Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today I’m chatting to Mark about his writing and books. Welcome to the tearoom, Mark. Let’s order our drinks first. What would you like?
Thanks for inviting me for tea, Paula. Oh yes. Please could I have a tomato juice. I’m not much of a hot drink person.
Of course you may. Now we have our refreshment let me start by asking you when you first began writing journey what drew you to you chosen genre?
I write about a London police detective, Chief Inspector Frank Merlin, who operates in World War 2 London. I love history and have always wanted to write historical fiction. I suppose I chose World War 2 because the war had loomed large in my life. My father died when I was only seven, the victim of a long-term wasting disease contracted on wartime naval service in West Africa. I was much-influenced too by my mother’s fascinating wartime tales of watching bombed Swansea burning from her back garden in Llanelli, and of travelling up to London by train on weekends to go dancing with her friends regardless of the dangers of the Blitz.
Tell us about your latest writing project?
I am currently completing the first draft of my next Frank Merlin book, the fifth in the series, which will be published by Headline Accent next year. It is set in August 1942. I am gradually working my way through the war. My first book, Princes Gate, is set in January 1940, the second, Stalin’s Gold in September 1940. Merlin 3,Merlin At War, takes place in July 1941, and the last published, A Death In Mayfair, in December 1941. The good thing about a historical series is that you have an overall framework.
Do you write a synopsis first or the first chapter?
I write the first chapter. I never work out what happens in my books in advance of writing. I have my chosen period and a rough idea of plot background, then just get going and see what happens. With my last book, for example, the period setting was December 1941, the month of Pearl Harbour, and I knew that I wanted a plot background of the wartime film industry.
Can you name your top five favourite authors, and tell us how they have influenced your writing?
Georges Simenon – simple, clear prose.
Patricia Highsmith – the value of fascinating villains.
Charles Dickens – characterisation.
John Buchan – pacing.
Graham Greene – atmosphere.
Are any of your characters inspired by real people?
Physically Frank Merlin bears a resemblance to my father, who was tall, lean and dark. In A Death In Mayfair, several of the characters bear a resemblance to real film people eg Rex Harrison, Sir Alexander Korda, George Formby, Sam Spiegel. My books also feature real characters as themselves. Churchill, Stalin, Goering, De Gaulle, Ribbentrop and King George the Sixth are among those to make an appearance so far.
What did you learn when writing your book? How much research did you have to do?
I learned that the trick is in the editing. I regard writing a book as a little like sculpture except the writer has to create the raw material in the first place ie the first draft. Once that is complete it’s a question of chipping away.The first draft of my last book went through 26 edits.
Before every book I spend about 3 months researching the exact period. I have built up a very good personal library of WW2 histories, diaries and novels and immerse myself in these or other relevant online or public library material before I start to write.
Can you tell us anything about yourself which the readers might find surprising?
In the 1990s I co-founded a computer services company which my partner and I took public on the NASDAQ exchange in America.
What’s your writing work schedule?
I start writing every weekday at around 9.30 to 10. I have a daily word target of at least 1,500. I work until about one when I break off to go to the gym or have a bike ride. A late lunch follows, then I go back to the desk until around 5.30 or 6. My afternoon work tends to be oriented more to research or correction. I think I am more creative in the morning. I try not to write at weekends but sometimes needs must.
Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym?
Not really. After my first book was published under my own name, I was surprised to discover that there was another writer called Mark Ellis, although funnily enough that is his pseudonym. Luckily we don’t work in the same space. He is an American writer of comic books. I suppose if at some point I were to take a completely different writing direction and move away from crime fiction, I might consider a pseudonym.
How long does it take you to write a book?
18 to 24 months. I have speeded up a little. The first couple of books took longer. I’d love to get the period down further but am not sure I can. I have great admiration for those authors who can deliver a book or more a year.
Thank you for our chat, Mark. When you are ready to leave just let Brutus know and he will run you home. If you would like to know more about Mark’s writing and books please check out the links below.
Mark’s author website: https://markellisauthor.com
Mark’s Amazon Author’s Page:
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.