Friday, 15 April 2011

Mark Dark - Author Interview

Today' blog post is an interview with fellow Ether author Mark Dark. I'd like to welcome Mark to Life in Clarity and thank him for taking the time out to answer my questions and for giving such a great interview.

Mark, you have a short story published on the ether app called Man or Mouse. I read it last night and loved it. Your surname does tend to describe your story well. Is this the type of writing you enjoy?

Haha, Dark? I guess so, yeah. And humorous too I hope. I've really only found out what my writing's like since I started sending it out. They say we don’t know ourselves until we’re around others. I think it’s the same with writing. What we write and what other people read in our writing can be different depending on the reader’s life experience, right? That psychic space between text and reader. When I started putting stuff out for competitions and critiques people came back saying the same things: macabre plots infused with dark humour. The film producer who optioned the feature film of Man or Mouse, when pitching it to Film 4, described my writing as having 'echoes of Martin McDonagh - dark, raw and blackly comic.' McDonagh wrote the brilliant In Bruges, so I was pleased with that! With other critics saying the same thing, I learned something about my writing that I wasn't aware of before.

My biggest influences as an adult are Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) and Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club) who write in a genre that's been described as transgressive fiction, which is fiction that pushes the boundaries of acceptability, which transgresses  the norm, challenging us to face the darkness within ourselves. I also love Steven Berkoff's work, the playwrite. His version of Oedipus set in London's East End, Called Greek, which I saw on stage when I was 18, has been deeply inspirational. He writes from the gut, visceral, with no fear. I had writers block for over 10 years because of my fear, because I was afraid of what would come out. Conquering the fear of the words inside me was essential to breaking the block. It was reading writers like these that pushed me to face the monster within. Finally I started experimenting with 'dark' prose and wrote Teething Pain which deals with the relationship between desire and violence, which smashed the block to pieces! So now I let whatever comes out, come out. With no fear. Although writing's still scary ! 

How long have you been writing?

I've been writing since I was young. It’s my first love. I trained as an actor because I have too much energy to sit and write all day. Acting allows you to shout and scream and roll around and jump and fight and let it all out. I think though now I’m finally learning to channel that energy into my writing, to shout and scream and fight on the page. I wrote my first novel between the age of 15 - 18 called 'A Friend Called Me', which was heavily inspired by my favourite childhood author S.E Hinton, who wrote the amazing The Outsiders and Rumblefish when she was just seventeen, about youth and gang culture in the US. She also wrote as a boy, which was cool. Her writing was so relevant to us English kids too, especially with Pink Floyd's 'we don't need no education' blasting out of our speakers. There was a great buzz about her books around school, and then of course Coppola made the films. Rumblefish has stood the test of time and has become a cult classic. The Outsiders is studied in schools.

So yeah I wrote a lot as a kid. Sometimes my English teacher would let me sit out of normal lessons to write stories and plays and stuff, and then he'd read them out to the class. Looking back at it I’m sure it was just a way of getting rid of me! The rest of the teachers just sent me out. I was pretty destructive at school, rebellingAt least the English teacher let me do something creative instead of just making me stand outside and face the wall! English was the only lesson I liked at school because I could express myself. My destructiveness was rooted in fear and anger, and was actually a cry for help. Now I cry through my writing. But when I wasn’t writing, it came out in other ways, drugs, violence, etc. That’s why creative expression is, in my opinion, the solution to violent youth culture. Kids should be heard, and not just seen. Dance, music, singing, poetry, drama…art is the answer to apathy,anarchy and anger.

I left home at 16, left Bristol and moved to London to be an actor. That’s when I started getting involved with drugs and crime and gangs, hanging out in Mad Frankie Frazer’s bar and doing coke and eventually crack. It was just like being in a movie for me – a real life Goodfellas – except is was real! My writing stopped. I never picked up a pen again until I was free of that life-style in my late twenties. However, although I was writing it wasn't truthful, the block remained and I had to smash through it gradually, chipping away at my own fear like freeing a chained monster from a deep dark cave. Now the monster's free and roaming wild.

What are your writing ambitions?

Many people who've read Man or Mouse suggested developing it into a longer piece, so I'm currently working on the novel to release at the same time as the film. Another ambition is to finish this collection about my period in London gang culture called Crackipedia. It takes ages for me to write anything. I wish I was quicker! Who was it that said 'writing a fast read is a slow process?' They were right! I bashed out over 10,000 words for Man or Mouse before cutting it down to 3,000. Someone said that 'writing is like sculpture' - it's the process of elimination that reveals the story - that's certainly my case. But I hope to to have Crackipedia out next year.

Are we going to see Man or Mouse on our small screens then? That would be great!

Big screen hopefully! Just before it won the Writer's Forum short fiction prize it was optioned as a short film by producer Andrew Bonner who was nominated for a BAFTA for his short film Bye Child. His next short Icicle Melts starred Greta Scaachi and was also critically acclaimed. The idea was to make the short film of Man or Mouse as a taster for the feature film, but now we're hoping to go straight for the feature. We're in contact with production companies and are looking for the right director. It's the story of a teenage boy, lost in the world and searching for a father figure, desperate to prove himself 'a man'. He finds his 'father' in the boss of a violent gang of vigilantes, realising too late that he is not the father he was hoping for. But as with most gangs, there's no way out. Soon he's put to the test and taken on a 'hit' to prove his loyalty and his 'sonship'. Of course it all goes horribly wrong. The film has been described as Oliver meets Snatch! We're hoping to attract some super-cool actors. If all goes well Man or Mouse could be in cinemas next year. Watch this space!

Where do you like to work and can we have a photo of your working space?

I live in Cambodia at the moment and here in Phnom Penh there are many ultra-cool cafes and coffee shops with free wi-fi- so that's where I like to work. I love the constant whirl of people and the buzz of life around me. If I sit at home alone I go crazy! If I really need to concentrate, say for a final polish, I tend to find a quiet corner. But anyway, when I'm really in deep with the story and the characters, the world could explode around me and I'd still be typing away. I seem to zone out. Plus, in cafes, there's a constant flow of pretty faces, colourful characters and caffeine on stream!

You very obviously have carved out your own style. When you're not working on a piece of writing, what genre do you like to sit down and read for fun?

For fun I like to read thrillers and literary fiction. I've just finished Chuck Hogan's The Prince of Thieves, which is the book the movie The Town was based on, but the book is very different. It's a story of a bank robber who falls in love with one of his victims. It's a really great story. The film was astounding, full of intricate sub-plots, layers upon layers of character complexities, intense suspense and plot twists, and the book has all that and more.

I've also been reading Lee Child and Mark Billingham. However, one of the most captivating thrillers I've read recently was Derailed by James Siegel. It’s brilliant film too. The story is awesome. The novel kicks A.

Another awesome book I've read recently is Vernon God Littleby DBC Pierre. It's written in 1st person as a 17 year old boy accused of a Columbine-style high school massacre in a small US town. Acerbic, caustic, hilarious. It was his first novel and totally deserved winning The Booker. The writer sees the world in brilliant and profound metaphor. It’s so original. If you want to read a master of metaphor at work and at the same time laugh your pants off, read this. The Booker judge compared his freedom with language - his ability to create new and dynamic idiomatic expression - with Shakespeare. What a writer to be compared to!

I just read The Life of Pi too, which shocked me. Phew! just wasn't expecting it. The first 100 pages trundle along like aold train, slow and tedious really in its set up, but then suddenly the ship sinks, and the world becomes a vicious, brutal murderous fight for survival as the boy protagonist is stuck on a life boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a tiger. And, put it this way,the animals are not friends! Really. I’d never ever read anything like this: rich, poetic, detailed, deeply disturbing prose describing things like a hyena eating a still-alive zebra from the inside out. *Shudder*.

I'm also reading Cambodia Year Zero about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge in S21 or Tuol Sleng, a school that was turned into a prison, interrogation and torture chamber. One of my characters in Man or Mouse, Trippy, in the movie version,is obsessed with political dictators and has a diatribe at the disinterested Dogface comparing Hitler's genocide with Pol Pot's. Funny how our reading can sometimes regurgitate into our writing in the strangest possible ways!

Another book which inspired me recently was The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. So subtle, I actually thought I wasn't emotionally involved in the story of Arrow the young female sniper at all, until my tears wet the final pages. That's great writing.

If someone were to play you in a movie, who would you like it to be?

Well, since I trained as an actor I suppose it would have to be me! But if I wasn't available due to my hectic schedule, or if I demanded too much money, or if they refused to give me my own personal hairstylist, I suppose Brad Pitt would have to do ;)

All that's left to say is, thank you Mark. That was a great interview and I will be watching with interest the news on the film front!

You can find Mark at the following places – Blog
                                                                Ether books.


  1. Great interview. BTW, I've read "Man or Mouse" & it's breathtaking!

  2. Wow, what an amazing interview. Mark, your life sounds fascinating - an autobiography in the making! Best of luck with the film, that is so exciting.

  3. Caroline - It is a great read isn't it. I read it prior to interviewing Mark.

    Rebecca - Thank you. He makes my life seem so ordinary! :)