Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Diana talks to M.A. student Mark Peter Howe

Mark Peter is studying on the MA in Creative Writing and Publishing at West Dean College. For this, he has completed the first draft of a novel. He writes poetry, was Highly Commended in the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction in 2012 and Shortlisted in 2016. He runs a writer's group and mentors aspiring writers. 

Hello Mark Peter. It is a real pleasure to welcome you to Diana talks.

First things first if your latest book, The Divine and Sexual History of Timothy Finch and April Golding, was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
My protagonist is a young man, based on me. I rather fancy Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones).

What made you choose this genre?
First novels are often based on the author’s life. It’s what sprang into my mind when I realised I have to write a novel for the MA. It was then months of work to transform it from memoir into a work of fiction but eventually it took on a life of its own.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
I always fret about not getting ideas and then, when one is really needed, it appears. The subconscious is teeming with stories that just pop up when you ask them.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Want to explore short story and also stretch the potential of Flash Fiction: ‘the love-child of poetry and short story.’

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
Long story. Drifted for years and made a conscious decision just a few years ago. I was suspicious of writing courses as I’ve known so many people who did one and promptly stopped writing. However, when I saw the West Dean course, I knew that’s it and I was not disappointed. It trains you not only to write but to be a writer.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
The thing I love most about being English is our extraordinary language – its literature, history and ongoing evolution. Second thing, Marmite.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
No, just write! I think lucky socks and mugs, and all that, is just pants. Actually, I do have favourite pants. (Laughed!!)

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Quite often, they’re the same people…

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Having started late, I only want to write. When not writing, I enjoy wandering through woods, gardens, the seashore. Will you employ me? (Um ... I only have a vacancy for someone to carry things upstairs that should be upstairs and to carry things downstairs that should be downstairs. Just send your CV!)

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Coffee am, tea pm, red evening.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
This first novel was exploratory and I loved the way it took on a life of its own. However, it’s not an economical method and next time I will plan in detail, always leaving space for the unexpected.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I ask my partner who is a designer and font-freak. (Do ensure that your partner checks out d.arcadian, letterpress seller extraordinaire! That is me doing the day job!)

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
Love it when they take on a life of their own. You can always edit them later.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
For this novel, research was largely through memory and the imagination. I did visit a couple of locations and speak to people from the time the story is set (sounds like time-travel but I hope you know what I mean). Of course, Google has revolutionised research: in seconds I could look up how to install electric fencing for cattle, or the topography of a particular Scottish stone circle.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
Yes, they are a pain. I don’t like killing so I do something much more satisfying: fictionalise them.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
This is a really subtle operation, which depends on the context, the readership and much else. For instance, my setting is a community which is fictional but based on an existing one. I need to be respectful and faithful to the people who lived, and are still living, there. Literary ethics.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Always. The writer’s job is to be a reliable pilot and steer a course between the two. What is a fact? Even in science there is no such thing, only probability. Fiction can describe emotional truth.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
Unlike life, you can love the ones you hate, because you’re in control, you created them to start with, and you can spend happy hours plotting their comeuppance. 

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I enjoy so many contemporary writers but, while admiring and envying the masterly writing, I have questions like: Why have they written this story? What is it really about? What does it do to me, the reader. The Nobel winner, Orhan Pamuk, has written a wonderful contemplation of these questions in The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
I make this ‘power-drink’, more for writing than reading:
Half pt. water (not too cold)
Half pt. apple juice
Juice of 1 lemon
1 crushed garlic clove
Knob of grated ginger
Invigorating, and it cleans out the sytem after all that coffee, tea and red wine.

Last but not least... favourite author?
Your first loves never leave you: Lewis Carroll at age 5, Tolstoy at 16. Contemporary? So many… maybe Armistead Maupin.

Thank you, Mark Peter. I really enjoyed that. Let me know when you have completed the course! I will happily review your book for you.

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Mark Peter Howe May 2017

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