started out as a poet. When were your collections of poetry
published? How would you characterise their style? Do you still
The Taurus Press books were published around 1969/70, and
my style was, I would say, quite tight and precise, very observational
and quite epigrammatic. But that's just my opinion. And no,
I don't write poetry any more; my Muse seems to have changed
somewhat, moved on to a different style of expression.
backlist since then, as anyone who searches your name on
abebooks.com will discover, is surprisingly extensive. For
a while you concentrated on designing and producing children's
books by other people, but when you decided to become a fulltime
freelance author yourself there was a mighty outpouring of
science fiction, factual miscellanies and picture books.
Did you have any sense of your own direction as a writer
in those days or
were you simply responding to commissions.
When I started writing it was as a comic strip script writer,
and that's what gave me direction, I suppose; it was meeting
David Fickling, who said "I want you to write that kind
of stuff for me!" that
brought me into books, and my first novels were very much comic
book ideas fleshed out. It's why my style has always been very
dialogue-driven - that's how I learnt to write.
you have committed yourself to the role of Young Adult author.
To what extent is this
due to a conscious direction taken by you as author, or to
your relationship with your present publisher, Bloomsbury.
Or is it something to do with the market which, in your role
as reporter for Publishing News, you have such an up-to-the-minute
Before I took a bit of a sabbatical from writing books I'd
pitched a few ideas, including 'Radio Radio', though not as
a script-novel, to various publishers - including Sarah Odedina
- though to no great effect. Some 18 months later Sarah asked
me what I'd done with "that idea, the one about the radio
station", and I was off again. It had to be YA to make
it work, and "How it Works" was born out of it as
a natural progression.
I'd love to be able to say I'd picked up stuff on my industry radar, but I'd
three Young Adult titles published by Bloomsbury - Radio,
Radio; How It Works; and now Zoo - collectively represent
a fine but varied achievement in teenage fiction. You were
moved to write the screenplay Radio, Radio after your own
sons became involved in pirate radio. The main character
in How It Works is studying art, and that
ties in with your own background in art & design. But
the genesis of Zoo, a crime novel set in America is harder
to fathom. So - tell us how it got started.
The truth is, "ZOO" was set in the US because the
US was stubbornly refusing to buy my stuff, and I'd been told
it was because I was "too London". I wanted to see
if what I'd been told was true, and the fact that "ZOO" is
publishing in the States in July means it must be. I do, though,
have a great love of America, and the West Coast in particular,
which I know well, so it wasn't quite as cynical a plan as
it might at first seem - also, I've always loved crime fiction,
and was mildly ticked off that Kevin Brookes published the
first noir YA novel before I did!
strength of the book lies partly in its sense of place. I
have never been to any of the places described, but your
evocation of them carries complete authority. Is this the
result of location research - you hint as much in the acknowledgements.
I did go on a US research trip - specifically to places
visited - but I have been going to LA and the surrounding
area for the last 20 or so years.
other main strength of the book is in the dialogue. The action
is driven by the dialogue, and as a reader I love
that in a book. If you had to give a masterclass in the art
of narrative by dialogue what would be the main tips you
would pass on?
I learnt a lot from comics and movies - there are some great
writers working in those genres - and also I learnt a lot from
reading Elmore Leonard. What scripts taught me was the architecture
of dialogue, and from Elmore I learnt to listen. People do
not speak the way most writers have them saying words in books.
If I was giving a masterclass, my main tip would be to listen
all the time, then re-run conversations in your head. Then
listen to your own characters talking, and write that down.
scene in the book gave you the most trouble and why?
There is a scene, about a third of the way through the
book, where Art Kellaway Jnr. shoots Cam. It's where the story
turns from being about a kidnapping to something else entirely
and it was completely pivotal. The US editor wanted to cut
THE WHOLE SCENE! I had to fight that one tooth and nail.
use very precise time-checking as section-headers. Apart
from the connection with TV dramas like the X-Files and 24,
is this intended to help the reader in any other way?
The timing's were actually part of my development process,
there to make sure I got my timelines straight and that everything
worked. I kept them in because they added tension.
on the subject of location research. I believe you recently
went to Tokyo. Was that in preparation for Bloomsbury/YA
novel #4, and if so can you tell us anything about it?
I did go to Tokyo last May for my next YA novel - now completed
and in first edit stage. I wanted to take a teen character
out of his comfort zone - away from family, friend, networks,
language, everything he relied on and that allowed him to be
who he is - and see what happened. To do that I had to get
him somewhere very foreign and Tokyo fitted the bill perfectly.
Adam goes there because his sister, on a gap year trip, has
working with a friend in a hostess bar and has gone missing.
In my character's head no one is doing anything to find her,
so 'logic' dictates he should do something himself and he steals
one of his father's credit cards, buyshimself a ticket and
have been given an increasing amount of space in Publishing
News, which is great for children's books news and publicity,
but must make it tougher than ever to set time aside for
your own writing. Do you have strict times in the day/week
that are ring-fenced for your own work?
My time is very proscribed and while I try to
be as disciplined as
possible, life doesn't often let you run things on rails and
I always seem to have too many things on the go at the same
time. Mainly I grab writing time when it comes up.
that mean you're not fussy about where you write? How
do you do your best work? Silent room, closed door? On the
move, in a notebook? Do you have any distinctive writing
I usually work upstairs in a loft room, door open, cat wandering
about; sometimes I have music playing, I always write directly
onto the computer. I only ever use a notebook when I'm planning
a project. The only ritual I have is that, if I get stuck,
I go for a walk and take the problem with me; I've nearly always
unraveled whatever knot it was by the time I get home.
website www.marksworks.co.uk has not been updated for a while?
For reasons explained a couple of questions ago. The
job is in hand, but not done quite yet...
© 2005 ACHUKA