn’t really matter. I’ve read and enjoyed novels labelled ‘Historical Romance’, ‘Crime’, ‘Detective’, ‘Cozy Murder Mysteries’, although how any murder can be classed as ‘cozy’ escapes me (and why spell ‘cozy’ with a ‘z’?), ‘Thriller’, etc, even going so far as a couple of ‘Bodice Rippers’. I’ve come to the conclusion that if a book is well written, then the genre isn’t all that important.
After all, I’d prefer to eat a variety of quality food of whatever type, rather than steak of varying qualities day after day.
Robb: So, you class fantasy as the steak of genres?
Mark: Not at all. There are some wonderful authors out there, writing it all sorts of genres. However, there are, to my mind, some terrible ones, too. But a book I might think of as awful, another reader might think is wonderful. But what does it matter? It’s a personal choice, after all.
Robb: Anything you find disturbing in the present publishing scene? Or perhaps, any difficulties or criticism you’ve had about your books?
Mark: Yeah! I hate the way pressure groups; religious, political, women’s rights, trans or gay are pushing authors to include characters that suit their particular ideology. I find it disturbing, particularly when it’s aggressive.
I sympathise with the plight of people caught up in racial, colour, religious or sexual hatred, and applaud authors who write about their situation. However, that said, I believe that an author should have the right to decide exactly who his characters are, and what their colour, sexual inclination and religion is. For example, my main character, Marie Anne, in ‘Winter Moon’, ‘The Homecoming’ and ‘An Affair of Court’ is bi-sexual and she believes in; ‘The Goddess’. And that’s quite important to the plot. But I refuse to put in a character just to cater to pressure groups.
I’ve also had criticism from ‘Christian’ readers, as ‘The Church’ in my books is made out to be persecuting other religions and interfering with affairs of state. Amazing! I write fantasy, and we all know that no religion, in reality, interferes in politics; just as we know that all politicians are honest, and above reproach.
Robb: Yes! And if you believe that, I have a lovely bit of coast-side property in Colorado, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, for sale. To get back to books, what’s the most prized fantasy book in your collection, Mark?
Mark: One I love, and return to time after time, is John Wyndham’s ‘The Chrysalids’. Published in 1955, it was way ahead of its time. It’s not ‘high fantasy’, but does describe a possible post-apocalyptic future. A great novel.
Robb: Finally, how can people get in touch with you and, read samples of some of your books?
Mark: My website is www.markpatrick.net, and the first few chapters of all my novels are available to be read there, as well as extracts from my non-fiction books. There are also universal links to Amazon for those who’d like to invest $2,99 and read one of the novels.
Robb: Social media?
Mark: I usually use Twitter: @MarkPAuthor although, I do have Instagram and Facebook accounts which I hardly ever use. There just isn’t enough time in the day.
Robb: Many thanks for the interview, Mark, and all the best with your books.
Mark: Thanks, Robb. It was a pleasure.