|Posted by Matt Posner on August 9, 2013 at 7:30 AM|
I haven't featured many interview this summer -- my summer has been all about writing. But if anyone could tempt me back to the interview scene, it would have to be one of the kindest gentlemen in UK publishing, MISTER Mark Barry.
(All links selected by Matt, not Mark's fault.)
You live in the Midlands of England. Where exactly? And what is the best part of living there?
I was born in Nottingham. The football team I support is here as is my son, Matt, and my family. I have had the opportunity on three occasions to live in the States, and sometimes think about what might have happened if I had made the leap. Certainly wouldn’t live anywhere else in England, I know that.
Best part? We’re bang in the centre of the country, and the travelling is equidistant whether we head north or south. The nightlife used to be amazing in Nottingham – people came from all over the country - though not so much now because of the drug-fuelled stag and hen parties getting in everyone’s faces. Or maybe I’m just getting old!
To start with, you are both an author and a publisher. How do you reconcile the two roles?
I considered myself more of a writer than a publisher, but Reality Bites changed that in April – a lovely little anthology. My company will be publishing historical fiction author Mary Ann Bernal's next novel, The Briton and the Dane: Timeline, early next year, in addition to a couple of other projects. I’m also hoping to work with schools in the coming six months, so Green Wizard, rather than Mark Barry, will be in the limelight.
Matt says: I interviewed Mary Ann Bernal here.
Mark, speak as a publisher and talk about your business in terms of its marketing and its relations with authors
The artist will be paramount at Green Wizard. I won’t intervene in anything the artist does as long as he/she produces a high quality product. There is a cornucopia of drivel out there, and I want Green Wizard to stand against the tide. If an author sends me a vampire novel, it would have to be original, like Emma Edwards' Sanguinary. If an author’s genre is erotica, it would have to be VERY erotic and extremely original. I’m not publishing books for the sake of it, or for ego, which appears to be the current paradigm. I want to publish real stories, about real people, and real lives, even though it appears to be out of fashion nowadays.
You are particularly inspired by the writing and popular culture of the 1970s. I grew up then also (born 1969) , and I have my favorites, but your attachment is very strong. Why is that?
Creatively, the seventies were the apogee. Music, film, books. The Sixties destroyed everything that went before and the seventies rebuilt it in its image. Look at 1973. Harvest Home, The Rachel Papers, Pynchon’s amazing, Gravity’s Rainbow. Aladdin Sane. Dark Side of the Moon. Billy Cobham’s Spectrum. It was a magnificent year for films: Enter the Dragon, The Wicker Man, The Exorcist, Malick’s Badlands, Scorcese’s Mean Streets. Politically, the world was on fire – in your country, you had Watergate and the fag-end of the Vietnam War. Over here we had a massive miner’s strike, the spectre of stagflation, the three-day week, wholesale power cuts. (I remember when my younger brother, mum and I sat round a table, freezing cold, with a candle on the table in front of us).
The worse it got for everyone, it seems, the deeper the mother lode of creativity was mined. I think that was the most creative single year of our lifetime. I would like to write a book, which people might say was good enough to fit into that year. Something so good, so well written, so innovative, that people will talk about it as an epochal book.
Big dreams? Definitely.
I also like the earthiness of the writing in that era. I read Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis the other day, which is the model for Get Carter, the classic British crime thriller from the early seventies. It’s magnificent. It would never be published now because it’s not very well written (in terms of correct grammar, fashionable present tense ideation, all the ersatz dogma from Novel Writing 101 courses and creative writing degrees), but you can taste the beer, feel the recoil in every gunshot, and you can feel the passion in every line. My book Carla aims for that seventies feel, that dry, first person cynicism.
In another interview, you spoke of having written at least a million words. I'm only about 3/4 of the way there myself. How can you concentrate?
I’m always writing. Letters, e-mails, journals, blogs, etc. I love writing, and it’s so easy. You and I are very similar. You have a reverence for the sentence: I would love to write the perfect sentence, the perfect introduction to a book. I can see the beauty in words without meaning, the way words and sentences are structured. I think to get a perfect sentence, you have to write a million words!
A lot of your novels are dramas set in urban settings. What draws you to this type of writing?
My two football hooligan novels are based on real people, real stories and mythic events. Ultra Violence has sold far more than I expected, and I hope the sequel, Violent Disorder, exceeds expectations. You can drink in the same pubs, eat in the same restaurants, and follow the same journeys.
Carla and The Ritual are based in Southwell, and though I have changed the names of certain places, you can actually visit key scenes from the books. I love that in a book. You can keep your castles and your mythical dimensions – keep it real! The main character in Carla, John Dexter, has a meltdown and goes on a huge bender. You can follow that exact bender from pub to pub. He takes a break in a betting shop, and you can actually bet today with the people in that shop. I love that sense of fantasy meeting reality. That sense of grounding.
The film Dead Man’s Shoes by Shane Meadows operates on similar principles. Didn’t he use untrained actors? I swear I know one of the characters from school! I have no idea what genre this is - it makes for a tough sell on Amazon because their categories don’t fit.
You use both male and female points of view. Does that present any unusual challenges?
Three of the four main characters in The Ritual are female, and the narrator in The Illustrated Woman is female. Did I get it right? I don’t know. It was tough, but I’m not a macho sort of bloke, and I used to talk to a lot of women when I was in my twenties, so I gave it my best shot. The challenge is to keep it realistic and to make sure the reader suspends disbelief. The latter is banned in paperback in the UK, so I think I went well over the top somewhere.
Tell us about your new book, Violent Disorder.
Violent Disorder is the sequel to Ultra Violence. The story focuses on over-aged football hooligans who are unable to give up their addiction to fighting on a Saturday afternoon. I was at Sheffield United on Friday night, and the average age of the men trying to get into each other’s ends was about fifty! Even though the novel was written for blokes with an interest in that traditional British pastime, football violence, women have not been put off by the subject matter.
As a starting point, your readers might be interested in Carla, which is my best reviewed book that appeals to both genders, or Hollywood Shakedown, which has attracted a cult following; you either love enough to become a tee shirt wearing fanboy/girl, or you hate it and never finish it. There appears to be no middle ground. Second editions of both titles are being created as we speak.
Tell an interesting story about your writing life.
My first novel was written when I was twenty - a horror novel based on the cover of the first Black Sabbath album. It was written over a six month period on a manual typewriter for which I had to source ribbons in stationery shops. I used carbons and borrowed paper from my University. That winter was freezing cold, and I wrote the manuscript in the bay window of a bedsit with do-it-yourself double glazing made from cellophane wrapping. My fingers bled, and I developed early onset repetitive strain injuries.
I slaved over that novel. This was in the mid-eighties, a couple of years before the first personal computers – Amstrad, Apricot – were about to appear. The manuscript was a hundred and fifty pages long. Eagerly, and with some pride, I showed it to a few friends. One of them slated it. Said my factual essays were much better and that I shouldn’t bother with fiction. I took his criticism to heart and never wrote again for twenty years; unfortunately, my father burned the manuscript during a spell of house cleaning. I had a glass jaw then – now, I don’t even read reviews, good or bad!
Tell an interesting story about your non-writing life.
Family legend suggests I am related to the Royal Family. One of my great uncles is a second cousin of a dissolute Baronet (who himself is a bastard), and was probably fathered by one of the major Victorians visiting Brighton one August during Royal Fortnight.
His mother was a waitress at a seaside patisserie and - as a beautiful young woman in a society where advancement for working class women was an impossibility - moonlighted as a strumpet in an aristocratic brothel in Hove. With a lineage like this, anyone reading my books can be assured of the Royal Seal of Approval. Probably.
What would you like to add about your plans in order to conclude this interview?
The next year is massive for Mark Barry and for Green Wizard. I am about to start a new project loosely based on George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris" except based in Nottingham. It is, as yet, untitled. I'm also working on an anthology called Seven Tales of Sex and Death also based around Nottingham. Depending on how fast I work, one of these will be out by Christmas and another by Spring. I'm also playing with a crime fiction novel, though this isn't proving easy.
Mary Ann Bernal, my editor, and I are re-editing four of the first wave of Green Wizard books and my cover designer, Dark Dawn Creations, is designing new covers.
Finally, in 2014, depending on sales, I am going to write a long piece of work called The Castle which I hope will be 300,000 words long and as complex as Joyce's Ulysses. And that, Matt, will be it. I will have achieved everything I set out to do. Wish me luck.