Last month I picked Black Storm by Mark Gillespie as my indie book of the month. Mark is an extremely proficient author, with a terriific work ethic. He kindly agreed to an interview and here it is!
- For those who are not familiar with your work, how would you best describe your genre?
I call it Apocalyptic Pulp Fiction. But Post-Apocalyptic fiction is the most recognisable term for my kind of thing. There’s dystopian and horror elements in there too. I’ve dabbled previously with other genres (Alternate History) but if someone were to pin me to the wall, brandish a knife in my face and demand a straightforward answer (it could happen!), I’d look them in the eye and tell them that post-apocalyptic fiction is what I do.
- When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always enjoyed writing but it was very much a background thing until I reached my early thirties. Stories and song – that’s been my thing in this life. Between the ages of 15 and about 30, I dedicated my life to song and to working as a musician in the UK and Ireland. I had a great time but the music thing fizzled out for me about 2010/2011. Work dried up. I fell out of love with the business of being a musician.
It was time for a change.
Later on, I went to uni as a mature student, studying English and History. When I picked up a book called The Heath Introduction to Fiction and read some of the short stories in there, a light bulb went on in my head. I felt the buzz again.
Real job? Forget it…I was going to be a writer!
- Can you tell us about your publishing experiences and journey so far?
I’m indie published. I’ve never submitted a manuscript to an agent or publisher because by the time I was ready to do so (2015), I felt that indie publishing was the best model for me. I wanted to make a living from my writing and I felt that indie was my best chance of doing so.
I’m not interested in sitting in anyone’s electronic slush pile.
Having said that, I accept that indie publishing isn’t for everyone. It’s so much work! I would encourage new authors to research their publishing options and figure out what’s the best model for them. Knowledge is power. Know what you’re getting into and why. If it’s indie, be prepared for a very steep learning curve and always remember to bring your creative and business hats to the table. And make sure it’s you’re A-game.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way but I think I’m getting better at this.
- Tell us about Black Storm, what inspired this book?
The initial trigger for Black Storm was something I read online a couple of years ago. I can’t quite remember if it was in a news article or on a forum or whatever – but I read something about a woman in America who’d been spotted walking through a town or a suburb dressed in old-fashioned mourning clothes. It sounded like she was doing an epic solo trek or something like that.
It was just so random and it struck me as noteworthy. I wonder sometimes if I imagined this because I can’t find any trace of it online (Yep, I just Googled it again!)
Whatever it was, that was the seed for the character of the Black Widow. I took note and it stuck. That was the beginning of Black Storm – it all began with the Black Widow.
- You are a remarkably proficient indie writer, can you tell us how you manage to publish books so quickly? What is your process?
I’m lucky that I have the time to dedicate to writing. But I also make good use of that time. A regular working day is between 10-15 hours, which includes both creative and business stuff (creative early, business later).
I get up at 5.30am most mornings and go to bed about 11ish on average. Apart from walking the dog, exercising (super important for authors!) and eating, the work takes up most of my time.
I always have an A project (a book in the later stages of editing) and a B project (ideas, brainstorming) on the go. That’s important for moving onto the next thing. I would hate to finish a book and have nothing but a blank page waiting. That would probably floor me.
In order to be prolific, you have to make sacrifices. What’s eating up your writing time? What can you give up? Nobody said it was all fun and games.
Working long hours is a habit for me now. That’s probably how I get the books out so fast – I try to release something every two months. I also write shorter books at about 50,000 words average. I know that I can’t keep that pace up for the rest of my life however. And I wouldn’t want to. There’s more to life than just work. Much more!
- What usually comes first for you? The character or the plot?
I start with a situation that intrigues me. More often than not, it revolves around a ‘what if?’ question.
With Black Storm, that question is what if human beings had been targeted for extermination by an unknown power? We exterminate other species all the time, but what if the tables were turned. What if it happened to us?
With the Future of London books, it’s what if the London riots hadn’t stopped?
Answering the questions is fun.
Character and plot come later. But it’s that initial idea, that question that hopefully will get the juices flowing. If I’m excited there’s a good chance that someone else will be too.
- Do you write your books with a particular theme or message in mind and if so, what is it?
I never start with a message or theme. It’s only somewhere within the writing process that it becomes clear to me what that message might be. And there always is one, at least from my perspective. From another person’s point of view, there might be a different message altogether. That’s the joy of individual interpretation. We take the text, soak it up with all our baggage and find a meaning that’s unique to us.
I discover what I’m writing about by writing about it. But it always starts from an entertainment perspective. Is this fun? Is this worth reading about? Can I stay with this from start to finish?
Themes, messages, and the deep stuff – they come from the unconscious. They take care of themselves and appear when they’re good and ready.
- Do you have a day job and if so does it help your writing in any way?
My day job is writing.
I’ve done a few jobs now (worked in hardware, written freelance sports articles, been a bouncer). But I’ve never worked so hard in all my life as I do now. Music was tough. Writing is tough. Anything creative is brutal and yet some people look in from the outside and assume it’s a breeze because it’s a passion and it’s associated with leisure/entertainment.
A few years back I was amused to see that the readers of a major newspaper had voted being an author as their ideal job. No doubt they had visions of sitting in a log cabin surrounded by gorgeous scenery. They saw themselves sitting in front of a typewriter, a turtleneck sweater on, a pipe hanging out of their mouths, and a Che Guevara beret on their heads. And the words would pour out of their minds fast and easy. And that’s all there is to it – another masterpiece in the bag.
They haven’t got a clue.
- Tell us about your next release
Black Fever is the next release. It’s the second of the Black Storm books, which follows the fortunes of father and daughter, Cody and Rachel MacLeod, as they try to navigate their way through a mysterious apocalyptic event, the Black Storm, which has plunged the world into darkness and despair.
Fingers crossed, Black Fever will be out on May 15th.
- What is the most valuable thing you have learned as an indie writer so far?
The number one lesson is perseverance.
It’s so hard at times being an indie author and you’ll feel like giving up a thousand times. And that’s just in one morning! Too often, it feels like a mountain of work with only a crumb of reward in return.
But keep going. If you truly believe you’re on the right path, keep grinding it out. Work hard, but work smart. Learn from others. Join Facebook groups like 20Books to 50K. Read books on indie publishing, writing and story craft, marketing etc…
Absorb the wisdom of others. You’ll find it if you look for it. And if you have any to share, then share it. The indie author community is a friendly one and we’re willing to help those in need. This is how we all grow.
You can find out more about Mark and his books here;