Today Mark Arnold is my guest writer. Mark and I met at Guildford Writers – nearly fifteen years ago (horrifying, isn’t it, Mark?) – and have been friends, as well as fellow writers, since. I am reading Mark’s novel TURNING JAPANESE which was a WIP all those years ago and published only recently. It is devilishly funny – the genre hovering around The Ladykillers meets The League of Gentleman (the comedy series, not the movie) meets Shōgun. Other attempts to define it have eluded me.
Mark – spill… Having always been full of ideas (to use a polite word), as a maths graduate and former software engineer I always felt I was on the wrong path… My kindly boss evidently agreed, allowing me to go part-time, thus freeing me to indulge my literary whimsy. So here I be.
What first inspired you to write? A grand idea – one that I realised would be most powerfully conveyed in story form. Thankfully, I canned my initial attempts to roll my philosophy out, went away, and became a better writer – which only took a decade or two. The resulting novel (THE NEST) is finally coming out this December.
What was your first piece of creative writing? How old were you? There are old rough-books peppered with bizarre scrawlings, but something that sticks in the mind is writing a poem (a rather nerdy sonnet about the Rubik’s cube) for school, which the English teacher insisted on reading out to the class. I buried my head under the desk lid and turned a curious shade of purple. Whether this set me back or encouraged me, I cannot vouch.
Which writers do you particularly admire? I’ve loved everything by Kazuo Ishiguro – superbly paced, never dull, always with a point. He’s a writer that I would think appeals universally. Then there’s Cervantes – I find it amazing that a 500-year-old book can make me laugh out loud. I adore those long, convoluted sentences saturated with humour. Meanwhile, the ‘bloke’ in me really enjoys Jack Kerouac for his particularly sparkling style; it’s a vicarious pleasure, I could never be him or live like his crowd did, but reading him makes me feel guilty about my sedentary lifestyle – and that, at least once, I should try sleeping under a starlit sky, taking mescaline, and breaking the speed limit.
What do you love about writing? The ideas that come so suddenly, bubbling up from the subconscious at unexpected moments, halting whatever you were doing, demanding to be committed to paper. And how, when reviewed, these strange crystallised thoughts seem as if they were written by the hand of another.
What do you hate about writing? Simply the amount of time it absorbs. I figure that good writing – setting aside those unquantifiable moments of creativity and inspiration – is mostly about good decisions. To write a novel you need to make maybe 100,000 decisions, most of which had better be good ones, and that takes a heck of a lot of time.
Describe your ‘portfolio’ of writing The comedy/adventure novel ‘Turning Japanese’ – a modern-day Don Quixote, whose crazed hero makes it his mission to rescue an imperilled village in the wilds of Japan. And ‘Tales of the Forgotten’ – a collection of darkly comedic, interwoven short stories.
What is your proudest achievement? Pride isn’t something I’m particularly comfortable with, but getting recognition for my short stories in the early days was very encouraging. I got a big morale boost from winning the National Association of Writers Groups Short Story competition, and also having stories published in The Lightship Anthology. When you’re starting out, the smallest vindication is something precious.
What is your current project? I’m polishing the final drafts of two books – the aforementioned gothic novel, THE NEST, and a suburban comedy, LAST EXIT TO SODFORD. As you can probably tell, I’m trying hard not to write the same story twice!
Anything you’d like to add? Thank you so much for inviting me – I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.
Always good to make contact, Mark.