Mark Charan Newton is an urban fantasy author who’s currently two novels into his writing career and, judging by the sheer tonnage of critical acclaim which now includes a place in Library Journal’s top 5 best SF/F of 2010, is only just getting warmed up. For those of you already familiar with his work, Nights of Villjamur and City of Ruin, I suspect he needs no introduction…but I’m going to do it anyway.
Despite the intention of a professional life devoted to the environmental sciences Mark was soon dragged into the world of books with a fun job in a branch of Ottakar’s (RIP). From this he seemed to effortlessly tapdance into working as an editor and publisher where he made a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with; it is a world from which he has yet to escape…
Although he currently maintains a day job, in the dark and lonely watches of the night he can be found hammering away at his keyboard spinning tales that both entertain and challenge in equal measure. He is rapidly gaining a well deserved reputation as a trend setting fantasy writer of rare talent.
I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Mark at Games Workshop’s annual Games Day event. Though quiet and unassuming, he had a real presence that soon put the quality of his writing into perspective. His blog is regularly the site of debate on all sorts of topics and is often frequented by other well known names in writing and publishing. In fact it was a comment I posted on his blog that drew the attention of our dear leaders on Boomtron and led to my writing for this great site. Thank you Mark. And now without further ado, the interview.
Phillip Sobel: Hi Mark, thanks for joining us. Though your blog bio tells us the brief story of your rise to writer…hood, would you mind sharing some of the details of that journey with us?
Mark Charan Newton: Well, there’s not a huge amount to say (or perhaps that’s just me being British about the whole thing!). I was lucky enough to be involved in the genre before I was a writer, as an editor for Solaris, which I helped set up, and that was a huge amount of fun. I always liked to keep the writing very separate however – I’m aware nepotism exists in the industry, and it’s something I like to shy away from. I just kept plugging away each night, with a couple of failed novels under my belt like most writers, and one day I got an email from my agent (actually, it took a while to sink in because I’d been out drinking the night before) saying that Pan Macmillan wanted to buy World rights for two books. I was stunned. Since then, it’s been a tiring but hugely rewarding couple of years.
Having worked in the world of publishing and on the frontlines in a bookstore, did you feel that such experience gifted you with the sort of insight and contacts that most new authors would kill for? Or, was it the same old slog to get through the door?
The same old slog, to be honest, and if it was any other way then I would have felt as if I’d have cheated myself. Working in a bookstore gave me a great idea of what kinds of things were being bought at any given time, but I think any writer could pop into a bookstore and have a look at the new titles or authors. The contacts were pretty minimal, though – as any bookseller would probably tell you. I was just content enough to be surrounded by books all day!
As I mentioned in the intro, you have a day job. What made you decide to maintain a regular nine to five rather than taking the leap to full time writer? Is writing full time a long term goal?
Well, in all honesty, very few writers can start off writing full time. Money comes in bits and pieces (your advance is broken up to signature, delivery, publication, that kind of thing). But I’m not in any hurry to make the transition – I’m pretty laid back about the whole thing, and besides, my day job is pretty good fun.
If I may, I’m going to turn the spotlight on your novels and the world/s contained therein. There are many fantasy tropes that you seem to have thrown out, magic for example is more about extremely advanced technology than mystical powers. What made you want to break the mould?
I’m writing for myself, first and foremost, and I would be immensely bored if I churned out the same kind of stuff as other writers. That said, my influences are quite strong outside of the genre as well as within, so perhaps I found different ways of doing things. I don’t know – there is a lot within fantasy fiction that used to annoy the hell out of me, and I wanted to avoid those kinds of things. Which is not to say, for example, I dislike magic – however I realise that now I’m writing all the time, I rarely get to catch up on the modern genre. So it goes back to the fact that I’m just doing my own thing, to entertain myself.
The underlying premise of your created world is that its sun is dying and that the world is facing an ice age from which it will never recover. I know that the environment is a topic of great importance to you; was this an opportunity to examine the realities in a more subtle way?
To be honest, I don’t have the room in these novels to really tackle the environment – or even nature – in the way I’d like to, and that’s something I’m hopefully going to rectify soon after. The environmental conditions exist in this series are mainly because the cold conditions allowed me to explain a lot of different plot points!
Your world seems to have a remarkably well developed cosmology and background. Was it developed more on-the-fly or was there already a world in your head ready for a story?
Thank you. Half and half. I’d been writing in a vague multi-verse, and had many of the ideas already sketched out for my previous two (failed) novels. So when it came to this, I needed to pick a different point in space and time, and develop things from there really.
This question may say more about the type of fantasy I’ve been reading than anything else, but something that stood out for me when reading Nights of Villjamur was your use of language; particularly the disarming everyday-ness of it, as opposed to the pseudo-classical tone adopted by many fantasy writers. Was there a conscious decision at work here or was this simply the way the words flowed from you?
Absolutely yes, a conscious decision, and it’s still something that really splits opinion on the book. Some people really can’t combine fantasy fiction and modern language use – many readers prefer a strangely archaic use of language, which is something I find fascinating. And it’s nothing I’m going to change, either – my fantasy is set in the far future, so to be honest, a backward-looking language just never seemed the right choice to make.
Without wishing to give anything away, City of Ruin and to a lesser extent Nights of Villjamur seemed to blur and then shatter the dividing line between Fantasy and Science Fiction. This struck me as a very bold move for even a veteran writer, all the more so because it actually worked for me despite my more conservative reading tastes. This is the part where I ask you a pithy and erudite question but nothing really suitable comes to mind so, talk about this please? I’d love to hear some of your thinking around this.
I’ve always been of the opinion that none of our genres are mutually exclusive – science fiction, fantasy, horror – they all feed off and blend with each other quite nicely. And a lot of the fiction that inspires me mixes them effectively – those are the stories I enjoy the most, and those are the ones that I want to write. I don’t look at any one genre and respect its boundaries – it seems limiting, and I feel slightly rebellious at that!
There are so many challenging characters, but for me Brynd really stands out; a hard-as-nails soldier, hiding his homosexuality for fear of his life. The real world parallels are all too apparent, but what drove you to want to bring this particular topic to your readers’ consciousness?
Because primarily gay characters weren’t (and still aren’t) written with any degree of reality. They’re usually a fetish or an accessory. It was something I wanted to rectify, consciously. It’s something I hope to address in the third book, which features a (I hope) sympathetically portrayed transwoman.
What does the future hold for the world of the red sun?
There are four books in the series (the first three I hope can stand alone to some extent) and then that would probably be it for a few years. Series fantasy is really quite a marathon, and creatively it provides so many challenges, so after this I might need to write something quite different for a couple of years.
As an author in the age of the internet, what has your experience of direct contact with your fans, critics and peers been like?
The internet is great for communication and for sharing the passion of the genre. It’s allowed me to talk to thousands of people via my blog, which seems to have as much importance as the books themselves these days. It is vital to the modern writer to be able to be part of the ever-growing conversation. On the downside – it does take up a lot of time and mental energy. That’s time that could, of course, be spent writing…
As for peers – it’s great to be in touch with people I respect greatly. But no matter how efficient the internet is, nothing beats meeting up at a pub for a drink or two.
Which writers do you feel have influenced you in your work?
Many, many writers…I’ve spoken about this online before, but more recently I think I’m more informed by non-fiction writers, such as George Monbiot. It’s the first time in years that I’ve eased off on fiction, though it isn’t a conscious thing by any means. My prose has more or less settled now, but any book has the potential to influence me now – it’s rare that I don’t absorb, to some extent, what I’ve been reading.
What’s next for Mark Charan Newton?
I’m about to start book four, the last in the Red Sun series. I’m literally a thousand words into it, trying to think of the possible ways to bring various strands together….Should be interesting.
I’d like to thank Mark for joining us here on BSC Review. More about his work, the world of publishing/writing and musings on many thought provoking topics can be found on his blog at http://markcnewton.com.